Karma and Soul

The concept of karma as understood by us so for is that the karma is sum total of all our actions, births after births and embedded in the soul. Soul gets a physical body to unfold its karmic afflictions. At the end of the present body, karmic account is either credited or debited not only with the net result of our actions, but also individual thoughts and actions, during this period. Karma is always related to rebirth. Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (III.ii.12) asks “When this man dies, what is that that does not leave him?” This question can be answered in two ways. The first answer could be that everything leaves him to ultimately disintegrate. The physical body that existed earlier consumed either to the fire or to the earth making the annihilation of the body complete. The Upanishad itself answers this question in the next verse by saying that a man in known either by his good or bad actions. Therefore, it becomes apparent that one’s actions have direct relevance to his behaviour. Every action performed by a man during his life time is recorded in his soul in the form of karmas. This can be compared to the black box of an aircraft. Again, a soul cannot decide on its own, but it is bound by the Divine law called “Law of Karmas”. Soul acts on the basis of results of moral efficacy of individual actions. Moral is important because, mere evil thoughts are more than enough to cause serious ramifications on an already inflicted soul. This is based on the fact that everyman at some point of time not only develops malign thoughts, but also nurtures it. This is the main reason that differentiates an ordinary man from a yogi.

When somebody is dying, his activities both voluntary and involuntary cease to function one after another. Again, there is a reference in Brhadaranyaka Upanishad for this (IV.iv.2). It says that the gross body gets united with the subtle body. ‘Through the brightened top, the self (soul) departs, either through the eye or through the head or through any other part of the body (the soul is believed to exit a body through any one of the nine holes known as’ nava-dvara’). When the soul departs from the body, other vital forces and organs follow one after another thereby making the annihilation of the body complete. Now the man becomes a body, he becomes it. The next verse says about rebirth. The impressions of the past birth take hold of another body in the form of a soul, as per the quality of the impressions. The impressions or vasanas affect the quality of the soul. The quality of the impressions depends upon the good or bad actions influenced by either good or bad thoughts. There are only two possibilities for the soul. It has the capacity to enter into another physical body that could be in any form or shape, may be after a period of quiescence or instantaneously. There is no differentiation between a human soul and an animal soul or an insect soul or a plant soul, etc. For all living species, soul is the same. The other option for the soul is to merge with the Brahman and cease to exist forever. The latter option is the topic of discussion of all the Upanishads. In a nutshell the quality of a soul depends upon its karmic account. Karmic account accrues due to desires and attachments, which are the products of mind. Mind is the single factor that is solely responsible for karmic account that decides the quality of the soul. The quality of the soul is responsible for pains and pleasures in this birth.

There are contradictory opinions about the respite for the soul. Some think that a soul takes rest between two births and the resting place depends upon its karmic account. The resting places are called heaven and hell. Others are of the opinion that the souls wander in the ether or akash till it takes another form. Others believe that a soul hibernates in the cosmos for a period of time and gets activated when the time is ripe for it to get into another body. There are so many theories and most of these theories depend upon one’s belief, largely influenced by religion. The Upanishad again asks “Do you know how people diverge after death? Do you know how they return to this world?” This question has already been answered above. There are only two possibilities. One is to born again which is the case with majority of the souls and another is merger with the Lord not to be reborn again and the number is minuscule and literally negligible. There is always a doubt lingering in our minds about the punishment meted out to the soul for wrong doings. It is generally believed that effects of any actions are recorded in the soul in one’s karmic account. Charaka Samhita, an ancient ayurvedic treatise describes karma (I.49) as “action in the form of curative effort is known as karman”. Karma does not mean merely actions, but includes even contemplation to do an act. The samhita further says that ‘karman’ present in the matter (soul) is the cause for birth and death. Soul does not depend upon on any external support and purely relies on the karmic effect. Since soul is subtle, it has to act only through a gross form. Action of a physical body therefore purely depends upon one’s karmic account that cannot act independently. It takes the support of the mind to unfold its actions. Mind is not external factor to the soul. Both mind and soul cohabit in a human form. Consciousness is the effect of mind influenced by karmic account and sensory organs. Millions of people practice meditation, but only a handful of them reach its logical conclusion. Meditation is not a process to sit erect and breathe in a particular way. Meditation is a process of understanding the Creator within the self by questions and answers. Otherwise, Upanishads would not have spoken about the Brahman in the form of affirmations and negations. The success of meditation not only depends upon one’s own efforts, but also should be permitted by his karmic account. Karmic account alone provides the will to meditate.

The quality of the soul not only depends upon its karmic account (actions), but also depends upon its ability to realize its Creator through knowledge. Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (VI.ii.16) says “those who do not know these two ways become insects and moths”. The two ways are meditation and rituals. Bhagavad Gita is the treasure house of spirituality that provides necessary knowledge required for Self-realization. The process of birth and death is highly painful. Chandogya Upanishad (V.x.6) says “vai khalu durnishprapataram” which means ‘for sure the way is difficult.’ The life time of worms, insects and tiny creatures are much shorter than that of a man and being born as worms and insects means frequent rebirths. When the soul transmigrates frequently, it feels the pain of transmigration every time. There is a huge difference between those who quieten their mind to realize the Brahman and those who involve in rituals. Meditation alone is capable of providing salvation by putting an end to eschatology of a soul. The human birth gives an opportunity for the soul to realize its Creator and the ability to merge with Him. The human birth is considered supreme because, the soul that enters a human form has the ability to act on two fronts. One is the mind and another one is karma. The more one is capable of realizing its creator the karmic account becomes less influencing. But a vast majority of the humans are either by ignorance or by lack of will lose out the given opportunity to obtain liberation for the soul. The underlying principle of reincarnation in various forms is the process of sustenance and evolution. Without crops both animals and humans cannot survive. The law of karma is so beautifully enacted by God that every aspect of creation was taken care of adequately. The interdependency plays such a pivotal role in God’s creation that co-habitation becomes indispensable for the very survival.

Transmigration of a soul from creatures to humans happens with the full consciousness of the soul. This is the reason for attaching importance for consciousness. When a soul transmigrates from a human form to lower forms, it loses its consciousness. The Brahman can be realized only through higher level of consciousness, an opportunity made available by the Brahman only to Homo sapiens. Chandogya Upanishad declares (V.x.7) ‘among them, those who did good work in this world attain a good birth and those who did bad work attain a bad birth accordingly, being born as dog, a pig, etc.’

Upanishads by and large describe the Brahman by negations and affirmations. Brahman cannot be physically described because He does not have a form. Brahman is nothing but potentially existing energy that is neither apparent nor realized. Manifestation of the Brahman in all shapes and forms is the reality and due to lack of adequate knowledge, shapes and forms are realised by us as independent entities. This deceptive and shallow knowledge is known as maya. Kausitaki Upanishad (Ch.1) says “the one who involves in actions like yajna reaches the Heaven. This is because by doing auspicious acts he accumulates good karmic account. Once this positive account is exhausted, he is reborn. The other one, who understands this truth, performs actions without attaching importance to the fruits of his actions. He transcends the Heaven, merges with the Brahman, and is not reborn.” It is now apparent that reaching the Heaven is not the end of journey for a soul. Heaven or any such planes are only places of sojourn for a soul.

Karma accrues not only through thoughts and actions, but also through desire. Desire could be in any form. It could be in the form of greed, affection, lust, etc. Desire can be explained as the feeling that accompanies an unsatisfied state of mind. Therefore, desire largely depends upon one’s deprivations. Desire becomes instauration point of mind affliction. Scriptures accentuate so much of

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