saMskAra-s, svadharma and karma (Q. 320)

Q: I read about the above topics in your book and struggled with them, not only because there are a number of things to remember, but also because how exactly they function is complex.

 I thought about what you said regarding svadharma and how not going with it, with the example of Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, would have been bad for ones karma and thought about Hitler.

 You might say that it was Hitler’s svadharma to do as he did and that to go against that, in other words, to be an ordinary politician or something for example, would have given rise to bad karma for him, the same way as going against his duty would have caused Arjuna bad karma, as explained by Krishna: ‘slay thy foes’. But then that seems unfair to him (Hitler), since surely his ‘bad actions’ (genocide, etc.) that his svadharma would have had him following would have brought him bad karma any way, so either way, things, from that perspective, looked pretty bleak for him? Then one might say that what Hitler did was not really his svadharma, but this I personally would agree with, as a ‘person’ cannot act outside of Brahman, that is, everything we do, feel, think is Brahman, so even Hitler’s ‘evils’ were also Brahman?

 The only way I can see out of the complexities of karma and related ideas, is to realize that karma, and such, only apply to a person, not to the Self. So it is a person that has karma and not Self. When there is belief that there is a person, then there will be karma?

 However, if that is right, I do struggle with it, since I’ve concluded already that since body-mind, world etc, come out of Self, then they too must be Self. And so when there is a body-mind, it surely follows that there must be karma, no?…so karma is inevitable? Or does simple knowledge of the Self defeat all this?

A (Peter): ‘Dharma’ is one of those words for which it is difficult to find a one-word translation. It is described as that which sustains and upholds the order. It is the law. It is virtue. It is duty. It is righteousness.

 In the word ‘sva-dharma’ the sense of duty is meant by ‘dharma’, and ‘sva’ means ‘self’. Put together the word indicates ‘one’s own duty’: this is an individual matter.

 To be the leader of a nation is the sva-dharma of some people. Genocide, however, is never anyone’s duty. How we conduct our own duty will make a difference not only to this life but, according to the Vedāntic laws of karma, to the next ones too. Without living a life of values (dharma), mokṣa is impossible as mental purity and steadiness is not possible because, without mental purity and steadiness, the mind is not fit to discover the truth.

 Each individual plays several roles in a lifetime – father/mother, husband/wife, colleague, devotee, parent, etc – each role has its duty. One way of seeing ‘duty’ is ‘doing the needful’. What is the needful in relation to parent? What in relation to spouse or children or employees/employers, etc? There is no complexity about this: yes dharma only relates to the individual and not the Self.

 If you identified ‘I’ with the body-mind-sense complex then you have duties to perform according to your stage of life – student, householder, retired or living a monastic life – and inclination – god-centred, leadership-inclined, business-oriented, or service. If you know the Self you are the Self – it’s not some idea you have about ‘truth’. Self is dharma.

 On a more general note, these basic areas of vagueness will be cleared only by systematic study with a qualified teacher. Good luck with finding one. In the interim you are welcome to listen my teacher’s talks on ‘Fundamentals of Vedanta’ to see if there is any chemistry: http://www.arshavidya.org.uk/downloads.html

If something clicks then you may have found your teacher. And your way to clarity.

A (Ramesam): Wonderful! Your analysis is going the right way. The little kinks that apparently exist in the clear understanding arise because you are taking some of the devices (like karma theory) postulated to explain certain things depending on the readiness of the individual to grok the Truth to be eternally valid true wisdom. But all such devices are artificial,  they are to be discarded without the burden of a regret when once the final understanding of Self dawns.

Now, let us go over your statements carefully. Your statements are in italics.

I read about the above topics in your book and struggled with them, not only because there are a number of things to remember, but also because how exactly they function is complex.

Yes, complex they are. The more litigant a brain, the more complicated are the possibilities of various permutations and combinations arising out of the karma theory!

Interesting examples of the strange and twisted types of actions a man does and the consequent outcomes that will ensue to a person can be seen in the dialog between King Prajnapti and Sage Vasishta (Please see: Questions 5 to19:

 http://beyond-advaita.blogspot.in/2011/09/prajnaptis-questions-on-creation-and.html

Sage Vasishta’s Answers: http://beyond-advaita.blogspot.in/2011/10/sage-vasishtas-response-to-prajnaptis.html).

All such issues  related to karmic actions and results are meant for a curious mind wanting an explanation for what it thinks to be its perception. But these matters are not of much concern or relevance to understand the basic teaching of Advaita. You may laugh these away at a later stage. It serves no purpose to get involved with the polemics of these terms and definitions and dispensation of justice based on presumptuous unfalsifiable models.

But then that seems unfair to him (Hitler), since surely his ‘bad actions’ (genocide, etc.) that his svadharma would have had him following would have brought him bad karma any way, so either way, things, from that perspective, looked pretty bleak for him?

Firstly I would like to suggest that you may please appreciate the meaning for the word ‘svadharma’ to be not as one’s duty but as the natural ‘trait’ of the person. One finds it easy to act according to one’s nature. Ask a person who likes open spaces, for example, to work on a 24/7 in-door job. (S)he will find it uncomfortable and miserable. There itself is unhappiness and sorrow for him/her. You do not need any big concepts and esoteric theories to understand that.

And again, it is the svadharma of a fragrant flower to emit pleasant smell. It is the svadharma of a scorpion to sting. It is the svadharma of fire to burn and that of water to cool.

That being the position, is it fair to assess the result of the actions done under one’s svadharma from the reference frame of another?  So sympathizing with what befalls Mr. Hitler for his actions and judging from your own presumed standards is bound to yield only bizarre results.

…….. a ‘person’ cannot act outside of Brahman, that is, everything we do, feel, think is Brahman, so even Hitler’s ‘evils’ were also Brahman?”

This is a profound, deeply Advaitic statement!

However, if you think that there is still a separate “you” somewhere standing apart and making the above statement, well, that needs to be examined in greater detail.

When there is belief that there is a person, then there will be karma?

Yes, that is true. In fact, one even can go a step further and say that the word ‘person’ itself means action, as Rupert so often explains. ‘Person’ is not an entity; person is the activity. The activity is running away from what IS – looking for a result in ‘future.’  This implies that there is an effort to escape from what Is, a desire to change what Is — either by rejecting it or wanting something else that is not there in the “Now.”

What is at the moment in the Now, Is the Whole – without judgment, without rejection or welcome. Just things happen, you are not even there as a distinct entity to experience the happening (positioning yourself as a distant witness or experiencer); you (your body-mind) meld totally into the Totality of what IS without a ‘distinct’ you. This is Oneness, no second being present.

I’ve concluded already that since body-mind, world etc, come out of Self, then they too must be Self. And so when there is a body-mind, it surely follows that there must be karma, no?…so karma is inevitable?

Yes again, excellent conclusion. And that is all what you can arrive at as a separate person.

What is Is all Brahman, without fragmentation into parts. Individual minds cannot take in the Totality; mind can grasp things only in bits and pieces, by dividing the Oneness by assigning labels to delimited forms. It is like marking out the one huge space into tiny units drawing imaginary boundaries and naming the units as this town or that city.  

When we see a man, we absorb the total human being as one, we do not view separately a couple of hands which are different from a torso on which they hang, the torso erected as a highly unstable structure supported by two legs etc. etc. We see a man, not the parts. Similarly the whole world is One (including thoughts (= mind), sensations (= body) and perceptions (= world) to use the terminology of Francis and Rupert).

So It is Brahman when you as a separate onlooker do not exist. Brahman appears as the world when you begin to view It.

Once it is clearly understood that everything is One, stay with that understanding. But the mind, out of its sheer habit, pulls you back into the objective world forms showing each one to be separate from the other and also to be distinct from you. Just observe this action of the mind. Be surrounded by an environment that helps in remembering the indivisible Oneness (e.g. cultivating satsangatya – associating with ‘noble’ co-seekers, studying the relevant scriptures and so on).

 “Or does simple knowledge of the Self defeat all this?

The Knowledge of the Self is profound, yet paradoxically ‘simple.’

It is Consciousness that casts the world, it is again Consciousness that folds it up. Like the fisherman who casts the net and withdraws it back again. You as a person has no role with a unique ID, to ‘do’ something/anything.

(Please notice the capital “K” is used for the Knowledge of the Self. The usual knowledge (with lower case ‘k’ of worldly subjects – be that Cosmology or Carpentry; Neurosurgery or News reading)  we gain through studies, experience, from imitation of others is of an accumulative type. The more you accumulate, the better “expertise” you have in your area of knowledge. All actions from such a knowledge flow from the  memory of it. The stored knowledge is a dead knowledge. The Knowledge of Self is ever fresh, alive. It is totally New every moment. It is not, in fact cannot be, stored, or hoarded. You live it every moment historylessly always anew in the Now).

P.S. I will be happy to explain further if any part looks unclear.

A (Sitara): Dharma can be seen on two levels: the first is common to everyone, the second is subject to circumstance. The first is based on the principle ‘do not do unto others what you do not want them to do to you’. The second, never questioning this first principle but specifying it, for example according to the stage of life you live in – as a mother or father you are obliged to your family, as a sannyasi you are not anymore – or according to your caste. Arjuna belonged to the warrior caste, so it was his dharma to restore dharma in society, even if that, after all else has failed, means killing.

 Note, caste is something that is not determined by your birth or profession but by your nature and is subject to change. Example: A policeman would correlate to the warrior caste, a gardener to the vaishya caste etc. In case birth, profession and nature do not correspond to the same caste it is nature that determines the caste. So someone could be born into a brahman family, work as a policeman (kshatrya) but actually have little initiative and does not like to take on too many responsibilities (sudra). Or, someone could be born into a sudra family, working as a teacher (brahman) but being predominantly ksatriya by nature – fiery, offensively-minded etc.

Hitler, as a politician, would match with the warrior caste. But he did not act according to its rules. First of all, he did neither uphold nor restore dharma in the society (a society that kills innocent people just because they belong to the wrong race cannot be called dharmic), secondly he did not try enough other options before going to war.

 You ask: “as a ‘person’ cannot act outside of Brahman, that is, everything we do, feel, think is Brahman, so even Hitler’s ‘evils’ were also Brahman?“

Here you are mixing levels of reality. Yes, from paramarthika (absolute) viewpoint everything is Brahman. But actions, feelings, thinking are phenomena belonging to vyavaharika (transactional) level and here dharma applies.

 You yourself saw this by saying: “karma, and such, only apply to a person, not to the Self. So it is a person that has karma and not Self.“

Exactly.

 You ask: „When there is belief that there is a person, then there will be karma?“

Yes

 You ask: “I do struggle with it, since I’ve concluded already that since body-mind, world etc, come out of Self, then they too must be Self. And so when there is a body-mind, it surely follows that there must be karma, no?…so karma is inevitable? Or does simple knowledge of the Self defeat all this?“

It cannot be stressed enough that if you don’t understand mithyA you will not understand non-duality. You will always find two realities. How is it possible that

  1. Body, mind, world are there, functioning according to certain laws (for example the law of karma),
  2. Self is there, one without a second, and
  3. Body, mind, world is nothing but Self alone?

 To really make sense of this you need to inquire into mithyA. You will find plenty here on this website.

A (Dennis): I can see you have got yourself into some mental knots here but it is a confusing topic.

 karma is really simply about cause and effect. If something happens, it must have its consequential effect. The classic example used in the scriptures is that of the arrow leaving the bow (or to bring it up to date, the bullet leaving the gun). Once the arrow is on its way, it cannot be stopped. Similarly, any action of a person must have its consequence for that person. If you do bad things, you will reap the pApa or retribution eventually, good things will bring puNya or merit. If these do not come in this life, they will come in the next, since the consequences are at the subtle level of ‘soul’, rather than the gross bodily level.

 So, yes, you can say that Hitler was born into a life in which he was presented with the ‘opportunities’ (to become powerful and commit evil acts etc) resulting from karma from previous lives. And certainly, the path of least resistance is always to act out of habit, without thought, in accordance with ones existing nature. But this is not to be confused with dharma. dharma has to do with what is right and lawful, in accordance with moral precepts. So svadharma has to do with the way in which one ought to act oneself in order to be in accordance with truth and justice etc. Clearly, Hitler did not act in accord with any universal principles of right and good; at least none with which the rest of the world is familiar! So one has to presume that he was deliberately or unknowingly ignoring his svadharma and following instead the egomaniacal  demands of his nature and compounding his ‘bad karma’ instead of clearing it.

 Doing the ‘right’ thing (according to dharma) is always good, i.e. results in puNya, whether one’s own nature is good or bad. The point about Arjuna is that the people against whom he was fighting were ‘bad’ (they had done unjust things to himself and his family in the past) so they had to be punished. And it was Arjuna’s duty, being a warrior, to exact that punishment. And doing the wrong thing is always bad. So you can say that, had Arjuna not gone into battle and killed his enemies, he would have been doing the ‘wrong’ thing.

 The real difficulty comes if you try to reconcile the theory for more than one person at a time. In the case of Hitler, it seems that you can only say that Hitler’s actions were in a accordance with his karma if you simultaneously accept that it was the destiny of all of those Jews to die in concentration camps. And this seems to stretch the bounds of reason.

 I would say that you are correct in your assumption that karma only applies to the person. Once I realize that I am not a person (i.e. gain Self-knowledge) then there is no more AgAmin saMskAra generated (because there is no longer anyone acting). And that saMskAra stored up from past lives but not yet maturing is also destroyed. Only the prArabdha saMskAra continues, because this is the ‘arrow already released from the bow’.

 My own view is that the entire theory of karma and reincarnation is, as I think Eliot Deutsch described it, ‘a useful fiction’. It serves the same purpose as theories of creation, namely to provide an interim explanation of the empirical reality until such time as we come to realize that it is all mithyA. The book to read, if you are really interested in all this, is ‘Karma and Reincarnation’ by Swami Muni Narayana Prasad, D. K. Printworld (P) Ltd., 1994, ISBN 81-246-0022-8. (Buy at Amazon US or UK)

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