1. “Karma” Demystified – Little Known Facts That You Won’t Learn In School !

“The intricacies of karma are very hard to understand. Therefore one should know properly what Karma (action that brings good reaction) is , what Vikarma (action that yields bad reaction) is, and what Akarma  (action that produces spiritual fruit) is.”

 (Bhagavad-Gita, 4.17)

In this article we will analyze more deeply the nature of karma as it’s laid out in the ancient Vedas.
The term karma has become very popular these days and lots of people rather freely use this word without really having a proper understanding. But since the term karma is taken from the Vedas, hence, the interpretation must be Vedic, and not speculative.


Originally, the word karma means simply “activity“ and comes from the Sanskrit root kriya – to create. And it is the root word for English words like creative or creation. Such is the first meaning of the word. But since every activity brings consequences, the term “karma” also means “a reaction” or “a consequence of an action”.

According to the Vedas the ability to act or the energy of activity comes from the soul – the carrier of consciousness, and therefore the original work is spiritual by nature, and its purpose is a loving exchange with the Supreme Soul – God. When the soul, having a partial independence, decides to become independent of God, he comes down to the material world, where God is not manifest so obviously.

In this alien environment, a particular “suit” – a material body, covers the soul and the energy of the soul is now spent on other activities – like servicing the needs of the external body. The soul cannot be inactive, since his is active by nature.

It is like a car without brakes, it must constantly direct its energy somewhere. The soul cannot stop living because he is eternal, being part and parcel of God. And since a soul completely forgets about God in the material world, but the tendency to act is still there, this energy binds him up to the body and the bodies of others. And that is why in the Bhagavad Gita ( 8.3), the term karma in the physical world is defined as “activities pertaining to the development of the material bodies.”


Further, the Bhagavad Gita, 4.17 says that karma is of three types:

1. Karma refers to pious activities done according to Vedic injunctions. It guarantees the best material body in the future life and creates the conditions for material prosperity.
2. Vikarma means sinful activities prohibited in the Vedas – it forces the soul to take birth in lower forms of life and, consequently, dramatically lowers the standard of happiness.
3. Akarma – the original spiritual activity, which returns the soul his eternal spiritual form, frees him from the cycle of rebirth and returns him to his position in the eternal spiritual world. This activity involves various forms of service to God.

The first two types of karma produce different external effects, but in any case, the soul remains a prisoner of this world either in a more or less comfortable cage. The third type of activity – is akarma  or service to God, and therefore it frees the soul from the material bondage.

Despite the fact that the law of karma is very subtle, it can be observed directly – it is a cause and effect relationship underlying the subtle structure of life.

The law of karma on the physical level is manifest as Newton’s third law of motion (for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction), as the law of energy conservation. Energy is not going away, but simply takes other forms. On the moral level the law of karma is manifest as “As you sow, so shall you reap”.

So if we are reaping the bitter fruit, then it is what we have sown. We don’t have any problem with this understanding, since the mechanism is obvious, but how to deal with the fact of dishonestly acquired possession? After all, a dishonest man usually thoroughly hides his fraud, and he would never punish himself.

Inert material nature is not conscious and therefore cannot teach a lesson to anyone. Then who is punishing us? If moral norms and notions of fairness are subjective, according to atheists, so why the punishment is objective?

If the secret sooner or later becomes evident, there must be someone who arranges it. And the Vedas very clearly explain that in addition to inert matter and active souls there is a third element – the one who knows the soul and matter, who stands over them and regulates their relations.

So, we come to one interesting conclusion: the law of karma can not be explained by ignoring God, for it is He who is the source of the soul and matter. A person may escape the punishment for his misdeeds, but inevitably sooner or later it will bite him by the backside. God wants people to experience the law of responsibility, and thus He manifests Himself as the pangs of conscience in the heart of a criminal. If a person is too gross to feel remorse, at least he would experience some anxiety.

Everyone intuitively understands that all life’s problems are the result of improper actions in the past. By exclaiming: “What is it for?”, We unconsciously accept that there is a reason. The problem of understanding these subtle things is that the world is complicated, God is invisible to our material eyes and the intelligence of most people is not spiritually developed.

For example, a mosquito bites my leg and gets an immediate punishment, but since it does not see the connection between these two events, it even gets angry by the fact that its meal so rudely interrupted. It did not see the connection between my arm and the leg, and my blood for him is just food.

So the consciousness of the mosquito is too narrow to realize a unified picture of reality. Therefore, it does not connect its attack and my reaction. Likewise, since people do not understand that planet Earth is a living organism, they pump out the oil, cut down forests, mercilessly destroy and pollute the environment and then suffer from natural disasters. At the same time they have a great difficulty to see the connection between these events and understand that the earth expresses her dissatisfaction, although verbally people call her “mother earth” or “mother nature”.

So how does the mechanism of karma work?

The Vedas explain that desire comes from the soul, then it goes into the subtle body (the ego, mind, intelligence), where it gets contemplated upon, and then followed by a volitional impulse. Now this desire of the soul, framed in a specific plan, manifests itself through the external endeavors of the physical body.

As soon as the external act is committed, the seed of karma is now planted. It is stored in the subtle body and waiting for its term. Sometimes the reaction comes immediately (for example, if we touch the bare electrical wire). And sometimes it takes time for the seed of karma to sprout. We can plant something in spring and harvest it only in autumn. Every moment we are experiencing the consequences of past activities and perform actions that will bear fruit in the future. The Vedas compare the body to a field on which a soul – the gardener – plants different seeds to harvest the crop in its term.

Karma goes through different phases of maturation.

Sprouted karma ( prarabdha karma ) – is  our present body with all its advantages and disadvantages. Unsprouted  karma ( aprarabdha karma ) is  stored in our subtle body in the form of seeds and waiting for their time. It is almost impossible to change the prarabdha ( manifested) karma and you just have to tolerate it , learning your life’s lessons for the future.

The Vedas say that five things are already pre-determined at birth –the life span, health, the level of education, marital and financial status. This is what we have already pre-determined by our activities in the past life, and these things will be just manifesting in the present life at the right time.

However the unsprouted seeds of karma could be destroyed. If the ordinary seeds are subjected to heat treatment, they naturally will not sprout. The same can be done with the seeds of karma that we are now planting, forming a new body for the next life.

So what kind of fire can burn out the seeds of karma?

Bhagavad-gita (4.37) says:

“Just as a blazing fire turns firewood to ashes, so does the fire of spiritual knowledge burn to ashes all reaction to material activities.”

So, everyone performs some sort of activity. Usually people work for money, career, fame etc. For some – work is a means of self-expression and satisfaction. Others may use work for self-development. Or work can be simply a boring routine.

No doubt, work may bring money, fame, and satisfaction, but most certainly it brings karma that we will have to experience if the action is directed at oneself and not God. If a person earns money by unrighteous ways, and at the same time gets terrible heavy karma, is it a sign of successful activity?  Ideally, activities should bring joy and liberation to the soul. Now days, in most cases, a person enslaves himself by the activity in ignorance.

The activities could be either in compliance with the laws of God, or in spite of them. Gross violations are known to all – murder, theft, fraud, etc. But there are more subtle abnormalities that are now accepted as normal – trade in alcohol, tobacco, meat, etc.

That which easily gets away from the attention of imperfect law system in human society, will never get away from the attention of more subtle forces that represent the highest authority.

How an activity affects our consciousness and our future can be observed in a child flying a kite.

If a kid winds the line on the reel, the kite flies down. If he unwinds it – the kite flies up into the sky. Similarly, when we chase our own interests and take everything for our own enjoyment, pulling the blanket on ourselves so to say, karma is winding on us like a string on a reel, and our consciousness goes down like a kite.

If we devote our activity to the spiritual purpose, that is, perform it in a spirit of devotional service to God (unwinding the reel of activity) – it raises our consciousness and with the help of such an uplifted and purified consciousness we are able to experience the unprecedented happiness. So by giving we receive.

Another example of the Vedas opens the secret of karma – drinking milk can cause intestinal upset, but using the same milk as yogurt it can cure the illness. The point is that the same product but in different forms can cause the problem and also it can solve the problem.

Similarly, the same activity with different motives brings different results.

For example, if a soldier kills an enemy, fighting for his country, he gets a medal. But if he kills someone in peace time on a whim, then he goes to jail. The action (murder) is the same, but the effect is different. This means that the outcome is determined by the motive, rather than the act itself.

There is another example of how three people participated in the temple construction.

All of them were engaged in rolling a heavy wheelbarrow with stones. When one curious asked them what did they do, the first replied that he simply rolls a wheelbarrow, the second said that he earns money, and the third happily reported that he builds a temple.

The activity of the person who just rolled a wheelbarrow – is a dull joyless work, which simply brings fatigue, and the fruits of that labor money spent on drinks. The one who rolled a wheelbarrow with stones for money, was at a higher level, because he saw the fruits of his selfish labor. His work is also linked to karma, as He thinks only of his own satisfaction. But the one who, rolling the same heavy wheelbarrow, knew that he was building a temple, in actuality was performing a devotional service to God, which does not cause any karma, because the energy of activity is directed to the spiritual goal.

Bhagavad-gita (5.10) says:

“One who performs his duties without attachment, surrendering the results unto the Supreme Lord, is unaffected by the consequences of sinful action. As the lotus leaf is untouched by water.”

So, if one’s activity is turned into a devotional service to God, the ties of karma no longer bind him. He gets the status of diplomatic immunity, as in fact, he acts as an ambassador of the spiritual world. Being in the material world, he uses his energy by the principle of spiritual reality: serves God , and thus the main law of the material world – the law of responsibility or karma does not effect him as a diplomat is not a subject to the laws of the country where he works.

All that remains – is to make a choice, what type of work to do: that which binds us by karma and forces to be born again to experience the sweet and bitter fruit, or the activity that brings a deep inner satisfaction and frees one from the consequences of stupid actions committed in the past out of ignorance.

However those who think that serving God is a humiliating business, they need to understand that the picture is just the opposite. God – is the supreme person and serving Him is very prestigious. Servant of God – is the highest position for the soul. The government is very privileged, and any government employee automatically has all the privileges. What to say of those who are at the service of the supreme ruler – God?

People have a tendency to occupy a prestigious and stable position, but no structure of this world can maintain this status forever. Government resigns, companies go broke, but God, the spiritual world and the soul are eternal. Therefore, the choice is obvious. There is the freedom to serve God, or the slavery of work. In any case, we are dependent either on God or on material energy. Our freedom is only in choosing the right form of dependence.

Comments are closed.