Today we’ll address one of the aspects of karma that is of particular interest to a modern man. Material world is filled with all kinds of filthy things. So when people learn about karma, or more precisely, when they learn about bad karma, they develop a fear of getting it. What if karma is a sort of airborne disease? This is how our mentality works. I think of myself as a nice person. “Nothing’s the matter with me. The main thing is not to catch a bug from others – not to contract some evil karma from them.” Clearly enough, such thinking is laden with karma in itself. If one sees oneself as good and thinks that all misfortunes come from others, this suggests one’s own bad karma. It manifests as hatred of the entire world. Such flawed thinking arises as a result of one’s own wrong actions.
We really can and should be interested in the issue. Only we should approach it from the philosophical viewpoint. Is it actually possible to catch karma from another person? Today we’ll try to grasp this subtle point.
If to approach karma from this particular viewpoint, it would mean our movement direction in the material world. If we move to purity or sublimity, this is good karma. If we move in the opposite direction of meanness and viciousness, this is bad karma. If we go north, it’s getting colder and colder. This is karma of the north. If we go south, we are feeling warmer and warmer. Such is the karma of the south. Similarly, if we start following a particular person, we begin to “take his/her karma”, that is to follow their path. If he/she goes north and we follow, we get karma of the north – ever-frost. If he/she goes stealing and we follow him/her, we get karma for stealing and go to jail. Thus, we’re not becoming infected with karma. We get it because we don’t think where we are going to; where it might end up. Do you remember how mom used to tell us: “If everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?”
If we follow someone who goes to the cinema to watch a comedy movie, we gain the karma of humor and scream with laughter for two hours straight. If we follow those who lead us to the same cinema, this time to watch a horror movie, we get the karma of horror movie respectively, and quake with fear for two hours. Therefore, scriptures give a very simple solution to all karmic problems. We need to follow the Absolute Truth, sages and saints – then there won’t be any karma at all. If I follow someone who knows how to go beyond karma, naturally I also go beyond karma. This is called akarma – to follow someone who knows what it is. “In this endeavor there is no loss or diminution and a little advancement on this path can protect one from the most dangerous type of fear.” This is what Bhagavat-Gita says on the subject. And these are clear signs of the absence of karma.
Life in itself means that we are living in the style of retribution for our past deeds. We receive what we deserve for living wrong in the past. Our current life goes to prove that. Life in the material body is retribution in itself. But we don’t want to pay off debt; we prefer to forget about it. Our human body goes to prove that we’re terribly indebted and all our life we’ll have to repay what we borrowed in the past. But we prefer to turn a blind eye to this fact and simply enjoy. This is really nonsense. This is what is called bad karma. However, if I honestly pay all my debts, if I put up with tough situations in life realizing that this is my duty to go through them, karma allows me to move in the direction of mindfulness and spirituality.
It is impossible to run away from karma. No way. Vedas state that ‘as a calf follows its mother among a thousand cows, so the good or bad deeds of a man follow him’. Therefore, one should possess a special quality that will gradually allow him/her to go beyond karma. This most important quality is the desire to act wisely. Wise people are never worried or troubled about things that happen in life. They realize these are just the consequences of their own actions. Thus, they struggle to repay all debts through patient discharge of their duties. If such a person has difficult relatives, he/she takes care of them the whole life, thus performing this duty and repaying the debt. And some day such a person gets beyond the influence of karma.
But it happens only if while doing it we remember: this is the law of God. If we simply endure something without understanding how birth and death are linked together, such forbearing doesn’t release us from karma. It only makes us a little more purified. In short, I must understand: everything that happens to me is absolutely lawful, and the Person who established this law did it for love. This is not the law for me alone. This law is for everyone. The word ‘cosmos’ means ‘an orderly or harmonious system’. The entire material world is under the influence of these laws of karma, and it doesn’t matter whether we believe it or not.
A few followers used to come to Guru Nanak. Once one of them met a prostitute and was fascinated by her. In the following days he left the house under the pretext that he was going to visit the guru, but in fact he visited the prostitute. A few days later his friend who daily came to offer respect to guru, was pricked by a thorn, while his neighbor who went to the prostitute, found a gold coin in the street.
This incident enraged the follower of the guru, who visited him daily. He mentioned it during the morning prayer. Guru Nanak heard it and was surprised. He said to the Sikh:
“Your friend was destined to find a treasure, but because of his demonic behavior the treasure had been reduced to a single coin. Whereas due to your past karma you were destined to be impaled. But you changed yourself and received only a thorn prick.”
Modern philosophy is divided into two major camps, with their representatives competing to death. Some say that everything in this world is predetermined, while others say we are absolutely free. Understanding the laws of karma enables to find the point of tangency between two different worldviews. Indeed, the fated will happen. But still we have our own free will. Karma is the final stage of action that cannot be changed. However, there are previous stages at which something can be changed.
The first stage of action is comprised of our desires. We may choose to think them over or reject them. Nothing prevents us from making a choice when a certain desire comes into our mind. If we give thought to it, an idea becomes entrenched in our heart and causes the seed of desire to germinate. It grows up in the form of decision. And again, it is for us to decide whether to fulfill this desire or not. We can apply all our efforts to stop and make a decision not to satisfy our desire. Or we can postpone decision-making if we feel some danger. We still have free will at this stage.
If an action is already performed, this is the stage of karma at which nothing can be changed. We’ve come full circle. Satisfied desire causes karma in the form of new desire that appears in our mind again. Only this time it is much stronger and more persistent. This is why it’s so hard to resist some of our desires. They went through this vicious circle a million times, and we are simply too weak to resist their roar in our mind independently. For this reason, laws of culture and morality are much-needed in a civilized society. They help us to control feelings, affecting the most powerful intrinsic motivation – our ego.
Culture determines what is shameful and what is acceptable in our day-to-day activities. No one wants to disgrace oneself, as it is extremely painful for our ego. If culture is properly directed, if it brings shame upon things that impede spiritual advancement, this is not just an ordinary culture. This is divine culture. This is precisely why we study the Vedic culture. It is perfectly adjusted to help people move to purification quickly and easily. Modern culture can’t understand the principle of sin sometimes. And sin often becomes natural. As the phrase goes, ‘what is natural is not dirty’. Spirituality vice versa is considered shameful or something. One hesitates to pray, worship God or simply read scriptures in public transport. Right now the doctor whom I consulted for liver problems has told me it’s no problem if I drink vodka or cognac. Therefore, in order to start a spiritual life, one must get into society where spiritual culture is more or less established. Then spiritual development comes easy and becomes enjoyable. This is why we are gathering together to see how culture affects our decision-making and our freedom of choice.
Now listen to the parable about karma.
There was once a stonemason who worked long and hard. From dawn till dusk, he had to draw stone from a rock quarry. His hands were rough and calloused, his back always bent and his stern face was as long as a fiddle.
And he was unhappy. One day he began to repine at his lot:
“Oh what cruel fate has befallen me! Why did it make me what I am? If only I were richer! If I were rich, I would be happy.”
All of a sudden, an angel stood before him and said:
“What’s the thing that can make you feel rich and happy?”
“Well, it’s easy. If I were rich, I would live in a city, in a magnificent penthouse apartment. I would feast my eyes on the sky. There would be a large four-poster bed with cool, silk sheets in my room. And I would sleep there all day long. That’s when I would be happy.”
“So be it!” said the angel, waving his hand.
Thus, a mason became rich. He lived in the city, in the magnificent bright penthouse apartment. He slept in the bed covered with cool, silk sheets, and was really happy.
It continued until, one day, early in the morning, he became disturbed by the noise. It was coming from the outside. He sprang from the bed and ran to the window. Looking down, he saw a huge golden chariot. It was drawn by beautiful horses. Soldiers walked behind it.
That was a king. People filled the streets to welcome and worship him.
Suddenly the rich man realized he was discontented with his lot.
“Poor wretch that I am! A king is more powerful than me. If only I were a king, I would be happy. “
Once again, an angel appeared and said:
“Be it so! You’re the king from now on!”
Thus, he became the king. And he was extremely pleased. He was aware of his power and influence. He liked it that people showed respect and served him; that he could decide if another man should live or die. He felt immense joy.
But once he drew attention to the sun. He saw that the sun could do things he couldn’t even dream of. It turned green fields into yellow ones and yellow fields into brown ones. It dried the most extensive rivers and left nothing but parched coast covered with mud. It took away life from the very springs of life.
Once again he realized he was unhappy with his lot.
“What am I, poor wretch, to do? The sun is more powerful than me. If I could become the sun, I could be happy.”
That’s when an angel appeared to him and said:
“So be it! You are the sun now!”
Thus, he became the sun. He was very delighted. He felt his power and strength. He liked it that he could turn blooming green fields into brown ones, make rivers dry and change the world. He was boundlessly happy. He ruled the world standing at the zenith, rejoicing in his own strength.
It lasted until he noticed a cloud, a large black thundercloud. He saw how powerful it was, turning brown and withered fields into blooming carpets, filling rivers with force, pouring out water and returning life to the world. And he fell into depression again.
“I am so unlucky. This cloud is much more powerful than me. If only I could become the cloud! That’s when I would be happy forever.”
The angel showed up and said,
“You are the cloud now!”
He became the cloud and was unbelievably happy. He took great enjoyment in his power. He liked it that he could correct the work of the sun and revitalize life where, seemingly, there was nothing left alive.
For the short haul, he was happy to the max, until he saw a black rock one day. He saw how strong, unwavering and unchangeable it was. And he noticed that no matter how long and heavily it rained, nothing could alter or destroy the rock. The rock was solid and stable.
Once again, he felt the bitterness of adversity. And he said,
“I’m so unhappy. If I could be the rock, I would regain happiness.”
Again, the angel appeared and said,
“So be it!”
He became the rock and enjoyed his power and might, and was greatly happy. He rejoiced in his invincibility and superiority. He liked to feel that he could resist anything whatever nature prepared for him. He laughed at the sun and mocked at the thundercloud. And this went on until a stonemason came one day…