A Question asked at a Social Network Group:
“Is there a room for a concept of karma within non-duality? Is karma not another concessionary concept, useful only for the mind still caught in the belief of cause and effect?
It is very important and valuable in Shankara Advaita to have a correct perspective on ‘karma.’
It is, however, futile to expect or to give a one word or even a one line answer to the question. To do so will be an insult to the question itself!
Your hunch that “karma is another concessionary concept, useful only for the mind still caught in the belief of cause and effect” is very true, if you consider the seeker to be no more than a distilled mass of 2-3 lbs of brain. But fortunately or unfortunately, that mass of brain always comes with many appendages and appurtenances. Those can never sit tight!
Secondly, a man in the world, can’t but act, as though mounted on a machine, in spite of himself (18.61, BG). So even a jIvanmukta will continue to act – but for the benefit of the world.
Yes, it is agreed that no “action” done will result in yielding liberation – there are many Upanishadic mantras that say so. Only Self-knowledge is the one that liberates. Still ‘action’ is never advised to be given up.
The word Karma, as everyone here would know, has two meanings.
It means actions that we do in this life. Karma also means the effects of our past actions, to be experienced by us.
The world is the field provided for us to square up our karma. The body and the mind are the ‘instruments’ through which we perform the karma.
The effects from the past actions work as the ‘seeds’ to sprout thoughts in us. Thoughts produce desires and desires propel us for action.
However, those actions that one takes up for the bare necessity of maintenance of the body (feeding, keeping it clean etc.) are a part of one’s custodial responsibility for the body and hence do not have any carry-forward effects. Actions done unintentionally just by the body without any intervention from the mind also do not have carry forward effects.
All those actions done with an intention, a motivation, a desire for a specific result have a carry forward effect and one will necessarily reap the result of those actions.
Advaita is not about giving up action. Nor is it about changing the world or upsetting the structure of the world. Advaita is about giving you the clues to perform actions without having to face any ‘consequences’ of those actions. In other words, you are “freed” from being “affected” by the actions done. That is the liberation, the ‘mukti‘ in this world.
So the cleverest thing to do in order to be not affected by what is done is to “give up the sense of ‘I am the doer’.” As there was no claimant to own the action, the effects get orphaned without a owner for them. Depending on the stage of our life (studentship, householder, forest dweller and renucniate) and age (boyhood, youth, middle age and old age), the scriptures recommend certain actions that have to be done by each individual, such actions being in harmony with the entire ecosystem in which s/he lives.
Even an Avatar cannot escape doing action, though s/he may not have anything to get or gain. Thus the wheels of the world are always kept oiled and the beginningless and endless cycle of samsAra goes on and on and on and on.
Jivanmukti in Advaita is, therefore, not putting an end to actions (karma) but ending the ownership and doership of actions.