A verse in the 13th chapter of the Gita, there’s a description of what is within man, the overseer, the approver, the experiencer, the supporter, the great Lord and also called the supreme self in the body. This is the great Purusha the great Lord. He says here, there’s an overseer of one who witnesses, who sees. There is also bhoktr, one who experiences. There’s one who supports and this is the great Lord, yet within the body. Shankara explains these as a riddle, in a sense. How could the great Lord be confined within the body?
Now, one of the short answers is by karma, by the operation of a chain of causes and effects which are imagined, but, nevertheless, completely binding and they extend through many lives, as in this life, there’s childhood, maturity and old age, even so there is in the life to come. As one here throws off old clothes and takes on others that are new, even so self throws off old bodies and takes on others that are new. Never was there a time when I was not, nor you, nor these princes, nor will there ever be a time when we shall not be.
It is immortality, but the immortality seems to be bound and experiences itself as bound by karma, by the succession. Although, the Gita says the wise, the knowers are not deluded by these seeming changes.
Now, the intellectual tradition in India sought to extend the analysis very deeply, the analysis of cause and effect not only in the physical realm, but in the mental, and spiritual and moral realms also. The effects of an action are not confined to this time and place, but they go on and then they produce an equal and opposite reaction, but it’s not of the same nature as the original action.
Now, for instance, Shankara gives an example of people here who commit very cruel actions, in future lives will be born, for instance, as a tiger. Manu says those who harbour spite have no opportunity to exercise it, brood on it inside themselves, they’re born as trees, limited in hell for a time, identified with the tree.
Well, one can think of these as useful myths to control the behaviour of children. We were familiar with them in the nursery. When we were small, we knocked our head against the table, “Oh,” and cry. Then, mother or grandma, most likely, said, “That’s because you pushed your little brother’s toy over and made him cry. That’s why you’ve knocked your head against the table.”
Well, it made a little impression on us for a little time, but the doctrine of karma extends through the lives and the normal expectation is that the actions which are performed in one life will bear fruit in future lives, but if the actions are very intense… and examples of very intense actions are cruelty in the form of betrayal, a betrayal of trust is much worse than merely the conquering people or being cruel to them, but if they have taken refuge of that man, if he has undertaken something and then turns his back on it and destroys it, this is intensely… if he merely destroys something without having a special responsibility for it, this is bad karma which will germinate in future lives. This is a rough estimate.
Now, in the familiar language, karma has become misunderstood as a, sort of, fate. The Scottish phrase is to dree the weird, dree one’s weird, which means you’re got to live through what fate agrees for you.
Our teacher summed up this view in a telling little story of just two or three lines. There was an Indian village next to a swamp and the swap was, of course, infested mosquitoes which need water to breed. As a result, the villagers were subject to constant malaria. They said, “It is our karma. We have committed evil sins and deeds in the past. Now, we are paying for them in the swamp,” they said. Then, the British came and drained the swamp and that means the mosquitoes die, they can’t breed and then malaria ceased. Our teacher said, “Where was karma?”
Now, something is slipped in when karma is discussed. Some people say, “Oh, that is the karma.” Something is slipped in. Karma brings your place of birth, the circumstances of your birth, and it brings the length of your life, roughly, and it brings the main events of your life. Then, something is slipped in and there’s nothing you can do about it. This is slipped in as a conjuror slips in a card when he’s dealing. He deals from the bottom of the pack and he slips in an extra card.
The doctrine of karma says nothing about that. It brings this thing, it doesn’t say you can do nothing about them. It brought the karma, brought the villagers to be born in the village near the swamp, it didn’t follow that they couldn’t have drained the swamp themselves and become free from the malaria. The actions which cause the karmic effects are those with a purpose. They cough, that would not lead to a karmic effect, but, if, when somebody was telling a rather moving story, I deliberately cough and spoil the effect, that would be karmic because it has a purpose and it’s charged with malicious aim.
Now, the karma is one of the laws of nature. It is not yet known and recognised in the West and we should have an open mind as to it. Some years ago, there was a doctrine called the God of the Gaps and said that in primitive times, nothing was known about the workings of the world. They didn’t know what made the crops sprout, they didn’t know what brought the rains, they didn’t know what brought in illnesses, they thought it was the displeasure or pleasure of the gods.
Then, people found about the infections, they found out about certain treatments and so something became known. Then, God was driven out of this area. Well, this, of course, is scientifically known, that’s determined, but they don’t know all about what causes the thunder, for instance. Oh, no, they’ll never know that. Well, then, electricity was discovered, electrical discharges and then God was driven out of that area, too. So, God was gradually driven right out to the edges and tide of faith is everything.
Our teacher in one of his poems says, “God, will of God, will of the Lord is cohesive force, holds the universe together.” Yes. Well, that was alright before they knew, but we know now what holds the universe together, four forces. Gravitation, chemical bonding, the strong and the weak nuclear forces. We know now, we have no need for the will of the Lord, but it turns out now, physics is changing.
This talk is Karma – Kill Not the Self – Disc1
© Trevor Leggett
Titles in this series are:
Part 1: Karma – Kill Not the Self
Part 2: Cohesion of the universe
Part 4: Kill Not the Self – Karma
Part 5: The true self is unseen