“Unseen and indefinite are the good and bad reactions of fruitive work. And without taking action, the desired fruits of such work cannot manifest.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.17)
This one statement by Lakshmana, the younger brother of Lord Rama, is so profound that there is no limit to the number of lessons one can derive or explanations one can give. This is the benefit of taking instruction from the highest authority, a pure devotee of God. In the Vedic tradition, Lord Rama is considered an incarnation of Godhead who appeared on earth many thousands of years ago. His three brothers are also considered partial incarnations, thus Lakshmana is not only a devotee, but one who possesses divine qualities as well. One concept that this verse explains is that of cause and effect. There is a root cause for every event or result that we see. Though this may be hard to understand at first, a quick study of our own lives can help us better grasp the concept.
Let’s take a home for example. In America, if one wants to buy a house they usually enlist the help of a real estate agent. This agent then takes prospective buyers from home to home, showing the ins and outs of the houses that are for sale. Each home buyer is looking for different things. Some want to have enough backyard space, some require multiple car driveways, while others need to have a minimum number of bedrooms. Owning a home is considered beneficial because unlike with renting, paying the mortgage on a home means you gradually take ownership of the house. After many many years of making payments, the home finally becomes yours, and thus your monthly expenses greatly diminish.
The downside of owning your own home is that you are now responsible for all the maintenance. Ask anyone who owns a home and they will tell you that managing it is a full-time affair. Problems with plumbing, roofing, water leaks, landscaping, etc. creep up all the time. There is no building manager you can call to help you out, for you are now responsible for everything. Just by examining the ins and outs of a house, we can learn so much. Though we work hard at our jobs to earn enough money to pay the rent or mortgage, the house actually doesn’t get built with money alone. Houses don’t just appear out of nowhere. It takes great work and detailed planning to get all the intricacies of the structure in place. The lawn in the front yard is the result of a person planting seeds and managing the growth of the grass. The pavement in the driveway is the result of someone putting down gravel and cement and making sure it was laid out smoothly. The bathrooms and kitchen result from laying down tile and making sure that pipes get put into the right places. The heating and cooling systems require intricate knowledge of the vents and ducts, etc.
As we can see, for everything that we enjoy in life, there is a root cause. This is the nature of action. In Vedic terminology, this system of cause and effect is known as karma. More than just handy work, karma is any fruitive activity performed which carries a material result, either good or bad. Not only is working on a house considered to be karmic activity, but so is just about everything else that we do. Getting up in the morning is karma. The result is that we are able to go about tackling the necessary tasks of the day. Even sleeping is fruitive work, for that allows us to rest and be refreshed for the day ahead.
Why is karma important to understand? Because not only does karma explain how physical objects around us are built, but it also points to how our current body was acquired. The Vedas tell us that our current life is certainly not the only one we’ve had. “You only live once” is a common saying, but it is not completely accurate. If we identify strictly with our current body, then it is indeed true that we only live once. Once death comes our bodies start to rot and decay. A corpse can never be revived or brought back to life due to the fact that the soul has exited the body.
Though the body is ultimately destroyed, the soul, which represents our true identity, never does. It immediately accepts a new body after death, signaling a new life or rebirth. So what determines where the soul will end up next? The answer is karma. Just as we currently make so many preparations for the future – such as where to go on vacation, what to eat for dinner, or where to attend college – in a similar manner, the sum total of all our activities performed over the course of our lifetime determines where the soul will end up after death.
“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.6)
Armed with these facts, we can gain a better understanding of how we ended up in our current predicament. As we can see, there is a root cause for every effect. Though we can see some of the effects of our current work, there are some effects that we can’t see. This is because the activities of our past lives are forgotten. Yet this doesn’t mean that activities weren’t performed. We may have forgotten the events of each day that we spent in school as children, but those events certainly happened. They also resulted in our learning how to read, write, and do arithmetic. We would be hard pressed to remember a time when we didn’t know how to speak, how to walk, or how to read. Yet we know from the statements of our parents that as young infants we were incapable of performing these tasks. But we ended up learning these things over the course of time, after we performed certain actions.
Just because the results of action aren’t immediately visible, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t root causes to the effects that currently are visible. This concept helps us understand the the circumstances of our birth, which were determined by activities taken in previous lives. This is not a myth or a belief, but a scientific fact. In a similar manner, if we expand this thinking even further, we can see that everything in this world has a root cause. This is a belief shared by everyone, even the scientific community. Scientists have for centuries tried to study the history of the universe and how it came into being. Today, there is purportedly a consensus of scientists who believe that mankind has an effect over the climate of the earth. The belief is that through the activities performed by man, the ecology of the earth is altered, and thus the climate as a whole changes.
This line of thinking essentially puts man in charge of controlling nature. But at the same time, these same scientists believe that the universe was created through a massive explosion of chemicals. This is known as the Big Bang Theory, and it espouses the belief that randomness was the original cause of everything. Yet by studying the circumstances of our own lives, we see that it is work that is the cause of everything. The work we perform, along with the work performed by others, determines the events of our lives. Our current life is a result of the work performed during previous lives. At each step along the way, the impetus for performing said work lies with the individual.
The Vedas refer to a person as purusha, which means a controller, enjoyer, or spirit. Purusha is what forms the basis of our identity, for the gross body is prakriti, or matter. Prakriti is incapable of doing anything on its own; it is dull matter. For any activity to take place there must be purusha. Spirit always dominates matter. Thus the Big Bang Theory falls flat simply because matter itself has no energy or intelligence. Matter is incapable of performing work, so it cannot be the root cause of anything.
From Lakshmana’s statement, we see that for any result to appear, either desired or undesired, work must be performed. Everything has a cause. If we traverse the chain of cause and effect all the way up, we will eventually reach an endpoint. This endpoint is not a series of chemicals which collide, but rather a person. This purusha is the greatest of all persons and is thus known as maha-purusha. This person is none other than Lord Krishna, or God.
“God” is a generic term which doesn’t really speak much to the Supreme’s features, attributes, and appearance. Therefore the Vedas give us thousands of names for God, each describing His limitless attributes and potencies. In His original form, however, God is known as Krishna, meaning one who is all-attractive. Lord Krishna is also described as sarva-karana-karanam, the cause of all causes. As the greatest person, He is the original cause of everything. It is He who enters into the grand spiritual whole and causes life to be generated.
“It should be understood that all species of life, O son of Kunti, are made possible by birth in this material nature, and that I am the seed-giving father.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 14.4)
Why is it important to know that Krishna is the cause of all causes? One who knows this fact will very quickly understand how all of nature works. There are so many different scientific departments today, each studying how various aspects of nature function and operate. Having knowledge of these things is certainly nice, but what does it do for us? On the other hand, people who know Krishna will inherently understand how nature works, for they will see everything as it relates to God. If we fail to understand the cause of all causes, we will always remain in illusion. We will be able to understand cause and effect on a micro level, but we will nonetheless remain in the dark.
The real benefit of understanding that Krishna is the cause of all causes is that we will realize that our life is meant for serving Him. Currently we believe that we are the doers; we are the cause of all the good and bad things that come to us. This is true in some respects, but at the same time, we see that other living entities play a role as well. They too are performing activities and serving as the cause of various results. When these activities collide, what results is a jumbled mess of outcomes which are hard to predict and control. Therefore the wise take to devotional service, or bhakti-yoga.
Devotional service involves activities performed for the benefit of Krishna. Instead of working for our own rewards, we work towards pleasing the Supreme Lord. This service can involve hearing, reading, smelling flowers, offering food, or even talking about Krishna. The most effective method, however, is the congregational chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The beauty of devotional service is that it is above karma. When we engage in fruitive activity, we are preparing our next body, which will surely be a material one. But since Krishna is the supreme spirit, someone above karma, working to please Him means that we will be preparing a spiritual body for ourselves in the afterlife. Once we get this spiritual body, we’ll immediately be taken to Krishna’s spiritual abode, where we will never have to deal with karma again.
“That abode of Mine is not illumined by the sun or moon, nor by electricity. One who reaches it never returns to this material world.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 15.6)
Though the rewards of fruitive activity are unseen and short-lived, they nevertheless require some work to be performed. Fruits don’t grow on their own; they require the actions of planting, watering, and maintaining. In a similar manner, we can’t achieve the ultimate reward of spiritual salvation without performing spiritual work. If we work hard in devotional service, the results will surely come.
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