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..:: Karma ::..


Alan Schneider

             The literal translation of the meaning of Karma is “action” in Sanskrit. In one sense, this is specifically any action or physical movement occurring on the material, physical plane – any activity of any kind producing a result – and, of course, all activities, however innocuous they may be, produce results of some nature. And these results are frequently themselves further actions, which produce more results, again frequently in the form of more actions, and so on indefinitely. The esoteric implication of “action” is revealed by the subsequent inclusion of another term from Vedic philosophy in our discussion – Dharma – “enlightened devotion”. This is specifically spiritual devotion to God, in the form of observances, rites, and rituals, and, most importantly, that form of “action” known as the performance of good works, e.g. feeding and/or educating the poor and disadvantaged. For Vedanta, the ancient spiritual philosophy of India, Karma and Dharma are the moral twin brothers of manifestation in life. It is perhaps of the greatest significance that “karma” has become an inclusive term in English today, while ‘dharma” is virtually unheard of!

          Although “karma” is assumed to mean “the eventual moral consequences of our actions manifesting in our lives” in today’s common parlance, and this is only somewhat accurate as an interpretation. The true meaning of this term cannot be understood without also understanding dharma.

          Karma is a specific kind of action – the unenlightened kind. It is presumed in Vedanta that this is the default mode of all human activity, and probably of all activity exhibited in the animal kingdom in general. Human beings represent a special circumstance in manifestation – we are capable of understanding the meaning of our actions from the moral perspective through Enlightenment. This form of consciousness is considered a great gift from the Vedic perspective, provided that the Enlightenment takes place! As previously noted, in many cases, it does not, and we remain in the condition of ignorance – spiritual darkness and lack of higher consciousness and awareness. Even in the most sincere wish to assist others in difficulty from the most altruistic of motives, if the interplay of karma and dharma is not clearly understood from the Vedic view of human events, we are doomed to be only partially successful at best in controlling the extent of suffering on this Earth. Why? Because we are still acting through ignorance of the Truth, and without Enlightenment. With Enlightenment, Dharma becomes possible, and Karma is extinguished through Divine Love and Compassion.

          Think about all of the actions that we all perform daily, frequently without any thought or contemplation, through habit, or on occasion out of fear or resentment, or greed and gratification, or any other of a wide range of selfish personal motivations. Most of us perform hundreds of such actions everyday. All of these have the common effect of building up more Karmic debt, and all of it is negative, not even neutral. Karma is the result of a lifetime of thoughtless, heartless action, committed out of exclusively selfish motivation for personal gain. It’s as simple as that. No level of malicious intent is required – just an absence of benevolent intent, with “benevolent” understood to mean “directly dedicated to God in love”, not simply compassionate or empathetic alone. Obviously, in order to dedicate our actions to God, we must first be aware of God – believe in God – and see God as the Divine Source of all Love, Light, and Truth. Agnosticism is not an option. Atheism is certainly not an option. And weakness and uncertainty are not options, either. Only a firm belief supported by deep religious conviction is going to work for the accomplishment of Dharma. And the key to this process is spiritual Enlightenment. How is one to attain this condition?

          The Vedas and Vedanta amount to an extended list of prescriptions for the attainment and maintenance of Enlightenment. Now, this is a literary record of many volumes of discourse, extending over millennia of time – perhaps back to prehistory – and it is well beyond the scope of this little essay to synopsize that much material! But, some basic guidelines, along with a definition or two, can be given here.

          Enlightenment is the state and process of coming to successively more sensitive and compassionate levels of understanding of human motives, actions, and the consequences of both, operating in the material world, culminating in the “level” of compassion and understanding held by God. This level is not attained immediately, but customarily over a life time, or lifetimes, of struggle – and the suffering every kind of setback – along the way. The Vedas teach that this process is ongoing and cumulative – Enlightenment will result eventually as we progress through the learning experience of the flesh – it just takes awhile! The attainment of Enlightenment is seen in Vedanta as the ultimate meaning and purpose of life in the flesh, and all its attendant sufferings. The body is seen as the vehicle of Karma and Dharma, as the balance slowly shifts from the former to the latter. We all begin at God in Love, and eventually return to God in Love through the progressive attainment of Enlightenment.

          The Vedic texts are filled with recommendations for the attainment of higher consciousness, or, in other words, Enlightenment. Perhaps the single most critical recommendation concerns the understanding and acceptance of the principle of detachment from the consequences of our actions, particularly the apparently positive consequences – or fruits – of our actions.

          This detachment is not to be seen as an abdication of responsibility for the outcomes of what we do in life – in the corporeal sense, I must remain the agent of my actions in life. On the contrary, the doctrine of detachment is an affirmation of the reality that God is the originator of all action, no matter what the outcome appears to be on the Material Plane. Frequently, the most horrendous events can have utterly positive outcomes if viewed in the correct fashion. I myself have seen this confirmed time and time again in my life, through a progression of daunting challenges, as I refused to surrender to despair and continued to pursue Enlightenment. In fact the glass is always half full when the contents are Divine Love! Learning to practice this state of humble acceptance of the Divine Will is easily half the battle – God does not make mistakes – we are mistaken if supposing that He does. It is literally up to us to find the wisdom of God’s actions on the Material Plane – even though those actions occasionally appear irrational from the human viewpoint.

          And we must avoid the trap of egoism. When we become very prideful of our secular achievements in the world, we are forgetting that the action of God makes all achievement possible, makes the world itself possible. When we remember God, Dharma becomes possible by enabling the realization that He is the One to be credited – not the mortal little ego inside our personal perception. This is the essence of detachment – understanding that we are not the source of achievement – God is. In Dharma, we simply correctly identify and give credit to that source. In Karma, we mistakenly assume that we personally are the source of our apparently personal actions in what is really the illusionary experience of the senses occurring in the transitory state of the body. Since the body eventually dies, taking the ego with it, we are left with Enlightenment as the only possible expression of consciousness that may remain intact, and is therefore to be regarded as best option available for the attainment of immortality.

          So, detachment means disconnecting from the ego-involvement that keeps us grounded in the worldly illusion of the senses by remaining aware of the Truth of God as the most ultimately real consciousness we can attain to. By detaching from the ego, we simultaneously attach to the real condition of Dharma, and through Dharma, to higher consciousness and God. This is the mechanism of Enlightenment, and the explanation of the spiritual effect of our physical activities in the material world.

          To be sure, there are many other features of the Enlightenment process that have not been presented here, and mores the pity! Enlightenment involves a comprehensive lifestyle of compassion and self-sacrifice, with all actions dedicated to God as the source of everything knowable. As we learn to be loving, caring people who have observed the value of living a God-centered – not ego-centered – and profoundly spiritual life, we move away from the ongoing accumulation of Karma, and toward the Divine Life of Dharma, and are Blessed in the spirit as our reward. What could be a better use of this life?


                                                                                 - With Love, Alan -

                                                                         (CR2007, Alan Schneider)


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