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Universal Laws >>> Law of Karma and Free-will


Karma is the cycle of cause and effect. Any mental, verbal, or physical action is regarded as Karma. Karma is far greater than the sum of a person's actions, for it includes both the effects, the causes, and the impressions or tendencies created in the subconscious mind by those actions. The critical factor in working karmic law is the impressions (samskaras) deposited in the lake of the subconscious mind as a person's character, circumstances, and activities.

The law of karma is equally applicable to all. When we perform any action, we are bound to reap the fruits of our efforts. The fruits of those actions will then again motivate us to achieve more actions. There is no end to this process of action and consequences - it becomes a whirlpool for us: we cannot live without performing activities. A human being is bound to execute some actions simply because he's human. This is the way our habits are formed. 

The subtler cord of karma is the cord of mind. Our past impressions are deeply rooted in the unconscious. These latent impressions create various bubbles of thoughts that express themselves through our speech and actions. In other words, our mind functions within the boundaries of karma, but it can go beyond, and thus we can be free from the bondage of karma.

The fruits of our actions come to us either: Immediately, Delayed, or stored to be carried over to the life beyond the next. Karma could be done physically, in thoughts, and speech; for each, we are bound to have the fruit of that karma.

Types of Karma

  1. Sanchita Karma (Overall Accumulated Karma): It is the sum of past karmas (good + bad) from all previous lives that are yet to be resolved. e.g., Think of them as the “Arrows in the Quiver.” These types of karma can be burnt/destroyed by knowledge of self, mind, and Truth within.
  2. Prarabdha Karma (Karma that has begun): That portion of Sanchita karma that has already been set aside to experience in the current life. In other words, this portion of Sanchita karma is used to create the present life (physical body, relatives, and the experiences we are to encounter in this life), e.g. Think of them as the “Arrows in Flight.” These types of karma cannot be erased unless the person leaves their physical body (which is also the result of Prarabdha Karma). But the way/timing/effect can be manipulated, e.g. let’s say something wrong was going to happen to you, but because of your Spiritual practice, that bad thing happens in a dream only. 
  3. Kriyamana/Udham Karma (Free-Will): The karma humans create in this birth will bear fruit in the future. These actions are done out of total free choice and not compelled by the forces of past karma. These actions help in the release of the soul from bondage to matter. Think of them as “Arrows in Hand.” All the scriptures are based on this fact, and they advise directing "Free Will" in the right channel.

As long as we look only at the effects of karma, it remains a mystery. We must look for the root cause; to do this, we must understand the nature of free will. Attachment to our desires and the results of our actions strengthen the rope of karma. All deeds and actions are inspired by desire, and desire is motivated by impressions. Any act done with the view of increasing one's pleasures affects our karma, but deeds done without any desire do not affect the doer. When acts inspired by desires are given up, this is called renunciation.

How to get freedom from Karma

We should always accept life as a challenge and not be disappointed by anything, for life is simply a vehicle for us. Only our ignorance makes us think that we exist apart from the whole. The rope of karma binds us and prevents us from realizing this. There are two paths to achieving liberation  from karma bondage:

  1. Renunciation: In this path, we say, "I don't want any pleasure which is not practical in helping me achieve my goal. Thus, I choose to lead a monastic life". It is an arduous path.
  2. Non-attachment: Don't get attached. Usually, we are slaves of our duties. In this world, we do our actions, but we must do them (every task, including family duties) selflessly and skillfully. Just learn the skill of performing our activities, yet remaining free from reaping the fruits. That is accomplished when we cultivate the attitude of love. Learn to do things for others because learning to act in this way liberates us. Whatever we do, do it with genuine interest. If we do not do things wholeheartedly, we do not enjoy them, no matter how much selfless action we try to do. We need to change our attitude. Decide in the morning that we will do our duty lovingly, no matter what is expected. If we think like that, we will find that we will not be tired at the end of the day as we usually are.

To become free from Karma and thus from all miseries and pains, we must gain knowledge of the Self, the mind, and the Truth within. Life's problems cannot be avoided because of our previous karma and free will. They have to be faced and accepted. We have no alternative but to learn to love our duty. Then it becomes easy. If we do not love something, and yet we do it, it creates a division in our mind and gives us stress. Learn to generate love toward your duties. It can be done. Coming to grips with life and karma by meeting their challenges with knowledge, spiritual strength, and skillful action done selflessly is the only way to be free from karma.

There are three obstacles in the path of doing one's karma successfully. They are:

  1. Enjoying the fruits of one's actions, not giving them away to others.
  2. Not doing one's duty skillfully and selflessly.
  3. Doing the improper.

Free-Will (Kriyamana/Udham Karma)

This type of karma needs to be understood very carefully because this is what we have on hand, and we should use it wisely.  The advantage of being re-born as a human is that it provides one with a certain degree of free will which can be used for spiritual progress and overcoming the bonds of past karma. All the scriptures are based on this fact, and they advise directing "Free Will" in the right channel.

Free will means we can choose the direction we will go on the path that lies before us NOW (as per our karmas). e.g., in a simple example, our thoughts (based upon karmas) will provoke us to do meditation, but it is our decision to go with it or not. Another example is our good karma will wake us up in the morning, and we think of doing meditation, but another part says go to sleep - I'll do it tomorrow. Still, it is ultimately our decision (free will) whether to wake up and do meditation. By choosing our direction, WE bring experiences into your life. This is where free will interacts with the Universal Law of Cause & Effect.

Range of Free-Will

Sometimes some situations and events do not involve free will choices and can be predicted for sure. It is because of the result of our past free-will decisions. Our "Free Will" is like the minimal freedom of a dog on a leash/chain. There is "Free Will," although the past somewhat dictates its range. It is because our environments, relatives, and the situation in which we are at the moment are controlled by our past karmas. GOD created such an atmosphere (based upon our karmas) and then gave us a choice: sometimes easy enough to decide and sometimes hard to determine. Our whole thinking process, habits, etc., are made up of the subconscious mind based on past impressions. The choices and decisions we make are greatly influenced by the habitual patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior arising from our past.

Karma works something like ripples in a pond. You throw in a rock and see the concentric circles go out from where the pebble entered the pond. Most people only realize the stone was thrown in the pond; they ignore what happens with ‘the ripples.’ Even those who see the original ripples usually don’t see beyond them. But if you watch the waves closely and keep following them, you see that the tides may reach a shore or a large rock in the pond, and then they bounce off and start making new ripples. And then, the new ripples may interact with the original or make more reflective ripples themselves. Human events are much like these ripples.

Is Free-Will Independent?

"Free Will" is a delusion as long as one is a slave to the ego's fears and desires. "Free Will" can be exercised only when one is aware and unattached to cravings and the dualities of life and has no ego. By cultivating non-attachment, one sees the truth of things beyond liking and disliking, success and failure, loss and gain, and pleasure and pain.

Some belief in fate. They say all things are pre-destined, and we cannot change them. Others think there is no such thing as destiny at all - that we make our reality. These two concepts are a paradox, and both are true. The paradox is this: we have free will and shape the future through our choices, but everything is pre-destined by a definite flow/Universal plan/pattern. Impossible, yet true. Don’t forget it is (Free will) a paradox. But also know this: there are two fields of prophecy. The first is the prediction of pre-destined events. The second is the prediction of events that are yet to be determined because they involve the free will choices of one or more individuals.

Does Good Karma guarantee a Reward?

One action sets an entire series of other activities into motion. And our karma/ripples interact with other people’s karma/ripples. Doing something that appears to be good may not always create positive karma; it could even create negative karma.

e.g. [If you give some needy money, he could use that money for good but could also use it towards something which could harm them or even someone else, etc. On the other hand, you could insult the poor man, and he would stop begging and do something good with his life. This seems to be lousy karma, but you did good karma. But the problem is that you do not know what that beggar will do with our money. We cannot see that unless we're at a higher spiritual level. Here higher beings can help us IF we surrender to GOD. ]

e.g. [For instance, let’s look again at the example of the beggar in the street that was used earlier. Let's say you gave him the money, he got warm clothes, a new livelihood, etc., and he lived happily ever after. Wonderful. That would seem to be a positive outcome, right? But let’s follow the ripples further. What if his new livelihood was making a special kind of glass impervious to changes in heat and cold, which enabled scientists to develop a new chemical for killing insects on farm plants to help feed more people? But instead, the chemical had an unknown reaction that began a process of some kind that created weather or solar changes that started ruining the food plants or could end up developing new diseases for humankind. Now was the initial karma good or bad?]

Karma is very complex.

We could never know if we are doing good or bad because karma, like ripples, is very long, and we would not know if something good happened to us or bad happened to us for the same reason. Therefore, surrender ourselves to GOD. 

Realizing our Free Will allows us to choose between the powers of light and darkness - between selfishness and Unselfish Love - between our separate selves and God. We are responsible for the fruits of our current free-will choices.

Moreover, the only time one should interfere with another person’s free will is when the other person is inflicting their will on someone else. Universal Law dictates that we are not to interfere with the free will of others, regardless of whether or not we think their actions are wrong. Even if we know something is wrong or the person will get hurt, other than warning them about the effects they are causing, we are NOT to interfere with their freedom.

The cycle of Karma by design is highly complex, and it is impossible to break its bondage; unless and until God's Grace is received.

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