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What is Karma?

My blog entry "What is Sin?" (click here) raised a couple of interesting issues that I thought we might discussed in a new entry here.

Friend Lori commented:
Hmmmmm - Sorry - But I am a beliver in "karma". It is an overused and, perhaps, misunderstood, term. But part of my belief system. I belive that you will recieve back 3-fold what you offer to the world. With all do respect, my friend - PLEASE don't tell anyone what is REAL. especially since you - like myself - believe (and I am going to state it in English) "There are many paths ~ But different sages call it by different names." If you TRULY believe this ~ you would not claim the above listed as "not real". They ARE real to those that believe in that path - and who are we to state otherwise!!???

And Friend Political Junkie concurred:
Hi John,
This is interesting. I like how you stated that "sin" blocks the open fellowship. I have always said that sin is anything that damages a relationship, so I think that is similar.

With Karma though, I would disagree that it is not real. In my understanding, in physics there is cause and effect, just like when skipping a stone through a pond, one may observe the many ripples bouncing to the shores, and hitting the objects which may be located in the water, and those ripples returning and interacting.
So also in the metaphysical realm there is observable, predictable cause and effect, though many people have never learned how to observe this.
As Lori indicated above, I have observed also the law of 3.
So, I am wondering why you believe that karma is an illusion?
Do you separate karma as a principle from what I interpret as metaphysics? Are they two different things from your point of view?

Please allow me to clarify my belief on this point:

Unlike in Gnosticism and certain branches of Paganism (both of which I deeply respect), it is my belief that we are all eternal beings of Pure Light (for lack of a better description for the indescribable). My beliefs in this regard are sometimes referred to Transcendentalism, the belief that Reality transcends the material manifestation.

In eternity there is neither time nor space and yet to conceive of this Reality we use such words qualitatively. And so, as I allude to in the earlier piece, at some "point" in endless "time" we entered into this material realm of being, into this metaphysical reality. I often refer to this material existence as the Dark Cloud... it works as well as anything else I've heard

First, I believe there are two "planes of being;" one is called nirguna, the other saguna in the Vedic and Upanishadic texts: Nir (or "no") Guna (or "material qualities") and Sa (or "with") Guna (or "material qualities"). "Spiritual" existence (nirguna) is completely transcendent to all material qualities. Material existence is saguna, it is "with qualities." In saguna gender polarity is a prime factor (as emphasized in Gnosticism and Paganism) , maleness and femaleness, yin and yang. Saguna is governed by three basic material laws:

Karma or Action: Action (karma) causes reactions (karma). These reactions bind the soul to the material plane of being. Karma must be settled/resolved before the soul can transcend material consciousness and reawaken to spiritual consciousness.

Dharma or Divine Law: I am convinced there exists a Supreme Being, an Ek Devata ("One God"). The Nature of this Individual transcends human consciousness. Through this Being all existence, both saguna and nirguna come to be. All of existence exists within God and yet God transcends existence:

My Gita translation:

7:8-11: I am the taste in water, O son of Kunti, the light of the moon and sun, I am the sacred syllable Om contained in the Vedas, I am the sound in ether and the virility in men.
I am the sacred fragrance in the earth, I am the brilliance in fire, I am the life in all living entities, I am the austerity in penitents.
Know Me to be the seed [from which] all living entities [arise], O child of Partha. Of the intelligent I am the eternal intellect, of the brilliant I am the brilliance.
I am the strength of the strong, devoid of passion and attachment. I am desire in all beings, which is not opposed to dharma, O best of the Bharatas.

7:12: Whether in the nature of goodness, passion or ignorance, everything thus comes from Me, but know that although I am not in them, they are all in Me.

7:13, 14: This entire universe is deluded by the three qualities of material nature [goodness, passion and ignorance] and hence does not know Me who is supreme and immutable.
This extraordinary power of Mine, consisting of the qualities of material nature, is difficult to transcend, but those who take refuge in Me pass beyond it.

God has made certain determinations. These determinations are included within Dharma. The soul (jiva) who is trapped by the effects of karma (action and reaction) must restore harmony and balance in accordance with Dharma.

Marga or the Course or Way: Literally, Marga is the course taken by the planets through the sky, however the word has a deeper meaning. Marga is the Path taken by the souls on their way Homeward. Marga is similar to "destiny" but with subtle differences not relevant here. Due to karma the soul is "destined" to walk certain paths as dictated by Dharma. The soul has sinned in action and is required to experience the reactions of that sin. The same works for good as well. Every action will produce a reaction. And so acts of charity also have their reactions. Marga is the course one walks while meeting these karmic requirements.

Throughout the material multiverses these three powers are in effect, from the lowest regions of Patala to the heights of Brahmaloka.

(These terms are merely words, structures to convey points. Call them whatever you will.)

Here's the difficulty:

Karma must be satisfied.

Whether one performs "good" actions or "bad" there are always consequences, always karma. This is Dharma, the indisputable Law of material nature (as both Lori and Political Junkie pointed out).

And this is saguna. Why?

Because "good" and "bad" are qualities and qualities only exist within saguna (material reality) they must be cast off if one wishes to return to nirguna (spiritual reality).

Our natural eternal state, according to my beliefs, is transcendental, nirguna. This is confirmed as I understand the Torah:

Genesis 3:21 Unto Adam also and to his wife did HaShem make coats of skins, and clothed them.

This references the jivas taking on material nature. The Pure Light jiva is coated or covered with material flesh (of course not everyone agrees with this interpretation and I only mention it here in passing).

In our eternal condition we transcend all material qualities. This is not to say there are no qualities in nirguna, only that spiritual qualities transcend material qualities even as spirit transcends matter.

This has been explained by Srila Caitantya Mahaprabhu as achintya bheda bheda, or "inconceivable oneness in diversity."

In saguna everything is diversity, duality, hot and cold, wet and dry, yours and mine, black and white and so on. But in nirguna everything is Oneness.

Those who embrace Vedanta, Buddhism and similar teachings (which I deeply respect!) typically believe that in nirguna there is absolute oneness, that there is no individual existence, hence no "me", no "you", no "God" etc. All is One. Despite the common misconception the belief is not that one "becomes God" but that one ceases to exist as an individual being and merges with the totality. That totality may be deemed God.

I believe however, as taught by Sri Caitanya and others, and as confirmed in the Katha Upanisad that:

1. 'There is that ancient tree, whose roots grow upward and whose branches grow downward;--that indeed is called the Bright, that is called Brahman, that alone is called the Immortal. All worlds are contained in it, and no one goes beyond. This is that.'

2. 'Whatever there is, the whole world, when gone forth (from the Brahman), trembles in its breath. That Brahman is a great terror, like a drawn sword. Those who know it become immortal.' (Second Adhyaya, sixth valli)

--> See the image at the top of this blog entry)

This analogy tells us that saguna (the material manifestation) is an imperfect and temporary reflection of nirguna (the spiritual manifestation), or as many western mystics have told us, As above so below.

We in saguna know love, in nirguna there is Love. We know isolated individuals, in nirguna there are individuals in Oneness. The nature of nirguna Reality utterly transcends human reason and conception. And yet as the Apostle Paul assures us:

Bible, I Cor. 13:12:
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

The question remains, how can one break the chains of karma and leave the temporary realm of saguna and return Home to nirguna if every action causes a reaction that further bind us and yet the current reactions require action to satisfy the laws of Dharma?

Again as I explained in the other post:

"Understand prabhuji [my dear friend] that we are not these material bodies. We are pure spirit entities, untainted by all negativities. For a time we have entered into this Dark Cloud of material existence and accepted these [materially] conditioned lives. While we are here everything seems so important, but once we return Home to our natural state as pure jiva-atman all of this, our entire existence within the Dark Cloud throughout our myriad forms, reincarnations and experiences, will be but a twinkling of eye, a shiver up the spine."

Karma is therefore, as I said in the previous post, a temporary construct or learning devise the jiva employs on the Way Home to nirguna. The ultimate goal of religion and spirituality is to lead the soul to a sort of "neutral karma." To this end people accept spiritual masters, chant japa mala and recite prayers, perform pujas and good works and so on.

And yet in the end I believe:

Bible, Ephesians:
2:8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.

Srimad Bhagavad Gita:

18:56: Always performing all activities and taking refuge in Me one achieves, by My Grace, the eternal and immutable abode.

Tanach, Micah:

6:6 Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old?
7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
8 He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

In the final analysis it is, I sincerely believe, solely through the Mercy and Grace of the One God that one is freed from sin or karma and returns Home, back to Godhead.

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