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Posted on: May 17, 2013
SUMMER COURSE TALKS
Beginning last year, the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning has been conducting a 2-3 day Summer Course in Indian Culture and Spirituality for the Students of the University. This Summer Course, though shorter in duration compared to the fifteen days long summer course organized by Bhagawan, is designed and structured along similar lines. Bhagawan used to organize the Summer Course in Indian Culture and Spirituality first in the 1970s which was open to all youth across the country (including at times some overseas participants too) and later in the 1990s which was exclusively for the students of the University. The main objective of the Course was to give students a strong dose of spirituality, which is achieved in part through lectures delivered by learned scholars, senior devotees and men of esteem. The highlight was the daily discourse by Swami, delivered typically in the evening.
The Summer Course for this academic year (2012-13) was held from 8 to 9 June 2012 in Prasanthi Nilayam. As part of this Summer Course few of the young members of the faculty and research scholars gave inspiring and erudite talks on epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata, scriptures like the Vedas and Upanishads, and a few esoteric concepts which form the corner stones of the great Bharatiya culture. Starting with this article that follows, we wish to bring to you these talks which are as interesting as they are enlightening. The Radio Sai Team is grateful to the SSSIHL for permitting us to share with our readers these transcripts.
Law of Karma - A Tenet of Indian Philosophy
Ms. U. Suma
Ms. Suma did her schooling in Mumbai and joined the SSSIHL, Anantapur for her B.Com degree in 1985, and she went on to do her B.Ed which she completed in 1991. As a multi-talented and academically brilliant student, she had the special privilege of receiving the All-rounder gold medal from the Divine Chancellor for the year 1990-91. After her study in Bhagawan's University she moved on to the Annamalai University to complete her M.Com and M.Ed. Bhagwan then, in 1998 instructed her to join as a lecturer at the Anantapur campus where she currently serves as an Asst. Professor at the Department of Commerce. She is also pursuing doctoral research in the topic 'Gender in Management.' This talk was delivered on 9 June 2012.
In the 1930s, in a small Polish village of Proshnik, lived a rabbi by name Samuel Shapira. He had a habit of going for a walk every morning in the Polish countryside and he would wish anyone he met with genuine feeling. It so happened that every day his path crossed a particular German farmer named Mueller. The rabbi would greet him, “Good morning! Herr Mueller.” The tensions between the Germans and the Jews had escalated so Herr Mueller would only scowl. But our Rabbi never gave up, he was trained in the Talmudic dictum of loving everybody and since he was a rabbi, practice was important to him. So he would greet him day after day and slowly the German began to thaw. What was a scowl changed into a nod, and a nod to the tipping of a hat. The tipping of the hat slowly became a gruff ‘Good morning! Rabbi’.
That was not the end of the dramatic event. Days passed, Hitler grew in power, the Jews were sent to concentration camps and our rabbi was also in a concentration camp. They were shifted from one camp to another, till they reached Auschwitz. When the Rabbi was going into the concentration camp, he saw a soldier waving a baton in the right and left direction. Jews who were getting down the vehicles were either sent to the right or left. Unknown to them, going to left meant death and going to the right meant a few more days of survival. When the rabbi was slowly trudging towards the soldier, the rabbi looked up and the soldier also turned and for a few seconds their eyes locked. When they drew closer, the rabbi said, “Good morning! Herr Mueller.” The soldier said, ‘good morning rabbi’ under his breath but exaggeratedly pushed his baton towards the right and our rabbi got a few more days of life.
The moral of the story is: ‘as we sow so shall we reap’. But though we agree with the moral of this story in practical experience, it seldom seems to happen. We are good to many people and when they are not so good to us, we get hurt. We work with best of intentions but get misunderstood, and slowly but steadily get conditioned to expecting the worst. Then we begin to live like victims.
There is a choice for us in our lives as we heard in this summer course – to live like victims or to live like masters. If we have to live like masters, we have to obey the laws of the universe. The funny thing is that if you start obeying the laws of the universe, the universe starts to obey you. When we obey the laws of the universe, it creates deservedness in us and this deservedness makes one powerful. Today we will look at one such law – the Law of Karma.
Once I was trying to tell the story of the Ramayana to my little cousin, who was six years old then. The attention levels of these small kids, with eyes wide open as saucers, mouth half open, trying to hang on to each word uttered, is something which we dream we will get from our students in class. I was revelling in this attention and was building on the climax of Ramayana where we come to the battlefield part of it. I told him how Rama stood tall and handsome, lifted the bow, pulled the string close to his lips and how he said the mantra and released the arrow and how the arrow created havoc in the demon army. I narrated about the tsunami of fire raging in the battlefield and his eyes grew wider. In a bated and hushed voice he asked me, “Did Rama use a voice-activated missile?” It was then that I realized that I had to put a lot of technological import into my narration of the Ramayana. I never thought of a voice-activated missile when I heard the Ramayana umpteen number of times.
This incident taught me a lesson that if you have to tell each generation anything, you better adapt to that generation because until they discover the timeless truths, there is a barrier.
Keeping this in mind, I have divided my presentation into two parts. In the first part, we will walk through the basic tenets of the Law of Karma and in the second part, I will play the role of the devil’s advocate. I will raise all the questions which are usually raised regarding the Law of Karma. Swami has answered all these questions, so I will present to you what Swami has said about each one of these questions.
The Word Karma and its Many Connotaions
The easiest way to understand the Law of Karma is to understand the principle of the boomerang. We know the story of Parikshit, the repercussions of his putting the snake around the neck of the sage. Karma is used in many senses. One is action and the other is consequence. It is also referred to as fate. Speaking to you now is a Karma which I am performing and listening to me is your Karma, your fate. This is a way to understand it superficially. But actually the word Karma has lot of import and meaning and we will try to discuss that in the next few minutes.
Every action of ours generates a certain amount of energy. The universe operates on certain principles and this energy comes back to us. The Law of Karma works perfectly whether we are aware of it or not. Whether we do good actions, bad actions or no actions, everything has a repercussion. The story of Sravana Kumar, where unknowingly Dasaratha kills him, thinking him to be an animal, is well known to all of us. The blind parents of Sravana Kumar curse him and it comes true. Dasaratha died in the sorrow pangs of losing his son Rama. We see that the Ramayana and Mahabharata are replete with such examples. In one of His discourses Swami says, ‘In short, Karma is movement, action, progress, evolution.’ He has elaborated on all these concepts so let us look at these four aspects and get the gist of Karma.
1. Karma as movement: Swami said that when Godhood desired to move, the whole creation started. So this was the original action. Hence Karma has a divine origin. What is the relevance of this to us? If Karma is divine, the solution is also divine and going near this divine principle will get us out of this karmic cycle. So understanding that the whole of Karma theory comes from God Himself is that when He comes down on the earth, He follows the rules, He doesn’t break them as He is the Master. He also performs Karma. When He performs Karma, he is not bound by them so they are sacrifices. They are done for the good of all. However, we are not in the same milieu so we have to find ways of making our Karma more pure.
2. Karma as action: We think action is something which is physical and visible in nature, which we can look at, but it is not so. Even thought and word is Karma. So we are actually performing Karma all the time. Even if we decide not to act, that is also a Karma. Swami says that even breathing is Karma. Do we have an escape from it? No, we don’t have an escape but we have to understand this aspect very deeply. The thoughts lead to action but the seed of the action is always a desire. Why is it important to change this? If we have to change our actions, it has to begin at the thought level. Swami says: “yad dhyayti tad ichhati, yad ichhati tad karoti, yad karoti tad bhavati”, meaning what we dwell on, in our mind slowly becomes a desire. Once it becomes a desire, you start acting it out, and once you begin to act it begins to happen. The universe is a friendly phenomenon, whatever seeds you sow in it, it gives back to you. It may not be in the time frame you prescribe, but it does happen. Whether we like it or not, God built us like masters and to live like masters or slaves is our choice.
3. Karma as progress: One more aspect of Karma is the hereditary effect. Imagine that we perform Karma all the time, we will have a huge storehouse of it and it spills over to subsequent births. So Karmas which we do in one life, start affecting us in terms of the type of birth in the next life and it creates the ambience to work them out. Birth is the result of Karma. Buddhists talk about the wheel of Karma and how we spin on it, life after life. They also tell us that our birth is determined by what we do in the past. People very often tell us that we are very fortunate to be contemporaries of Swami and that being His students is good Karma. We don’t realize this but it is true; lifetimes of good Karma has given us the deservedness to be close to Bhagawan and His institutions. If we have spent lifetimes in doing good Karma, we will be given an environment to foster it further, hence it has a reinforcing effect on our life.
We also have one aspect of Karma which I call the ‘Karma tense’. Sanchita Karma is the storehouse of Karma which we have and will take lifetimes to redeem, Prarabdha Karma is what we get for this lifetime and Agami Karma is what we build for future. If we are little indiscreet about our Agami Karma, we will add to the Sanchita Karma and consequently to our Prarabdha Karma. This sounds very fatalistic, whether we act or not, everything is collecting against us. So apparently it looks like a trap; but it is not so. The whole theory of Karma is built with a lot of positivism in it. It is a highway to evolution.
4. Karma as evolution: Karma talks about delayed effect. We do something now and pay it back in some other lifetime. So in the next lifetime, you won’t know why a particular circumstance is coming towards you but you know that you can build your own life. If you know this, you have a choice. This choice is the most empowering part of this life. Swami often says, ‘what comes to you is destiny but how you react to it is in your hands’.
We will dwell a little longer upon this empowering part of choice.
How to Wisely React to Karma
If you have to deal with your Agami Karma, Swami says that there is a very beautiful step by step procedure. First think about the consequence of your act and think whether Swami will be happy with it. Once we start using this criterion, it becomes a habit and slowly our action become sacred.
Swami has also kept loopholes to get out of Prarabdha Karma! If I have a huge store of Karma, how do I clear it? However good I am it will take a long time?
Swami says there are three ways of doing this, which I explain hierarchically:
» Bear it stoically: You broke your leg, without grumbling or blaming yourself and others for this mishap, bear it stoically with an attitude – let it come, I will bear it.
» Transmute your suffering – Learn from your suffering and share the experience with others and alleviate their suffering. In this case you try to understand what the universe is trying to teach you and try to help others with your learning.
» Transcend the suffering: All transcending theories mean one thing: stick to God and go back to God. Once you go back to God, it transcends all body-mind conditions. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna talks about this transcending aspect in the form of Nishkama Karma. It is the very famous episode in Mahabharata where Arjuna is despondent and Krishna says that he can’t give up action. Krishna counsels Arjuna to have renunciation in every act and not renunciation of the act. Nishkama Karma is something which we hear many times but is difficult to practice. Krishna says: “Have steady faith in Atma, dedicate all your acts to me with no desire of fruits thereof and with no sense of egoism, possession and pride engage in the battle”. This defines the essence of Nishkama Karma. Nishkama Karma is at two levels: one is surrendering the fruits of the action and the second is the surrender of doership or the agency of action. Hence all divine theories, in essence, say that you should surrender everything to God and realize that you are God. This concept is found in all our scriptures.
Nishkama Karma Brings Objectivity in One's Approach
Coming to a mundane level; if I do Nishkama Karma, how will it help me?
Nishkama Karma brings objectivity. We see things as they are without colouring it with our glasses of ego.
Karma sometimes involves action, sometimes inaction. And getting a balance between the two is perfect action. Once Swami told us, “If you speak two words it is too much, if you speak one word it is too less and so you should speak one and half words.” Swami added, “Only Swami can do that.” So how does Nishkama Karma give us this balance? Let us see an example. When I was in school, I had an art teacher who was a very motivated teacher. He wanted to make something good out of all of us, but he had a very non-cooperative class. He used to give an exercise of drawing a picture which he used to turn upside down. He used to say that the concept of what the picture is, is influencing your drawing. He used to say that one should look at things as they are and not as one knows them to be. He used to ask us to pay attention also to the negative spaces where the object doesn’t exist and then draw both to get the perfect picture.
Let us take the example of a table which, as we all know, has four legs. If we keep the table in a position where only three legs are visible, we can’t draw it if the concept that ‘table has four legs’ interferes with our drawing. Hence objectivity is very important. One more way of looking at it is identifying the negative spaces where the table in not there. This will give you the relational aspect of one leg and the other. Imagine, If for something as simple as drawing, we need objectivity and holistic vision, don’t we need it for life itself ? Swami says that if one is not attached to fruits of one’s action, one can practise Akarma even in Karma.
Let us go to the next part which is the skeptic’s questions.
We get all the questions because we don’t have complete understanding. Alexander Pope said, “From the fountainhead of knowledge drink deeply because the shallow draughts of knowledge will intoxicate the brain and drinking largely will sober you again.” If you want to be sober, to be balanced, it is necessary to go deep inside. The whole purpose of this summer course is to inspire people to live with the word, and to dwell on it, even if it doesn’t make any sense in the beginning. Stay with the word and slowly it will open up and give you a sense and meaning. Skeptical questions are raised by uninformed people with half understanding of the concepts.
A few of the common questions are:
» Why do bad things happen to good people?
We always expect that if people are good, good things should happen to them and if they are bad, bad things should happen to them. This doesn’t happen which doesn’t mean that the universe is capricious or whimsical. The reason is that there is a delayed effect.
I recollect my Balvikas class where a student got up and asked our Balvikas teacher, “In the Mahabharata, the Pandavas were in the forest for long periods of time; they had a miserable time for all practical purposes. Duryodhana may have been bad, but overall in his life he lived like a king. So what is the point of being good?” This is the thinking, which most people have.
Our Balvikas teacher responded, “It is true that Pandavas had a hard life, but every night when they went to sleep, they slept with hope and assurance that God is with them whereas Duryodhana would not have had a good sleep.” Situations come to us for what we have done and not because of someone else. We have to get out of the victim syndrome. Swami says that every human being thinks that he is undergoing suffering even though he has not done anything bad. But the fact is that whatever pleasure or pain anyone undergoes is due to Karma performed. Every human being performs Karma and enjoys the fruit as a consequence. One step in living like masters is to stop blaming others. It means taking responsibility.
» Does the belief in Karma make people passive?
A very popular argument is that Indians are very passive as they hold their fate responsible for all their acts. They lack initiative. The opinion is that if one is discontented, he will have initiative. Swami says, “People who follow spiritual practices are labelled as idlers. But that is a partial view.” Swami adds, “This is not a religion of despair; it is a religion of hope, assurance and encouragement to lead an active, useful and beneficial life; for the future is in your hands, as tomorrow can be shaped by today. Today has already been shaped by yesterday.” If we follow the path of Karma, choice making is an empowering part of it. Life may dish out whatever it wants, but you can overcome the odds.
Let me narrate a story to explain this principle. Once two young men approached a sage and as they sat in front of him, the sage opened his eyes, looked at one of them and said, “You my son, will become a king, you have that destiny.” The young man was elated. He looked at the other one and said, “I am sorry son, you are going to die within a year.” Both left for their village, one was down in the dumps and the other was too happy for words. The man who was destined to become a king, started thinking and living like a king. Soon he developed all the vices and started spending whatever stored money he had and threw his weight around. He became callous, selfish and didn’t bother about anybody else. The other man who was destined to die, was despondent for some days and then realized that he should do something as his time is limited. He started to thank everyone who made a difference to his life and slowly started to help others thus changing his perspective completely. He was slowly preparing for his death.
One year passed; neither the first man became a king nor did the second man die. They decided to meet the sage and clarify as to why his words didn’t come true. They set off and were going through a forest, when unfortunately for them, they were attacked by dacoits. The man who was to become a king was more agile. He quickly climbed a tree and hid himself in the foliage while the other man ran. But he was caught and beaten up by the dacoits. The dacoits, later buried a pot of gold which was their loot, under a tree and it so happened that it was the same tree on the top of which the first man was hiding. When the dacoits left for their next mission, this man got down, dug up the place, took the pot of gold, searched for the friend, and reached the sage. They asked the sage as to why his prediction did not come true. The sage replied, “Yours was the destiny to die but due to the good activities you did, it got reduced to injury, but this man wasted his time and so his kingship got reduced to a pot of gold.” Actions that we do today can affect us tomorrow and the backlog can be changed.
» You say that we have to be true to ourselves. If I am true only to one part of me and not the other parts, am I being true to myself? For e.g. if I used to see films in my previous births and I come into this birth with a natural inclination of seeing films and if I repress it, is it correct?
Swami very beautifully says, as I mentioned earlier, that what we dwell upon becomes a desire, a desire prompts an action which results in the action occurring. Hence Swami says, as a remedy, that it is easy to control a tendency when the mind starts to dwell upon something and impossible to control the mind when it reaches the stage of infatuation. Swami always used to encourage us to do a positive thing rather than forbidding us from doing a negative thing. He used to tell us to dwell on God and not on any other thing. So if the impulse is controlled in the initial stage, the rest is averted. If the impulse is not controlled and reaches the stage of infatuation, it can’t be controlled. So the psychological theory of repression is not true if we understand how we reach the stage of infatuation.
Swami says that non-attached action and not forced withdrawal is the road to progress. He also says that the fostering of pure thoughts will promote the spirit of selfless service in our hearts. ‘Nishkama Karma removes the bestiality in man and confers immortality.’ So if we constantly think of God, surrender our ego and doership, we are saturated with God and the bestiality goes away. Then, whatever action is done, becomes sacred and spiritual.
» Is there a way out of this karmic cycle?
Swami says that there is a way out of this cycle. He says that it may not be possible to escape the consequences of one’s good and bad actions but even a mountain of sin can be wiped out by winning the grace of the divine. Hence one should strive to earn the love of God which is all embracing and all powerful. But how do we earn God’s grace? Swami says, “Install Him in your heart, make Him the basis of all your actions, then all your actions will become sacred.” One should build a bond with God. Once the bond is created, believe me, we will devote more and more of our time in fostering this bond.
When my sister was studying in Stanley Medical College, Chennai, she once went to visit her friend. The friend’s mother asked her as to what she will do after she completes her studies. My sister said that she will go back and serve in Swami’s hospital. The friend’s mother was curious to know why she would not pursue her PG. My sister had many such questions pelted at her during the period of her studies. She understood the truth that when people are preoccupied with life, they use God as a via means to achieve their worldly goals. But if you stay in Bhagawan’s institutions and learn to love God, something opposite happens. God becomes the focus and worldly life becomes the via means to reach God. You start thinking of what things to do to be close to Him. Shift of focus is the essence of what we have to learn as students here. Once that is done everything will follow.
Swami says that grace can nullify karmic effects. Swami compares grace to a morphine injection. When it is given one can’t feel the pain. He also gives the example of the expired tablet which will not have any effect even if it is taken. My parents had an accident and the whole experience was saturated with the love of the Lord. My mother said, “Swami if I can have so much of your presence, I would not mind a second accident.” A completely traumatic experience can be totally nullified by the grace of God. This is the power of God’s grace and it is important to seek it. However, grace can do much more than this. Swami says that grace is like a matchstick which can burn a bale of cotton. Even if you have a huge store of Karma, it will get burnt by the grace of God. So even if you look from a mercenary point of view, you should follow God.
» How does the belief in this doctrine help us?
Swami says, “Work done in the cognition of the Atma gives protection to life, broadens the heart, illumines the individual, annihilates the ego and confers the bliss of Self on man. To recognize the sanctity of Karma, we have to first purify our hearts.” This will be useful for us in our everyday practice. We learn from both good and bad people in our lives. Good teaches us what we should be and bad teaches what we should not be.
Stay positive, live with good intentions; we are capable of creating both good and bad Karma. ‘What we give, we shall receive’ – it is the universal Law of Karma.
Swami says, “Your actions are responsible for both your good or ill, fame or disgrace, joy or greed. Do not get excited over petty demands and desires. Fix your minds on the permanent ideals.”