Ahimsa (Nonviolence) is listed as the highest principle among all others in the ancient Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras of Maharishi Patanajali.
Indeed, it is the universal declaration of sages in all spiritual traditions that one should not harm other living beings as the same life energy permeates everyone.
All beings love life, want to be happy, and thrive. According to the law of karma, what one gives to others, one gets as well. Therefore, the secret to happiness is simply to support others in finding their joy.
“You are not helping anybody else, but only yourself.” Sri Ramana
Sri Ramana says, “Till you reach the state of jnana and thus wake out of this maya, you must do social service by relieving suffering whenever you see it. But even then you must do it, as we are told, without ahamkara, i.e., without the sense “I am the doer,” but feeling, “I am the Lord’s tool.” Continue reading
Given Below Bhagavan Ramana explains the paths for spiritual growth. These include the paths of Jnana (Self-Inquiry), Yoga (breath control) , Bhakti (devotion), and Karma (selfless actions). Note that Bhagavan starts with Inquiry first and then suggests the other paths for those who find inquiry difficult. Continue reading
There is a great deal of misery and anxiety occupying peoples’ minds these days about the suffering currently undergone on the Planet through terrorism, local armed conflicts, starvation, disease and economic depression. Many atheists and agnostics base their skepticism about the existence of God on the observation that a benign and benevolent God of Love could not possibly exist, or else he would not permit so much world suffering.
According to sages, the highest teachings of the world religions are contained in the idea that we are all “One” and that we come from the same divine source to which many names can be given. Sri Ramana used to say that, “God is the actual form of love”. So why then so much suffering in the world? From the standpoint of our own teaching, that of the great Sage, Sri Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi, we must first understand that this plane of existence must be seen as a field of Karma in which the plan for human evolution is embedded.
As the Bhagavad Gita, and Ramana Maharshi point out, men and women are born into this planet with Karma or Destiny preordained by Iswara or Almighty God, for their own spiritual development. This was stated to Paul Brunton in his dialogue with Ramana and is fully recorded in the Book ‘Conscious Immortality’.
Nobody actually dies in Reality. Lord Krishna told Arjuna “Do not grieve!” After an interval of rest, the soul or jiva is reborn into a new life, again chosen from its latent tendencies, accumulated in previous lives, for his or her spiritual growth. This cycle continues until as a result of meritorious deeds they are, then through Grace, eventually brought to this teaching which in due course will lead them to Self Realisation. Then the whole Karmic scheme collapses and nature of God as Love is realized.
Sri Ramana’s point of view is well and fully expressed in a long answer given in Talks No. 272 on October 23rd. 1936. Also David Godman’s excellent anthology ‘Be As You Are’ has a long Chapter , N0.20., entitled Suffering and Mortality, and a further Chapter called Karma, Destiny and Free Will, with all the appropriate answers to this unnecessarily vexatious question. For those who are troubled by the problem of world suffering they would do well to read this material. Briefly Bhagavan states that from a higher perspective the question concerning the triad of world, God and individual should be seen as inventions of the mind. From a lower perspective, instead of worrying about the world, we should allow ‘He who created it to look after it’.
If this is accepted then the sufferings which people endure are benign in the sense that this is their preordained karma for the soul’s spiritual development. Bhagavan once said that all suffering leads to God Realisation. Nobility of soul and very many virtues are only born out of suffering. This samsara which is a time of purgation and purification uses suffering to bring its children back to true values rather than linger in the hedonism of a decadent and corrupt culture. As Hafiz wrote
“Never the greatest man that yet was born
Has plucked a rose so soft it has no thorn.”
We live in a world based on the law of polar opposites, which we have to surmount.
There has always been suffering on the planet. The suffering endured in the two great world wars makes contemporary suffering almost infinitesimal in comparison. At the same time we must never be hard hearted and indifferent to any suffering, and always act with compassion. As Bhagavan taught, if suffering comes our way, and in our path, we must do our utmost to relieve it. The Jnani is all compassionate, not only to human beings but to animals and plants as well. The greatest help we can bring to Humanity is our own Self Realisation which mitigates world suffering both amongst believers and the faithless.
The question is often asked “how do I deal with suffering when it happens?” Primarily one must ‘accept’ that whatever it is , ultimately it is all for the best. The human mind cannot understand the Higher Wisdom. With this form of surrender, one gradually perceives the lesson that we were meant to learn from our suffering. Every day living is full of stress, anxiety, loss and disappointment. After the acceptance to which I have referred we must hand over the whole burden of our life to God or the Sat Guru in our Heart as an act of surrender. Then he carries our burden, and all our cares are his.
Ultimately we must accept that everything which happens from galaxy to atom does not move without the permission of the Divine Will. Who are we with our petty egotistic humanoid perception, based on personal pleasurable satisfaction, to question the actions of the Master of the Universe, which are beyond our intelligence to even remotely fathom?
Note from the Editor: Alan Jacobs is prominent devotee of Sri Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi and has written a number of articles on this site. Alan’s article on self enquiry is given below. It also contains more information about Alan. Alan is also the moderator for the largest Sri Ramana group on yahoo groups called HarshaSatsangh.
A seeker asks: In Hinduism, there is a belief in reincarnation. The idea of reincarnation is that when the body dies, I will be born again. However, we are taught to pursue Moksha (salvation) which puts an end to the cycle of birth and death. As a Hindu, why should I pursue Moksha? Is that not a permanent death forever? At least with reincarnation, I have a chance to be reborn. Perhaps I will get to meet old girl friends in my next birth and go to Las Vegas and Bombay again. But if I get Moksha, according to Hindu teachings, I will never be reborn. That is scary, is it not? Why should I then seek Moksha as stated in our scriptures? How does this idea of Moksha as salvation or liberation make any sense?
Editor’s note: Moksha in Hinduism is not viewed as permanent death but an awakening into eternal life. Moksha is essentially the recognition that one’s very nature is that of freedom and wholeness. The questioner’s presumption that his next life would be according to present desires or expectations (going to Las Vegas or Bombay with his old girlfriends) is not consistent with the doctrine of Karma. According to the doctrine of karma, the next birth is determined by a combination of actions taken in previous lives and the present life. The merits and demerits generated thus will determine future experiences of pleasures and pains. Therefore, there is no guarantee that the expectations to be with specific individuals and repeat pleasurable experiences would come to fruition in the next life. Although the seeker premises the question on a faulty understanding of the ancient teachings on karma and reincarnation, Dr. Subramanian clarifies logically the nature of Moksha and why it is considered the most worthy goal in Hinduism.
As a way of introduction, Dr. Shyam Subramanian is a professor of medicine and also well trained in the classical traditions of Vedanta. Shyam-Ji’s knowledge of Sanskrit and understanding of subtle truths of the Upanishads makes him a brilliant exponent of various Eastern philosophies and religions from a Vedantic perspective. His writing is clear and easy to follow and very helpful for the novice and the advanced students of Hindu philosophy. If any errors have crept in Shyam-Ji’s presentation due to my minor editing, these will be corrected as soon as pointed out.
Editor’s note: The doctrines of Karma and Reincarnation play an important role in laying the ethical foundations of conduct in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. In Bhagavad Gita, the sacred scripture of Hinduism, the path of Karma Yoga (The Yoga of Action) leading to liberation (Moksha) is laid out and explained by Sri Krishna.
In popular understanding, the term Karma can have connotations of both cause and effect. Karma can mean action and activity. It can also mean the fruit or the results of such action and activity that we have to bear. For example, ethical, noble, and selfless actions (karmas) are said to lead to good fortune in the future or in a future life. The opposite of that is true as well.
According to Hinduism, how one leads one’s life determines the mental state in the last moments. The mental atmosphere, ideas, and images occurring in the last moments of life lead to a particular type of rebirth (Bhagavad Gita, Ch. 8, verse 6).
In the article given below, Sri Sunder Hattangadi, a retired psychiatrist and a serious student of Sanskrit, discusses the concept of Karma with references to the classical scriptures of Hinduism. This piece is written at a very high level and a short bibliography is provided at the end for those interested in more information. Even though many Sanskrit terms are used in the text, Sunder-Ji provides excellent English translations to the Sanskrit verses which makes the article very readable by people of all backgrounds.
The original writing was posted by Sunder-Ji to the Advaitin list. The Advaitin list is one of the largest lists in the world to discuss the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta as taught by Adi Shankracharya. Sunder-Ji is a member and a moderator of the Advaitin list. His exceptional mastery of both English and Sanskrit make his works of great value.
I did restructure Sunder-Ji’s article a bit but not with much confidence in my judgment. If any errors have occurred, these will be corrected as soon as pointed out by Sunder-Ji and other learned members of the Advaitin list.
Sri Sunder Hattangadi
The Hindu Doctrine of Karma
Perhaps no word captures the mystery of human existence as suggestively as the word Karma. It is a word that evokes such a host of associated ideas – ethical-moral, psychological, metaphysical, and mystical – that one can easily lose one’s bearings in trying to understand it.
Krishna himself declares in Gita (4:17) – gahanA karmaNo gatiH – “hard to understand is the true nature of action”[`viShamA durj~neyA…yAthAtmyaM tattvam’]. It may be compared to exploring the Himalayan ranges to reach the peak of Kailasa, Shiva’s abode.
Simply defined, karma means action. The stem word, karman, is derived etymologically from the root verb (dhAtu) kRRi, to do, which also generates a multitude of other cognate words that are inextricably related to Karma – e.g. kartA (doer), kartavya/kArya (duty), kAraNa (cause), karaNa (instrument), and so on.
The definitions of Karma are modified by the prefixes, or adjectives, or compound words that are added to it, for example: Karmas may be described as sAtvika, rAjasika or tAmasika; nitya, naimittika; sa~nchita, kriyamANa (Agami), and prArabdha; kAmya, niShkAma; nyAyya, viparIta; shAstra-vidhanokta or avidhipUrvaka; akarma, vikarma, naiShkarmya; svabhAvaja/sahaja.
The Bhagavad-Gita, which Shankara has called `samasta-vedArtha-sAra-sa~Ngraha’ or the `epitome of the essentials of the whole Vedic teaching’ (or Spiritual Knowledge), is the incomparable vade mecum in explaining all the implications of the word Karma. It is a triune synthesis of dharma-shAstra, karma yoga-shAstra, and mokSha-shAstra. Any reader has a wide choice of verses to select in understanding this unique word. The present article is only one such selection, by no means exhaustive, and is only meant to serve as a pointer to other treasures.
Karma and Moksha: Action and Liberation
The word `karma’ yields over 300 words when associated with other prefixes and words to form compound words. The frequency of the word is relatively small in the Vedas & Upanishads, though the major portions of the Vedas (saMhita-s, brAhmaNa-s) are known as Karma-Kanda, i.e. dealing with rituals of worship. They, and the `dharma-shAstra’-s (scriptures on conduct), deal with the do’s and don’ts for the effective functioning of individuals, families, and society. The word has been repeated over a hundred times in the Gita.
The whole pursuit of Reality, the abode of Immortality (13:13) and Imperishable Bliss (5:21), is the effort to transcend the bondage or limitations caused by action. Every ego-centric action leaves an impression (vAsanA) on the mind (or chitta – the memory store-house) serving as a seed to germinate into further action, and results in consequences (karma-phala), that have to be experienced (enjoyed or suffered) in the present or subsequent life. These tendencies (vAsanA-s) can be countered by proper discipline of unselfish actions which leave impressions (saMskara-s). This wiping out of vAsanA-s (vAsanA-kShaya) itself is known as liberation (mukti).
The goal of action is to attain `actionlessness’, (naiShkarmya – Gita 3:4, 18:49). Immortality, freedom from delusion and sorrow and sin, peace, bliss, freedom from desire and anger, are the fruits of this pursuit, as attested in the following verses.
Gita 18:5, yaj~na-dAna-tapaH-karma pAvanAni manIShiNAm – purifiers of the wise.
5:11: “yogins perform action, without attachment for the purification of self.”
4:24 – “Brahman verily shall be reached by one who always sees Brahman in action.”
4:33 – “All action is comprehended in wisdom”.
4:37 – ” Wisdom-fire reduces all actions to ashes.”
Shankra Bhashya on Gita 3:16 states: ` ….till one attains the qualifications for Devotion to the knowledge of the Self, one who knows not the Self and is therefore qualified (for action only) should resort to Devotion to action as a means of attaining Devotion to knowledge.”
In Gita 4:25-32, Krishna defines the manifold yajna-s which are born of action (Bhashya: “in deed, speech and thought”, the not-Self, for the Self is actionless. If you realize that these are not my actions, I am actionless, I am unconcerned, you will be released by this right knowledge, from evil, from the bond of samsara”).
In Gita, 5:8-9, are described other actions (“seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, eating, going, sleeping, breathing, speaking, letting go, seizing, opening and closing the eyes”,) which are expressed by a truth-knower as “I do nothing at all, the senses move among the sense-objects.”
Actions, or the flux of events or changes in phenomena, happen in Prakriti (Gita 7:4) or in Kshetra (13:5-6) when applied to an individual. 3:27 – “Actions are wrought in all cases by the energies of Nature (Prakriti). One whose mind is deluded by egoism thinks `I am the doer’. ”
How does Vedanta view Karma?
Gita 18:13 – (also 2:46, 4:33) Bhashya – “all action ceases when the knowledge of the Self arises, so that Vedanta, which imparts Self-knowledge, is the `end of action’; (sA~Nkhye kRRitAnte)”.
Other References From Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita on Karma
The classical definition of karma is given in Gita 8:3: bhUtabhAvodbhavakaro visargaH karmasaj~nitaH – “The offering which causes the origin of physical beings is called action (Karma)”.
Shankara Bhashya on this is: “The sacrificial act which consists in offering cooked rice, cakes and the like to the Gods (Devatas) and which causes the origin of all creatures, is known by the term Karma; for it forms the seed as it were of all beings; it is in virtue of this act that all beings, animate and inanimate, come into existence, after passing through rain and other regions of life.”
Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 1:6:1, states: “This Universe is formed of three entities: name, form, and action.”
Taittiriya Upanishad, 1:11:2-4, gives the guidelines – “……should you have any doubt with regard to duties or customs, you should behave in those matters just as the Brahmana-s (learned ones) do, who may happen to be there and who are able and noble thinkers, who are adept in those duties and customs, who are not directed by others, who are not cruel, and who are desirous of merit…..”
[Jaimini’s Karma Mimamsa codifies in aphorisms (3,454 in 16 chapters) the Karma Kanda (`dharma-jij~nAsA’) of the Veda-s, just as Badarayana’s Brahma Sutra-s (555 in 4 chapters) formulate the Upanishadic `brahma-jij~nAsA’ (Jnana Kanda).
Gita 3:14-15 – “From food creatures come forth; the production of food is from rain; rain comes forth from sacrifice; sacrifice is born of action; know thou that action comes from Brahman; and Brahman comes from the Imperishable. Therefore the all-pervading Brahman ever rests in sacrifice.”
Shankara Bhashya : “…Yajna or sacrifice spoken of refers to what is called `apUrva’; and this is the result of the activities of the sacrificer and his priests (ritviks) engaged in a sacrifice. These activities are enjoined in the Veda (Brahman), and the Veda comes from the Imperishable, the Paramatman, the Highest Self. Because the Veda has arisen from the Highest Self, the Akshara, the Imperishable, as the breath comes out of a man, therefore, the Veda, though all comprehending as revealing all things, ever rests in sacrifice, i.e., it treats mainly of sacrifices and the mode of their performance.”
As the reader can see, the word Karma has a rich history and heritage. A discussion of it is intimately tied to other topics such as reincarnation (rebirth) and moksha (liberation). Please review the following references for more information.
http://www.sankara.iitk.ac.in/gitaindex.htm [Complete Works of
http://www.gitasupersite.iitk.ac.in/ [various commentaries on
Sutra-s on Karma Mimamsa]
9&11) [by Prof.V.Krishnamurty]
https://luthar2.files.wordpress.com/2007/07/waystotruth.pdf [by Ananda Wood]
Back To The Truth – Dennis Waite ; 2007 Ch 2; O Books, UK