Karmas have been classified by Saints into three distinct categories:
- Sanchit or the gathered and stored Karmas, going far back into incarnations running into the unknown past.
- Pralabdha: Luck, fate or destiny, or that portion out of the Sanchit (store-house) which constitutes a person’s living present, which none can escape howsoever one may wish and try.
- Kriyaman: The Karmas which one is free to perform as a free agent in his present earthly span or existence, and thereby make or mar his future.
(i) Sanchit (the stored deeds): Good or bad deeds that stand to man’s credit as earned in all the previous existences in the order of creation, counting from the day of the first appearance of life on earth. Man knows nothing about them, or of their extent and their great potential power.
King Dharitrashtra, the blind progenitor of the Kshatriya princes, the Kauravas of the Epic Age, when endowed by Lord Krishna with his yogic power, was able to trace the cause of his blindness to an act done in the unknown past, extending back to over 100 incarnations or embodiments.
In Chapter 20:5 of the Book of Exodus, Moses, while giving the Ten Commandments of God, speaks of God as having commanded:
“I the Lord thy God, am a jealous God,
visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children
unto the third and fourth generation…”
— Exodus 20:5
Even the medical science today affirms the significant part that heredity plays and traces the origin of certain diseases coming down from progenitors and appearing in succeeding generations. So does modem psychology connect problematic behaviours in certain individuals with mental peculiarities in their parents and ancestors.
(ii) Pralabdha: These are just that part of the Sanchit Karmas which constitute a person’s fate, destiny or luck; which determines one’s present existence on earth. A person has no control over them. The effect of these, good or ill, has be tolerated, as best one may — with smiles or with tears.
The present life is just an unfoldment or revelation of the predestined Karmas with which one comes fully loaded into the world. It is, however, possible that one may so mould and develop his inner self, through the guidance of some Master-Soul, that he may not feel their bitter and poignant sting, just as the kernel in a ripe almond or walnut does not feel the prick of a needle by getting detached from the shell without, which as a consequence gets shrivelled and hardened, and serves henceforth as a protecting armour.
In this way, each one of us, willingly or unwillingly, wittingly or unwittingly, is forging chains for himself, no matter whether the same be of gold or of iron. Still chains are chains and they are equally efficacious in their application; to wit, to keep a person in perpetual bondage.
Like a poor silk-worm imprisoned in its own cocoon or like a spider caught in its own web, or a bird in its nest, one remains bound in hoops of steel of his own making, with no way of escape therefrom. Thus the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth is ceaselessly set in motion. It is only when one transcends the body-consciousness and becomes Neh-Karma, i.e. actionless in action like the still point at the centre of the ever-revolving wheel of life, that a stop is put to the motion of the Giant Wheel of Karmas; for then one becomes a conscious co-worker of the Divine Plan.
This is why Buddha, the prince among ascetics, emphatically said: “Be ye desireless” for desires are the root-cause of human sufferings as they motivate actions, right from subtle vibrations in the sub-conscious, to mental thinking in the conscious, leading to the vast and limitless harvest of variegated deeds of different hues and forms, springing from the imbalance of the mind.
The spirit, sitting in the chariot of the body is thus driven blindly and head-long into the fields of sensual pleasures by the five powerful steeds of the senses, uncontrolled by the power-intoxicated charioteer of the mind (helplessly imbalanced as it is) with the reins of intellect dangling loosely about him. Self-discipline then is of prime importance and chastity in thought, word and deed, is the essential requisite that helps a person on the path of self-knowledge and God-knowledge, for ethical life is a stepping-stone to spirituality.
(iii) Kriyaman: It is the current account of one’s wilful actions and deeds in the present existence. This type of Karma is quite distinct from the other two. In spite of the limitations imposed by Pralabdh or unchangeable destiny, each one is gifted with a free will and is free to sow what seeds he may.
Endowed with the gift of discriminative faculty peculiar to his constitution alone, he can judge for himself what is right and what is wrong and as such it would be vainly presumptuous on his part if he were to expect a bed of roses when he sows thorns and thistles. It is up to him to make or mar his future, as be may.
A Master-soul can give him a correct lead by putting before him the true values of life – life which is more than the bodily raiment and all that is connected therewith: the sense-dominated existence. Under His guidance, one develops an easy detachment from the world and worldly affairs and once the magic spell is broken, the blinkers fall off and the stark reality stares him squarely in the face, providing him with an opportunity to escape unscathed.
Ordinarily, however, some of the Kriyaman Karmas bear fruit in this very life; while others – the unfructified ones – are transferred to the General Account of the Sanchit Karmas, which go on accumulating from age to age.
Thus, it is given to each one to think ahead of time, and weigh well the consequences of the acts and deeds intended before taking an irretrievable step — a leap in the dark and a head-long plunge in a fit of impetuosity which is regretted forever and cannot be undone by blaming the stars for their supposed malignant influence. A railway engineer, for instance, is to plan beforehand the railway track, for once the lines are laid the train is to run on blindly.
A little error in laying the lines, a loose fish-plate or a wrong angle may lead to calamitous results. Even when everything is done properly, one has to keep a constant and strict watch, day and night, lest anything get out of joint or the track is otherwise tampered with by hostile elements.
According to Nature’s law of life, a man (the embodied or incarnate soul) is like a precious jewel clothed in three caskets or bodies — the physical, the astral or mental, and the causal or the seed-body — all of which, more or less, partake of the terrestrial character, with varying degrees of density.
There are also celestial bodies,
and bodies terrestrial:
but the glory of the celestial is one
and the glory of the terrestrial is another.
— I Cor. 15:40
These are like outer robes of coat, vest under it, and then shirt. When a man casts off the physical body, his spirit still is wearing the astral or the mental body. He has also the causal or the ethereal seed body or thin veil under the astral raiment. Until one is able to cast off the physical body, he cannot reach the first heaven, the astral kingdom within:
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood
cannot inherit the Kingdom of God;
neither doth corruption inherit incorruption…
For this corruptible must put on incorruption,
and this mortal must put on immortality.
So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption,
and this mortal shall have put on immortality,
then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written,
Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is thy sting?
O grave, where is thy victory?
— I Cor. 15:50, 53-55
This casting off or change may occur either through the final dissolution, the disintegrating process commonly known as death, or be brought about by the method of voluntary withdrawal of the sensory currents from the body technically known as “rising above body consciousness” by a process of inversion and self-analysis.
The Gospels refer to this withdrawal as “to be born anew” or “resurrection.” The Hindu scriptures speak of it as “twice-born” or do-janma. It is a birth of the spirit as distinct from that of the water — the latter being from “seed corruptible” as distinguished from the former, “seed incorruptible,” unchangeable and abiding (of the spirit). The Muslim darveshs (mystics) call this death-in-life as “death before death.”
One can learn how to withdraw not only from one’s physical body but from the other two bodies (the astral and the causal) as well, through the kindly assistance of a Master-Saint, Who has Himself transcended into the beyond and can help others to do likewise. One has, therefore, to “forsake the flesh for the spirit” if one is anxious to escape from the perpetual wheel of life on this sublunary planet (earth).
In the ordinary natural course of things, the jiva (the embodied soul or the incarnate spirit) has, after physical death, no option but in time to return to the physical plane in some physical form, the nature of which is determined by his life-long propensities and inclinations, the intensity of his longings and long-cherished unfulfilled desires enshrined in his mental make-up and predominantly uppermost at the time of death, the over-bearing influence of which irresistibly shapes a course for him.
So kind and generous is the Father Divine,
He grants unto His children what they desire.
But, if one, under the guidance of a perfect Master (Sant-Satguru) learns the practical process of self-analysis, i.e. self-withdrawal from the physical body at will, and develops it by a regular practice, he, while living, gets an experience of the Beyond (Death-in-life), with the result that gradually the age-old scales of his make-believe begin to fall away from his eyes and the world and worldly things lose their hypnotic charm, and he, while seeing things in their true colors, and understanding the intrinsic worth of each, grows desireless and free — a master of himself, a liberated soul (jivan mukat) and thereafter continues to live on just to complete his allotted span of life without attachment.
This is called a new birth (or the second advent of the soul) — life eternal. But how can one attain it?
Christ tells us:
He that taketh not his cross,
and followeth after me,
is not worthy of me.
He that findeth his life shall lose it:
And be that loseth his life
for my sake shall find it.
— Matthew 10:38-39
In the Gospel of Luke, we have:
And he (Jesus) said to them all:
If any man will come after me,
let him deny himself,
and take up his cross daily,
and follow me.
— Luke 9:23
And whosoever doth not bear his cross
and come after me, cannot be my disciple.
— Luke 14:27
Thus we see that death-in-Christ is the way to live with Christ eternally.
“Learn to die so that you may begin to live” is the exordium of all the saints.
Among the Muslims, this is known as fana-fi-sheikh or self-effacement in the Murshid or the Master. It is, therefore, of paramount importance that one should first seek a living Master competent enough to wind up once for all the otherwise endless cycle of Karmas and then seek refuge at His Holy Feet and thereby free oneself from the baneful influence of one’s deeds which continue to haunt a person in the form of eumenides and furies.
Of the power of the Jagat-guru, it is said:
A Jagat-guru can annihilate Karmas
by his look and Word,
In his presence, the Karmas fly
like autumn leaves before a wind.
Again, we have in the scripture:
Great is the power of the retributive angel,
and none can escape its fury,
But it doth fly in fear of death,
before the sounding blast of the Word.
Now as to the working of the Karmic Law, the following example may help us to understand the position more explicitly.
Take two kinds of grape-seeds – yellow and brown. Suppose yellow seeds represent good deeds and brown seeds represent bad deeds. A room is full to the roof in which heaps of both kinds of seeds are lying. This forms man’s storehouse of Sanchit Karmas.
Now there is a person “A” (physical body plus mind plus soul) who has long cherished a desire during his lifetime to become a king. He falls ill and his unfulfilled desire to be a king all the time remains uppermost in his mind. He, in due course, is compelled by nature to surrender his physical body, but according to the Law of life after death he is still clothed in the astral (mental) and causal (ethereal) bodies. He now functions as a disembodied or disincarnate spirit in his other raiment, the mind-stuff both astral and causal. Since mind is the storehouse of all impressions, “X” still remembers his desire to be a king. “A,” now a disembodied spirit (jiva), disrobed of the physical body, is faced with a difficulty. He cannot function as a king until, once again, he puts on a physical vesture as may enable him to be a king, at one stage or another in his earthly career. Propelled by the unerring motor-power behind all activity, his mind-stuff, he is led on to pick up some of the unfructified Karmas, sufficient enough to bring about a new set of circumstances as may help him to have the long cherished and deeply engraved desire fulfilled.
The great motor power referred to above has two aspects: positive as well as negative; the former leading to the journey homeward and the latter controlling and guiding life on the earth-plane.
Nature, or the negative aspect of the Power that is One, is concerned solely with the administration of life as it exists on the physical planet; its chief function being to keep the world going, fully peopled, and people engaged in various pursuits of life, according to the earned merit in each case, called in common parlance as Pralabdha which fashions the earthly life for each individual with an absolute precision and an unfailing art.
To the extent described above, one is in a sort of “closed trap” and cannot but unfold what comes with him in a folded state. It is a revelation of the unrevealed past in the seed or the essence lying dormant at the back of the essential mind-stuff and is projected on the canvas of life with its multifarious patterns and diverse colors, taking on different lines, as life emerges out of the pristine unalloyed and eternal radiance of which we generally lose sight as we get absorbed in the “dome of many-coloured glass” that encloses us and presses us from all sides with the passage of time. Dame Nature now takes charge of her foster-child and lavishes in plenitude all her gifts, so much so that unknowingly one enjoys in fullness and to surfeit that for which be hankered in the past. Dazzled by the glamour of the gifts, one forgets the Great Benefactor, the Bestower of the Gifts, and is inextricably caught in the meshes of death.
This is but one part of the life that “A” leads, as a predestined game.
Along with this, there is yet another, a very vital counterpart depending on the freedom of action and volitional independence that is given to each. It is in correctly understanding the higher values of life and making the most of the opportunities given to him that his salvation lies, right here and now.
Paradoxically then, man is not only a creature of his destiny (past), but a creator of his destiny (future) as well. What we bring, must come to pass; and what we do now shall shape the things to come. Wisdom, therefore, lies in making the choice. The mind-power is a single entity and if harnessed correctly, can, like an obedient servant, render a good account of itself; but if allowed to over-power the life-giving spirit, it proves a treacherous parasite that saps the vitality and shrivels up the host-plant on which it thrives and from which it derives its very life and sustenance. Thus, one must pay all his attention to proper sowing and cultivating, while playing his destined part in the human drama, on the stage of life, in the light of the eternal radiance that shines through thick and thin, whether we know it or not. The Supreme Will is already wrought in the pattern of our being, for without it there can be no existence; and in knowing that Will and by working in unison with that Will, one can escape from the Wheel of Life.
Guru Nanak in Jap Ji speaks of it thus:
How may one know the Truth
and break through the cloud of falsehood?
There is a Way, O Nanak,
to make His Will our own,
His Will which is already wrought
in our existence.
We thus see that Karmas and desires are responsible for the interminable cycle of births and re-births.
How then can one end this ceaseless cycle?
There are only two ways to exhaust or finish up the vast and limitless store-house of Karmas — the impenetrable granite wall between a person and the High One, with the blindingly thick veil of the ignorant mind ever covering the eyes. The two ways to solve this ever-eluding and baffling problem are:
- To leave it to Nature to exhaust the storehouse in due course of time, should that be at all possible.
- To obtain from a Master-soul a practical knowledge and experience of the Science of Life, on the earthly as well as the spiritual planes, and to work right now for transcension from one to the other, while there is still a chance and an opportunity.
The first course is not only endlessly long but tortuous in the extreme, tricky at every step and full of dangers and pitfalls. It will take myriads of ages to reach the goal if one is fortunate enough to do so. Besides, Nature by herself hardly helps one to disentangle himself from the inexorable Karmic Order, for that spells self-extinction for her and her brood.
Human birth is a rare privilege indeed and this privilege one gets after passing through a long evolutionary process in creation extending through innumerable forms or embodiments that the Life Principle takes on the physical plane. Once this golden opportunity is lost, the jiva or the embodied spirit has to continue on the Wheel of Life, according to the usually predominant world traits during his life-time and particularly those which forcefully project themselves at the time of his passing away from this world, the law being:
“Where the mind is, there the spirit goes irresistibly.”
This being the case, it is well-nigh impossible for an average embodied spirit to get over the sensory plane and keep the mind stilled and self-absorbed by his own unguided and unaided efforts, howsoever herculean they may be. It is only some Godman or Master Power that may, in compassion, help a jiva in regaining the lost kingdom — the realm spiritual — from which each one has been driven out by his disobedience to the behests of God. This course then is fraught with untold dangers, lurking at every step, even in the very nature of each individual; and hence no sane person will ever think of attempting to tread the lonesome and weary path, which more often than not leads into a cul-de-sac or blind alley.
By adopting the second course, one seeks a competent spiritual Master who wields influence over all the subordinate powers in this and higher planes of existence. He can wind up the Karmic accounts of the bankrupt spirit. The moment He accepts an individual as His Own, He takes in His own Hand the process of liquidating the endless process of Karma coming down from the unknown past. He calls a halt to the mad and reckless career in which one is engaged.
“So far and no further” is His command, and then He puts an individual on the High-road Godward. He does not usually interfere with the Pralabdh or destiny, for it has of necessity to be worked off as well as possible, so as to complete the allotted span of life and to reap the fruit; while the Sanchit or the vast storehouse, He, by being a conscious co-worker with the Divine Plan, singes by contacting the spirit with the spark of Naam. Contact with Naam or the Holy Word at once reduces to ashes the storehouse of Sanchit Karmas as well as the unfructified Kriyaman Karmas done hitherto, just as a spark of fire reduces to ashes the entire forest or the heap of fuel that may be lying on the ground.
Guru Nanak beautifully tells us in Pauri XX of Jap Ji, the morning prayer of the Sikhs:
When the hands, feet and the body
are besmeared (with dust),
they are washed clean with water;
When the clothes get dirty and polluted,
they are cleansed by soap;
When one’s mind gets defiled by sin,
it can be purified only by communion with the Word;
Men do not become saints and sinners merely by words,
But they carry deeds with them wherever they go.
As one sows, so does one reap;
O Nanak, men come and go by the wheel
of birth and death as ordained by His Will.
It is now clear that mind is the main magnet that attracts Karmas with all their concomitants. Mind maintains a mighty sway over man. It utilizes our surat (attention, the outward expression of the soul within) as its means, which is the most precious of man’s inherited faculties – the priceless jewel of immense virtue.
The Master-Saints come into the world with a divine purpose and a mission. They are commissioned from above to liberate man from the Karmic bondage. When one is fortunate to find such a Holy Man and surrenders himself to His will, the latter takes charge of the spirit. His first and foremost task is to break the magic spell of the Karmic tentacles that hold one in their deadly grasp. He advises each one to lead a well-regulated and highly disciplined ethical life, so as to escape from contracting any more evil influences or Karmic impressions. He tells us that all the bounties of Nature, including sense-objects, are for a legitimate and fair use only and not for indulgence and enjoyment. All our troubles arise from the fact that we ravenously indulge sense pleasures to surfeit with the result that instead of our enjoying the worldly pleasures, the pleasures enjoy us to the full and leave us a total wreck, physically and mentally.
We forget that true happiness is an attitude of the mind and springs from within, when we consciously awaken the Life-Current (the Holy Word) lying dormant and feed our “self” on the “Life principle” immanent in all things, visible and invisible, the sole motor-force creating and sustaining the entire universe. The past, the present and the future, the God-man holds in His mighty grasp; and like a compassionate father, guides His children in the Path of righteousness and rectitude, leading gradually to Self-knowledge and God-knowledge and attaining in the end the prize of God-head. Just as a child does not know what his father provides for him, from time to time, so does a neophyte not know what his Heavenly Father does for him. It is by following in His ways that one may gradually learn the esoteric mysteries as these unfold themselves to him at each step.
Poor soul in this, the flesh,
what dost thou know?
Thou art too narrow, wretch,
to comprehend even thy self.
— J. Donne