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At the Feet of The Mother

Sri Aurobindo and the Sanatana Dharma 5: Karma

This takes us to another major aspect of Sanatan Dharma, perhaps the most important from our immediate practical point of view. It is Karma, the law of action (and its consequences). It is karma, says the Sanatan Dharma and not your belief in a religion that determines our future. It is a statement that any rational scientific minded person as well as any truly religious minded person would agree. For is it not the most logical thing that each action has its reaction of some kind or another? And is it not the core of all religious teachings that your deeds are what God sees and not what you speak or profess. Karma very simply is energy released through our actions. Its purpose is to keep the balance, an equilibrium while allowing for the needed forward movement of progress. At the level of species below human it operates to keep an excess by one species under check. It is due to this inbuilt recoil of karma that once mighty creatures like the Mastodon and the Dinosaur and brings the tiger on the verge of extinction while the deer continues to multiply. This applies to human beings as a race as well when we interfere unduly with the balance of nature so powerfully conveyed through several stories such as that of the nagayagya by the scion of Kuru clan, Janmejaya, grandson of the legendary Abhimanyu and many others. That is also another reason that the Sanatan Dharma looks upon everything with the sense of the sacred and does not approve of an excess in any direction. It is this inbuilt psychic sense within that prevented the mighty civilization built along the lines of Sanatan Dharma and its developed Science from going along the lines of blind consumerism.

This recoil of Nature, call it cosmic justice though it is more accurately the law of balance applies to the functioning of the cosmos and is mainly worked out by the cosmic powers. It is this that has been often mistaken for the law of karma which is a modification of this law in its individual application. Thus for example the law of balance applies to the tiger as a species or even human groupings and collectivities, nations and civilizations. But it is not the law of karma which begins once individualities begin to be shaped in human beings out of the mass or herd instinct. Its purpose is to teach and train the growing soul, to learn by victory and success as well as through failure and fall, to grow in wisdom and strength and love and compassion and light until it stands above Nature as a witness and king, master of forces rather than their slave as it now is. This is the main function of the law of karma, the progress of the soul towards the fullness of its divine possibility. It is not about reward and punishment, or to put it in another way, the only reward is to grow nearer the Divine through all the trials and tribulations of lives and, the only punishment is the veiling of the inner Deity, the stifling of the Godhead within us, the covering of the soul with the mantle of darkness and ignorance. The law of karma slowly chips off these coverings until the soul steps in front in its purity and power and takes the charge of our mind and body and life. Right now the ego self, a temporary structure or a scaffolding built by nature to create the sense of individuality rules us. But being itself a creation of ignorance it is not aligned to the law of Truth. While it is thus labouring in ignorance, the only way that the cosmic balance can be maintained and the evil tendencies born out of ignorance be kept under check is by asking man to either follow the social rules and regulations or else to follow the religious law given in the Scriptures. But no amount of mechanical obedience and subservience to the law, religious or otherwise, can free us from ignorance. Even the human mind under the influence of adverse cosmic powers uses the religious law to justify evil and the rules and regulations of the society to further its own selfish agenda. The religious law, the word of the Scripture, the rules and regulations of the Society can at best curb the extreme tendencies of evil but they cannot pluck it from its roots. In fact by drawing a moral fence around us, a fence largely made up of fears and favours it restrains in us not only the Titan but also the god. 

It is however important to understand that the law of karma does not imply a rigid mechanical determinism of cause and effect. Nor does it imply an inexorable fatalism as some make it out to be. All that it means is that man starts his journey chained in the iron grip of matter. But as he journeys across lives, the soul in him grows and progressively leads him towards an increasing degree of freedom. The law of karma is essentially a law of inner evolution from bondage to ignorance towards freedom that comes by true knowledge.

‘Fundamentally, the meaning of Karma is that all existence is the working of a universal Energy, a process and an action and a building of things by that action,—an unbuilding too, but as a step to farther building,—that all is a continuous chain in which every one link is bound indissolubly to the past infinity of numberless links, and the whole governed by fixed relations, by a fixed association of cause and effect, present action the result of past action as future action will be the result of present action, all cause a working of energy and all effect too a working of energy. The moral significance is that all our existence is a putting out of an energy which is in us and by which we are made and as is the nature of the energy which is put forth as cause, so shall be that of the energy which returns as effect, that this is the universal law and nothing in the world can, being of and in our world, escape from its governing incidence. That is the philosophical reality of the theory of Karma, and that too is the way of seeing which has been developed by physical Science….

Nevertheless certain essential and needed clues are there in the theory of Karma. And first, there is this assurance, this firm ground on which I can base a sure tread, that in the mental and moral world as in the physical universe there is no chaos, fortuitous rule of chance or mere probability, but an ordered Energy at work which assures its will by law and fixed relation and steady succession and the links of ascertainable cause and effectuality. To be assured that there is an all-pervading mental law and an all-pervading moral law, is a great gain, a supporting foundation. That in the mental and moral as in the physical world what I sow in the proper soil, I shall assuredly reap, is a guarantee of divine government, of equilibrium, of cosmos; it not only grounds life upon an adamant underbase of law, but by removing anarchy opens the way to a greater liberty. But there is the possibility that if this Energy is all, I may only be a creation of an imperative Force and all my acts and becomings a chain of determination over which I can have no real control or chance of mastery. That view would resolve everything into predestination of Karma, and the result might satisfy my intellect but would be disastrous to the greatness of my spirit. I should be a slave and puppet of Karma and could never dream of being a sovereign of myself and my existence. But here there comes in the second step of the theory of Karma, that it is the Idea which creates all relations. All is the expression and expansion of the Idea, sarvāṇi vijñāna-vijṛmbhitāni. Then I can by the will, the energy of the Idea in me develop the form of what I am and arrive at the harmony of some greater idea than is expressed in my present mould and balance. I can aspire to a nobler expansion. Still, if the Idea is a thing in itself, without any base but its own spontaneous power, none originating it, no knower, no Purusha and Lord, I may be only a form of the universal Idea and myself, my soul, may have no independent existence or initiation. But there is too this third step that I am a soul developing and persisting in the paths of the universal Energy and that in myself is the seed of all my creation. What I have become, I have made myself by the soul’s past idea and action, its inner and outer karma; what I will to be, I can make myself by present and future idea and action. And finally, there is this last supreme liberating step that both the Idea and its Karma may have their origin in the free spirit and by arriving at myself by experience and self-finding I can exalt my state beyond all bondage of Karma to spiritual freedom. These are the four pillars of the complete theory of Karma. They are also the four truths of the dealings of Self with Nature.’ [CWSA 13]

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