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Karma- The Eternal Mystery (part 2)

  ------ © Dr. Satya Prakash Choudhary


There are a few ideas that emerge from a sincere study of the ancient texts and the revelations of the seers.

Prarabdha cannot be changed by any one. This is destined to happen. No one can avert it. The best way is to accept things as they are and surrender to the Almighty. Prarabdha can affect the body only, not the mind. For instance physical pain is inevitable if one has a physical body, but one need not suffer psychologically. Pain is natural, not suffering. Mental pain is what suffering is. If the mind knows that it has to face a situation involving physical pain, in addition to the physical pain, the mind goes through mental pain too in anticipation of the physical pain, worrying about it. This is like the child who suffers from mental agony three hours ahead of the injection that he knows the doctor will give him. The actual pain of the injection itself will last but for a minute though the child suffers for hours in anticipation of the physical pain. It is most important to make this distinction between pain and suffering since almost all of us suffer more from mental pain than physical pain. If one can cultivate sufficient discrimination, one can avoid unnecessary mental suffering. In other words disasters happen, but mentally one can remain unaffected by adopting a spiritual attitude.

Some people take a wrong message from all this. They feel that doing no work, inaction will help them. This is impossible. No human being can ever remain without performing karma. Bound by Prakriti (Nature), man is forced to do karma by the three gunas (Sattva, Rajas, Tamas). Our minds will compel us from within to perform karma. Karma is three fold. First there arises a desire, an impulse within. Then you think of how to attain it. Finally you exert to attain it. Desire, thought and action always go together. So thought itself is subtle karma, the seed of karma. Karma can be done through the mind (thought), speech (words/verbal) and the body (the actual act). These are three threads, which make the rope of karma that binds all men. Hence even if a man is inactive and refrains from action, he may still be doing karma at a thought level.

As long as thoughts are there, karma is being done. A man may be acting, but mentally he may not have any sense of agency, in which case karma cannot bind him. This is the essence of the Gita sloka, 'He, who sees action in inaction, and inaction in action, is a yogi' . Seeing, hearing, talking, thinking, all are karmas. We are constantly performing karma through the mind, speech and body in all the three states of dreaming, sleeping and walking. There can be no state in which a man is not performing karma. Instead of running away from action, one should instead, give up all sense of agency, the identification with karma.

Can one really go beyond karma?

While one may not be able to go beyond karma, one may go beyond the results of karma. To start with let us look at agami karma. A careful perusal of the vast body of Hindu literature gives us three possible alternatives. Agami karma can be destroyed by expiatory rites or Prayaschitta ( Poorva Mimamsa or Ritualistic path), and by removing the idea of agency through Nimitta Bhava ( Bhakti yoga ) and Sakshi Bhava ( Gnana yoga ). In reality each of these alternatives has its own value. But I will discuss the last two here.

All spiritual aspirants aim at either of these attitudes (either Nimitta bhava or Sakshi bhava ), or a combination of both. While the devotee predominantly prefers the 'nimitta bhava', the vedantin prefers the 'sakshi bhava'. In 'nimitta bhava' the sense of agency is removed through adopting an attitude that one is an instrument in the hands of God, while in 'sakshi bhava' the sense of agency is removed by adopting an attitude that one is a silent witness of the actions of the senses and the mind.

If you write a check for a hundred thousand dollars and do not sign it, is it valid? No, because your signature is not there. Similarly if you do not put your signature on your actions, they cannot bind you. In other words, you can act, but do not be attached to the result. Do it without any sense of agency, with a Nimitta bhava. Surrendering oneself to God, if one acts without any attachment to the results, Karma does not bind one. The sense of 'I', 'mine' and self-identification are our signature. When you do any karma without your signature, it is not going to bind you.

Hence adopting either of the two attitudes advocated by the seers can be of immense help. Both the paths are equally valid. Though the paths seem different, the end is the same- removing the idea of agency. All the saints, who advocated the way of bhakti spoke exclusively of 'nimitta bhava', while gnanis like Ramana Maharshi and JK advocated 'sakshi bhava'. Vivekananda had streaks of both a bhakta as well as a gnani. So one moment we see him crying in front of Kali with the yearning of a devotee and the second moment we hear his clarion call in Upanishadic fashion asking us to "Arise. Awake. And stop not till the goal is reached"! There is no contradiction in all this.

As Swami Sivananda reiterated time and again, prarabdha karma too can be greatly modified by entertaining lofty, divine thoughts, and doing virtuous actions. But the ultimate solution that can destroy the entire storehouse of previous karmas (Sanchita) is the most difficult, one that might take many more lives- 'Attaining knowledge of Brahman or the Eternal'.

As Swami Sivananda said, 'You have no Bhoga-svatantrya (freedom to determine the result of action) but you have Karma-Svatantrya (freedom to determine the course of action) '. In other words, the only area where we have a choice is the present. Irrespective of the results, one should carry on with his duties, surrendering to the Lord. At times we may not have freedom to determine the results, but we are totally free to determine the course of action. By moving in the right direction according to Dharma, one can alter the course of the future (especially future lives). The situations that we find ourselves in are due to Prarabdha, over which we have no control. But we have freedom as far as our reaction to the situation is concerned.

'What you are now at present is the result of what you thought and did in the past. What you shall be in the future will be the result of what you think and do now'. Hence, destiny is your own doing. You have built it. Only you can undo it. If your actions of hundred lives have resulted in an adverse condition, you can still undo it. But it requires a hundred times more effort to balance the actions of previous lives. Yet, if you want to change your life you always have the freedom to determine the course of action, if not the results.


How does karma actualize?

All our karmas are stored in the causal body. When the planetary patterns change, when the time is ripe, synchronously the karmas ripen to fruition; the seeds of karma in the causal body sprout and project into the astral body where they influence the mind. The thoughts stimulate animate the physical body, thus, to act in a manner that is in accordance with the karmic patterns. Thus any undesirable seed of karma spotted in the horoscope can be prevented from actualizing itself at the mind level if one exercises enough control, since the body translates the thoughts into actions. But this is often very difficult. One who gains total mastery over emotions like anger, lust, greed etc is indeed a Yogi.


Intensity of karma

Here a very important point has to be kept in mind. Karma can be classified into three types based on intensity.

•  Dridha (Fixed or Strong) Karma

•  Adridha (Not Strong/Non Fixed) Karma

•  Dridha - Adridha (Mixed or Medium strong) Karma

As the name suggests the Dridha karmas are very difficult or almost impossible to be changed. Adridha karmas can be easily altered while Dridha - Adridha can be altered through concentrated efforts. Generally Upayes or Pariharas (spiritual remedies) are effective in the 2 nd and 3 rd types. But to change very strong (Dridha) karma, is very difficult, practically almost impossible. Either we encounter obstacles even in implementing the remedies or a life long attempting of the remedies is required! Change can only occur when Agami and Kriyaman Karmas neutralise Prarabdha. Hence, the quality and quantity of effort required to alter destiny (Prarabdha) depends on how strong our previous karmas were. But what we have done can be undone nevertheless.

When an astrologer sees a confluence of factors, he predicts confidently for he knows that he is looking at Dridha Karma or Fixed Karma. Apart from Purushartha (Self efforts) there is another very important concept that the scriptures offer - Kripa or Divine Grace. Divine intervention or Grace can always do what human efforts fail to achieve.

We are victims of our own action

There is no delusion in the vedantin's extortion calling us to take the responsibility on our own shoulders, with emphasis on individual efforts or purushartha. As the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad tells us, "As is a man's will, so is his action; as is his action, so he becomes' (V 4.5). Most often we are victims of our own actions, both conscious and unconscious. What we do everyday determines who or what we are. As long as there is no change of nature from within, even the best astrologer can do nothing.

An occasional visit even to the most famous astrologer cannot substitute for a change of life style resulting from a change of consciousness. Expiatory rituals work to some extent. Chanting can be of immense value. But wearing gem stones, engaging the best pundits to do costly yagnyas or even a temporary chanting of stotras cannot be the end in itself. There must be a change of consciousness. And this does not happen overnight. It starts as an inspiration, as an insight. Some bitter experiences and a good astrologer or a spiritual adept can spark off this inspiration. However effecting a change of consciousness is a slow and gradual process, much like evolution. Since it has to start somewhere, it starts with the right resolve.

First we must have the 'right will', the true resolve. For this we should assume responsibility for our own karma. And a sincere jyotishi (astrologer) who is firmly grounded in Yoga-Vedanta can, through proper counsel and example, inspire as well as facilitate the individual in making the 'right resolve' .


Factors that determine the outcome of Prarabdha

The agama sastra is clear about how one can make the best of one's prarabdha by adopting the right course of action. According to the agamas there are two factors which influence the outcome of Prarabdha. Since jyotisha is firmly rooted in the veda and the agama, I will explain those factors here for the benefit of those interested.


  1. Agami & Kriyaman Karma: The thoughts and present efforts can be initiated in the right direction sincerely. A strong current of favorable thoughts combined with sincere efforts can go a long way. Part of this, is seeking spiritual remedies (Pariharas) that the agamas recommend. Choosing favourable time in accordance with the planetary patterns can also augment or maximise the effectiveness of human efforts. Selecting an auspicious muhurta too comes under Kriyaman karma.


  1. Kripa or Divine Grace: Divine Grace can intervene and change things. The spiritual remedies are partly aimed at drawing divine grace and partly at awakening the forgotten memory of our true nature, of our identity with the Cosmic. Sadhana of a chosen deity with a mantra ( ishta devata mantra sadhana ), chanting stotras ( stotra parayana ), contemplative reading of sacred myth ( purana katha parayana ), devotional contemplation are all part of the transpersonal psychotherapeutic approach of the Agamas which takes the individual progressively from ignorance and suffering to knowledge of the Self and the cessation of suffering.




From the above points, it becomes clear how a wise person takes astrology. There are two ways:

Seek astrological guidance, but don't be totally dependent on it. The astrologer has many limitations. No astrologer has the final say in any matter. Plan intelligently, remembering the astrologer's advice. Any pariharas (remedies) suggested by the astrologer can be adopted as long as they are spiritually oriented and do not involve unnecessary expenditure. Such remedies (as per Parasara the father of Indian astrology) are prayers and chanting of Mantras. Other remedies which involve huge costs are not reliable and are mostly suggested by dishonest astrologers. Accept your Prarabdha and do your duties cheerfully. Know that you cannot escape your Prarabdha. Even Yogis can help you only to postpone it, not avert it! But there is one area where you have total freedom. That is your current karma (Kriyaman).

You can determine the course of action. You can bring in an anti-current of thoughts, a current of noble, spiritual thoughts, thoughts guided by Dharma. It is never too late to change the course of action. In the Kriyaman area, do good deeds. Let Dharma guide you. Some times there may be a conflict between free will (Kriyaman) and destiny (Prarbdha). However powerful Prarabdha is, DO NOT DESPAIR . Do your duties cheerfully without being excessively attached to the fruits of your actions. Surrender yourself to God and do your duties with a Nimitta bhava. Great Yogis like Bhisma and Vasishta have placed Purushartha or exertion (free will) above destiny. Do not underestimate the role of Kriyaman Karma, your free will to change the course of action.

Advanced people do not need astrology. They accept Prarabdha as God's Will while the ignorant person develops pathological dependence on astrology, starts despairing, lapses into inaction or makes half-hearted attempts. It is perhaps for this reason that reformist thinkers like Swami Vivekananda and Swami Dayananda Saraswati were opposed to astrology. But saints like Sri Ramakrishna who was Swami Vivekananda's guru, spoke positively about astrology because they had the attitude of a bhakta (devotee) and see all this as a 'play of the divine' . It all depends on how we take it.

The devotee (bhakta) sees only Prarabdha. The vedantin (gnani) sees only Purushartha. Both are correct for these are two sides of the same coin. The bhaktha (devotee) feels it is all Prarabdha only. Yet there is no fatalism in this. Prarabdha is only Purusharta (efforts born of free will) of previous births. Purushartha combined with Prarabdha brings effects. A man who is sick has to take the medicine (Purushartha) and leave the results to Prarabdha. Through Purushartha, Markandeya conquered death. Vasishta advocates Purushartha to Sri Rama throughout the Yoga Vasishta. We are neither totally bound by destiny nor are we totally free. We have limited freedom like a cow that has been tied to a post in a field with a rope. It can move freely, but only within the limits of the field. We have limited freedom depending upon how much we can stretch our Karma.

Ignorance- the root of all misery

Human life is a story of the alternating patterns of duality, of happiness and suffering, joy and misery, ups and downs. There is not a single life without this admixture, without this pair of opposites. This is the law of life. Though the Atman is identical to the Brahman who is ever-radiant and blissful, the Jiva (individual) suffers because he is entrapped by the limiting adjuncts (upadhis) of body and mind. The infinite seems to be entrapped by the finite body and mind. Misery is not natural to the Jiva. It comes to experience a state of misery because of its association with a body.

•  So the cause of misery is a body

•  The body (birth) is due to karma (previous actions)

•  Karma arises from attachment and hate, by preference to certain objects and aversion to some.

•  Attachment and hate arise from Egocentricity (sense of 'I' and 'Mine')

•  Egocentricity comes from indiscrimination or lack of discernment.

•  Indiscrimination, from ignorance of your true nature, that you are one with the Brahman


The cessation of suffering

The root cause of all suffering and Karma is ignorance. The only way to go beyond this is to bring the light of knowledge. The first step in this direction is to change one's attitude, to retrace one's steps along the same path that we have come. In other words, the only solution is to go back to our cosmic roots, to become one with the Cosmic Consciousness. That is liberation; that is moksha, salvation, whatever you call it. This birth affords us a chance to exhaust our karmic debts, so that we may be free. Jyotisha is the light that reveals this great truth to us so that we may be free. A sincere study of Jyotisha can be a great spiritual education; a Sadhana in itself, for it partly reveals the eternal mysteries of the cosmos to us. It leads us to the unknown through the known. It guides us out through the intricate labyrinth that life is, with its myriad pairs of duality. It shows us the way and ultimately sets us free, by taking us back to our cosmic roots.

There is great joy in the knowledge of Jyotisha, provided one is truly grounded in Yoga Vedanta. Jyotisha is a pratyaksha sastra, a practical science, the eye of the Veda. A jyotishi has access to one of the best languages of Nature. Whether we perceive ourselves as helpless victims or witnesses or insignificant specks or rejoice in this grand play, depends on our world view. While the existentialist astrologer has this frustration of being a helpless observer, the jyotishi who is firmly grounded in Yoga Vedanta views it differently. ' Seeing' or 'experiencing' how jyotisha works, is like watching Prakriti (Nature) in Her grandeur. Everything feels like a play. It is inspiring to be part of this grand cosmic play, this play of Consciousness ('Chidvilasa')! Once you really experience astrology this way, life is no more a suffering. There is neither sin nor virtue in being part of this. Neither is knowledge burdensome. You rejoice in everything.