“A person in Krishna consciousness and a person not in Krishna consciousness are differentiated by different desires. A Krishna conscious person does not do anything which is not conducive to development of Krishna consciousness. He may even act exactly like the ignorant person, who is too much attached to material activities, but one is engaged in such activities for the satisfaction of his sense gratification, whereas the other is engaged for the satisfaction of Krishna.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 3.25 Purport)
“I love how His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, using the authority of the Vedas as support, provides the proper understanding for karma. It has become a popular term, otherwise. It helps to explain the unexplainable. Sometimes it is magical, even, as if having the perfect justification or cause, not explained in any other way.
“Let me describe further. We see someone do something wrong. We witness it personally. Perhaps we are not overly offended since we are not on the receiving end; we are not the victims. We still feel a sense of shock, that the offender would stoop so low as to carry out their wicked plot.
“Everything is left there, as we think this person has gotten away with it. Then, sometime later, the exact same thing happens to them. The offender becomes the victim. They never saw it coming. We can only laugh. We also marvel at the rebound effect. Without having consulted scripture in any detail, the people witnessing the series of events attribute the result to karma. They think that the person had it coming, that the laws of nature provided the proper punishment.
“The acharya explains that karma is action. Action and reaction, to be more precise. To be even clearer, karma is activity that has consequences pertaining to the future development of a material body. That raises more questions, as we didn’t know that body types could fall into categories. There is a corresponding type known as spiritual. Karma has no influence over a spiritual body.
“This naturally leads to the situation of two people doing identical things. The behavior looks like karma, but the spiritual leader says that the person engaged in devotional service is karma-free. Their activity, though identical, has no future consequence relating to a material body. I think I understand, but could you provide further clarification, for anyone who might be confused? They might see it as a neat play on words, a way for a fake guru to escape punishment for indecent behavior.”
There are many examples that could be used to explain the difference. You have one person driving on a highway, exceeding the posted speed limit. They are in danger of losing control of the vehicle, striking another person, and also being chased by the police.
Another person, in the same make and model of vehicle, is also exceeding the speed limit. Except they are with law enforcement. They are driving this fast in order to deliver justice. Maybe they are chasing a runaway convict. They might be trying to catch someone who has run a red light or who is otherwise a menace to society.
The first person is liable for punishment, while the second is not. We can use the kitchen for another example. Two people are engaged in preparing a meal. They are making the exact same dish. One person is interested in satisfying their taste buds, while the other is cooking to please the Supreme Lord. They will present in front of a deity, following an authorized process, and then distribute what remains to others in the household and possibly the community.
The first person is vulnerable to further attachment to sense gratification. This is an automatic ticket to rebirth, to the development of a future body. It is quintessential karma. The second person is not increasing their attachment. Though they are following identical behavior, the mindset is different. They are increasing their love and devotion for God the person.
This dichotomy applies across all spectrums of activity. One person sings songs that appeal to their emotions and the difficult moments in life. A different song for a different mood, while another person is always happy to sing the glories of the one who is limitless in His mercy, who is attractive in every way, who can liberate simply through sound: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Devotion free of karma considered,
By link to Krishna delivered.
Whereas another of action the same,
But fixed a future reaction to attain.
To the body the changes related,
Truth by acharyas stated.
In daily life similar exceptions,
Wise choose bhakti’s protection.