Vedānta Series 36

Karma is nothing but the impressions of cause and effect of all our relationships that get embedded in our soul. The soul does not move alone. It carries with it, the karmic embedment and the impressions of our subconscious mind. Karma and subconscious mind is almost the same, still different. Both cannot act on their own, and have to necessarily act through the conscious mind. Karma is the sum total of our thoughts and actions, not only of this life, but also previous lifves. Karma also transmigrates along with soul. A person’s quality of life is determined only by the quality of his karma. If the sum total of his past thoughts and actions are good, he is bound to be comfortable and enjoy the life. If his karmic account is bad, he has no choice except to suffer. Any amount of prayers does not absolve him from the adversity of his karmic account. Law of karma is the law of the Lord, and the Lord never violates His own laws. Law of karma is the natural justice system prescribed by the Lord. After all what we sow, we reap. We can freeze our karmic account by surrendering the effects of our actions to the Lord. From that time onwards, we do not accrue further karmic accounts. However, we have to spend the balance in our karmic account according to its quality. This stage is called jīvanmukta.

Every soul has three types of bodies - gross, subtle and causal. The inner bodies, subtle and causal, hold the karmic embedment and also the impressions of the subconscious mind. These two inner bodies, subtle and causal are not formed afresh in each birth. They always remain the same through innumerable births. The impressions of the subconscious mind and karmas mature at the appropriate time to manifest and pursuant to which, one undergoes pleasure or pain. The impressions of the subconscious mind pave the way for karmas to manifest. If we become devoid of desires and attachments, we do not leave impressions in our subconscious mind. Ungratified desires form potent impressions in our subconscious mind. When we come into contact with the matters associated with these impressions, the impressions of the subconscious mind squeeze themselves into our mind and make our karmas manifest. Karmas alone cannot manifest. They have to manifest in conjunction with our subconscious and conscious minds.

Karmas form the potential seed for all our actions, including our thoughts, feelings, speech and deeds. Let us assume that a person is an extremely pious and soft personality. He never thinks of animosity and hatred. Some person, unknown to him suddenly springs up before him and begins to hurt him through words causing his anger to rise uncontrollably. At the height of his anger, he tends to use some harsh words. This harsh word metamorphoses into hatred and enmity and their associated consequences.  If his karmic affliction is too bad, it leads to murder and death of either one of them. This is a typical case where karma manifests to transform one’s life either bad to good or good to bad.  

Broadly, karmas are caused due to the following five activities, and they are spiritual ignorance, egoism, attachment, aversion and desire to live. These are the five factors that generally cause karmas. There are other factors also, but only these five are the predominant causal agencies that cause karmas. If these five aspects of life are annihilated, we do not accrue karmas. A jīvanmukta gets rid of karmas only by annihilating them. These five are known as the seeds of karmas and if the seeds are burnt, obviously they cannot sprout. It is not necessary that karmas should cause only miseries and pains. Karmas can also accelerate a person's spiritual liberation. The highest benefit that karma can endow us with is our liberation. It is the quality of karma that matters.

Karmas are of three types - sañcita karma (sanchita karma), prārabdha karma and āgami karma. Sañcita karma (sanchita karma) is the sum total of karmas accumulated in all the previous lives and latently present in this birth. This continues to be inactive through the present life. Prārabdha karma is that portion of sañcita karma (sanchita karma) carved out to manifest in the present life. Āgami karma is the sum of total of sañcita  karma +/- karmas accumulated during this life time. Therefore, at the beginning of his next life, his sañcita karma (sanchita karma) could be more or less depending upon the karmas that he accumulates during his present life.

Let us understand this with an example. At the end of one’s death, his karmic account has a balance of 100. This 100 becomes his sañcita karma (sanchita karma). At the beginning of his next birth, only 30 is drawn for manifestation in that birth, which is known as prārabdha karma. Now there are two possibilities. One, he spends the entire 30 and dies. Second, after spending his 30, he further adds 40. In the first instance, his āgami karma would be 100 – 30 = 70. In the second instance, his āgami karma would be 70 + 40 = 110. If his āgami karma is 70, probably he will have two or three births. If it is 110, he will have four or five births. Thus karmas are either added or spent during a life cycle.

There is no connection between soul and karma. Soul does not make anyone to act. It is only the impressions of the conscious mind or the subconscious mind that make a person to act. These actions in turn cause karmas, as he performs all his actions with intent on the result of activities. He goes for employment to make money to nurture family. His ultimate aim is the money. If someone is going to give him that kind of money every month, he will decide not to go for employment. Therefore, he performs an action only to get benefits. All the actions that are performed with intent on the result of actions cause karmas. If he performs good actions, good karmas accrue and if he performs evil actions, bad karmas accrue. As long as he has attachment towards the benefit of his actions, he continues to accrue karmas, whether good or bad. There is no other way to get rid of his karmas, except to detach himself from the result of his actions. We have to go on discharging our duties to our fullest satisfaction, remaining unattached to the results of our actions. There is no other way to arrest the accrual of further karmas in our karmic account.

An individual soul, deluded by illusion (māyā) and ignorance (avidya and ajñāna) considers itself as the doer, forgetting its inherent nature. The illusion and ignorance arises because of ego. When actions are performed with ego, obviously there are some motives behind our actions. These motives are the results of desires and attachments. A jīvanmukta is the one, who understands this concept thoroughly. Though he also performs all actions as we do, he does the same action without any selfish motive. Hence, karmas do not accrue to him. Karma, ego and subconscious mind are interrelated and interdependent. The one without the other cannot act on their own. Your karma cannot manifest if you have dissolved your ego. Therefore, it is said that ego is nothing but the karmic conglomeration. As long as, your karmic account exists, either good or bad, your ego will also co-exist. This is because karmas cannot be destroyed, and should be exhausted only by experience. The only way you can prevent further karmic accruals is to remain detached from worldly affairs. It does not mean that you should not lead a normal life. You can still lead a normal life, but become detached. Declare and affirm that all the actions you do are surrendered to the Lord. If your affirmations are done with sincerity, you will be alleviated from the pains of karmas.

Apart from the individual karma, there is also a concept called group karma. Group karma is where many individual karmas together manifest at one point of time. Typical examples are accidents and nature’s fury like earth quakes. In such circumstances, many people die at the same time. 

Karma is carried by his causal body along with soul and impressions of his subconscious mind. This soul + karma + subconscious mind combine is deposited by a man in the form of sperms in a woman. Though several sperms are deposited, only a single sperm fertilizes the egg of the woman. During conjugation, air also known as prāṇa plays a significant role. Procreative fluid is blown by the power of air into the ova and is pulled by the air present in the uterus. The soul along with the other two gets impregnated by the activities of the air and gets embedded in the foetus. The moment this entry takes place, the soul forgets about all its previous experiences. As long as the soul remains in the womb it understands its true nature. Once the child is delivered and the moment it inhales its first breath, it forgets about its true identity, and gets engulfed with the effects of māyā.  It is only the karma that ultimately chooses its future association with a body.  At the time of death, soul leaves the body with embedded karmas. The sum total of both karmas and subconscious mind till the end of the present life goes out of the body along with the soul. Again air, with extreme pressure pushes the soul out of the body, causing death.

Further Readings:

Bondage of Karma

Karma And Kundalini

Garuda Purana - Karma And Rebirth​​​​​​​