Surya Tahora & Neema Majmudar examine the concept karma, which has been inextricably linked to existence since the beginning of the Universe
Here is a question that is often asked: How do we understand that there is an order of karma governing our lives? And how is it possible that billions of actions of human beings are interconnected across time and space? Is there an entity called ‘God’ who is ‘computing’ these actions to produce results we come across in our lives as pleasant and unpleasant situations (punya and paapa)?
Let us start from a broad perspective.
The vision of the Upanishads is that all that is here is Isvara (which is all knowledge and power). The Upanishads do not say that there is God on one side and the world on the other. It does not say that after having created the world, God stands separate from it, looks at our actions and decides to reward or punish us accordingly. This idea implies that God, being outside the world in a remote place called heaven, watches over our actions and gives us moments of joy and suffering according to our behaviour.
The vision of God in the Upanishads is totally different. It says everything is pervaded, sustained, permeated by Isvara, like a clay pot is pervaded by clay. It unfolds that every form resolves into another form (pot to clay, atoms, particles etc…) and ultimately there is only one “all knowledge and power” which arranges these particles and atoms in a given order so that this so called universe with varied names and forms can come about.
When it is clear to me that there is only “all knowledge and power” which manifests in every form to make it what it is, from the infinitesimally small bacteria to the unimaginably large stars and galaxies, including myself and the events that occur in my life, it changes my understanding of the world fundamentally. Let us see how at so many levels, the entire universe can be seen as this knowledge and power manifested in many different orders.
As our teacher Swami Dayananda says,
“There is a physical universe that follows a physical order which governs the position of stars, galaxies, planets etc. Even a dual phenomenon—the dual behavior of an electron, for instance—is a part of that order. The physical order also covers my physical body, my mind and my senses.
There is also a biological order because of which there are living beings on this planet. Even in other galaxies, life forms would follow a biological order. There is a physiological order because of which there is illness and health. There is genetics which connects our bodies with generations which past before us- from our great grandfather to father etc. There is a psychological order as well. Your anxiety, worry and fear—all these follow a certain order. There is an unconscious in everybody, and that follows a psychological order. Our own psychology is dependent upon people we have met and interacted with and the type of mental framework they enjoyed. Every person’s behavior is within that order. A person cannot behave differently, unless he or she wants to change. Then there is also a cognitive order. The fact that we are able to know, or not know, any given thing reveals an epistemological order.
In addition to presence of all the above orders that are known to us, Upanishads reveal that there is an order of dharma, an order of right and wrong. This order is commonly sensed by all of us; we don’t require someone to preach to us that we should not hurt others. Every being is aware of that. I know very well that I do not want to be hurt by others, and that others do not want to be hurt by me. That I want others to speak truth to me is very clear, and that they expect the same thing from me also is clear. That I don’t want to be taken advantage of, taken for a ride, is very, very clear to me. And I know others expect the same.
Law of dharma is the matrix that provides the necessary basis upon which human beings can conduct transactions and interact with the world. The order of dharma is necessary because we are not totally programmed. Being self-conscious, we have the freedom to choose. Our capacity to make choices is guided by law of dharma which gives us the understanding of what is right and wrong. That also is part of the order. When you are acting against that order of dharma, there is a corresponding karma. There is paapa—a result of your improper action. When you act in sync with dharma, you get punya, which would result in conducive situations. If you understand that there is a law of karma, then you are within order.”
It is true that the dimension of order at the level of karma and dharma seems more difficult to appreciate than the other orders. To comprehend these two new dimensions, what is needed is only to extend our understanding of the physical, biological, etc. orders to karma and dharma. The order of karma and dharma ‘connect’ all our actions, past and present, to those of billions of other human beings and provides us results in the form of pleasant situations that unfold everyday in our lives. There is here an incredible knowledge and power at work.
In fact every order, be it biological, psychological connects so many variables and events which occurred since the beginning of the universe around 14 billion years ago to give the present state that we are all experiencing. If order in every discipline connects events of millions of years to give us the result of today, then when the Upanishads tell us it also includes karma and dharma, it is something that is very plausible, since it does not contradict reasoning and conforms with the way every other order works. I have no way to verify that it is true, because I have no access to details, as people ask, of the way the whole thing is ‘computed’. But it is a possibility I can be open to, since it makes a lot of sense.
When this vision sips into me, and I become more in touch with realities of existence, then my perspective of life can change totally. As Swami Dayananda says,
“We don’t say God is infallible; we say the infallible is God. To say that God is infallible is problematic; it is based on a belief in God, a faith in God. One politician in India lost his wife. She was a great devotee of Ganesha. When she died, he said, “I don’t believe in God anymore.” Why? “He took away my wife.” That type of faith is shallow. You should not merely say that God is infallible. You have to see that the infallible is God, because he is in the form of order. No order is fallible. The physical order is not fallible. The biological order or psychological order—any order—is not fallible. That is why it is order. Therefore, we say the infallible is God. This cognitive change, this shift in the scales of your vision, gives you a capacity to relax. You can relax into the order.”
The apparent disorder and turmoil in my life becomes in order. My feelings of helplessness are in order as well. I can relate to the “all knowledge and power” which is manifested in the form of the universe and pray: ‘Isvara, grant me the capacity to understand how the events coming to me, unexpected, unwanted for are within an order that is not separate from you’. This gives me the courage and the serenity to accept situations as they unfold, because I know they are the result of an infallible order. It further enables me to assess the situation more objectively, and then act according to what I can do.