What is Karma?
Karma = action
Your birth is an action, first breath is an action, first cry is an action. Basically anything you do in your life is an action. Action is what is called Karma. The meaning of karma extends to every facet of existence – from the basic act of breathing to the complex tasks we perform in our day to day lives.
Living beings are in a constant state of action. Life ceases to exist when action halts, thus rendering a living being as non-living. In this sense, action becomes the pulse of life. Ancient scholars compared karma to a divine force because of this profound connection.
In Sanskrit, karma encompasses not only the concept of "action" but also embraces its broader meanings, such as duty, activity, and work.
Law of Karma
Everything in the universe fulfills its duties throughout its existence. Life ends when karma ends. Karma operates on the fundamental principle of action and reaction, similar to Newton's third law, where the action you perform comes back to you in similar ways. For instance, you breathe in the same volume of air you breathed out, and you breathe out the same volume of air you breathed in. This cycle is what keeps you alive, demonstrating the intricate harmony between action and existence.
The cycle of birth and death is inevitable; just as you were born, you will one day pass away, only to be born again. It's a perpetual, repeating pattern, much like your constant breathing cycle that you cannot halt. However, similar to how you can gradually slow down your breathing, you have the power to decelerate the cycle of life and death by reducing the amount of karma (action) you engage in. Every birth presents an opportunity to fulfill pending karma and minimize the creation of new ones. Despite this chance, we tend to accumulate new karmas instead of diminishing them.
We perform karma through our thoughts, words, and actions. It can also be classified as mental, verbal, and physical actions.
The Vedic knowledge have provided us with an understanding of what karma is and how it operates. However, as time has passed, the true meaning of karma has been distorted through various misinterpretations. It is only by approaching this concept with an unbiased perspective that one can gain a genuine understanding of its true nature.
The principles of karma are expounded in Shaiva Siddhanta, states that the soul (atma/consciousness) becomes bound by attachments and falls into a state of oblivion before the inception of time and space. Once ensnared by the bondage, the soul sinks deeper into it, ultimately leading to its own destruction. At this juncture, the soul becomes acutely aware of its plight and yearns to break free from the bondage, but this cannot be achieved on its own. Therefore, God (Paramatma/super-consciousness) creates Maya, the illusory time and space (aka universe), to help the soul gradually detach itself from the bondage and eventually attach itself to the God (Paramatma). The reason why the soul becomes attached to the bondage in the first place is difficult to ascertain. According to the enlightened Masters (Siddhars) of Shaiva Siddhanta, the attachment to the bondage of a soul is beyond time and space, that can only be understood by transcending the time cycle (aka enlightenment).
The crux of the karma principle is that "bondage compels us to perform actions that create repercussions and perpetuate the cycle of birth and death. Shaiva Siddhanta talks about three immortal entities. The first is Paramatma (Supreme Soul aka God), second is the individual souls, also known as atma and the third is the bondage, which is the state of attachment that traps the soul in the cycle of birth and death. The soul is supposed to detach itself from the bonds and attach itself with the supreme.
Types of Karma
Sanchita Karma: This type of karma refers to the collection of all the karma accumulated by your soul throughout all the lives you have lived so far.
Prarabdha Karma: Prarabdha karma is based on the idea of fate. Since the collection of Sanchita is vast, it cannot be completed in one lifetime. Therefore, a part of it will be bestowed to the soul in this life, which we call fate. Different karma mature at different stages of time, and only those matured karma will be given to the soul, which is called Prarabdha karma.
Agámi Karma: This type of karma is based on how you perform your duties, as well as the expectations and desires that come out of it.
Some scholars use the term "Kriyamana karma" to refer to how you perform your duties, and "Agámi" to refer to your desires and expectations arising from them. According to Shaiva, "Agámi" is sufficient to explain both actions and desires.
To illustrate the types of karma, let's compare them to a modern day bank account:
Sanchita is the total amount of money in your bank account
Prarabdha is the portion of that money allotted to you for spending
Agámi is how you spend that money and what comes out of it.
A matured soul will simply spend the money, whereas a young soul may invest and accumulate more money that furthers the cycle of birth and death.
Sanchita is seen through the 12th house of your birth chart, while the Prarabdha is seen through 6th house, and the Agámi is seen through the 10th house.
Maturity of Karma and The Cycle of Birth
It is common to hear people ask why they must take another birth to complete an unfinished karma instead of fulfilling it within the same lifetime. While this question may seem reasonable at first, let's delve deeper to see what is what. In the above section, you were introduced to the fundamental concepts of karma which included the idea that you are the creator, preserver, and destroyer of your karma while God provides you with a platform (the 3D world) and a physical body made up of the five elements (Pancha Bhutas). Additionally, you learned that your fate and free will are determined by your matured karmas. So, what exactly are matured karmas? Matured karmas are those that manifest at the appropriate time and circumstances. This manifestation can occur within a matter of seconds, a few years, or even across several lifetimes. Let's find out how with some hypothetical scenarios.
The following scenarios are imaginary and intended to illustrate karmic patterns based on my understanding of the principles.
Scenario 1: Reason for Next Birth
Suppose Person A kills Person B, leaving B's parents in extreme mental agony. B was their only son and just 20 years old, but he was brutally murdered by A. As a result, A has accumulated a lot of negative repercussions by inflicting sudden, violent, and painful death upon B and causing lifelong pain to his parents. According to the principles of karma, A is now destined to undergo a similar experience. However, A is already 70 years old and has no family. What do you think will happen next?
Scenario 2: Reason for Multiple Births
Person X is the owner of a pesticide company that kills countless insects, birds, and animals, and sometimes even humans. X has created a tool that causes painful death to multiple lives. According to the principles of karma, X is now meant to experience the same pain repeatedly to compensate for what he has started. However, it is not possible to go through all the pain in one lifetime. What do you think will happen next?
Scenario 3: Multiple Births vs Single Birth
Person Q has worked as a prison executioner and has been responsible for carrying out multiple executions in his career. This means that he has caused the painful death of numerous individuals although these individuals were convicted criminals. According to the principles of karma, Q would need to experience a similar amount of pain in return for his actions. However, since the underlying motive for Q's actions was to uphold justice, it's possible that instead of experiencing the same pain in multiple births, Q may experience a prolonged but less intense pain in one lifetime.
Scenario 4: Births through Desires
Person M betrayed his girlfriend P, which she discovered and wanted to avenge M in the same way. However, she dies suddenly due to an accident before she could do so. Meanwhile M lived on for the next 20 years and eventually dies at the hands of his wife. In order to fulfill her desire for revenge, P's soul would have to wait for 20 years to be reborn at the time when M also born. However, during that 20 years, the universe allows P to take birth and live a short life span of 18 years to fulfill her previous life's desire of becoming an actor. After this short life as an actor, she dies and reborn once again with more acting skills, ready to seek revenge on M in his next life, who had now forgotten everything.
As you can see, this is how you fulfill your past karma when the appropriate time and conditions arise. It becomes a little more complicated and tricky as you add more new karma every day.