Albert Einstein once remarked in his inimitable style that the most incomprehensible fact about Nature is that is comprehensible. Later the same sentiment was echoed by mathematician-physicist Roger Penrose. Obviously these Iuminaries had in mind the universal physical laws that can be clearly identified, formulated and their effect mathematically computed. Most hard scientists and engineers and rationalists of the world think that all systems of nature are deterministic systems that can be described by precisely computable mathematical equations. However, this is not true.
As systems become large and more complex, they are better described by their statistical behaviour and such systems are called probabilistic or stochastic systems. Further, many systems, like human judgment and behaviour, can be described more aptly only qualitatively rather than quantitatively. Such systems are called 'fuzzy' or possibilistic. In the beginning, when the concept of Fuzzy Logic was introduced by Zadeh, it was not accepted by rational scientists; but later fuzzy logic got so popular and well accepted that it is now used in all branches of science and it finds applications in everyday appliances like fans, toasters, washing machines!
When we go to living being such as humans them there is a whole world of emotions. This world is not understood by present day science. Yet our existence largely depends upon our thoughts, emotions and intentions. That our consciousness enters the experiment was propounded by quantum physics and that changed the way we looked at the world, once and for all. The law of Karma musts be viewed with this understanding.
When we speak of the law of Karma, we mean the law as applied to all beings of the universe, living as well as non-living. For non-living beings, this law take a mysterious form as we do not understand yet the nature of our beings in its entirety. We exist in several planes or sheaths such as material, energetic, mental, intellectual and spiritual. So the law of Karma appears mysterious to us. Therefore, the author has titled this book as "Mystery of Karma".
Krishna's characterisation of the way of Karma in Bhagvad-Geeta as inscrutable exquisitely describes the mind-boggling manner of the operation of this cosmic law of fundamental importance that determines the ultimate destiny of man. This is also the reason why it fascinates the human mind. Peculiarly, though most talk about it especially when beset with adversity very few have a clear notion of what it entails and how precisely it affects human conduct fortune. For them it is simply an eye for an eye or a reward and punishment proposition which is but a distorted fragment of the story.
Since the Voice period Indian sages and seers have been delving into its secrets in their endeavour to present a cogent picture of its multifaceted, highly intricate but equally accurate as well as just and objective method of operation that transcends the physical plane on which living being operate, as also their life span. This attribute of its has been well brought out in the Atharva Veda that enunciates, 'There is no flaw in this Law of Karma, no reservation. Actions performed in alliance with friends are not taken into account. It is an exact and accurate regulation of actions and reactions. Man eats what he cooks, that is he reaps what he sows.'
The Upanishads particularly Brihdaranyaka, Chhandogya, Katha et al and subsequent well respected philosophical systems and scriptures like Samkhya, Yogasutras and puranas too deal elaborately with this phenomenon so much so that even Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita both medical treatises, attribute human mental and physical afflictions to past Karmas as a factor. The writing and recorded utterances of later day saints and mystics in this regard only reiterate their strong belief in the infallibility and omniscience of this cosmic dispensation.
Their pronouncement of its infallibility is not an advocacy of impotent fatalism. On the contrary, they all amphasise that man's destiny is in his own hands so much so that even God who fabricated its software as it were, in the first instance has a very limited role to play except when approaches him in complete self-surrender seeking His Grace. Destiny or Daiva is recognized only as the capital with which one starts a new life. As Sage Yajnavalkya puts it, actions of previous births are manifested as Daiva but without human effort destiny is ineffective. This is reiterated in the mahabharata as well which insists that destiny cannot achieve anything by itself without the aid of human effort just as seeds remain barren unless sown. Krishna puts it pithily when he tells Arjuna in the Bhagwad Geeta that man is his own friend as well as enemy. The Mahabharata poses the fundamental question, which is superior Daiva or Purushartha? And gives the upper hand to Purushartha in so many words. Similarly, 'Yoga Vasistha', one of the most profound texts of Indian philosophy, analyses the question of fate versus effort or Daiva versus Purushartha and declares unambiguously the superiority of Purushartha over Daiva. Tomorrow what will be termed as 'fate' is nothing but the creation of today's actions!
It should thus be obvious that the law of Karma does not promote dependence on fate but is a dynamic precept that envisages man shaping his own future by using his will and creative abilities. It is a framework that unobtrusively guides man's progression towards the ultimate destination, which is union with the absolute or Brahman through self-realisation. In this process of self-elevation, which is again a self-effort, re-birth enables it to keep continuity in striving till the goal is reached for, the long and arduous journey cannot be completed within the short period of a single life span.
It naturally emerges that we cannot talk of man in flesh and blood that get destroyed at death but something that transcends physical human existence and is the unborn, immortal element in man that is distinct from the temporal body. This is his consciousness or soul. Whatever the religious dogmas pertaining to the existence of the soul, science is fast moving towards conceding its existence. Thus, it follows from the generally accepted Anthropic Cosmological Principle that at the moment of creation of the universe the conditions were such as to presage eventual emergence of intelligent life. In the final analysis human existence was all pre-programmed at the time of the big Bang. Eminent physicist freeman Dyson acknowledges that, 'The universe in some sense must have known that we were coming'. Scientist John Wheeler, a profound thinker, concludes in his book At Home in the Universe that, 'It is incontrovertible that the observer is a participator in the genesis'. That is consciousness and we are conscious vehicle of a potentiality that existed from the start. The Shiva-Shakti principle precisely denotes the emergence of the same phenomenon.
As alluded to above, it has been a fundamental postulation of the Vedic and Vedantic spiritual thinking that human soul which is but a spark of the Universal Spirit was indestructible and its ultimate objective was to unite with the Absolute by reaching the state of highest purity by self-evolvement. A faith in this stipulation is a prerequisite in order to comprehend and appreciate the role of the Law of Karma as a facilitating, enabling agency or mechanism. Since its function is to assist an individual soul to self-evolve it cannot be a rigid, mechanical set of inviolable rules but an agreeable, vibrant process that readily adapts itself to the needs of very individual soul whatever its state of evolvement. It is therefore to treat it on par with manmade law.
Such assumption becomes all the more unrealistic when we realize that the law of Karma is a system of movement of force that operates on several planes and in the process substantially modifies itself to suit the conditions of each plane. This is so because Karma or human deed, which is the basic material that activates the law's operation, simultaneously emerges and impacts on several levels. Karma is energy in the same manner as very experience in the world is a product of Universal Energy or Prakriti. It is thus a force that includes, besides physical action, thoughts, feelings and desires that operate on higher planes than the physical. In fact Karma is the end product of such human energies when they are channeled is a direction with a purpose. All these rebounding energies together shape the nature, character of the person from whom they emanate to begin with. This is as true of thoughts, if they are sufficiently focused, as of words and deeds.
Karma is thus instrumental determining the nature and circumstances of human soul's repeated births and deaths. This is so because Karma is a product of energy related to human existence and all existence is a product of Universal Energy where creation dismantling only to generate again is the perennial ongoing process. It is a continuous series of events every happening inseparably connected with countless past events. This long progression of occurrences is bound by a fixed relationship of cause and effect in that the present action is the result of a past action, and in the like manner the future action will be the result of the present action. And all these actions and reactions are an outpouring of energy that creates our vibrant of existence. Since all this is a play of energy it may be assumed that the nature of energy that is imparted and that and that which is returned as effect must be the same. The law of Karma is based on his postulation, which also makes it all pervasive affecting every aspect of human existence.
The functioning of the law of Karma which is for assisting and facilitating the embodied soul in its spiritual ascent, would have been a simple straightforward process had the Universal Energy Prakriti been a homogeneous unitary energy and evolution a similar uncomplicated mechanism that upgrades a single uniform power. Not only that Prakriti comprises several forms of energy that operate on different planes but even human body is also a composite of five sheaths or coverings.
This is not so bizarre as it might appear to a passionately rationalistic mind. In the wake if the revolution brought about by relativity and quantum physics, science too has come to view physical reality as more than what meets the eye. It now accepts that the material world consists of several interpenetrating planes of which the manifest is the easily observable physical plane consisting of material objects and natural phenomena that surround us. This, to most of us, is the only reality. There are of course other planes characterized by the constant interplay of energy at a microscopic scale and at a rate that our senses cannot perceive, in the form of quarks, elections and other fundamental particles which are nothing but discrete packets of energy. More abstract to comprehend than these are the 'fields' which are known by the forces associated with them, gravitational force and electromagnetic force, for instance. A field in fact is a physical state of space itself and permeates a region of apace and can be delineated at each point. Apart from these manifest fields whose influence can be felt there are unmanifest fields known as quantum fields, which pervade all apace and time and excite elementary particles. This should suffice to convince a receptive mind that the planes or worlds the Upanishads persuasively speak about could as well be a reality.
As for human sheaths it is now an established fact that each human being exudes an aura, which can ever be photographed and that aura roughly corresponds to the human body to which it belongs. This is the ethereal sheath also known as Pranamaya Kosha. Unlike in the past science now admits that mind is entangled with matter as matter is entangled with mind and at some level of reality mind and matter merge. Upanishads have been reiterating the matter like composition of mind. Therefore, it is not unthinkable that human body also has mental sheath, the Manomaya Kosha. The other sheaths, which are subtler, can be likewise inferred.
Human energy is manifold and so is the concomitant energy of nature but each strand or channel of the former corresponds with that of the latter. Things get complicated when we realize that each of these channels of energy has its own individual laws and methods of functioning. Therefore, it would be simplistic to say that is the law of Karma though the process of cause and effect operates, action and reaction are precisely equal and opposite. However, it does mean that every good produces good and every evil produces evil. As a corollary, one becomes virtuous by virtuous actions and evil by evil actions. In other words, according as one behaves so does one become, or to be more precise, the return of energy set in motion by a deed of man is proportional to and of the same kind as the energy initially put forth but its precise form and quantum depends upon the complex manner in which several universal forces impact upon it. This is indeed the foundation of the law of Karma.
Mr. Saraf's book contains an elaborate analysis of these rarely discussed aspects of this ubiquitous Law, that should appeal to a scientific mind. It is not, however, confined to an academic, rather abstract discussion of the mystifying subject but competently deals with practically all the questions that are usually asked by people about the multifarious effects if the Law's operation. Some of the very revealing findings that the book contains which would fascinate an inquisitive reader are: the soul chooses at the moment of shedding a body of the kind of life it would have in the next life it is mostly not related to its good or bad deeds in the life about to end but depends upon the thoughts or desires that dominate his mind at that crucial time; a new born inherits physical traits from his biological parents but brings with him his own mental equipment which is a cumulative acquisition from all previous lives; the desires that the soul wishes to satisfy in the ensuing life determine the place and circumstances of his next birth; he acquires relatives, friends and associates, even enemies by virtue of the causal links that he had established by directing thoughts at those persons in the past lives; the span as well as quality of life is determined by the kind of Karmas that a newborn has brought with him as Sanchita and Prarabdha which must be exhausted; a man must experience his own Karmas, none can share them; good Karmas are those that are preformed selflessly with the intention of benefiting others, country is the case in respect of bad Karmas; good Karmas produce pleasantness which is to be measured in terms of happiness of mind and not material comforts; to obtain salvation, all Karmas - good and bad must be exhausted. This captivating well-researched volume abounds in such highly interesting findings.
In arriving at the several decisive conclusions which adorn the book Mr. Saraf has relied mostly on the pronouncements of spiritual leaders who could be said to have intuitive experience of what they had revealed and these include the generally respected ancient scriptures. This should make the findings automatic and worthy of acceptance. I have no doubt in my mind about the universal validity of the Law of Karma. It is applicable to both living as well as non-living beings of the universe. For non-living physical systems, this law takes the form of the law of Causality on which the entire edifice of science is constructed. For living beings, science has a long way to go to understand the complete nature of their existence, namely, gross or material, pranic or energetic, psychological, intellectual, and finally spiritual. As well start understanding more of science and will one day be able to explain the law of Karma scientifically. Until then we must take resource to the Shastras, the Spiritual Science, that encode transcendental experience of the seer scientists called Rishis! Mr. Saraf has precisely done this.
Rightly, in this book, Mr. Saraf has chosen a dialogue method of presentation of this otherwise intricate subject which has made it lucid as well as interesting that would surely engage the attention of even the young and uninitiated readers to whom it is basically addressed. I hope this book will be widely read, both by the young and the old, as it unfolds one of the most impotent mysteries of our existence the Law of Karma.
The Law of Karma is often looked upon as a straightforward system emanating from the principle of cause and effect that endlessly metes out rewards and punishments for good acts and bad. The book vividly brings out that while every motivated action must have its proportionate recompense of the like nature it is not a simple eye for an eye dispensation. This is because an action begets movement of energy or not just the physical plane but the vital, mental and spiritual planes as well where the Law of Karma gets modified to suit the nature of each plane and each individual. Its composite return therefore is not easily fathomable. It persuasively argues that the whole purpose of the Law of Karma is to assist and facilitate the embodied soul in its spiritual ascent where eventually Karma itself loses significance.
An M.Sc. in Pure Mathematics, Mr. V.K. Saraf joined the Indian Police Service in 1956. After a distinguished career covering important assignments both in the State and the Central Governments, he retired in 1992 as Director General of Police, Maharashtra State and assumed office of director, Centre for Police Research where he did two tenures. He is author of several books and scholarly monographs as well as many articles and short stories.
Karma is so much ingrained in the Indian ethos, Indian psyche that every event more particularly an unpleasant one is sought to be interpreted in terms of Karma, calling it a recompense for a Karma of the past life. But there is ample reason to believe that few indeed comprehend what the term actually connotes or what it entails. Mostly, it is used to suggest destiny, fate, as something we have no control over, something that we bring over at birth but always as a reward or punishment for what we did in the past life, a quid pro quo, as it were.
While most believe that the present life experiences are a series of retributions and requitals for similar acts perpetrated in the past life and that for all good and evil done in this life the pay-back period will begin with the next life, some assert that one has to pay for one's deeds in this very life. There's a quick tit for tat they insist, which means that as a measure of fast track justice you are meted out punishments and conferred rewards before the present life ends and this is mostly in terms of physical suffering or well being and material prosperity or destitution. Quite a few especially among the wealthy believe that their sins can be mitigated if not neutralised by benevolent deeds of charity. Some try to bargain with gods and self-styled god-substitutes in an effort to seek amelioration from a spell of misfortune, which is one way of getting round the ill effects of Karma. Then there are some cynics who wonder if there is such a thing as justice and fair play in human existence, which is full of misery and suffering for some and perpetual enjoyment for others.
I was posed an analogous question by a young executive after reading one of my books on leadership wherein I have laid considerable emphasis on the need to have an ethical, value- based character for a leader to gain willing acceptability from the followers which was crucial to effectiveness. The main thrust of his counter argument was that when we look around we find that several notoriously corrupt and depraved persons continue to prosper be it politics, governmental bureaucracy or any other field of human endeavour while honest and upright people suffered which only gives rise to skepticism among young aspirants like him that either righteousness has no place in our society or it's all a brazenly erratic play of destiny.
I am not very sure if he was satisfied by my answer that it was erroneous to measure success or failure in life only by material gains, the real test being how happy a person was, and happiness was a state of mind. But his question did spur in me a desire to investigate the enigmatic if not elusive phenomenon of Karma for, the common rationalisation that is put forth is that it is all the doing of Karma. It takes note, they say, of every conduct, every doing of an individual and spares none in handing down appropriate reward or punishment. If someone prospers it is because of good Karma of the past life and if he suffers it too is because of his bad Karma. A simple straightforward proposition but does it really spell out the truth about Karma, that mysterious awesome cosmic justice system with its inscrutable ways of working? I wondered.
As I scoured related literature and looked for references on Karma I was to discover that Karma as a physical action was only one aspect of it because one created Karmas by words, thoughts, desires and feelings as well, and therefore it operated as much on the physical plane as on the vital, mental and spiritual planes with the law getting appropriately modified to suit the conditions and requirements of each plane. More interestingly, a single deed often gave rise to corresponding Karmas simultaneously on all those planes.
I was fascinated by its pervasive as well as intricate but extremely methodical ways of operation that were highly complex' but precise and eminently objective. Though unsparing the system was nonetheless flexible and much unlike the rigid almost automatic action and reaction mechanism, as is often contended, More captivating was the realisation that it played a fundamental facilitative role in the spiritual evolution of soul and became its vehicle from the stage it took human form till it eventually shed it to achieve oneness with the Universal Spirit. Though man - even a God-realised man for that matter- cannot escape from the working of this cosmic system or Law of Karma as long as he possesses a human body, one thing clearly stands out. If a man is the product of what he has made himself over the innumerable previous lives by his past Karmas, he also has the freedom and the choice to make himself what he will by the exercise of his free will and creativity. This explodes another commonly held belief that man was a prisoner of his destiny as shaped by his past Karmas, though admittedly man does start a new life with that capital. As Upanishads enunciate, 'Beautiful characters attain covetable births while ugly ones get miserable births. As is the conduct so shall he be even in the next life'.
The Upanishads also give the lie to the common penchant for treating it as a reward and punishment system operating at the physical level. They unequivocally pronounce that a doer of good becomes good and the doer of evil becomes evil. This is the cardinal truth, the quintessential feature of the Law of Karma. They further assert that it is the motive that is the deciding factor in determining what is a good deed and what is not. Anything done with a selfish motive to serve personal interests is a bad Karma so, only that deed which is for common good is good Karma and holds the capacity to ennoble and enrich human character. To foist on such a lofty cosmic creation the straitjacket of a manmade law is to betray ignorance about its many splandoured versatility, its vibrancy and its vividness that is spellbinding.
The study of this multifaceted cosmic law also revealed to me how several other widely held notions about its working were misconceived. More importantly, it tellingly drove home the intense profundity of its permeating impact on human life.
Put succinctly, every soul is perpetually engaged all through its existence in the manifest world in the process of self- elevation, its ultimate inevitable destination being union with the Universal Spirit - Brahman. For some, the route is fairly straightforward while for most others it is tortuous, long winding and uneven. The Law of Karma with its discerning justness and versatility serves as an instrument, in fact a well meaning teacher that helps the soul rise to higher levels of consciousness but with self-effort which is the byword in this stupendous cosmic game. Peculiarly, this scheme of things prescribes for man, to begin with, the accumulating and experiencing of the results of his Karmas, and in the course of doing so, elevating his character and spirituality by the use of his free will and creativity. Then using the same free will to annihilate them in toto for, without emptying the basket of Karmas and settling the Karmic account in full there is no Liberation.
Brahma Sutras (79)
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