The Himalayan Academy
The twin beliefs of Karm and reincarnation are among Hinduism's many jewels of knowledge. Others include dharma or our pattern of religious conduct, worshipful communion with God and Gods, the necessary guidance of the Sat Guru, and finally enlightenment through personal realization of our identity in and with God. So the strong-shouldered and keen-minded rishis knew and stated in the Ved.
And these are not mere assumptions of probing, brilliant minds. They are laws of the cosmos. As God's force of gravity shapes cosmic order, Karm shapes experiential order. Our long sequence of lives is a tapestry of creating and resolving Karm-positive, negative and an amalgam of the two. During the succession of a soul's lives-through the mysteries of our higher Chakr and God's and Guru's Grace-no Karm(ic) situation will arise that exceeds an individual's ability to resolve it in love and understanding.
Many people are very curious about their past lives and expend great time, effort and money to explore them. Actually, this curious probing into past lives is unnecessary. Indeed it is a natural protection from reliving past trauma or becoming infatuated more with our past lives that our present life that the inner recesses of the Mooladhar memory Chakr are not easily accessed. For, as we exist now is a sum total of all our past lives. In our present moment, our mind and body state is the cumulative result of the entire spectrum of our past lives. So, no matter how great the intellectual knowing of these two key principles, it is how we currently live that positively shapes Karm and unfolds us spiritually. Knowing the laws, we are responsible to resolve blossoming Karm from past lives and create Karm that, projected into the future, will advance, not hinder, us.
Karm literally means "deed or act," but more broadly describes the principle of cause and effect. Simply stated, Karm is the law of action and reaction which governs consciousness. In physics -- the study of energy and matter -- Sir Isaac Newton postulated that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Push against a wall. Its material is molecularly pushing back with a force exactly equal to yours. In metaphysics, Karm is the law that states that every mental, emotional and physical act, no matter how insignificant, is projected out into the psychic mind substance and eventually returns to the individual with equal impact.
The Akaash(ic) memory in our higher Chakr faithfully records the soul's impressions during its series of earthly lives, and in the astral/mental worlds in-between earth existences. Ancient Yogi, in psychically studying the time line of cause/effect, assigned three categories to Karm. The first is Sanchit, the sum total of past Karm yet to be resolved. The second category is Prarabdh, that portion of Sanchit Karm being experienced in the present life. Kriyaman, the third type, is Karm you are presently creating. However, it must be understood that your past negative Karm can be altered into a smoother, easier state through the loving, heart-Chakr nature, through Dharm and Saadhana. That is the key of Karm(ic) wisdom. Live religiously well and you will create positive Karm for the future and soften negative Karm of the past.
Truths and Myths About Karm
Karm operates not only individually, but also in ever-enlarging circles of group Karm where we participate in the sum Karm of multiple souls. This includes family, community, nation, race and religion, even planetary group Karm. So if we, individually or collectively, unconditionally love and give, we will be loved and given to. The individuals or groups who act soulfully or maliciously toward us are the vehicle of our own Karm(ic) creation. The people who manifest your Karm are also living through past Karm and simultaneously creating future Karm. For example, if their Karm(ic) pattern did not include miserliness, they would not be involved in your Karm of selfishness. Another person may express some generosity toward you, fulfilling the gifting Karm of your past experience. Imagine how intricately interconnected all the cycles of Karm are for our planet's life forms.
Many people believe in the principle of Karm, but don't apply its laws to their daily life or even to life's peak experiences. There is a tendency to cry during times of personal crisis, "Why has God done this to me?" or "What did I do to deserve this?" While God is the creator and sustainer of the cosmic law of Karm, He does not dispense individual Karm. He does not produce cancer in one person's body and develop Olympic athletic prowess in another's. We create our own experiences. It is really an exercising of our soul's powers of creation. Karm, then, is our best spiritual teacher. We spiritually learn and grow as our actions return to us to be resolved and dissolved. In this highest sense, there is no good and bad Karm; there is self-created experience that presents opportunities for spiritual advancement. If we can't draw lessons from the Karm, then we resist and/or resent it, lashing out with mental, emotional or physical force. The original substance of that Karm(ic) event is spent and no longer exists, but the current reaction creates a new condition of harsh Karm.
Responsibility resolving Karm is among the most important reasons that a Sat Guru is necessary in a sincere seeker's life. The Guru helps the devotee to hold his mind in focus, to become pointedly conscious of thought, word and deed. Without the guidance and grace of the Guru, the devotee's mind will be splintered between instinctive and intellectual forces, making it very difficult to resolve Karm. Only when Karm is wisely harnessed can the mind become still enough to experience its own superconscious depths.
Karm is also misunderstand as fate, an unchangeable destiny decreed long ago by agencies or forces external to us such as the planet and stars, or Gods. Karm is neither fate nor predetermination. Each soul has absolute free will Its only boundary is Karm. God and Gods do not dictate the experiential events of our lives, nor do they test us. And there is no cosmic force that molds our life. Indeed, when beseeched through deep prayer and worship, the Supreme Being and His great Gods may intercede within our Karm, lightening its impact or shifting its location in time to a period when we are better prepared to resolve it. Hindu astrology, or Jyotish, details a real relation between ourselves and the geography of the solar system and certain star clusters, but it is not a cause-effect relation. Planets and stars don't cause or dictate Karm. Their orbital relationships establish proper conditions for Karm to activate and a particular type of personality nature to develop. Jyotisha describes a relation of revealment: it reveals prarabdha Karm(ic) patterns for a given birth and how we will generally react to them (kriyamana Karm). This is like a pattern of different colored windows allowing sunlight in to reveal and color a house's arrangement of furniture. With astrological knowledge we are aware of our life's Karm(ic) pattern and can thereby anticipate it wisely.
Reincarnation: A Soul's Path to Godness
The soul dwells as the inmost body of light and superconscious, universal mind of a series of nested bodies, each more refined than the next: physical, Pran(ic), astral, mental. In our conscious mind we think and feel ourselves to be a physical body with some intangible spirit within it. Yet, right now our real identity is the soul that is sensing through its multiple bodies physical, emotional and mental experience. Recognizing this as reality, we powerfully know that life doesn't end with the death of the biological body. The soul continues to occupy the astral body, a subtle, luminous duplicate of the physical body. This subtle body is made of higher-energy astral matter and dwells in a dimension called the astral plane. If the soul body itself is highly evolved, it will occupy the astral/mental bodies on a very refined plane of the astral known as the Devaloka, "the world of light-shining beings." At death, the soul slowly becomes totally aware in its astral/mental bodies and it predominantly lives through those bodies in the astral dimension.
The soul functions with complete continuity in its astral/mental bodies. It is with these sensitive vehicles that we experience dream or "astral" worlds during sleep every night. The astral world is equally as solid and beautiful, as varied and comprehensive as the earth dimension-if not much more so. Spiritual growth, psychic development, guidance in matters of governance and commerce, artistic cultivation, inventions and discoveries of medicine, science and technology all continue by astral people who are "in-between" earthly lives. Many of the Ved hymns entreat the assistance of devas: advanced astral or mental people. Yet, also in the grey, lower regions of this vast, invisible dimension exist astral people whose present pursuits are base, selfish, even sadistic. Where the person goes in the astral plane at sleep or death is dependent upon his earthly pursuits and the quality of his mind.
Because certain seed Karm can only be resolved in earth consciousness and because the soul's initial realizations of Absolute Reality are only achieved in a physical body, our soul joyously enters another biological body. At the right time, it is reborn into a flesh body that will best fulfill its Karm(ic) pattern. In this process, the current astral body -- which is a duplicate of the last physical form -- is sluffed off as a lifeless shell that in due course disintegrates, and a new astral body develops as the new physical body grows. This entering into another body is called reincarnation: "re-occupying the flesh."
During our thousands of earth lives, a remarkable variety of life patterns are experienced. We exist as male and female, often switching back and forth from life to life as the nature becomes more harmonized into a person exhibiting both feminine nurturing and masculine intrepidness. We come to earth as princesses and presidents, as paupers and pirates, as tribals and scientists, as murderers and healers, as atheists and, ultimately, God-Realized sages. We take bodies of every race and live the many religions, faiths and philosophies as the soul gains more knowledge and evolutionary experience.
Therefore, the Hindu knows that the belief in a single life on earth, followed by eternal joy or pain is utterly wrong and causes great anxiety, confusion and fear. Hindus know that all souls reincarnate, take one body and then another, evolving through experience over long periods of time. Like the caterpillar's metamorphosis into the butterfly, death doesn't end our existence but frees us to pursue an even greater development.
Understanding the laws of the death process, the Hindu is vigilant of his thoughts and mental loyalties. He knows that the contents of his mind at the point of death in large part dictate where he will function in the astral plane and the quality of his next birth. Secret questionings and doubt of Hindu belief, and associations with other belief systems will automatically place him among like-minded people whose beliefs are alien to Hinduism. A nominal Hindu on earth could be a selfish materialist in the astral world. The Hindu also knows that death must come naturally, in its own course, and that suicide only accelerates the intensity of one's Karm, bringing a series of immediate lesser births and requiring several lives for the soul to return to the exact evolutionary point that existed at the moment of suicide, at which time the still-existing Karm(ic) entanglements must again be faced and resolved.
Two other Karm(ic)ally sensitive processes are: 1. artificially sustaining life in a wholly incapacitated physical body through mechanical devices, drugs or intravenous feeding; and 2. euthanasia, "mercy killing." There is a critical timing in the death transition. The dying process can involve long suffering or be peaceful or painfully sudden: all dependent on the Karm involved. To keep a person on life support with the sole intent of continuing the body's biological functions nullifies the natural timing of death. It also keeps the person's astral body earthbound, tethered to a lower astral region rather than being released into higher astral levels.
An important lesson to learn here is that Karm is conditioned by intent. When the medical staff receives a dangerously ill or injured person and they place him on life support as part of an immediate life-saving procedure, their intent is pure healing. If their attempts are unsuccessful, then the life-support devices are turned off, the person dies naturally and there is no Karm involved and it does not constitute euthanasia. However, if the doctors, family or patient decide to continue life support indefinitely to prolong biological processes, (usually motivated by a Western belief of a single life) then the intent carries full Karm(ic) consequences. When a person is put on long-term life support, he must be left on it until some natural biological or environmental event brings death. If he is killed through euthanasia, this again further disturbs the timing of the death. As a result, the timing of future births would be drastically altered.
Euthanasia, the willful destruction of a physical body, is a very serious Karm. This applies to all cases including someone experiencing long-term, intolerable pain. Even such difficult life experiences must be allowed to resolve themselves naturally. Dying may be painful, but death itself is not. All those involved (directly or indirectly) in euthanasia will proportionately take on the remaining prarabdha Karm of the dying person. And the euthanasia participants will, to the degree contributed, face a similar Karm(ic) situation in this or a future life.
Finally, there is exercising wisdom -- which is knowing and using divine law -- in the overall context of any situation For example, a vegetative person in a coma is on long-term life support in a hospital when a patient is brought in for emergency treatment requiring that same life support equipment. Weighing the two Karm, a doctor could dharmically unplug the comatose patient in order to save the other's life.
Moksh: Freedom From Rebirth
Life's real attainment is not money, not material luxury, not sexual or eating pleasure, not intellectual, business or political power, or any other of the instinctive or intellectual needs. These are natural pursuits, to be sure, but our divine purpose on this earth is to personally realize our identity in and with God. This is now called by many names: enlightenment, Self-Realization, God-Realization and Nirvikalp Samadhi. After many lifetimes of wisely controlling the creation of Karm and resolving past Karm when they return, the soul is fully matured in the knowledge of these divine laws and the highest use of them. Through the practice of Yog, the Hindu bursts into God's superconscious Mind, the experience of bliss, all-knowingness, perfect silence. His intellect is transmuted, and he soars into the Absolute Reality of God. He is a Gyaani, a knower of the Known. When the Gyaani is stable in repeating his realization of the Absolute, there is no longer a need for physical birth, for all lessons have been learned, all Karm fulfilled and Godness is his natural mind state. That individual soul is then naturally liberated, freed from the cycle of birth, death & rebirth on this planet. After Moksh, our soul continues its evolution in the inner worlds, eventually to merge back into its origin: God, the Primal Soul.
Every Hindu expects to seek for and attain Moksh. But he or she does not expect that it will necessarily come in this present life. Hindus know this and do not delude themselves that this life is the last. Seeking and attaining profound spiritual relizations, they nevertheless know that there is much to be accomplished on earth and that only mature, God-Realized souls attain Moksh.
God may seem distant and remote as the experience of our self-created Karm cloud our mind. Yet, in reality, the Supreme Being is always closer to you than the beat of your heart. His Mind pervades the totality of your Karm(ic) experience and lifetimes. As Karm is God's cosmic law of cause and effect, Dharm is God's law of Being, including the pattern of Hindu religiousness. Through following Dharm and controlling thought, word and deed, Karm is harnessed and wisely created. You become the master, the knowing creator, not a helpless victim. Through being consistent in our religiousness, following the Yam and Niyam (Hindu restraints and observances), performing the pancha Nitya Karm (five constant duties), seeing God everywhere and in everyone, our past Karm will soften. We may experience the Karm indirectly through seeing someone else going through a situation that we intuitively know was a Karm we also were to face. But because of devout religiousness, we may experience it vicariously or in lesser intensity. For example, a physical Karm may manifest as a mental experience or a realistic dream; an emotional Karm(ic) storm may just barely touch our mind before dying out.
The belief in Karm and reincarnation brings to each Hindu inner peace and self-assurance. The Hindu knows that the maturing of the soul takes many lives, and that if the soul is immature in the present birth, then there is hope, for there will be many opportunities for learning and growing in future lives. Yes, these beliefs and the attitudes they produce eliminate anxiety, giving the serene perception that everything is all right as it is. And, there is also a keen insight into the human condition and appreciation for people in all stages of spiritual unfoldment.
Mandala on Karm and Rebirth in Dancing With Shiv
Karm and Rebirth
Ganesh is the Lord of Obstacles and Ruler of Dharm. Seated upon His throne, He guides our Karm through creating and removing obstacles from our path. We seek His permission and blessings in every undertaking. Aum.
How Do Hindus Understand Karm?
Karm literally means "deed or act" and more broadly names the universal principle of cause and effect, action and reaction which governs all life. Karm is a natural law of the mind, just as gravity is a law of matter. Aum.
Karm is not fate, for man acts with free will creating his own destiny. The Ved tell us, if we sow goodness, we will reap goodness; if we sow evil, we will reap evil. Karm refers to the totality of our actions and their concomitant reactions in this and previous lives, all of which determines our future. It is the interplay between our experience and how we respond to it that makes Karm devastating or helpfully invigorating. The conquest of Karm lies in intelligent action and dispassionate reaction. Not all Karm rebound immediately. Some accumulate and return unexpectedly in this or other births. The several kinds of Karm are: personal, family, community, national, global and universal. Ancient rishis perceived personal Karm's three-fold edict. The first is Sanchit, the sum total of past Karm yet to be resolved. The second is prarabdha, that portion of Sanchit to be experienced in this life. kriyamana, the third type, is Karm we are currently creating. The Ved propound, "Here they say that a person consists of desires. And as is his desire, so is his will. As is his will, so is his deed. Whatever deed he does, that he will reap." Aum Namah Shivaayay.
Is There Good Karm and Bad Karm?
In the highest sense, there is no good or bad Karm. All experience offers opportunities for spiritual growth. Selfless acts yield positive, uplifting conditions. Selfish acts yield conditions of negativity and confusion. Aum.
Karm itself is neither good nor bad but a neutral principle that governs energy and motion of thought, word and deed. All experience helps us grow. Good, loving actions bring to us lovingness through others. Mean, selfish acts bring back to us pain and suffering. Kindness produces sweet fruits, called punya. Unkindness yields spoiled fruits, called papa. As we mature, life after life, we go through much pain and joy. Actions that are in tune with Dharm help us along the path, while adharmic actions impede our progress. The divine law is: whatever Karm we are experiencing in our life is just what we need at the moment, and nothing can happen but that we have the strength to meet it. Even harsh Karm, when faced in wisdom, can be the greatest catalyst for spiritual unfoldment. Performing daily sadhana, keeping good company, pilgrimaging to holy places, seeing to others' needs -- these evoke the higher energies, direct the mind to useful thoughts and avoid the creation of troublesome new Karm. The Ved explain, "According as one acts, so does he become. One becomes virtuous by virtuous action, bad by bad action." Aum Namah Shivaayay.
What Is the Process of Reincarnation?
Reincarnation, Punarjanm, is the natural process of birth, death and rebirth. At death we drop off the physical body and continue evolving in the inner worlds in our subtle bodies, until we again enter into birth. Aum.
Through the ages, reincarnation has been the great consoling element within Hinduism, eliminating the fear of death, explaining why one person is born a genius and another an idiot. We are not the body in which we live but the immortal soul which inhabits many bodies in its evolutionary journey through Sansaar. After death, we continue to exist in unseen worlds, enjoying or suffering the harvest of earthly deeds until it comes time for yet another physical birth. Because certain Karm can be resolved only in the physical world, we must enter another physical body to continue our evolution. After soaring into the causal plane, we enter a new womb. Subsequently the old Manomaya Kosh is slowly sloughed off and a new one created. The actions set in motion in previous lives form the tendencies and conditions of the next. Reincarnation ceases when Karm is resolved, God is realized and Moksh attained. The Ved say, "After death, the soul goes to the next world bearing in mind the subtle impressions of its deeds, and after reaping their harvest returns again to this world of action. Thus, he who has desires continues subject to rebirth." Aum Namah Shivaayay.
How Should We View Death and Dying?
Our soul never dies; only the physical body dies. We neither fear death nor look forward to it, but revere it as a most exalted experience. Life, death and the afterlife are all part of our path to perfect oneness with God. Aum.
For Hindus, death is nobly referred to as Mahaprasthaan, "the great journey." When the lessons of this life have been learned and Karm reach a point of intensity, the soul leaves the physical body, which then returns its elements to the earth. The awareness, will, memory and intelligence which we think of as ourselves continue to exist in the soul body. Death is a most natural experience, not to be feared. It is a quick transition from the physical world to the astral plane, like walking through a door, leaving one room and entering another. Knowing this, we approach death as a sadhana, as a spiritual opportunity, bringing a level of detachment which is difficult to achieve in the tumult of life and an urgency to strive more than ever in our search for the Divine Self. To be near a realized soul at the time he or she gives up the body yields blessings surpassing those of a thousand and eight visits to holy persons at other times. The Ved explain, "As a caterpillar coming to the end of a blade of grass draws itself together in taking the next step, so does the soul in the process of transition strike down this body and dispel its ignorance." Aum Namah Shivaayay.
How Does One Best Prepare for Death?
Blessed with the knowledge of impending transition, we settle affairs and take refuge in Jap, worship, scripture and Yog --seeking the highest realizations as we consciously, joyously release the world. Aum Namah Shivaayay.
Before dying, Hindus diligently fulfill obligations, make amends and resolve differences by forgiving themselves and others, lest unresolved Karm bear fruit in future births. That done, we turn to God through meditation, surrender and scriptural study. As a conscious death is our ideal, we avoid drugs, artificial life-extension and suicide. Suicide only postpones and intensifies the Karm one seeks escape from, requiring several lives to return to the evolutionary point that existed at the moment of suicide. In cases of terminal illness, under strict community regulation, tradition does allow Prayopavesh, self-willed religious death by fasting. When nearing transition, if hospitalized, we return home to be among loved ones. In the final hours of life, we seek the Self God within and focus on our Mantr as kindred keep prayerful vigil. At death, we leave the body through the crown Chakr, entering the clear white light and beyond in quest of Videhamukti. The Ved affirm, "When a person comes to weakness, be it through old age or disease, he frees himself from these limbs just as a mango, a fig or a berry releases itself from its stalk." Aum Namah Shivaayay.
Scriptures Speak on Sansaar
Desireless, wise, immortal, self-existent, full of bliss, lacking in nothing, is the one who knows the wise, unaging, youthful Aatmaa(n). He fears not death!
- Atharv Ved
He, however, who has not understanding, who is unmindful and ever impure, reaches not the goal, but goes on to reincarnation. He, however, who has understanding, who is mindful and ever pure, reaches the goal from which he is born no more.
- Yajur Ved
Go, my breath, to the immortal Breath. Then may this body end in ashes! Remember, O my mind, the deeds of the past, remember the deeds, remember the deeds!
- Yajur Ved
O Maghavan, verily, this body is mortal. It has been appropriated by death. But it is the standing ground of that deathless, bodiless Self (Aatmaa(n)). Verily, he who is incorporate has been appropriated by pleasure and pain. Verily, there is no freedom from pleasure and pain for one while he is incorporate. Verily, while one is bodiless, pleasure and pain do not touch him.
- Saam Ved
Through the ripening of the fruits of his actions he does not attain any rest, like a worm caught within a whirlpool. The desire for liberation arises in human beings at the end of many births, through the ripening of their past virtuous conduct.
- Yajur Ved
He lives as long as he lives. Then when he dies, they carry him to the fire. His fire, in truth, becomes the fire; fuel, the fuel; smoke, the smoke; flame, the flame; coals, the coals; sparks, the sparks. In this fire the Gods offer a person. From this oblation the man arises, having the color of light.
- Yajur Ved
Thus acting from the principle of maya itself down to the lowest level, Karm, even when it manifests as good, is an obstacle still, because it is not toward liberation that it leads. Karm does not dissolve without its various fruits being tasted and consumed.
- Mrigendra Agam
A twice-born, gone to the end of the Ved, knowing that life is impermanent, may abandon the body there by fasting to death according to prescription. After worshiping the Gods and honoring the Muni, the Siddh may go to heaven, the eternal realm of Brahm.
Even as the snake sloughs off its skin, even as the bird leaves its shell, even as in its waking state the Jeev forgets happenings of the dream state -- thus does Jeev from one body to another migrate until, with grace of Hara, it reaches where it is destined to be, and there experiences the two Karm, good and evil.
I pray Thee for undying love. I pray Thee for the birthless state; but were I to be born again, for the grace of never forgetting Thee. Still more do I pray to be at Thy feet singing joyfully while Thou dancest.
All suffering recoils on the wrongdoer himself. Therefore, those who desire not to suffer refrain from causing others pain. If a man inflicts sorrow on another in the morning, sorrow will come to him unbidden in the afternoon.
The Life of my life, whose nature 'tis to hold the fire in Hishand, essence of Truth of purest gold, who neither comes nor goes, the Mighty One who doth all souls pervade -- in this great world, for those who thus meditate on Him, all future births will end.
Copyright 1998 © The Himalayan Academy; Compilation Copyright 1999 © Mantra Corporation; Not for commercial use, solely to be fairly used for the purposes of persnal spiritual saadhanaa, educational research and open discussion. All Rights Reserved.