Karma and Destiny

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

The nature of this universe is called prakriti, and its field functions through karma. The experience of prakriti is not through knowledge. The experience of divinity is through knowledge. The experience of the Shiva tattwa is through knowledge, while the experience of prakriti, the shakti tattwa, is through karma. The universe is based and dependent on karma. Cessation of karma in the universe would result in the end of our lives. If the activity of and in the universe ceases, life would also come to an end.

The making of prarabdha

The five elements which constitute this universe, matter and living beings are an expression of karma. From birth until death, one keeps oneself alive by performing karma, through the body, mind and emotions. Throughout life one does karma. The element of action is linked with one's needs, ambitions, success and failures, mentality and samskaras. When the entire life is affected by one's karma, human beings cannot be dissociated from karma. The expression of human life is 'I am' and karma connects this 'I' with the world, thus making it an inseparable part of this world.

According to our ancient scriptures, karma is eternal. Since karma is imperishable, the residue, the experiences and the result of karma remain with the soul after death. When the soul is born again, the mind brings the fruits of actions in the form of samskaras into the new life; that is called prarabdha karma. What one has brought along to this life is one's prarabdha.

One sees oneself as one's prarabdha. My prarabdha karma is sannyasa. The prarabdha that is connected with sannyasa is the renunciation of karmas, so my prarabdha is renunciation of action, liberation from karmas. This is the first point. The karmas that were there in one's prarabdha in the past have come forth in the form of one's samskaras. The experiences of the past life, which become the samskaras of this life, are what one expresses in this life.

Eliminating sanchita karma

The karma that is performed to express those samskaras yet which one is unable to eliminate immediately is called sanchita karma. Sanchita karma is exhausted in the future. The accumulated result is experienced when the complaint box is full. Sanchita karma results from the actions that one has performed, the karma for which one does not take responsibility in the present, yet which one will be able to manage. For example, if one develops animosity towards a person, that is one's sanchita karma. One can shake hands and become friends with that person in one day, in one month, or else stretch one's animosity toward that person for one year. That is sanchita karma. For the elimination of sanchita, one uses one's intellect and wisdom to stop it from becoming prarabdha.

Imagine that today you had a fight. After an hour you say sorry and shake hands with the person. You become friends once more. Your sanchita karma, which could have become prarabdha, was brought to an end. If you do not put an end to that animosity, it can remain with you until your death. At the time of death you will still have a feeling of revenge towards your enemy; this then becomes the prarabdha for your next life.

Taking responsibility

Kriyamana karma is that which gives an instant result. For example, a box of pins falls from your hand and those pins scatter everywhere around. What would you do? You would collect them immediately and put them all back in the box. You would not leave them as they are; you would pick them up and put them in the box so that they do not prick anyone.

Kriyamana is the karma that you solve instantly and that does not remain with you. If this pen falls from your hand and you pick it up again and keep it in the correct place, the work is done. The slate is clean. This is kriyamana.

In contrast, your pen has fallen and you have just left it where it is. You call your servant, "Ramu! Come here and pick up this pen and give it to me. Pick up the pen for I am not picking it up." Since you are denying your karma, this kriyamana karma takes the form of sanchita. When you do not take responsibility for your karma it becomes sanchita karma. You identify with the arrogant behaviour of your mind and not with the simple act: 'Okay, the pen has fallen, let me pick it up and put it back'. This is called kriyamana.

Destruction of karma

Karmakshaya or elimination of karma is when Sri Swami Satyananda left Munger and settled in Rikhia. There he started a special sadhana. The purpose of that sadhana was the destruction of karma. This sadhana is mentioned in theBrihadaranyaka Upanishadand is only for yogis. It is an atonement for karmas. Many people asked Sri Swamiji what the need was for this.

He said, "You may put me on a pedestal and idolize me, but I want to be a simple human being. There might have been a time when I had the feeling that I am the doer. There might have been a time when I saw success, and the thought might have come to my mind that what had been achieved was done by me. When I saw failure there might be the thought that the reason behind it was me and I was the guilty one. I attached myself to the actions, and forgot about surrender. If I remember to surrender, I do not have any worries about my karmas.

"As a servant works according to the master's command, the responsibility for the servant's success and failure is not with the servant, but with the master. The servant performs the work according to the instructions given to him. If the servant develops the feeling that he has done everything, that is not right; the one instructing and having the work done is his master."

Separating ego from karma

The same feeling comes in sannyasa: Naham Karta Hari Karta Hari Karta hi Kevalam – "I am not the doer, God is the doer, only God is the doer." This is the feeling of surrender and devotion. It is the feeling of renunciation of karma. When there is no sense of enjoyership, then how would one experience karma? There is no enjoyer of the fruits if the feeling of experience is absent. One is absolutely free from the bondage of attraction, repulsion, attachment, hate.

The state of karmakshaya comes in the last stage, when one surrenders completely and puts aside one's ego. It is the ego that brings the feeling of doership and enjoyership. Karma either weakens or deepens the ego. If one can separate the ego from karma, there will be no bondage with the karma, no attachment to the karma, only freedom in karma. Karma will be creative and uplifting. When karmas are performed like this, destiny can also change.

As long as one does not control karma in this way, one is always under the sway of one's destiny. Destiny and karma are two different things. People do not have any control over their destiny. Death is fixed, that is the destiny of all. Who until now has been able to control it?

People cannot even control an ordinary incident. How will they know the karma that is unseen, unexpressed and subtle when they are unable to understand even their own body in relation to ill health?

There are many people who fall ill for lack of caution and pass away as a result of that sickness. Had they taken precautions and not allowed the condition to develop, they would not have died. When there is a lack of precaution in one's life, one is troubled by karma and destiny. When there is precaution in life, one is not troubled by destiny and karma.

Beautify your karmas

Destiny is controlled by God and not by you. You have been born, that is your destiny. You have got a life, that is your destiny. Death comes to you, that is your destiny. Destiny is limited to birth, life and death. Life, the time between birth and death, is karma. Before birth and after death, there is no karma. Between birth and death in life there is karma, which you can perform the way you want.

Karma does not transform your destiny until your doership, your attachment, your desire, your ego renounces the karma. Therefore, do not fantasize about changing your destiny. Even an avatar does not dream of changing his destiny. Who are you to control your destiny?

Was it not possible for Sri Krishna to change his destiny? Was it not possible for Sri Rama to change his destiny? Is it not possible for the gods and the goddesses to change the destiny of a human being? They have the strength and capability, yet they do not do so. An avatar does not change his destiny. This is the law of nature. Sri Krishna and Sri Rama suffered. Other saints also suffered as they went through ordeals.

The only difference between destiny and karma is that one can improve and beautify one's karma, just the way a realized being, a saint, a good householder and an aspirant performs his karma. Worldly-minded people do not manage this; they are under the influence of their karmas and perceive them in the form of thorns that prick them.

—30 July 2014, Netaji Subhash Stadium, Kolkata, India