Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Everyone definitely meets the results of one's activities

    Some may consider that the Supreme Lord displays partiality and cruelty in the creation of the universe, for we see that living entities such as the demigods in the heavenly planets have ample abundance of enjoyment, while those in the lower species of life or in hellish conditions simply suffer intensely. The fact, however, is that the Lord is neither partial nor cruel towards anyone, as He declares:

samo ‘haṁ sarva-bhūteṣu na me dveṣyo ‘sti na priyaḥ

ye bhajanti tu māṁ bhaktyā mayi te teṣu cāpy aham

(Bhagavad-gītā, 9.29; Govinda-bhāṣya, 2.1.36)

“I envy no one, nor am I partial to anyone. I am equal to all. But whoever renders service unto Me in devotion is a friend, is in Me, and I am also a friend to him.”

God simply creates the conditions and environment in which the conditioned living beings can carry on the activities they performed in the previous creation. The Lord sitting in everyone’s heart simply reminds the jīvas of their wishes and thus propels them to work. The śruti therefore declares:

eṣa eva sādhu karma kārayati taṁ yam ebhyo lokebhya unninīṣata eṣa u evainam asādhu karma kārayati taṁ yam adho ninīṣate (Kauśītaki-brāhmaṇa Upaniṣad, 3.9; Govinda-bhāṣya, 1.1.29)

“Whomever the Supreme Lord desires to carry to heaven, He inspires him to perform pious deeds. Whomever the Supreme Lord desires to carry to hell, He inspires him to perform sinful deeds.”


One of the purposes of the creation of the material world is to give the living entities an opportunity to fulfill their contaminated desire for sense gratification, realize the ephemeral nature of this world, and then desire to go back home, back to Godhead. The cycles of creation and destruction proceed from time immemorial, being impelled by the karma performed by the jīvas. At the end of the life of Brahmā, the entire universe is devastated and all the material elements and the conditioned souls become absorbed in the body of Kāraṇodakaśāyī Viṣṇu . When the brahmāṇḍa is created, all the souls again receive another material body according to their previous activities and desires. Kṣīrodakaśāyī Viṣṇu as the paramātmā in everyone’s heart controls the movements of all, giving everyone the results of their work.

 Karma is basically twofold: pious and impious. The scriptures prescribe the performance of ritualistic pious activities such as sacrifices, charity, etc. meant to fulfill one’s desires for fruitive results, culminating in the attainment of the heavenly planets, and prohibit the performance of impious, sinful activities such as murder, theft, etc., which lead one to suffering and the hellish planets. In either case, the duration of time of staying in heaven or hell is according to the exhaustion of the specific amount of piety or impiety respectively, after which one again takes birth on earth:

te taṁ bhuktvā svarga-lokaṁ viśālaṁ kṣīṇe puṇye martya-lokaṁ viśanti

evaṁ trayī-dharmam anuprapannā gatāgataṁ kāma-kāmā labhante

(Bhagavad-gītā, 9.21; Govinda-bhāṣya, 3.1.8)

“When they have thus enjoyed vast heavenly sense pleasure and the results of their pious activities are exhausted, they return to this mortal planet again. Thus those who seek sense enjoyment by adhering to the principles of the three Vedas achieve only repeated birth and death.”

 Karma can be further divided into nitya-karma, regular, such as worship, reciting mantras etc.; naimittika-karma, occasional, such as the reformatory ceremonies performed in different stages of life; and kāmya-karma, for personal desire, such as the performance of some sacrifices to attain specific desired objects. The scriptures recommend to all several sacrificial rituals as well as expiatory methods (prāyaścitta) as being auspicious, but warn those who desire liberation to avoid kāmya-karma, for it binds one to the fruitive results produced by them. Liberation implies the destruction of both pious and impious results, for both lead the soul to accept a material body. Transcendental knowledge is the effective means that destroys both, as stated:

yathaidhāṁsi samiddho ‘gnir bhasma-sāt kurute ‘rjuna

jñānāgniḥ sarva-karmāṇi bhasma-sāt kurute tathā

(Bhagavad-gītā, 4.37; Govinda-bhāṣya, 4.1.16)

“As a blazing fire turns firewood to ashes, O Arjuna, so does the fire of knowledge burn to ashes all reactions to material activities.”

In the śruti it is said:

ubhe u haivaiṣa ete taraty amṛtaḥ sādhv-asādhunī

(Bṛhad-āraṇyaka Upaniṣad, 4.4.22; Govinda-bhāṣya, 4.1.Adhikaraṇa 10, Intro)

“The liberated soul then transcends both pious and sinful activities.”Once such knowledge is obtained, one becomes a jīvan-mukta and no action by him performed is able to bind him:

yathā puṣkara-palāśa āpo na śliṣyanta evam evaṁ-vidi pāpaṁ karma na śliṣyate

(Chāndogya Upaniṣad, 4.14.3; Govinda-bhāṣya, 4.1)

“Just as water does not cling to a lotus petal, sinful activity does not cling to one who knows the Supreme in this way.”

 Another objection that may be raised is that if the creations are done in cycles, there must have been a first creation in which everything was manifested for the first time. Thus, the Lord must be unjust, for some entities would receive animal bodies while others would receive demigod bodies, though none of them had any previous karma to start with. In reply to this charge, the smṛti states:

puṇya-pāpādikaṁ viṣṇuḥ kārayet pūrva-karmaṇā

anāditvāt karmaṇaś ca na virodhaḥ kathañcana

“The Lord makes the living beings perform pious or impious acts according to their previous karma. There is no contradiction whatsoever here, for karma is beginningless.”

Just as the jīvas are beginningless, so is their karma. In other words, it is inconceivable for the conditioned soul to understand how the bondage of karma began. The details of this mystery are known only to the Lord. The jīvas are simply able to comprehend how the laws of karma work and what the way out is. Therefore the scriptures focus on these points, rather than to explain something that is beyond their capacity of understanding. This is not mere evasiveness, since the living entity is infinitesimal and therefore possesses only a limited capacity of knowledge in comparison to the all-knowing Supreme Personality of Godhead, Govinda.

 Sometimes it is also questioned why we cannot remember our previous lives if they really existed. The hint to this was already given above, for the Lord in the heart of all is the supreme conductor:

sarvasya cāhaṁ hṛdi sanniviṣṭo mattaḥ smṛtir jñānam apohanaṁ ca

vedaiś ca sarvair aham eva vedyo vedānta-kṛd veda-vid eva cāham

(Bhagavad-gītā, 15.15; Govinda-bhaṣya, 2.1.11)

“I am seated in everyone’s heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness. By all the Vedas, I am to be known. Indeed, I am the compiler of Vedānta, and I am the knower of the Vedas.”

It would be very difficult to live the present life if we had a clear recollection of our previous lives. For example, we would have the impressions and experiences of different animal bodies and the sufferings we underwent, and also the memory of the unbearable pain of every death, which would be absolutely disrupting while leading our present life. Therefore, paramātmā in our hearts makes us forget all those impressions when we take birth in a different body, so that we may again start a cycle of activities with a fresh mind. Moreover, since we had numberless bodies, it would be impossible for us to account for which particular activity we are enjoying and for which we are suffering, therefore it would be purposeless to recollect them. Only in special circumstances someone may have the ability to remember something of his previous life, as in the case of Nārada Muni and Jaḍa Bharata.

 Some scriptural statements may lead one to have doubts about the authorship of karma. Is it done by the soul or by the material nature? For example:

prakṛteḥ kriyamāṇāni guṇaiḥ karmāṇi sarvaśaḥ

ahaṅkāra-vimūḍhātmā kartāham iti manyate

(Bhagavad-gītā, 3.27)

“The spirit soul bewildered by the influence of false ego thinks himself the doer of activities that are in actuality carried out by the three modes of material nature.”

From this, one may hastily conclude that the soul has no connection with activity and is just a passive observer of the activities of the modes of nature. This is not what is meant by the śāstras. First of all, if we interpret the above verse as literally meaning that one is not a doer at all, then the whole Bhagavad-gītā would be self-contradictory, for Śrī Kṛṣṇa again and again prompts Arjuna to fight. We find several scriptural injunctions, such as ‘svarga-kāmo yajeta,’ ‘one who desires to attain heaven should perform sacrifices,’ etc., as well as innumerable prohibitions for those who want to avoid sinful reactions. Such injunctions can be meaningful only if there is a conscious being  with some capacity and freedom to deliberate on his own actions, for unconscious matter is totally devoid of these. Those prescriptions are specially meant to create a kind of mentality that leads the soul to act in a particular way to suffer or enjoy the fruits of his deeds. Moreover, there are passages that describe how even those liberated from material bondage also perform activities. It is said:

eṣa samprasādo’smāc charīrāt samutthāya paraṁ jyotir upasampadya svena rūpeṇābhiniṣpadyate sa uttamaḥ puruṣaḥ (Chāndogya Upaniṣad, 8.12.3; Govinda-bhāṣya, 4.4)

“Becoming thus liberated, the individual soul raises out from the body and becomes manifest in one’s original spiritual nature after attaining the supreme light, which is the Supreme Person.”

 Therefore mere activity does not imply necessarily suffering, for this is a feature of the conditional life that does not apply in the liberated stage, where all actions can be performed in a pure platform, without any inebriety, thus without producing any negative result . It is also evident that the life airs and the sense organs are manipulated by a conscious entity, for these, being instruments, need an agent to operate them. Such an agent cannot be other than the soul, for prakṛti is not a conscious, independent element. It is also seen that the living entities are suffering or enjoying because of their previous actions. If they were not the direct agents of their own deeds, then the creation of God would be unfair, for one would suffer on account of a sinful activity performed by someone else. It is the natural course that the author is the one who enjoys the fruits of his work, for if be said that prakṛti is the real author of karma, then it would also be its enjoyer, and thus there would be no scope for any implication between the jīva and the karma.

 Sometimes it is argued that if we were responsible for our karma, we would only get happiness and never distress, for no one deliberately causes one’s own misery. Nevertheless, the laws of karma are so intricate that practically it is not possible to avoid suffering completely. The soul is implicated in the wheel of saṁsāra since time immemorial and he has to suffer and enjoy according to the results of actions performed in so many lifetimes. Therefore, when the scriptures mention that the soul is not the doer they mean to say that they are not independent in their acts, for they are conditioned by so many factors. As it is said:

adhiṣṭhānaṁ tathā kartā karaṇaṁ ca pṛthag-vidham

vividhāś ca pṛthak ceṣṭā daivaṁ caivātra pañcamam

(Bhagavad-gītā, 18.14)

“The place of action [the body], the performer, the various senses, the many different kinds of endeavor, and ultimately the Supersoul—these are the five factors of action.”

Here it is clearly stated that the soul is one of the factors that produce action, without which the body, the instruments and the effort would not be able to act. The three modes of nature totally cover the pure consciousness of the jīva to such an extent that the acts performed by him are in all respects byproducts of their influence. This is thus explained:

kārya-kāraṇa-kartṛtve hetuḥ prakṛtir ucyate

puruṣaḥ sukha-duḥkhānāṁ bhoktṛtve hetur ucyate

(Ibid.13.21; Govinda-bhāṣya, 2.3.31)

“Nature is said to be the cause of all material causes and effects, whereas the living entity is the cause of the various sufferings and enjoyments in this world.”

The Brahma-sūtras  compare the soul to a carpenter, who is an agent in twofold ways— he is the agent creating objects by using tools like an axe, etc., and he is the agent who holds those tools. It can be said that the wood is cut by the axe, and from this point of view, the axe can be considered the agent, but behind it there is a conscious agent. Similarly, material nature can be the direct agent for all material activities as far as it plays the role of an instrument, but it never acts on its own without the will of the jīva. On the other hand, it should be remarked that the individual soul is not independent in his activities, for the fifth factor of action is the Lord in the heart, Who observes and gives permission to the soul to act in a particular way according to his past deeds and desires . At last, if prakrti were the sole doer, there would be no meaning for all the scriptural injunctions concerning liberation, because if the soul does nothing, there would be no bondage at all, nor any possibility to perform the prescribed sādhana.