Law of Karma

Law of Karma Image

Jyotish is much more than a simple divination system. It is a great vidya (spiritual science), which is deeply imbedded in a profound philosophy of life. The study of Jyotish, therefore, requires an understanding of Vedic philosophy, especially the law of Karma, which is the underlying mechanism upon which astrology rests. It is also the foundation of the Vedic concept of spiritual development. Properly understood, it provides the astrologer with a necessary tool for explaining the cause of suffering, and more importantly, the mechanism by which suffering can be eradicated.

When asked to explain the term, Karma, most people explain it this way, "as you sow, so shall you reap." Although this a good departure point for discussing karma, it does not go far enough in explaining the intricacies of karmic bondage, nor does it show how karmic impressions can be eradicated. In fact, a superficial understanding of karmic law as mere cause and effect leaves one with the erroneous idea that the whole point of the theory of Karma is to do good and avoid doing evil. Actually, nothing could be farther from the truth! Yet most people persist in the thinking that doing good will eventually bring them enlightenment, union with God, and ultimate freedom from suffering. The point here is not that doing good and avoiding evil is without benefit. In fact, virtuous conduct is very beneficial, because it results in good health, prosperity, and other favorable circumstances. Similarly, wrong action brings ill health, poverty and other miserable conditions. Doing good and avoiding evil is, therefore, the only intelligent choice. Unfortunately, this approach alone does not solve the problem of how to get rid of karma and gain enlightenment, it only gives a means to have a more comfortable and enjoyable life in the world. This point can be understood more clearly by first understanding the way in which karmic impressions are incurred, how they cause bondage, and also how they are shed.

According to Vedic philosophy, the most fundamental spiritual principle is the transcendent self. Although most people identify with their bodies, minds and egos, the real self is unbounded, unmanifest, pure consciousness. The condition that causes people to suffer through life thinking that they are bound and limited by physical, emotional, and psychological conditions, instead of living a life of freedom and bliss, is called bondage. Bondage is the result of the soul's association with karmic impressions, incurred through various thoughts, words and deeds in the past.

Each person has various levels to his individuality. On the surface, there is a physical body. On a subtle and invisible level, however, there is also a subtle karmic body, called the Causal Body, which holds karmic impressions. The Causal Body incurs karmic bondage in the following way:

1. In-flux: The Individualized self is a mass of vibrating consciousness, constantly generating various passions such as anger, pride, deceit and greed. Each new passion or desire is characterized by a distinct vibrational quality that creates an impression in the causal body. Each karmic impression carries the same vibrational signature as the passion, desire, or thought from which it originated. The constant process of creating new impressions in the causal body we will call influx.

2. Bondage: When a karmic impression stays in the causal body, it is called bondage. Each karmic impression carries the quality of the state of consciousness that produced it. If, for example, the karma was generated by an experience of overwhelming greed, then the impression will be colored by greed. If, on the other hand, the karmic impression was generated by a sentiment of overwhelming generosity, then it will have a positive quality of generosity. In this way, karmic impressions lodge in the causal body, binding the soul in either negative or positive modes. The two general modes of karmic bondage are Punya (positive karma) and Papa (negative karma). In either case, the result is called bondage, a state of limited perception in which the soul is incapable of realizing its infinite blissful nature.

3. Out-flux: Each karmic impression is incurred with a certain quality (e.g. greed, which is negative) and a certain intensity (e.g. mild, medium, or intense), depending on the quality and intensity of the conscious state which generated the impression. Similarly, each karmic impression also has a life span, a duration of time, during which it will remain in the causal body. When its time is up, then the karmic impression will naturally be released and will exit the karmic body. As it exits, it causes the soul to vibrate in a similar way as the quality of consciousness that caused the karmic impression in the first place. If the karmic impression was initially incurred by an experience of overwhelming greed, for example, then an experience related to greed will result at the time the impression is released. If it is only a mild greed karma being released, then the person might simply think about how much he would like to have his neighbor's new television set. If the greed impression being released is of the intense variety, however, then the person might be overwhelmed with greed and actually go over to his neighbor's house and steal his TV set. The problem here is that if the person gets involved, in thought, word or deed, in the feeling of greed, then he will bind a new impression in the causal body. This sets up a vicious cycle where involvement in the emotions produced by shedding karmas simply causes them to be re-incurred.

The preceding description makes the prospects for eventually getting rid of karmic impressions seem quite dismal. Everything in Vedic philosophy centers on solving this karmic dilemma. It is karma, which binds the soul in ignorance, suffering and limitation. It is karma, which dupes the consciousness into forgetting that it is infinite and blissful. This sorry state of affairs can be likened to a mirror that is covered with dust. The sun shines brightly in the sky illuminating everything with radiant omnipresent light, yet the mirror, which is covered with dust, fails to reflect the infinite sunlight. If there could be some way to remove the dust, then the mirror would be able to realize its unlimited potential to reflect the sunlight. Like this, the soul, shrouded in karmic impressions, fails to realize its potential to reflect the transcendent light of pure consciousness. If there could be a way to get rid of karmic impressions, then eventually the soul would realize its true nature as unbounded energy and bliss.

Doing Good Doesn't Get Rid of Karma!

Karma has two varieties, punya (positive) and papa (negative). Similarly, karmic bondage also comes in two types, positive and negative. Bondage by karmic impressions that are predominantly negative causes the person to experience a life of pain and misery. Predominantly positive karmic bondage brings wealth, intelligence, good health, pleasure, and other experiences that are generally cherished. Of the two, any intelligent person will obviously choose to create positive karma over negative karma. After all, good karma can give a person any desirable life experience. It is the great key to temporal happiness. As you sow, so shall you reap! This, of course, is the way most of us think. In fact, many people base their entire approach to spirituality on this principle of doing good in order to attract good experiences and avoiding evil in order to avoid suffering. The only problem with this idea, of course, is that it does absolutely nothing to address the problem of getting rid of karma. Doing good only causes us to incur positive karmic impressions (punya) which results in a positive state of bondage later on. In other words, through lifetimes devoted exclusively to doing good, we succeed only in insuring that in the future we will be reborn in chains of gold rather than chains of iron. Unfortunately, a person can be just as ignorant of his unbounded nature when living in a mansion as when living on a dung heap!

The Key to the Karmic riddle. The sages who cognized the Vedas had deep and practical wisdom. They knew that no lasting happiness could be gained by simply adopting an approach to life that placed primary importance on doing good action. They recognized that even the results of good karma would eventually fade. After being born into a life of good health, affluence and comfort, a person eventually becomes ill, suffers and dies. Although they encouraged virtuous conduct in order to gain good health, affluence, and access to knowledge, all of which they recognized as important supportive elements to the pursuit of liberation, they recognized that the ultimate solution to the karmic dilemma had to be found elsewhere. They knew that a real solution had to provide a means to eliminate the cause of bondage altogether. It is for this purpose that the Vedas and all their supportive texts were written, in order to provide the world with a key to unlock the riddle of karmic bondage. That key is called equanimity.

Equanimity Stops the Influx of Karma

It was described earlier how the shedding of karmic impressions causes a vibration in the causal body, which in turn attracts new karma, resulting in a vicious cycle of karmic bondage. In order to interrupt this cycle, the Vedic Rishis recommended the cultivation of equanimity in the mind. Equanimity is a state in which the various positive and negative vibrations of consciousness are stilled. By keeping the mind tranquil at the time of karmic fructification, karma is shed without generating new impressions. The absolute form of equanimity, called samadhi, is the state of total absorption in the absolute stillness of pure consciousness, which is the product of deep meditation. This form of equanimity produces the most profound silence in the mind and results in the most intense shedding of karmas. On a relative level, however, equanimity means keeping the mind relatively detached and tranquil, in the midst of difficulty or success. This kind of equanimity can be facilitated in various ways, including the study of both philosophy and astrology, which allows the person to intellectually understand his life experiences. In either case, absolute equanimity or relative equanimity, the result is that the cycle of karmic bondage is broken. The person is more able to remain calm, neutral, and happy, in the midst of the warps and woofs of life. As a result, karma leaves and is not replaced with new karmas. Eventually the karma which overshadows self-awareness is completely exhausted and enlightenment dawns.

Jyotish Is Intended to Promote Equanimity

People go to astrologers for all kinds of reasons. Many go because it is exciting. The thought that an astrologer can tell them all about themselves by looking at a chart is intriguing. Sometimes this causes astrology to be used like a kind of parlor game, placing it into the category of trivial entertainment. Sometimes, however, even when a person approaches the astrologer out of a desire to be entertained, the astrologer surprises them by revealing some deep insight. This has the effect of awakening the person's mind to the fact that there is deeper wisdom in life which goes beyond the mechanistic paradigms of western science. It leaves him with a sense of wonder and awe and sow,s the seeds of spiritual interest.

Sometimes people are simply curious to know what will happen to them in the future. They especially want to know when they will get more money, love, prestige and professional success. Within this category, many people only want to look at the positive elements of their chart, and are deadly afraid of looking at anything negative. The mere thought that a future experience could be uncomfortable or difficult makes them afraid. This has caused many astrologers to give in to the subtle pressure to tell only sweet truths and to make only positive predictions. This approach, of course, simply reinforces the root cause of suffering, which is the person's desire for pleasure and the fear of pain.

Of course, there are also people who approach astrologers with only a desire to know themselves better. They are not afraid of negatives in life because they have already accepted the undeniable fact that life is both positive and negative. Although this approach to astrology is less common, it is definitely the highest road. Used this way, astrology becomes the greatest reflective tool. In combination with the practice of meditation, its power to promote spiritual growth is tremendous. Through meditation, the person brings the mind to a state of absolute equanimity, which causes a powerful shedding of karmic impressions. Through understanding the horoscope, the person gains clearer insight into the numerous ways in which their own karmic impressions are scheduled to manifest. This produces both a greater ability to handle life's ups and downs with an even mind, thereby facilitating the shedding of karma, and also produces a sense that life is happening according to an overall cosmic plan.

Ironically, once a person stops running after pleasure and avoiding pain, life actually becomes more pleasurable. Similarly, as a person begins to use their horoscope as a tool for self-reflection and spiritual growth, rather than as a parlor trick, they begin to be able to actually capitalize on astrological insights in very practical ways. Even though doing good karma is not the key to becoming enlightened, it is definitely the key to becoming prosperous, healthy, and loved. The chart gives insights into how to best actualize ones potentials in career, health, relationship and other important areas. This produces greater success and happiness in the practical material world.