Sunday, January 08, 2006


Notes on Karma
The word Karma is a Sanskrit word which is used in many senses related to work. The theory of Karma can be traced back to Bhagwad Gita - the sermon given by Lord Krishna and after that it has been interpreted by almost every Indian Philosopher.
Culturally people use it to account for fate or some constraint that prevents people from doing what they want. People in India typically use is to account for some ill luck that befalls even on nice people. In the west it is dismissed as just bad luck, though there seems to be much anguish and concern as to why GOD is not fair.
The colloquial theory of Karma essentially explains bad luck and the constraints that people experience, by telling them that they are "Reaping what they sowed ". Past life is invented to account for something that a person is reaping (some terrible bad luck - like cancer at a young age, untimely loss of spouse or child ) that is hard to account in his/her present life.
However after many years of effort to understand the Theory of Karma - I found a lot of sense in it and is a creation of great beauty. In this note I wish to bring some of the profound ideas that lie in the Theory of Karma and how it works.
The Theory of Karma
Karma literally means action.
We first take an intent and follow it up with action in the form of thought, speaking to others, planning and execution. According to the Theory of Karma - every action taken to achieve a result and profit (fruit of action) leaves a trace or a karmic residue behind it. It is this residue that keeps accumulating and takes away ones well being and freedom. Only a person who acts to produce results without worrying about profit (Nishkama Karma or Niskarma) does not accumulate such a Karmic residue. Such action normally comes out of love or pure passion.
Quoting from Gita :
"I shall now describe nishkama karma yoga, the path of selfless action. You have a right to perform your natural prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to any fruits of that action. You should neither act with desire to enjoy the fruits of your work, nor, as a result, should you be attached to neglecting your duties"
How does Karmic residue work?
Any action whose motive is other than love or passion, begins a psychological compensation process which is hard to complete. Example: If we helped somebody when we did not want to - no amount of compensation helps later as we always feel incomplete. Any incomplete action somehow begins to consume a part of our free attention (in software terminology - an unproductive daemon) on how to get rewarded. During our journey of life we accumulate considerable Karmic residue and this depletes our free attention significantly. Lack of free attention means lack of intelligence. Many of the bad situations we get into life are a result of a lack of intelligence and attention.
However there are pure random events in life and nature that need not be accounted by the Theory of Karma.


Blogger vijji said...

Karma as a concept is much older than Gita ie Mahabharata period. It is discussed in upanishads and carries a wider connotation than that discussed in Gita. There are bad karmas as well as good karma.The residue is believed to be carried over to next life. In fact it is believed that the accumalated Karma determines the nature of your birth. Buddhists have a different concept of Karma. They believe, karma accumalates as consciousness, the cravings, and determines your life in the present as well as in the future. They donot have the concept of Atma and consciousness is an entity in itself and can trvel from body to body. The concept is a clever way of forcing ethics on a society.

9:09 AM  
Blogger vijji said...

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9:12 AM  
Anonymous Sindhu said...

For a "metaphysical" theory explaining karma, I'd recommend "The Hologrpahic Universe" by Michael Talbot (physicist at Princeton U). Note - you have to get to the last-ish chapter for this.

2:15 PM  
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