In my previous post, I talked about the concept of soul within the physical body. The soul is the real individual and the body is simply an expression of the soul. Now, with that in mind, let us go one step deeper into the concept of karma.
The concept of karma is inherently tied to the concept of body-soul. People often ask why bad things happen to good people and good things to bad people. Sometimes very small children die due to natural disasters, babies born with AIDS etc. So the concept of karma according to the Bhagavad Gita is crucial to the understanding of this world and our problems.
The exact details of how karma acts on an individual are not possible to understand. In other words, I will never be able to know why I am suffering or enjoying at this particular moment. Only Krishna knows the karmic chain of actions & reactions that lead one to enjoyment or suffering. From our vantage point, all we can do is try to understand the laws of karma and diligently work to be karma-free. The simplistic definition of karma is “what goes around comes around” or “as you sow so shall you reap”. In other words, you do good you will get good, you do bad you will get bad.
However, the definition of karma is actually tied to the concept of body-soul. Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita that any action (good or bad) that pertains to the development of material bodies of the living entities (soul) is called karma or fruitive activities (BG 8.3). In essence karma means any action (good or bad) done to enjoy its fruits. Every one of us is compelled to act or work. So action in itself is not wrong. But when this action is motivated by the desire to enjoy its fruits, that action becomes karmic. This spirit of enjoyment is what perpetuates the soul’s entrapment within physical bodies. Because this entrapment is unnatural (something like in a prison), the soul suffers in this material world. Why did Krishna design enjoyment of fruits to entrapment of the soul? – because otherwise the soul will never go back to its original home to the spiritual world. Keep in mind the status quo is we are spiritual beings (soul). We are not supposed to be in this material neighborhood in the first place. So as a way to bring law and order in this world and to ultimately direct the souls back to their original spiritual home, the laws of karma are designed. It is for our own benefit.
Krishna advises Arjuna in the Gita that one should work or act in a way to not be attached to its fruits. He says this is possible only by dedicating the fruits to Him (BG 5.10). This dedication of fruits to Krishna does not entangle the soul within this world and at the time of death, the soul is transformed to the spiritual world.
Let us be practical, in this day and age, who does not work hard to enjoy the fruits? Therefore to practically apply what Krishna says, one needs to practice dedication to Krishna. Normally, people dedicate their money or energy to something they like. So if we want to dedicate our works/actions to Krishna, then we must like Him. Dedication of works to Krishna cannot happen mechanically. So to like Krishna, we must chant His Names (this is the recommended method). In the beginning, all of this might be very artificial and burdensome. We may even question if the method is working. However, if we sincerely chant the Holy names of Krishna, our attachment (or liking) will gradually shift from ourselves to Krishna. As this shift is taking place, we will also naturally dedicate our actions and fruits in the service of Krishna.
Because this dedication of works is done in a mood of love towards Krishna, Krishna accepts our dedication and He will eventually give us more desire to dedicate all of our fruits. This eventually will break the vicious cycle of karma. Karma is like a noose around our neck. It is gradually tightening and at death it completely chokes us of air and we die. But by devotional works, we can remove the noose of karma and be free. Therefore the only way the soul can break the vicious cycle of karmic action and reaction is through chanting Krishna’s names.
What happens to people who do not dedicate their fruits of work to Krishna? Their current actions (good or bad) will create future reactions (good or bad) and the soul inside the body has to take myriad other bodies perpetually to counteract these reactions of their past actions and the cycle will continue. Therefore for no apparent reason good people suffer, bad people enjoy, children die young etc. We cannot blame God for our mishaps.
As I mentioned earlier, the laws of karma are intricate and precise. However, Krishna is very kind that He explains how it works conceptually. He also explains that the soul is perpetually suffering in this world due to its previous karmic reactions that arose from misidentification with the body. Finally He recommends chanting with determination as a way to break karma and the soul returning to its original home in the spiritual world.
It is in the self-interest of the individuals to believe in karma or chant Hare Krishna