“Driven by a virtuous or evil purpose, each living entity performs some work, which has consequences associated with it. After death, the same person steadily reaps all those auspicious and inauspicious results.” (Hanuman speaking to Tara, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 21.2)
गुणदोषकृतं जन्तुस्स्वकर्म फलहेतुकम्।
अव्यग्रस्तदवाप्नोति सर्वं प्रेत्य शुभाशुभम्
guṇadoṣakṛtaṃ jantussvakarma phalahetukam।
avyagrastadavāpnoti sarvaṃ pretya śubhāśubham
Friend1: Can we talk about karma?
Friend2: Okay, what do you want to know?
Friend1: From the viewpoint of basic action and reaction. Some input, in the form of a choice, and then a corresponding output.
Friend2: So you don’t want to discuss from the perspective of prescribed action?
Friend1: No, that is a different topic altogether. I know that there is karma, akarma, and vikarma. Let’s keep it simple today. People tend to understand karma from the point of view of good or bad deeds coming back to you; like a boomerang effect.
Friend2: Such as when something unexpectedly positive occurs for me, I attribute the instance to something good I did in the past.
Friend1: And the same for the opposite case. I had everything going for me. It looked like I played the game perfectly, eliminating opposition. Despite my lack of scruples, resorting to dirty tricks, it seemed I would come out on top. Then something unexpected occurs, like a freak injury, and I end up losing.
Friend2: To which a person would attribute the “bad luck” to karma for the past immoral behavior.
Friend1: Exactly. I think that is how people understand karma, in the vernacular sense.
Friend1: The Vedic tradition provides the most information about karma, for those who are inquisitive. As you mentioned previously, there is also the definition of “prescribed work.” The most important addition is the idea of karma spanning multiple lifetimes.
Friend2: You reap what you sow. The consequence to your action does not necessarily have to manifest in the current lifetime.
Friend1: There is the teaching from Shri Hanuman, when he was speaking to Tara, moments after she had become a widow. He explained that the results to action, good and bad, continue in the afterlife.
Friend2: In the same manner in which we perceive the visible results, in this lifetime.
Friend1: Okay, so how would a person verify? They might be open to accepting the concept of karma, but once you get into the territory of faith, it is a tougher sell.
Friend2: Well, karma works in both directions. The past and the future. This means that there has to be an explanation for the present circumstances.
Friend1: What do you mean?
Friend2: One person takes birth in a rich family. Another person is suffering in a war-torn village. One person never knows destitution, while another person is thankful for every meal they get. How do you explain the difference?
Friend1: I don’t know.
Friend2: That is what the Vedas teach. The wise understand this. Not that they are fixated on the past. Not that they necessarily look down on someone born into inauspicious circumstances. But they do not have their head in the sand.
Friend1: In that they don’t attribute everything to randomness or poor luck.
Friend2: Exactly. Karma brought me to the current situation. Karma will continue in the future. Better to understand akarma, which is inaction.
Friend1: Don’t do anything?
Friend2: Cease the development of future bodies. Work for the interests of the soul. Eat in a way that is karma-free. Work in the same way.
Friend1: How do we do that?
Friend2: Devotional service. Bhakti-yoga. Bhagavata-dharma. Sanatana-dharma really is for breaking free of karma, but not every person will reach that high standard. It may take several lifetimes before a person finally understands:
बहूनां जन्मनाम् अन्ते
ज्ञानवान् मां प्रपद्यते
वासुदेवः सर्वम् इति
स महात्मा सु-दुर्लभः
bahūnāṁ janmanām ante
jñānavān māṁ prapadyate
vāsudevaḥ sarvam iti
sa mahātmā su-durlabhaḥ
“After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.19)
Friend1: Full surrender is a tough sell.
Friend2: But if we are privy to the information, we should not conceal it. Whether one person accepts or an entire village, the truth is unaffected. Break free of karma and no longer worry about good and bad in a temporary sense. Work in such a way that the auspiciousness will be eternal, that you can be assured of connection with the Divine both in this lifetime and the next.
Into the future extending,
Next birth placement sending.
But in reverse working the same,
How into this life came.
Karma for the body developing,
Soul by material elements enveloping.
Better to permanently break free,
And transcendence forever to see.