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Home » Everything you wanted to know about karma theory (including how to earn good karma)    

Everything you wanted to know about karma theory (including how to earn good karma)    

by Ashish Virmani
how to earn good karma

In the vast and profound pantheon of Hindu philosophy, we urgently need a relevant and everyday approach to the all-pervasive but little-understood theory of karma.

Karma is a word now known in practically every country of the world. Its interpretation, however, is often subjective, differing from place to place and even person to person depending on their inclinations and personality makeup. Nevertheless, the central tenet of ‘karma’ involves the law of causality, or cause and effect, which is believed to be the fundamental principle of the universe. The law of causality revolves around a moral axis. Good thoughts, words, and actions benefit the individual, while bad thoughts, words, or actions produce loss and ugliness in the individual’s life and surroundings. Good actions in this context are those that elevate and enhance life while bad actions are those that deprecate or destroy life.

Eastern vs Western notions

In Eastern religions—Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism—karma is considered a many-layered autonomous entity or Law without a God dispensing justice. In Abrahamic traditions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—there is a divine dispenser of justice or God who distributes rewards and punishments. However, Hinduism’s Dvaita (duality) streams reckon for the existence of a Supreme Creator or God who can offset the sufferings of an individual’s karma.
While different schools of Hinduism (Vedanta, Shaivism, Vaishnavism, etc) have their own nuanced interpretations of karma, let me explain the concept using the Theosophical model advocated by Annie Besant and C.W. Leadbeater. This middle-of-the-road model is largely acceptable to both the Western and Eastern worlds.
In Annie Besant’s book, titled ‘Karma’, she explains that there are four planes of existence for the individuated soul. These are, in ascending order

  1. Physical plane or the gross body
  2. Psychic or Astral plane or the subtle body
  3. Devachanic plane or the causal body
  4. Sushuptic plane or the Spiritual body.
    When thoughts arise in our astral body or from the previous karma, they attract similar energies. Repeated thoughts form patterns and habits and result in certain tendencies within the astral or psychic body of the being. These form magnetic links with others having similar energies and result in the aggregation of families, communities and md nations. Constructive energies will lead to a positive environment, and if they are destructive, they will lead to a troubled environment.

How we reincarnate

According to this understanding, we go through various lifetimes and move between these four planes of existence. On our journey from death to next life, we travel from the highest Sushuptic plane through the Devachanic and Astral planes until we gain a physical body. When we move from life to death, we go through the reverse process – we leave our physical body behind and move upwards through the Astral and Devachanic planes, finally arriving at the Sushuptic or spiritual plane of existence. However, as we die, we carry with us the thought-forms or mental images of our most immediate incarnation on Earth and these will be carried forward into our future incarnations. Sometimes, they will remain dormant in a future incarnation, but they may be revived or reawakened by various stimuli in our future environments.
The character of an individuated being in a particular incarnation is formed by the aggregation of these previous mental images and energies from past incarnations. Depending on those karmic influences, the character may be prompted towards a lofty or base goal, intellectual or carnal, divine or bestial. These energies are played out through words and actions in the denser realm of the physical world.

In Eastern religions, karma is considered a many-layered autonomous entity or Law without a God dispensing justice. In Abrahamic traditions, there is a divine dispenser of justice or God who distributes rewards and punishments.

How the energies are played out may result in reward or punishment for the individual. Even suffering can lead to wisdom and awakening about the evolutionary nature and immutable laws of life.
Nevertheless, whatever limitations may be caused by our past karmic influences, the flame of spiritual knowledge can overcome them, says Annie Besant echoing Indian seers and sages. If we fight against our weaknesses, do our best in the circumstances, help those around us, and strive to purify ourselves spiritually, then we can bring down the walls of karma that imprison us and gain true freedom. We can also reorient our future incarnations by adding good karma in this life.
Hindu karma theory also delineates three types of karma:
1.     Sanchita Karma: This is the accumulated karma across multiple incarnations, some of which manifests in our character, tendencies, and desires in the present life.
2.     Prarabdha Karma: It is a portion of the Sanchita karma being lived out in the current life. The part that shapes our present circumstances and experiences.
3.     Kriyamana Karma: It pertains to the current actions we engage in. It results from our present decisions and deeds. Unlike Prarabdha karma, which is already in motion, Kriyamana karma is influenced by our choices in the here and now.

Simply put, if you want to understand the causes that existed in the past, look at the results as they are manifested in the present. And if you want to understand what results will be manifested in the future, look at the causes that exist in the present. Causes here imply our thoughts, words, and deeds.


Fourth dimension of karma

A widespread belief in the law of karma will make people virtuous, which will benefit society, says Hindu activist Arish Sahani.

According to the post-modern spiritualist and global guru Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, there is a fourth dimension to karma apart from thoughts, words, and deeds – and that is the individual’s motive or intention. He writes in his book titled ‘Karma’: “Your intention makes all the difference. If you say something prompted by love, and another person gets hurt, that is his karma, not yours. But if you say something out of hatred and the object of your intention has no problem, it is good karma for them and not for you!” Arish Sahani, a Hindu activist and insurance veteran based in New York, wants the Hindu karma theory popularized worldwide. He told Lotus: “Why are some people born rich while others remain poor; some remain healthy, others are beset by diseases?  

The cause is karmic actions from their previous lives. This understanding can help solve many societal problems. A widespread belief in the law of karma will make people virtuous, which will have a beneficial effect on society.”

Karma doctrine empowers you: Didi Krishna

Far from being a negative or fatalistic concept, my masters have taught me that the Hindu doctrine of karma is truly dynamic and empowering. It allows you to become the master of your own destiny and the architect of your own future.

The Gita tells us: Gahana karmano gatih, meaning intricacies of karma are deep.  Yet, karma theory simply means, as you sow so you shall reap. Like Newton’s Third Law of Motion, this rule gives a plausible explanation of the social and economic disparities we see in the world.

Like human beings, nations, too, have their own karma. You will understand this when you grasp the cyclical nature of history.

Has karma theory negatively impacted India and its people? Let us avoid rash and foolish generalizations. Yes, you cannot escape the consequences of your actions. But why see it as fatalistic or negative? Rather, it makes you the doer who has a choice before him, who learns to make the right choice.

Head of the Sadhu Vaswani Mission Worldwide, Didi Krishna Kumari spoke to Lotus.

This understanding has made our people accept God’s will while retaining the power to learn from past mistakes and make the right choice – sowing the right seeds for future happiness.

Why did patriotic Englishmen go to the extent of killing their monarch – Charles I? Why did America have to go through the Civil War? Why was Vietnam brutalized?

There can be no facile explanations for these events. History is not abstract. It is made by people. The consequences of choices people make are not always immediate. They are like seeds germinating late. As my Gurudev, Dada Vaswani, would say, “You cannot sow thorns and expect to reap apples!”

You may ask, why does India suffer from evils like corruption and strife? Because people are blinded by the need for instant gratification, instant revenge, and instant riches! But they know in their hearts that they can’t get away with it. As you sow, so shall you reap.

Illustrations: Navni Chawla

How to earn good karma? Go to Part II of this article by clicking below:

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Arish sahani June 1, 2024 - 6:05 pm

Many millions in this world are suffering today, only because when born no one is telling them why and how their birth is based on past life.
If you are born in a poor household, or in the family of criminals, it is all due to previous karma.
Only when the government and leadership takes responsibility of education of the new born in each nation we can expect a better future for all.
This kind of change is possible.

Prerna Daswani May 31, 2024 - 9:39 am

Great explanation of karma! Especially the East vs. West comparison and the 4 planes. Didi Krishna provided a great analogy that highlights karma’s empowering side: you control your destiny through choices. Like cause and effect, karma applies to nations too. The focus is on learning from mistakes and making better choices, shaping your future!

Dishita May 31, 2024 - 6:23 am

Opens the eyes, Didi Krishna! Karma being empowering and not punishing….fear goes away from it now.

Ashish Kailashnath Tiwari May 30, 2024 - 11:01 am

The most important Karma that every individual needs to understand and accept in life 👉🏻 Prarabdha Karma: It is a portion of the Sanchita karma being lived out in the current life. The part that shapes our present circumstances and experiences.