Karma… This subject gained incredible popularity these days, as it seems to be a sensitive point for many. Bookshops, answering the demand, filled their shelves with a wide choice of books about karma. It is natural that many people are trying to find out more, because everyone wants to know why we get unhappy despite of wanting to be happy, why we are followed by a bad luck or illnesses, why our planes fall apart etc. Trying to find an answer, people literally sweep such literature off the shelves – but have such book really helped anyone? The answer is – sadly not.But why does that happen? The reason is because all modern literature is based on a completely mislead concept, which is characteristic of the European culture. The majority of what we have read about karma so far is originating from a horrible mistake, which has caused a terrible damage to a huge number of people – maybe even your own friends, relatives or neighbours. What’s more, even a mistaken concept inevitably becomes a part of the social culture and mentality, and therefore starts influencing even the thinking of those who are not interested in the subject. That means that an ever growing number of people is being lead astray – and as we know misconceptions have never been helpful in solving any problems, they can only multiply the existing ones.
The biggest mistake is that people start blaming karma for all hardships and disappointments in their life, while many of such issues have nothing to do with it. By convincing themselves that it’s all ‘karma’s fault’ such people are creating for themselves in fact additional karma, ruining things for themselves where there were no real reasons for it.
Dealing with your own karmic problems and solving them successfully is possible. To achieve that though, you need to have the strength to face your own past, looking for the keys buried in the deepest layers of memory. Some people are not courageous enough to look back and accept the sad truth about themselves. They would prefer to ‘leave the past behind’, and ‘only look forward’. Those, who can change that mental attitude though, can reap real rewards. If you feel strong enough to start healing your soul and your life now, then this article is for you.
The theory of karma: distortion of the concept throughout the ages.
Karma – the original concept
The concept of karma was first described by the spiritual teachers in India, at least 4,000 years BC in a philosophical and spiritual work called Mahabharata. Mahabharata encapsulates the fundamentals of Hinduism, as well as the teachings of Samkhya, which later blossomed in Buddhism, because Buddha was the first one who had reached the end of that path. It also became the source of multiple yoga disciplines such as hatha yoga (the yoga of body), jnāna yoga (the yoga of wisdom), rāja yoga (orthodox), kriya yoga etc. One of the most difficult disciplines mentioned there was karma yoga. This original body of work is also the only source where we can find a clear, undistorted concept of karma. It can be recommended as a very useful and enlightening read.
The concept of karma lies at the foundations of the whole philosophy of Hinduism.
The underlying thought in the spiritual teachings of India is that a man comes to this world more than once. The soul is being born again and again, to go through subsequent incarnations, changing bodies but keeping its divine essence. Such a chain of incarnations is called the Wheel of Saṃsāra, which represents an endless whirl of births and deaths, when even after the physical body dies, the soul cannot part with the mundane world and go into nirvana – a place of eternal bliss, inhabited by pure spirits, which set themselves free from the pains of the human life and which is filled with divine presence.
A soul can touch nirvana and experience the knowledge of the God – the highest consciousness, briefly after the death, but shortly after that it’s dragged back to the lower levels of Being, into the bog of the human life.
Why does that happen? Many people would immediately answer something like ‘This is because the God will send away the soul of a sinner’. This answer shows the most terrifying mistake, one of the most malevolent misconceptions which were born from the distortion of the original teachings of Mahabharata. Do a self-check to find out whether you too are suffering from this horrible belief of ‘a sinful soul which gets rejected’. We need to break those damaging stereotypes once and for all and rediscover the truth.
Let’s come back to the Hindu philosophy for a while to find out what was the difference between a human soul and the God according to the ancient Hindus? You may be surprised by the answer, but there was NO difference at all. Yes, that’s right, the essence of a human soul and the essence of the God are totally the same. If we imagine the God as a body of fire, then a human soul would be one of its flames. The nature of the former and the nature of the latter is the same – fire. There is no difference in their essence.
How comes then the God won’t accept a part of himself – a human soul? That simply shouldn’t happen, so why doesn’t the soul stay with the God, but instead slides back into the Samsara’s Wheel again?
The reason is that a human soul, apart from its divine essence, has also extraneous elements; layers created by life in the human world. It’s reigned by passions, desires and feelings – and these become the weight which ultimately drags it back to the lower layers of Being, where the soul can find a fulfilment for its desires and passions. Such a state doesn’t allow the soul to stay in the state of nirvana, so it’s not the God, but the soul’s free choice, which forces it to go back. The soul is attracted to the same things it got used to, so the earthly passions and desires attract it back to be born again and again. There is no ‘punishment for the sins’ inflicted by the God, as he doesn’t interfere in the process of incarnation. The soul can choose at any point to desist from the human passions and achieve eternal nirvana. If he or she decides not to do it yet, it only means that their soul is not yet tired of the human life, it wants to experience more incarnations and learn more.
From the point of view of the ancient Hindus, however, the human life was nothing but neverending suffer. Their thinking was that: “For what you love will be lost, what you’ve created will be taken away from you, your own body will betray you at the end when the time comes. This world and its illusions bring nothing but pain, so being born again should be avoided even at a cost of a ten thousand incarnations. Only death is peaceful and eternal. Death will never make you suffer as much as life does, so it’s better.” In their perception the vale of life was a source of grief, pain and suffering, regardless whether one was rich or poor, healthy or ill – everyone is equally exposed to suffer. As the Hindus didn’t believe that one can achieve happiness and fulfilment on earth, they wanted to do everything to prevent new incarnations.
We need to mention here, that over these 6 thousand years which passed from the creation of Mahabharata, many things have changed in the world. With the knowledge we have now we can’t say that there is no way to achieve freedom and happiness in this life, because they have since been discovered.
However, the original concept of karma stayed the same. In the traditional doctrine, karma is something which anchors a soul in the human life and makes it to come back on earth time and time again, preventing the soul from merging with the God. This anchor which weights the soul down is nothing else but its own passions, feelings and desires – NOT its actions or behaviour. It’s not what we do, which counts, but WHAT WE FEEL when doing things and making choices. This is why if one’s actions and feelings are incongruous, they won’t be for the benefit of the person. To put it simpler – if you are doing something ‘good’, ‘proper’ or ‘what people expect you to do’, but instead of doing it whole-heartedly you’re gritting your teeth and thinking ‘I’ll do it for others to see what a good person I am, but I do wish I didn’t have to do that’ – it will be your feeling, not your action, which will ultimately decide on the value of what you did.
The word karma has no direct translation into English, but it’s sometimes being translated as ‘action’ or ‘cause’. Its meaning could be described as ‘an action, which causes an effect due to its emotional significance’. This concept which says that ‘an action with no emotional attachment (done unpassionately), doesn’t cause an effect (doesn’t bring a soul be born again)’ was laid in the foundations of karma yoga. Only emotionally tinted actions cause a soul to go into new incarnations.
So to summarise what was said earlier we can give an original, true definition of karma as follows: “Karma is the total weight of actions and reactions, which chain a soul to the human life and prevent it from staying in nirvana, forcing the soul to go through subsequent incarnations.”
Let’s analyse now what feelings and passions create karma. We are taught to think, that karma is created only by negative, angry thoughts and emotions. The truth is though that ANY emotion activates karma. Someone who is passionately devoted to spreading Good, love and compassion, will be as much entangled into the nets of karma as someone who is spreading hate, pain and anger. Their karma will be, naturally, different in quality, but it’s the passion which will bring them all back into the human world again and again. Karma itself has no moral value; any passion, whether it’s positive or negative creates karma as it prevents a soul to merge with the God.
The mechanism of karma is not a punishment for sins, bad behaviour or negative emotions. Hatred, love, compassion, jealousy, greed, earning of power, hunger or fear – everything from collecting stamps to fighting for peace can became a cause for creating karma.
Karma is an objective rule, which will affect everyone who failed to desist from desires and emotions during their lifetime. That rule makes sure that a soul will be born again in the conditions where the potential it had accumulated in the previous incarnations can be used at its fullest. Someone who was feeling victimised, humiliated, filled with guilt – will be placed again in similar circumstances, magnifying the feeling of guilt and victimisation. Nobody forces the soul to choose such a life – it does it itself. If someone was passionately dreaming of becoming rich, he will be born again in a poor family, where the soul will get an opportunity to do again what it is used to the most: passionately dream about money. Even in a new incarnation, a soul will be drawn to repeat the things it’s been used to – so if someone was rich, he will be born rich again, if someone was happy – he will be inclined towards choosing a life, where he can still be happy. There is no compulsion, the soul makes its own free choice when coming back to be reborn in this world.
You need to understand, that whatever is happening in our lives, it’s a free choice which has been made by our soul for certain reasons – although we may no longer remember those reasons. From the Universe’s perspective, our lives and ‘sins’ are less then minute particles of sand, so it’s naïve to think that the God personally watches and punishes everyone who does something wrong. To believe that the God does nothing but showers you with personal attention all the time means being overwhelmed with pride and self-importance to an enormous degree. Such a thought may be comforting for some with low self-esteem, but the reality is, that we are a subject to objective rules of the Universe, not some mysterious divine punishment.
The ancient Hindus focused their efforts on avoiding new incarnations. To achieve that they had created many systems of self-improvement, which evolved to became different disciplines of yoga. All those systems were created with one ultimate goal in mind – to achieve a clear state of mind free from passion, become uninclined to take actions and detached from the fruits of one’s own labour. About the path of karma yoga they said the following: “You must become like a petal of lotus in the water – the water is above, beneath and all around the petal, but it never gets inside it.” A petal of lotus symbolised the God and a pure soul. Unbiased, wise, calm and detached person, free from all human passions and desires is the one who, according to the ancient Hindu believes, can achieve eternal happiness through avoiding to be born again.
There is no need for us now to strive to achieve that absolute detachment though secluded life or any kind of physical deprivation. We must remember that there are significant differences in the perception on the world and the opportunities between the people in our age and the ancient Hindus. From their point of view a new birth here on Earth was the worst punishment, because they could see no ways of exploring one’s divine essence and achieving happiness in this life. On the other hand, we have discovered such ways, therefore we love our life and don’t want to shorten the experience or finish it before time.
We need to learn the quintessence of the ancient teachings though, to be able to understand the concept deeper. Below are the main points we can find after analysing Mahabharata:
- Karma in its original meaning is a burden of actions and reactions caused by an emotional attachment and chaining a soul to a human life, making it impossible to avoid subsequent incarnations
- Karma causes for a soul to be born again in this world after the death of its physical body
- Karma in its original meaning is not a form of punishment
- Breaking free from karma leads to the final death – the lost of individuality and merging with the Highest Consciousness
- Breaking free from karma is a person’s own responsibility, the Gods do not interfere in that process
The Vedas – A Distortion of the original karma concept
The concept of karma shared the fate of all other religious believes. With time, the ruling classes decided to adopt it for their personal needs to create a tool which would allow them to control other people’s minds.
Each religion comes, unfortunately, in two forms or two bodies – a spiritual body and a social body. The spiritual part is devoted to searching the truth and getting closer to the God in the form set by the founders of the religion. The purpose of the social body is to find the best ways of controlling and manipulating people. The history is full of examples of bloody wars, which were sparkled by the social bodies of different religions. Religious cults are being born from people’s need for searching for the truth and discovering ways to the spiritual evolution. But the ruling classes are not at least bit interested in people evolving and reaching enlightenment, because that would make them free from manipulation. To keep people under control, the governments of all countries and eras tried to distort religious concepts, so a religion can be turned into a mind-controlling mechanism. Just imagine how convenient is to make people believe that they would be punished by some higher forces for disobedience and that the God will prosecute all sinners. It may have even happened to you, when in response to an unfair treatment, you swallowed your pride and instead of showing the offender his place or try to put the situation right you just said in your thoughts “the God will punish him eventually”. If one spreads that concept on a whole nation, it becomes very transparent what a great manipulation tool it is – the belief in the punishing God or some kind makes people calmly accept any unfairness or humiliation and never fight to protect themselves.
Same thing happened to the concept of karma. The original belief put karma above human moral rules; it was described as a mechanism with worked regardless of whether the passion involved was perceived as good or bad by the society. The government was interested in adapting the original belief to justify the social structure of India at the time, and to that end was created a text, which was allegedly supposed to explain Mahabharata, but which in fact distorted its teachings – the Vedas.
How could one adopt the concept of karma to control others? As we all know, the social structure of the ancient India was based on the caste system. The whole nation was divided into 4 castes by the right of birth and it was impossible to become a member of a different caste during one life. The lower caste was Shudras, or the Untouchables – those were people doing the dirtiest physical jobs like cleaning, rubbish collection etc. The next caste was Vaishyas – the merchant class. Higher up were placed Kshatriyas – warriors, responsible for upholding justice and social harmony. They had the right to give orders to the lower castes and use the products of their labour.Higher above were Brahmans – they had the right to interpret the will of the gods and give orders to Kshatriyas. Each caste had its rules and responsibilities, and their members had to behave according to those rules. That guaranteed order and stability in the society. To enforce that idea, in the Vedas was presented a new concept of karma, according to which each person who didn’t comply with his or her caste canon would create a bad karma and be born to a lower caste in their next life. A badly behaving Shudra, who had no lower caste to be degraded to, was said to be become an animal.
So the seeds of delusion have been planted. Now a person would expect a punishment from karma – for breaking the rules of the society, not the divine rules or the Universe. But back then people weren’t yet threatened by any misfortunes or bad luck in case of disobedience – they were just told that by not complying with the social rules they distance themselves further from salvation, to achieve which they would need a greater number of incarnations. Following that idea, the highest number of incarnations was awaiting Shudras, while Brahmans had the lowest. That was because Brahmans were believed to be the furthest from the passions of the human life and therefore the closest to nirvana. It wasn’t said though that a Brahman was bound to be happier, than a Kshatriya, or a Kshatriya happier, than a Vaishya. A good behaviour wasn’t awarded with a happy life, similarly like inappropriate behaviour didn’t lead to misfortunes. There could be very happy and fulfilled Vaishyas and poor and unhappy Kshatriyas. Nevertheless, a miserable and destituted Kshatriya was still closer to salvation than even the most successful Vaishya.
The concept of karma, modified to serve the needs of the rulers, had now a new value – linked not just to a person’s soul, but also to the rules accepted in the society. The fear of karma made people incredibly law-obedient, so the caste system survived for a very long time.
Unfortunately, the Western discoverers who arrived later based their research not on Mahabharata – a long and complex text written in a hard to understand old language – but on the Vedas, a shortened and easy-to-read version, written in a modern style. That initial confusion is to blame for the disastrous misconception, which was subsequently born and has caused an enormous damage to many people’s souls.
The Vedas, despite distorting the original idea, have still maintained many of its actual features, so the result can me summarised as follows:
- Having karma still meant that a soul would be sent to a new incarnation on this Earth, not being punished by bad luck or misfortunes in the current life
- Breaking free from karma meant the final death, the lost of one’s individuality and merging with the Highest Consciousness
- Karma was created through the behaviour that breached the rules of the social body of Hinduism
- Gods do not interfere in the process of creation/liberation from karma
Western popularisers and the final distortion of the concept
For the Europeans, an acquaintance with the Hindu philosophy happened relatively recently. We should remember that some 400 years ago most people had a very vague idea about where India is, as confirmed by the infamous Columb’s journey, who discovered America by accident, sailing in the opposite direction. That means that by the time when the Hindu philosophical concepts reached Europe, it was long since ruled by the Christian theosophy. There was nothing wrong with the fact, but it was the merging of these two believes which creates a horrible mixture.
Imagine, how could a Christian philosopher react to the revelations from the East? According to the Christian beliefs, a man lives on this earth just once and depending on his behaviour goes to the hell or heaven afterwards. Neither the Old nor the New Testament mention the concept of reincarnation. There was an attempt of incorporating such ideas into Christianity at the early stages (better known as the Origen’s heresy), but the Fifth Ecumenical Council banned the concept as potentially dangerous. Therefore from a point of view of an orthodox Christian all discussions about reincarnation are nothing but blasphemy and a devilish heresy.
That means that the most educated in the subject Christian philosophers could not possibly do any research in that direction. Instead, the field attracted writers and literary men, whose minds were more eclectic. They didn’t have an in-depth knowledge about the Christian tradition, but they were curious to discover the new – whatever it was. Turning to the East in their search for the exciting new truths, they casually put together the Hinduism concept of karma and the Christian idea of sin. That was the first mistake of the early translators.
The second mistake was that instead of referring to Mahabharata, they had based their thesises on the shorter and much more accessible Vedas, written in a ‘new’ simplified form of Sanskrit. Without much deliberation, the early translators used the term ‘sin’ where the text mentioned breaking the castes’ rules.
To understand the damaging impact of such mixture, we need to remind ourselves in detail what does the Christian concept of sin involve. We will leave out the original thoughts at the dawn of days and focus on what impact that concept had on the collective consciousness.
We all know that all the religious thesises are mostly conventional and one shouldn’t take them literally. Jesus spoke in parables for a reason – because only through expressing the ideas figuratively it was possible to convey to the people the meaning of God’s laws. Any literal interpretation drastically distorts the true meaning and eventually turns it into a lie.
The problem is though that the collective consciousness does take everything literally, turning all religious concepts upside down. Naturally, such things as ‘God’s wrath’ or ‘God’s punishment’ were just an allegory, a thought-provoking verbal image. But once people started taking it literally, they have reduced the meaning of the processes taking place in the Universe to their limited understanding.
The same thing happened with the idea of sin. People tried to adopt high religious concepts for the simple needs of the everyday life, which over time started leading them astray.
The basics of this concept are well knows by everyone. There is a set of certain rules, a violation of which is regarded to be a ‘mortal sin’, which confines a soul to eternal suffering in hell. For committing minor sins a soul will be sent to Purgatory, where it will be given a chance to expiate its wrongdoings. All sins, including those mortal ones can be forgiven for those who confess to a priest and embrace public penance. The only sins for which no absolution can be received are those committed against the social body of the church – such people get anaphemised and banned from church, which in the past has been a very effective tool to turn the rest of the ‘good’ society against such a ‘black sheep’.
The God doesn’t send a punishment during one’s life – only after death. Some trials of faith may take place, but only with a previous warning (like in the story with Jonah). In the New Testament there are no indications of immediate punishment as well (for example, Judas received no punishment; same as Pilate and others.) Jesus judges man only after death, during one’s lifetime no-one has the right to judge others. “Judge not, and you will not be judged.” Trying to judge others is one of sins.
Another corner stone of Christianity is penance. One should always ask the God for forgiveness knowing that in front of the God one is always a sinner, but the God is kind enough to forgive all sins. Believing that you have no sins means to be fallen into the sin of pride. One should seek absolution, confessing their wrongdoings to a church priest (who will also decide on the punishment), to avoid being send to hell after death. God listens to all prayers, both from good men and from sinners. Everyone should regret their sins and keep asking for forgiveness if they want to avoid eternal suffering in their afterlife. There’s no punishment sent during one’s life, because a way to salvation is open to everyone all the time, one can repent his sin even at the last minute and be saved.
Let’s now summarise what outlook on the world was dominant in Europe before the arrival of the knowledge of karma:
- A man is only born in this world once
- The God is constantly watching humans behaviour
- The God punishes after death, there is no penalty for sins during one’s life
- No-one but the God can judge someone’s behaviours and choices – all men can do is to repent and hope for His kindness
- Committing a sin means a crime against the God. Only a whole-hearted penance can save a sinner
- The God listens to all prayers
- Having no sins means being awarded after death with eternal happiness in Heaven
The first translators, who were not great experts in the Christian theosophy, carelessly mixed the Hindu concepts with the Christian understanding of sin – which has created the horrible misconception, which became so popular later. Here are their postulates:
- A man is born in this world multiple times
- The God is constantly watching human behaviour
- Misfortunes and bad luck in this life are the divine punishment for sins
- Having sins means having karma
- The God is sending penalty in this life
- Emotional attachment, creating karma, is a sin
- For that sin a person will be punished by the object of the attachment being taken away from him
- A person can be relieved from the sins from the previous lives through prayers and penance, so there will be no punishment in this life
- Karma can be ‘diagnosed’ and ‘relieved’ by another person
- Karma can be ‘picked-up’ from someone else
Now you can see for yourself what a terrible abyss of despair is being brought by this hybrid belief. That mess will do nothing but make you feel more and more guilty about everything, some inconceivable sins, real and imaginary, and there will be no light at the end of that tunnel.
The only way out is to forget that monstrous hybrid of concepts once and for all and realise the truth.
[End of Part I. To be continued.]