Karma Café, anyone?

Understanding Karma: Reaping What We Sow and Finding Liberation - By Urmila Pandey

Reading time: 5 minutes

I read a Simple Journals quote: 'Welcome to Karma café. There are no menus. You are served what you deserve.' And I thought, how very aptly put.

Indeed life would be so much easier for folk if only they understood the law of karma as well as they know the law of gravity. Some may repudiate karma philosophy with the view that it is an Eastern humbug. 'We don't know any such law. There is no afterlife. All this paying for your actions business is baloney.'

Well, the law of gravity was also unknown until an apple tree decided to reveal it through Newton! The point I would like to stress is that gravity existed even before it was discovered by mankind. Newton observed a fact and analysed it. The same holds for the law of karma. We just need to watch our lives and others' lives, see and investigate the facts. A helping hand for understanding is given by ancient scriptures like the Vedas, where the sages reveal the intricacies of this rather mysterious entity.

Some may argue: Why should we believe what some ancient text says? Why should we believe the words of some antediluvian sage? Well, you don't have to. But remember, your bones will be broken if you jump from a height, even if you deny gravity's existence. Even the physical laws of nature are unforgiving. Then what to say about the esoteric law of karma!

Look at your own life. Look at the life of others. Look at the happenings in the world. Why is it that some are ridiculously rich and others are direly poor? Why do children of the same set of biological parents differ in physical health, mental well-being and worldly achievements? Why is there so much inequality in all spheres in this world?

Theists put it all down to the doing of God. And atheists say it is all incidental or accidental. The master I follow doesn't advocate unquestioning belief at all. She motivates people to tread the path of spirituality with an open, rational mind. Investigate, research and find out for yourselves. But you have to start with some working hypothesis.

If a science student enters his first lecture with the attitude, 'How do I know the professor is telling the truth? I won't believe a word he says.' What will he learn? You have to start by accepting what the teachers are saying. Then, you try to analyse and finally come to an understanding which confirms what the professor was saying was right. The same is true for the science of spirituality.

So, what is karma? Karma means action, deed. Any action performed through thoughts, words or the body. Thinking ill of others is also karma. Hurting someone through abusive language is also karma. Not only the physical action but the thought and intention behind it also counts. And each action has a consequence called karma phala.

The subject is vast, but I will give some pointers in brief. Vedas classify karma into broadly three categories:

  1. The total of all karmas done in all previous lives is known as sanchit karma. It is like your entire bank balance.
  2. The karma fruits you must bear in the present life is called prarabdha karma phala. It is like the cash withdrawn from your account for the day.
  3. The actions performed now will bear fruits in the future. These actions are called agami karma.

Karma can also be categorised as actions performed with a selfish motive and selfless acts. The latter is the noble way to evolve. An entire chapter in the Bhagavad Gita is devoted to selfless karma and its benefits to a spiritual aspirant.

The law of karma is simple yet stringent. You reap as you sow. You get what you dish out to the universe like a boomerang. This is the irrefutable law. If you understand this clearly, why would you perform any ill deed? Won't you think twice before committing vile actions or speaking hurtful words? Albeit for selfish reasons, you will want to refrain from all negative thoughts, words and actions.

As long as the law of karma abides, one is bound to the world of suffering. One has to go through the body's birth and death cycle repeatedly. And in each birth, one performs new actions with consequent fresh fruits waiting for you around the corner. The question arises: Is there any way out at all? Is there a way of transcending the bondage of karma?

Much to our relief, there is. After all, isn't complete freedom from suffering the fundamental goal of all paths of spirituality? Doesn't every sentient being seek endless, bountiful joy and fulfilment? When you reach the final destination of self-realisation, you transcend all suffering and become free of all karmic bondages. Until then, you have no choice but to sip whatever coffee is served in the Karma Café.


Urmila Pandey

Practising medical doctor in the UK with a keen interest in philosophy