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What Is Karma?

Path to Siva Commentary, Lesson 31,

"There are three kinds of karma: the karma of all deeds done in our past lives; the karmas we bring into this birth to experience; and the karmas we are making by our actions now."

Karma is an automatic system of divine justice. Karma is self-created destiny; a consequence or fruit of action, karmaphala. By accepting not reacting, performing karma yoga, karma can be softened, mitigated. Seeking the grace of God and guru in the right spirit, the mind focused on the Deity and open to blessings, receiving the intense grace of the Deity in a powerful pilgrimage can actually eliminate karma.

Path to Siva, Lesson 31.

Tirukural, Section IV, Destiny, Commentary by Gurudeva.

Unedited Transcript:

Good morning everyone.

Today we are reading from Path to Siva, Lesson 31.

"What Is Karma?

"God Siva creates the cosmos and He resides within it. His many special laws or systems are at work within our complex universe. The law that causes an object to fall to the Earth we call gravity. The law that governs the reaction of thoughts, words and deeds we call karma. It is an automatic system of divine justice. By this law, what we sow, we will reap. Actions and the fruit of action are both called karma. There are three kinds of karma: the karma of all deeds done in our past lives; the karmas we bring into this birth to experience; and the karmas we are making by our actions now. Good, helpful thoughts, words and deeds bring good karma to us in the future. Hurtful actions bring back to us painful karma. Doing bad is like planting poison ivy. Doing good is like planting delicious mangos. Understanding the law of karma gives us the power to act wisely and create a positive future. Gurudeva said, 'You are the writer of your own destiny, the master of your ship through life.' He meant that karma is not fate. It can be overcome. Through understanding the effect of their actions, individuals sooner or later learn to refrain from committing misdeeds. This is what we mean by saying, 'Karma is our teacher." It teaches us to refine our behavior. Even difficult karmas helps us grow, by teaching us the painful results of unwise actions. No matter how well we understand karma, facing it bravely is still a challenge. Our ego gets in the way. Our emotions are stirred and we react without thinking. Such weakness can be overcome by perfecting our character according to the yamas and niyamas. The effects of karma can be softened in several ways: by accepting and not reacting, by doing penance, by performing good deeds that balance the not-so-good we have done and by seeking the grace of God and guru. Karma applies not only to individuals but to groups, communities and nations."

One of the ways I use to explain that karma is an automatic system of divine justice is the idea of a computer program. That in western thinking someone does something and God rewards or punishes it, right? Keeps God very busy. Lot's to do.

In Hinduism, God has a more efficient system. He wrote a computer program that delineates all possible actions and then gives a reaction for each one. So that's much simpler. Then He can just let it run on automatic so it's automatic. It's an automatic system of divine justice. It's there in place. It governs action and reaction not just the falling of an object such as the law of gravity.

The text uses the word fate and says: "Karma is not fate." And it says: "You are the writer of your own destiny." So we get these English words fate and destiny. What exactly is the difference. I was researching it and I had forgotten the most obvious and longest explanation Gurudeva gave. It, it's in the Kural [Tirukural]. It's in our both versions of the Kural. Chapter 38 is on "uull" which can be rendered as karma. In our translation it's rendered as destiny because we don't use, we're using English words in the translation. So we rendered it as destiny and all the verses talk about when the word uull is used uses the English word destiny.

Gurudeva comments on that: "Ah! Destiny! Something that applies to both paths..."

So the Kural as you know the first part is an introduction, four verses. Then we get the family path, then we get the renunciate path, and then we get one chapter, separate section, one chapter on destiny.

"...Something that applies to both paths: That of the families and that of the renunciates. Call it karma, but never fate. Some have translated the Tamil word uull as fate, equating fate with karma. However, fate implies an unavoidable doom, and that is not a description of karma. Webster's Dictionary says, 'Fate refers to the inevitability of a course of events as supposedly predetermined by a God or other agency beyond human control. Destiny refers to an inevitable succession of events as determined supernaturally or by necessity, but often implies a favorable outcome.' (Unquote). I prefer the word destiny, says Gurudeva, from the Latin, meaning 'determination,' fixed standing. If either must be used, (meaning fate or destiny) as destiny implies less inevitability and flows better with the reality that each soul creates its own future by its own actions."

It's a nice description there the difference.

And my comment is:

As you can see from the first paragraph of Gurudeva's commentary below, the concept of fate is that the source of what is going to happen to you is external to you. So that's crucial component of the word fate. You didn't create it. Somebody else did. Somebody very powerful.

Whereas the concept of destiny is more general, and a better word to use than fate. Another way of using English words is to say self-created destiny. So that's a nice way of explaining it. It's a destiny. But who made this destiny. You did. It's self-created. You made it by what you did in your past lives. And if you're an old soul, even by what you did in this life can come back quickly enough.

Using Sanskrit or Tamil we can use the meaning of karma from the Himalayan Academy Lexicon of: A consequence or fruit of action. Karmaphala. That's the most precise term. Fruit of action. What's happening to us is the fruit of action or the effect or the reaction. So the fruit. Something is done and then it causes the fruit of action. Karmaphala that's called.

Has interesting, Tamil lexicon in defining uull says: "Karma." Then it says: "Fruit of karma. Fruit of deeds committed in the former birth or births." That's the formal definition of uull. So fruit of karma or fruit of deeds. Very nice way of looking at that.

One of the ways that the term karma is used, for those who don't understand it, is in a fatalistic sense. It''s my karma; what can I do? It's my karma why should I even try. It's not going to work out, it's just my karma and it's not going to work out. Fatalistic sense about karma that is something that can't be changed. So the lesson addresses that at the end here.

Says: "The effects of karma can be softened in several ways..." So the other word we use for softened is mitigated but this is keeping the word simple; doesn't even use Sanskrit to describe karma. So, mitigation. Making less, right? Karma can be softened, mitigated in several ways.

Then a simple explanation I use is that if someone's, someone's in jail serving a two year sentence and it gets reduced to one year because of good behavior. It was mitigated. It was made less, why? By their current behavior. Their current behavior changed the consequence of a past action. So even the justice system reflects the law of karma there.

How can it be softened, mitigated. "By accepting and not reacting."

Accepting of course means, when we ask the question, Who created this? We give the answer: I did. If we give the answer: Someone else did, we're not accepting. Accepting it as our creation that's the way I would interpret accepting. It's our creation and not reacting. Reacting can also just mean retaliated. He treated me this way, therefore, I'm going to treat him back. Or he mistreated me so I'm gonna not talk to him for two months. We're retaliating so, we created it but we're retaliating against someone else. So that's obviously creating a new karma. If we do something back, even just with our thoughts, we're creating a new karma. The karma comes, it's gone, then we retaliate, and we created a new one. So we're not making progress. We've probably created a more refined karma but we still created one.

There's a verse in the Kural on that idea which says: There's an interesting way you can punish someone who mistreats you. You can be kind to them and embarrass them by their own behavior. In other words, they're punished because they realize their behavior was so crude. So making them realize how crude their behavior was and that's the form of retaliation. That doesn't create a karma.

"By performing good deeds that balance the not-so-good we have done..."

That one's obvious. Karma yoga. That's one of the rationales between karma yoga for seva is that it's softening our karmas. Not getting rid of them. This is all softening or mitigating. Karma yoga softens them or they come in a less negative form. That's what happens.

"...seeking the grace of God and guru."

So grace can do the same thing. Just happens in a much less negative way.

Then there's one point that's not made in this lesson that's a little advanced so it was left out. Mitigation is good, right? We make something negative, less negative. But what if we can get rid of it. Doesn't that sound better? Well, that's harder to do, that's why it's left out. It's not a something sixteen year olds would necessarily be successful at.

Gurudeva explains it in the Master Course Trilogy, I don't recall where it is. But he's talking about the seeds. He says the seed karma is a seed and it's can be fried by the grace of the Deity. So that's just like the sprouts. If you take seeds and fry them and then try and sprout them they won't sprout. So, because heat has been applied to the seed it no longer will sprout. Will produce a karmaphala. So the heat is intense grace of the Deity. Well how do you receive intense grace of the Deity?

Well easiest way to receive intense grace of the Deity is a pilgrimage to the major temples in India. Go on a two week, four week pilgrimage in the right spirit. Cause temple, pilgrimage is like temple worship. It's not automatic just cause you're standing there in the temple, these wonderful things happen. You know, it's in the mind. We have to have our mind in the right place. The mind has to be unusually focused on the Deity and open to blessings. And then we have to be there at a time when the temple is producing those blessings.

So the blessings received from the Deity in a powerful pilgrimage can actually eliminate the karma. So that's good. Can eliminate the karma.

So thank you very much.

Aum Namah Sivaya.

Photo of  Gurudeva
If you see something in someone else you do not like and it is affecting you emotionally, sit down and face it within your own subconscious mind.