What is Karma?

Karma is one of those topics that many people know a little about, but few understand the intricacies of it. To start with, Newton's third law of motion states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. On the universal scale, this is the law of karma. The law of karma basically states that every action has a reaction and whatever you do to others will later return to you. Furthermore, ignorance of the law is no excuse. We are still accountable for everything we do, regardless of whether we understand it or not. Therefore, the best thing is to learn how it works.

If everyone understood the law of karma, we would all be living a happier life in a brighter world. Why? Because we could know how to adjust our lives so we would not be suffering the constant reactions of what we have done due to the false aims of life.

According to Vedic literature, karma is the law of cause and effect. For every action there is a cause as well as a reaction. Karma is produced by performing fruitive activities for bodily or mental development. One may perform pious activities that will produce good reactions or good karma for future enjoyment. Or one may perform selfish or what some call sinful activities that produce bad karma and future suffering. This follows a person wherever he or she goes in this life or future lives. Such karma, as well as the type of consciousness a person develops, establishes reactions that one must experience.

The Svetashvatara Upanishad (5.12) explains that the living being, the jiva soul, acquires many gross physical and subtle bodies due to the actions he performs, as is motivated by the material qualities to which he obtains. These bodies that are acquired continue to be a source of illusion as long as he is ignorant of his real identity.

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (4.45) further clarifies that as the atma or soul in the gross and subtle bodies acts, so thereby he obtains different conditions. By acting saintly he becomes a saint, and by acting immorally he becomes subject to the karmic consequences. In this way, he accrues piety or the burden of impiety accordingly.

Similarly, it is stated that as a man sows, so shall he reap. Therefore, as people live their present life, they cultivate a particular type of consciousness by their thoughts and activities, which may be good or bad. This creates a person’s karma.

This karma will direct us into a body that is most appropriate for the reactions that we need to endure, or the lessons we need to learn. Thus, the cause of our existence comes from the activities of our previous lives. Since everything is based on a cause, it is one’s karma that will determine one’s situation, such as race, color, sex, or area of the world in which one will appear, or whether one is born in a rich or poor family, or be healthy or unhealthy, etc., etc.

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Vedic Cultural Centre, Thunder Bay.

Centre for Bhakti Yoga