Question: Karmic reactions are often compared with punishment by an authority. But the difference is that there is a clear cause / effect relation in the case of punishment, where the person who receives the punishment knows why they are being punished, and that it is meant to rectify him. In the case of karma, people usually have no idea why they are being punished and thus no effect is achieved. It seems like a blind law just for the sake of itself, which has no purpose outside of its existence; or is there some benefit involved for the person receiving karmic reaction?
Answer: Karma is not a purposeless law. The purpose of karma is twofold. One purpose is to maintain morality and harmony within society. This is based on the fact that every action has a bearing on oneself and the environment around oneself. The scriptures explain very clearly that if one engages in a forbidden act, one has to suffer the consequence of that, it is not true that people suffer from karma without knowing the reason for it.
There are many criminals who get punished and know the reason for it, yet they commit the crime again. In the same way, one can extrapolate that if one knew the specific punishment coming from a specific karma, there is no guarantee that the person would rectify him or herself. Just as people know what they are being punished for, the reaction of karma can also be understood in the same way because knowledge of śāstra is available.
The other purpose of karma is to rectify a person and ultimately bring him to knowledge of God. But rectification does not happen simply by punishment. If that were the case, crime would be non-existent out of fear of punishment. But yet people continue to commit crime. Even if they are caught and punished, they still do not give it up. Therefore, karma alone cannot bring rectification. It is the understanding and faith in śāstra that brings rectification.
Real rectification comes from having faith in scripture and not just from having knowledge of past karma, which is causing the suffering.
If one does not have faith in the law of karma, how can karma rectify it? Therefore, there is a need of śāstra along with the law of karma. Just as in modern society there is a need for awareness of the law along with the law itself. If you are caught on the highway and punished without being aware of the reason, you would continue making the same mistake. But if you are aware that by breaking the traffic rule, you will be punished, then if you are wise, you will avoid breaking the law. But if you are not wise and have no sense control, then even if you are aware of the law, you will still break it. Because by breaking the law, you may get some immediate benefit, while punishment does not come immediately. Therefore along with karma, knowledge and practice of dharma is also required, because karma is very complicated. In the case of state law, it may be possible to break it and go unnoticed. In the case of karma, this does not happen. But the outcome may be delayed, unlike in the case of state law, which happens in the same life. So if there is a delay in punishment and there is a lack of awareness, then the law becomes ineffective, as can be seen in India. There, criminal cases can run for years and years, and therefore the criminals are not afraid. By the time the law catches them, they could have already taken undue advantage by breaking the law again. The mafia can capture someone’s property and use it for many years before the judgment is passed against them, if at all.
Question: Some people believe that if one could remember their past bad deeds from which one is suffering at present, it would help him or her not to engage in the same act. Is this true?
Answer: This is also not true. Even if the bad deeds were known, there is no guarantee that one will not engage in further criminal acts. The same crimes are committed again by criminals who have been previously been punished. Moreover, if one could remember his past bad deeds, he could also remember traumas experienced in past lives. Imagine remembering being raped in a past life, being cheated, stabbed in the back, or exploited. How many lives would one remember—1, 5, 10, 100, 1000? Our material conditioning has no beginning. How could our tiny minds handle the emotional scars from past lives? If there was no possibility of forgetting past experiences, one would suffer continuously, which would become intolerable, leading to suicide.
Why is that? Because one would have no possibility of forgetting these past experiences and would therefore suffer continuously which would become intolerable.
What really matters is faith. If one has faith that bad action brings undesirable, painful result one would avoid it. If that faith is not there then one would continue acting wrongly even if one remembers one’s past deeds. This can be seen practically in one’s own life. People do mistakes and suffer. They commit mistake again although they remember the past mistake and its undesirable outcome. When faith is there one tries to control oneself. That is wisdom.
Question: One may say that there are many people who do not know about śāstra and thus they cannot derive any benefit from the law of karma.
Answer: Even if they have no knowledge of śāstra, they know that every action has some result. They know the basic moral principles of being truthful, non-violent, not deceiving others, not stealing, robbing, and they know that these things bring harm to others and ultimately also to oneself. Everyone knows this much. But people do not always act upon their knowledge. No one can help such people. Ultimately one has to make decision oneself. Others can give advice or give knowledge.
Making use of knowledge is called wisdom. The problem is that people in general do not make use of the discriminative faculty, called buddhi, and they do not believe in śāstra. They are just enamoured by the sense objects and the immediate sense pleasures. Thus they continue to engage in these unethical acts. So mere knowledge is not sufficient, one must make use of one’s intelligence or have complete faith in śāstra, or both.
The law of karma is primarily to bring balance and harmony in society. It is also to finally think about life beyond this life and ultimately about surrender to God.
Question: How can people in the West know about it?
Answer: It is not a question about East or West, it is a question about education and training to make use of one’s education or knowledge. Everyone in the east is not behaving according to law of karma. People do wrong knowingly because they do not have much faith in it and have no sense control.
Whenever we see things or hear things then we filter it through our conditioning, so we don’t perceive things correctly. Shraddha signifies faith with reverence. Shraddha in guru means that guru knows more than me about spirituality. Shraddha manages the ego, otherwise the ego cannot bend.
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