ACHARYA DAS: Namaste, welcome. Thank you for joining us again today for the eighth and final part of this series on the Bhagavad-gita. The subject that we will be discussing today is the topic of Karma. And before we begin I invite you once again to join us with for some kirtan meditation.
Gopala Govinda Rama Madana Mohana kirtan
ACHARYA DAS: So today we will be speaking on the subject of karma. It’s a little interesting if you look at the dictionary definitions of karma. There’s quite a number that are not very precise or very accurate and they reflect more what is accepted in the Western world, thought of in the Western world as what the meaning of karma is.
When people talk about their karma or your karma, they are quite often referring to the collective results of past action that you are or will be experiencing and this focus is more on the idea of my destiny, I guess - what I am destined to experience - and the reason there is this focus is primarily because of—people have this quite strong interest in the idea of what’s going to be my fate, what’s going to be my destiny and that’s very much tied to the idea or the desire of wanting to find some perfect place in this world to experience happiness or fulfilment or having a life that people consider to be very ideal.
But if we ask what is the actual meaning of this word ‘karma’, the word actually denotes and solely denotes action. It’s doesn’t denote the result of action; it is the action itself that we perform. Always at every moment we’re engaging in activity and these activities are known as karma. The result, in Sanskrit is referred to as karma phalam. Karma phalam. This phalam means fruit; the fruit or the result of my actions.
So in terms of yogic teachings and philosophy and spiritual philosophy, the subject of karma is considered really significant and really important because it has a lot to do with why we are going through what we go through, where we are going in life, and what is going to be the outcome or the result of this particular life. Where is that going to lead me? All of these things are intimately tied to this very important subject of karma.
In the Bhagavad-gita, the 4th chapter has a lot to do with karma and a way of approaching it through what is called Karma Yoga - where we are introduced to this idea of acting in a way that is not going to cause us pain, is not going to cause further suffering and entanglement in this world but we can become a free from any form of real suffering condition. So in this particular verse, the 17th verse of the 4th chapter, Krishna states:
The intricacies of action are very hard to understand. Therefore we should know properly what action is, what forbidden action is, and what inaction is.Bhagavad-gita 4.17
So I’m not going to speak about these three references to different types of actions here. We’re going to try to cover things in a little bit more of a broad way and offer some advice as to how a person can proceed in life to come to this point of actual happiness and relief from suffering. But before we go there I think we need to understand how the great spiritual teachers and the yogis and the Vedas, how they deal with the subject of karma and what it actually means and why it is significant.
So in order to actually encapsulate it I’m going to actually quote a verse here from the Yoga Sutra. Patanjali describes in the 2nd pada or the 2nd chapter on the 15th verse of the Yoga Sutra:
To the discriminating yogi, all fruits of past actions (both pleasurably and painful) are considered sorrowful because they all result in further bondage and suffering.Yoga-sutra 2.15
So this is a bit of a shocking verse for anybody that’s kind of into “yoga” because it’s sort of like people are like really aspiring for some heavenly situation in this world and hoping they can find some really nice experience and build almost like a heaven here on earth, if I can put it that way. But we understand from spiritual authorities that, number one, not only is this not a possibility, not in the way that people conceive of it, but continued existence, material existence, has been outright classified here as sorrowful. Whether you are on a roll and everything is working for you and you’ve got all the goodies or whether you’re in a absolutely distressful condition. And I sometimes use the example that you see when you go into the Third World in particular - countries where there is this disparity, where there is a poorer larger mass of people but you actually have very wealthy people also - you see—just as you do also in some developed countries at the stop light in the cities, you’ve got people out on the traffic island walking along knocking on the windows of the cars begging for money and some of the people that are begging for money look in an utterly distressful condition - you know, very impoverished, dirty, maybe diseased, their clothes are torn and tattered obviously emaciated and hungry. And they may be knocking on the window of, for instance, a Mercedes Benz and the person inside has got their Rolex on and two or three smartphones and the driver in the car and just living in this whole other world. And the ordinary person looks at this scene and they generally feel tremendous pity for the person knocking on the window begging and they look at the other person sitting at the back of the car, like, “That person has arrived. They have made it.” They may be famous, they may be good looking. They may be extremely wealthy and it’s like, “Okay, this is desirable and the other condition is undesirable.”
But from the vision of the yogi they see no difference, no actual difference from a bigger picture. They don’t see any actual difference between these two situations because both of them are temporary. And that person knocking at the window, perhaps in the next lifetime or another lifetime may be the one in the Mercedes Benz and the one in the Mercedes Benz in next lifetime or future lifetimes may be the one knocking on the window. And so whatever condition that you find yourself in, we should understand that it is not permanent. This is just like a few frames of a tremendously long movie where you’ve got this reel that, you know, goes on for a thousand miles and here you are taking little snippet out of it and you go like, “Oh my God this looks wonderful!” but you might go on another couple hundred yards down that film and take out another snippet and look what is happening to the person and it could be utterly tragic and when you look at the whole thing over-all, it’s like, why would you conclude that one little moment in time is utterly desirable and fantastic and that’s the whole movie. No that’s just a few frames of this much larger movie known as material existence.
So for this reason the yogis describe, as Patanjali has stated here, that all, all the fruits of past actions - both pleasurable and painful - are considered sorrowful because they all result in further bondage and suffering. So what is this further bondage and suffering? We sometimes use the example of like people—say two people in a dungeon in some castle somewhere and both of them are in the same dungeon, rats running around everywhere. One guy is chained to the wall with golden chains and he’s just feeling like, “Oh, my god! Look at these shackles! They are just beautiful! Oh they are just—“ and then he’s looking at his cell mate who has got these rusty iron manacles on and he’s in danger of getting tetanus just from the rubbing against his wrist and he’s all depressed, “Oh my chains are so horrible and disgusting. You are so lucky you have golden chains,” (laughs) you know. Looking at something like that you would go, “Oh my God! What’s wrong with this person? Doesn’t he see, both of them see, that they are in exactly the same place? and experiencing the same overall situation only they are bound by different types of metal, metal chains.”
So this is the actual state of things. When you act, when you act, as you sow, so you shall reap. When you act, you must experience the result of the fruit of all your actions. It is inescapable. So even if you are in what’s considered an elevated state of material existence, living in luxury or whatever, you are still acting and the actions that you are performing will make it so that you must take birth again, you must remain within the material world.
When we think of the fruit of karma, the fruit of our action, we can consider that this fruit exists in four states or conditions and I’ll liken it to plants or fruit. Right now, you could be eating some fruit and it may be tasting very sweet or it might be tasting very bitter and have worms in it and be utterly disgusting; make you want to be sick. This is the current experience of karmic fruit that we are experiencing right now and what we are not seeing is that we are bringing with us a whole bunch of unripened fruit, still green, hard, unripened but they are ripening and as they ripen, going forward in my life I will have to taste all of these fruit also, which may be sweet or may be very sour and distasteful.
In addition to this fruit I’ve got over here that are not yet ripened, I’ve also got a whole bunch of young trees or plants. Some of them may be only this big, some of them may be, you know, like 10 feet tall and they are all in the early stages of growth and from these growing trees, at some point down the road, still more fruit will manifest and I will be forced to taste and experience this. But it doesn’t stop there (laughs)! There is more to come. (laughs) Beside all these trees, I have sacks of seeds, seeds which have not yet began to grow and sprout and develop into trees or plants that will bear fruit.
So it’s kind of like when people look at a newborn baby and they’re thinking, “Ah it so sweet and innocent,” and it’s just like, “Oh my God, it’s wonderful and it’s so innocent and free and pure,” and everything. What people don’t see is that, that child, not that it is a child, it is a living being, a person that’s been around in previous lifetimes and now assumed this body, has shown up with an enormous amount of baggage. With the birth of that child, with birth their death has also arrived. Not only their death but a whole bunch of karmic fruit, karmic reaction that is coming with them and it will be unavoidable. You cannot avoid it. It will manifest in the life of that person and they will experience and have these experiences.
So from the yogic perspective it’s kind of like, okay, if you look at action, what is the driver? What is the cause of action? First it usually starts with desire and there’s a whole slew of things. There’s one particular, there’s a few verses in the Bhagavad-gita; it talks about the contemplation, contemplating, thinking about the object of the senses. Things that you see, taste, smell, hear, feel. By contemplating on the objects of the senses, one develops attachment. From this attachment desire for them grows stronger and develops into lust. And by this lust, one then becomes compelled to act. Desire drives action. Action, apart from having a fruit, also causes new desire to arise and the desire actually determines what type of life we will have going forward, not just in this lifetime but even in the future.
There is a verse in the 8th chapter, 6th verse of the Bhagavad-gita where Krishna states, addressing Arjuna as the son of Kunti. She was a queen, Kunti. And Krishna says:
Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, O son of Kunti, that state he will attain without fail.Bhagavad-gita 8.6
Now this is actually a shocking revelation for many people. Whatever you are cultivating in your mind, the state of consciousness and the nature of your desires, at the time that you quit your body, that you die, go through the death experience, will determine what type of body you will get going forward. For instance, if people have cultivated animal tendencies, then they can take the body of an animal in the next life. If they desire to enjoy certain experiences and certain ways and things in this lifetime, they will be given an appropriate body to try and fulfill those desires in their next lifetime. If a person is overly absorbed in intoxication, they’re really heavy users of drugs or alcohol or other states that induce stupor they can take birth amongst the lower species, even plant life.
So where things are going to lead into the future is shaped right now by the desires that you have and the way that you are acting on those desires and the more desires that have been created from that. So this question of karma—I mean, okay, we can be all fluffy and just daydream about, “Oh, it would be so nice to be rich and to be doing this and to have that and to be really pretty or really handsome,” you know, all that. From the yogic perspective, none of that is actually desirable. It will not fulfill the actual need that you have for happiness, it will not bring you the experience of actual spiritual love, and it will lead to further entanglement in this world.
So there we go, sorry. I’m kind of like the bad news guy (laughs) for the people that are looking for the happy, fluffy experience. I’m sorry your—just the wrong channel for you. (laughs) But no, having said that, I do have to state that what is being offered to you is the greatest happiness, is the actual state of complete peace and happiness and complete fulfillment but we have to be realistic about the world. If we don’t recognize what’s going on, if we don’t recognize what it is that’s causing us to suffer then we’re going to keep doing the same things again and again and again. We will always end up back in the same place. We have to learn life in this material world is meant to be an education for us. We are meant to be learning from this experience and going, “Well, something’s not right here. Is there something more? Is there something more important? What should I be actually focused on?”
So if we understand that the whole karma thing is actually a gigantic bummer because if I am acting, driven by material desire, then I will be perpetually bound to the material world and I will be on this roller coaster - sometimes in the peaks, sometimes in the pits. Probably more often in the pits than on the peaks which is generally what life is like even within one lifetime.
So then the question is—there’s a couple of things. It’s like, “Oh my God, if I actually look and I could see how much karma I’ve already amassed, how much karmic fruit is waiting for me”—It’s kind of like, “Oh my God! I’ve got this load of stuff coming down the track at high speed and this is not cool. Is there any way for me to get free from all this stuff that I have to endure? Is there any way to get past it? To not be affected by it?” And of course, the answer is yes. Again, a verse from the Bhagavad-Gita in the 6th chapter, 27th verse. Krishna says,
The yogi whose mind is fixed on Me verily attains the highest perfection of transcendental happiness. He is beyond the mode of passion and he realizes his qualitative identity with the Supreme, and thus he is freed from all reactions to past deeds.Bhagavad-gita 6.27
So this is the actual good news. This verse is—there’s a lot going on in there and there’s a lot that we could talk about. We could probably talk for two or three hours and even not sufficiently cover the depth of information that exists just within this verse. But the part that I wanted to share with you and for you to consider, is that it is possible to live a life and to exist in such a state of consciousness where you now become freed from all of the reactions to past deeds.
Speaking about that in length, of course, will make it so that we can’t get very far through the topic. So I just want to fundamentally share that with you and for you to understand that it’s very much tied to learning the art of living a spiritual life rather than a material life.
So apart from the question of—okay, all of the stuff that I brought with me from the past that I must suffer or enjoy, but the fact that I can become freed from that; I can cut that loose is wonderful. But what about my life now from this point going forward? From this point going forward, how should I be living, how should I be acting, how should I be trying to shape my consciousness or improve my consciousness so my present or current actions do not result in misfortune for me?
So the Third Chapter of the Bhagavad-gita is actually entitled ‘Karma Yoga’. And it is a really important chapter. And if a person was to carefully study this and frequently revisit it and consider it, one would be able to map out a direction in their life to make it so that they don’t have to be tied to this world and to be experiencing the natural suffering that comes from material existence.
There is one group of yogis that talk about living a life of tremendous restraint; that if you could become free from action, you wouldn’t have to suffer anymore. And so they really promote the idea of restraint. There is one whole spiritual path or religious path, in India, it was founded by Mahavira. Mahavira was a contemporary of Lord Buddha and he proposed also a system, very much akin to Buddhism that is very much focused on restraint and trying so desperately hard in this lifetime not to do anything that is going to cause you to suffer in the future. However, Krishna warns about this idea. I mean, sometimes there were yogis that would go away and live in a cave and they would, you know, sweep the path when they walked because they don’t want to step on any insect. There are some people that cover their mouth with a cloth so when they breathe they’re not going to inhale microbes and things and be killing them and experience the karmic result. I mean, when you really consider, we cannot actually clearly even ascertain how intricate the web of karma is. As we read earlier, it’s like it’s so difficult. I mean, for instance if I have a fight with my spouse or a friend and then there’s a big blow up and somebody storms out of the house and slams the door. And then that argument was caused by one particular person and now that person is going to go off and interact with other people. Yeah, they are responsible for their interaction and where they disrupt and cause anxiety or suffering to others. But the person that set this whole thing in motion is also tied. And so, as that person goes off down the road in anger leaving this wake, it’s kind of like when you throw a pebble into a pond. It doesn’t just go plop and that’s it. No, you get waves. Now, one after the other; here they come, here they come. It’s just like all of these ripples moving out from that original thing. In a similar manner, when we act in life, we become deeply responsible for so many, so many things that come from there. It becomes impossible for us to actually ascertain how deeply we’d become entangled just from one particular action or activity.
So the idea that you can withdraw from the world and live a very austere, extremely austere life - do not cause violence on anything, not to be disruptive - is impossible, impossible to do. But sometimes you get people that think that this is possible and then they will withdraw and then they will try to live a life of artificial restraint. But what they have not been able to do is actually conquer their mind; their mind which is full of desires and is inspiring them towards other desires which will eventually manifest this action.
So in the Bhagavad-gita, in the Third Chapter, Sixth verse, it states:
One who restrains the senses of action but whose mind dwells on sense objects certainly deludes himself and is called a pretender.Bhagavad-gita 3.6
So this becomes the problem and, I mean, this was something I sort of somewhat encountered as a kid. I was raised, not a very religious family but a somewhat religious family. And you go to church on Sunday and everything and it’s kind of like, you’re just waiting for it to be over, you know. And then you hear about, “You shouldn’t commit sin. You shouldn’t be sinful,” and everything. And you are in this quandary as a little kid, “Oh my God. All the stuff I’m told that is sinful looks like so much fun. And not being sinful like kneeling down in church or whatever, it’s like, oh boring!” (laughs) And you’re kind of like, “Why is it like that?” Because there is this strong desire for happiness and we think that happiness will come from material pleasure. And so the idea of artificial restraint doesn’t change anything internally. It doesn’t really change anything.
But there is an alternative. There is an alternative to live within this world but not be part of it. And the example is given like a lotus. I don’t know if any of you have ever seen real tropical lotuses where they can grow, I mean, like huge, beautiful and you see them sometimes in areas where the water is like swampy, dirty, disgusting, really filthy water. Yet the lotus rises above it and it opens and it is fragrant, it is dazzlingly beautiful. It is just like so wonderful to see. And we are admonished, we are encouraged to become ourselves like lotuses where we may live in the material world but not to be part of it, to have risen above or transcend it.
So Krishna advices, He says;
On the other hand, if a sincere person tries to control the active senses by the mind and begins karma-yoga without attachment, he is by far superior.Bhagavad-gita 3.7
Now this verse follows the one before. This is Chapter Three, Seventh verse; where Krishna’s discouraging this idea of being a pretender or engaging in artificial restraint, but rather, one must study and live a life guided by the principles of karma-yoga. So this word karma means “action” and yoga means “union”, a union with the Supreme. It is kind of like, what they call--there’s a certain theory in alternative medicine that’s been around for many years and it’s based on the idea or principle that the thing that causes a disease can also become the cure of that disease. And so, what they do is they take the diseased condition. They dilute it down thousands of time. They mix it usually, often in liquid forms, sometimes powder and you take it and it’s meant to promote healing. This also applies in some types of Ayurvedic medicine. For instance, when it is known in Ayurvedic medicine that if you over-eat milk products, milk sweets and milk products, it can cause diarrhea. And the prescribed cure for that particular type of diarrhea is to take yoghurt mixed with boiled rice and a little salt only and to eat small quantities of these and it will completely settle the system and heal that condition. So, here we see that milk was the cause of the suffering condition and milk is also the cure.
So in the same way that our karma, or action, binds us to the material world, our action, if it is now focused in another direction can become something that liberates us from the material condition. It brings us to the platform of real spiritual understanding and experience.
So in the very next verse in Chapter 3, verse 8, and I’ll read 8 and 9. Krishna advises:
Perform your prescribed duty, for doing so is better than not working. One cannot even maintain one’s physical body without work.Bhagavad-gita 3.8
So this is a reality, an accepted reality. You can’t live a life of complete abstinence and renunciation. That according to your station in life, you will have responsibility and one must learn to act in order to maintain your body, and to maintain a family, if one has one, and that this in and of itself is not bad. It is something that must be done. But then Krishna speaks to the actual solution to the problem. He says,
Work done as a sacrifice for Vishnu [this term Vishnu is a name of God]. Work done as a sacrifice for Vishnu has to be performed, otherwise work causes bondage in this material world. Therefore, O son of Kunti, [this is another name for Arjuna] therefore, O son of Kunti, perform your prescribed duties for His satisfaction and in that way you will always remain free from bondage.Bhagavad-gita 3.9
So here we have, like, a solution. Okay. We’ve learned that if we attain a transcendental position, all the load of past karma, the fruit of all the past karma, can be terminated. We can become free from that. And from this point in our life going forward, if we live a life that is focused on not me being the center of it and I’m doing everything simply for myself, but rather I act with a sense of duty and responsibility and I act in a way offering and wanting to be pleasing to God, to the Supreme, then the very activity that I undertake in this life can become the source of my spiritual emancipation.
So it’s about refocusing, the refocusing of our life. The purpose, the actual real discovering, the real purpose of our life. Most people think the purpose of their life is to find happiness; that they are this body, that I’m simply going to feed material desires in the hope that I will become happy. No. That is not the purpose of your existence. The purpose of your existence is to regain this lost condition of perfect spiritual love and engaging in a mood of great devotion and service to both the Supreme Lord and to His children. That I will be able to again experience that which has been lost to me and I will attain a condition of the highest spiritual happiness.
So this now becomes about living a transcendental life even while being within this body. So there is, as I’ve mentioned, a great happiness to be experienced living in harmony with my true spiritual nature. We have both a higher and a lower nature. The lower nature is tied to this body and mind, which is not me, and if I follow it, it can lead me, or will lead me to great depths of depravity. I can behave like an animal. I can be so cruel and cold-hearted towards other living beings. I can simply exploit and use. I am capable of the most horrible things by following this lower nature that is tied to my material body and mind. But if I follow my true spiritual nature which is what the process of yoga is about - the awakening of my eternal and true spiritual nature - then I can attain this platform of great happiness.
In order to attain that, Krishna describes in the 4th Chapter, 20th verse,
Abandoning all attachment to the results of his activities, ever satisfied and independent, he performs no fruitive action, although engaged in all kinds of undertakings.Bhagavad-gita 4.20
So this speaks to how a person can live a truly spiritual life. In the next chapter, the 5th Chapter, 10th verse, Krishna says,
One who performs his duty without attachment, surrendering the results unto the Supreme Lord, is unaffected by sinful action, as a lotus leaf is untouched by water.Bhagavad-gita 5.10
And then, reading from another verse that actually perfectly encapsulizes, I mean if there was one verse that you would take to heart from the Bhagavad-gita and completely guide your life for the best possible outcome of your life, then taking this direction to heart and living this would be of tremendous significance. So this is from the 9th Chapter, the 27th verse, addressing Arjuna as the son of Queen Kunti, He says,
O son of Kunti, all that you do [not some or most, but all that you do], all that you eat, all that you offer and give away as well as all austerities that you may perform, should be done as an offering unto Me.Bhagavad-gita 9.27
If we could actually fully appreciate and take this instruction to heart then our life would be utterly transformed. Not only would we be living, experiencing such contentment, you would experience positive and unlimited spiritual happiness and our interaction with others and with this world would be utterly transformed. The way in which we would live in this world and the way in which we would interact with others would be in line with an instruction given by the great Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprahbu.
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was this wonderful, spiritual personality, a true spiritual giant Who appeared in this world over 535 years ago. He is accepted by His followers as being an actual incarnation of God and He spoke about how a person who has come to this platform should act and live. Even if you have not yet come to this position, by acting in this way, your life will become perfect. He describes that:
It is the duty of every living being to perform welfare activities for the benefit of others with his life, with his wealth, intelligence and words. By his work, thoughts and words, an intelligent man must perform actions which will be beneficial for all living entities in this life and the next.Sri Caitanya-caritamrta Adi-lila 9.42-43
So this brings us to the conclusion of today’s talk on the subject of karma. As with all of the things that we are discussing, it is not possible to deal with these subjects in a flippant or light or fluffy way. These are wonderful, spiritual subjects. You know, we’ve had 8 discourses on different topics and how they should be seen or considered from the perspective of the wonderful spiritual philosophy given in the Bhagavad-gita. It is for the purpose of our happiness, our boundless and eternal happiness that these directions are given and it is so incredibly practical. One doesn’t have to run off to the mountains. One does not have to become a renounced monk and live in a cave. One can live within this world, living what may appear to others to be an utterly ordinary life and yet be living as a true yogi, a true transcendentalist by simply adopting and acting according to these directions given by Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita and in doing this one will come to experience the reality of eternity and great happiness within this life. One can become free from all fear, all anxiety, all distress and depression. One can become truly happy and completely peaceful by adopting these instructions to the best of our ability. One is not required to join anything or to become a member of any organization or anything like this. We are talking about a personal and individual pursuit.
So I ask you to consider these messages, to take them to heart and in your own humble way apply to your personal life, even parts of these instructions, and it will have a tremendous impact and effect on your life.
So with that I would like to thank you very much for being with us through this series and I look forward to speaking on other subjects and sharing with you what I have received from my spiritual teachers, my spiritual masters, for I know it to be the greatest of treasures - this spiritual knowledge. So thank you very much. I invite you to join with us in kirtan meditation to close out our talk today. Thank you. Namaste.
Hare Krishna kirtan
Thank you very much.