Karma and Contagious Diseases

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    Danakeli Dasi

    The Covid Pan(or Plan)demic & the world’s reaction to it, including the practices persons are told to follow (wearing of masks primarily), has raised a question in my mind about karma & “contagious” diseases.
    My understanding is that the karmic judicial system is rigid—one gets what one deserves, not more, not less. One’s current & future choices don’t change their due karma but do create new karma. And one’s (material) choices & actions never alter another’s due karma. (Karma is only dissolved or altered by spiritual intervention.)
    If it is someone’s karmic due to suffer a certain amount of bodily distress or disease, isn’t it true that no second party can cause that person’s distress but can only be the instrument of it (for ex., by their being the carrier of a contagious virus)? For ex., some say that if a person isn’t wearing a face mask they are putting others at risk. I agree that such a person could potentially be an instrument of another’s karma by not wearing a mask. But even if they were wearing a mask, if the other party is destined to suffer, then they will do so in one form or another regardless. Simply some other player or force will be the agent.
    In other words, if indeed it is determined that not wearing a mask is an irresponsible or negligent act, wouldn’t that “wrong” choice only have consequences for the choice-maker & not for others? I agree that we each must care for our & our dependents’ health & safety responsibly; we may get negative karmic reactions if we’re negligent in this matter. But it seems unreasonable to propose that another person’s karma is at stake due to my choices. Only I will get a karmic reaction, not them, if I allow myself to be an agent for their suffering.
    Thus the ideas of “contagious” disease & determined karma seem to me to indicate that face masks may be worn for one’s own protection (from disease & from the karmic reaction for being negligent) but not for the protection of others, for they’ll get their due karma (good or bad) regardless of how others behave.
    Perhaps I’m wrong, but it seems that a thorough understanding of karma is necessary if the world at all wishes to know how to address problems such as a viral pandemic on a practical level.

    Ashish Dalela

    I hope you are keeping safe.

    Yes, you are correct. Our suffering is independent of what others do or not do. If we are ill, we can make sure that we don’t make others ill. But we cannot prevent others from getting ill.

    These contagions are called adidaivika forms of suffering. This is a broad category that includes floods, earthquakes, pestilence, and plagues. When adidaivika form of suffering arises, then many people suffer at the same time. But everyone’s suffering is determined by their own karma.

    Danakeli Dasi

    Yes, thank you, I have been very well. I hope the same for you & your family.
    And thank you for the reply. This pandemic event has revealed to me just how much persons professing to be Gaudiya Vaishnavas do not actually believe in or properly understand the system of karma. After decades of sadhana we thought we were ready for gopi-bhava when in actuality we haven’t even realized the ABCs of Bhagavad-gita. 🙁

    Ashish Dalela

    For the last few hundred years, Western society has implemented two types of separations: (1) the separation of church and state, and (2) the separation of mind and body. As a result, you get three domains of study (or ‘ontologies’ if you will) — the body studied by natural sciences, the mind studied by mind sciences, and society studied by social sciences. With this separation, religion falls within ‘mind sciences’. It is impossible to talk about ‘religious experience’ in social science or natural science. But it is possible in ‘mind sciences’; ESP, paranormal, etc. are valid subjects in psychology, for example.

    The result of this separation is that religious experience has no impact on the study of society and the body. People carry on social-economic-political discourse independent of religion, because society is separate from the mind, due to the separation of church and state. Likewise, they talk about religion independent of the natural sciences, because the mind is separate from the body, owing to the Cartesian mind-body divide and its use by the Church.

    In Vedic philosophy, there are indeed three domains. The sat is the domain of sambandha or relations and encompasses social science. The chit is the domain of the body and mind, but it is abhidheya or cognition and conation — perceiving and acting — and it constitutes natural science. The ananda is the domain of purpose, emotions, desires, and it constitutes the prayojana and most religions along with psychology fall into this.

    However, these three domains are also causally connected to each other. Sometimes, purpose leads to a relation, which then leads to knowledge and activity. Sometimes, relation creates a duty, causes knowledge and activity, and then produces a purpose. And sometimes, the activity and knowledge create a purpose, which then creates or modifies a relationship. The main point is that there are three different domains, but they are also causally connected.

    Aside from this causal connection, in which the causes precede the effects, in the case of the soul, the three aspects also exist simultaneously and therefore become complementary aspects. So, we can never have an experience without the combination of these three aspects.

    This complicates our understanding because there are (1) three things, (2) they cause each other, and (3) they exist simultaneously as complementary aspects. This is problematic because if there are three things, then they must be independent. If we say that they are causing each other, only one could be the cause of another, and each of the three could not cause each other. Finally, if they are causes and effects, then they must precede and follow each other, and cannot exist simultaneously. All these ideas about separation, causality, precedence, hamper our understanding of the soul. And they are deeply ingrained in Western society.

    Even spiritualists or devotees don’t know about the soul. They have some vague ideas about the ‘mind’ separate from the body and the society. Examples of such independence among the devotees are — (a) how you clothe the body has no impact on your spirituality, and (b) your following of social norms like equality, justice, etc. has no effect on your spirituality. These are simply byproducts of Western separations, but these are also false.

    The truth is subtle. We accept the separation of society, body, and mind, and as a result, we say that it is possible to have devotion in any society and in any body, because devotion is different from the social condition and the bodily existence. People interpret this according to their preexisting separation doctrines. The other facts, namely, that these are aspects of the same reality, and that they are mutually the cause of each other, are ignored.

    So, we need three ideas: (1) separation, (2) mutual causality, and (3) complementary co-existence. This is the theory of the soul. The problem is that because the word ‘soul’ has been coopted during translations, the preexisting notions of the soul have polluted our thinking. What you are referring to is due to the acceptance of (1) and the rejection of (2) and (3).

    I don’t think anyone is prepared to have such conversations today.

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 2 months ago by Ashish Dalela.

    If someone’s karma is to ignore health and ignore the dangers of stress to the body then they will have health problems. These health problems that one might have could come in various ways and severity.   Karma isn’t a cause and affect  as in if I wear a mask half the time I have a 50 percent chance of getting something, biology doesn’t work like that either.   Biologically speaking I can still get the COVID 19 regardless of my actions or inaction according to the biology information we have in the virus.

    Ashish Dalela

    If someone’s karma is to ignore health and ignore the dangers of stress to the body then they will have health problems

    I can understand from where you are coming at this, but I’m afraid it’s not entirely correct. There are two kinds of destinies, which are called guna and karma. Karma is what will happen you, and Guna is how you will respond to it. Karma is our nurture, and Guna is our nature.
    It is not our karma to ignore health. It is our guna. These natures are material, and are triggered by time. The soul has the free will to reject these automatically created reactions.

    Karma isn’t a cause and affect  as in if I wear a mask half the time I have a 50 percent chance of getting something

    Karma is an effect, but even if you wear mask 100% of the time, you will still get sick.

    Biologically speaking I can still get the COVID 19 regardless of my actions or inaction according to the biology information we have in the virus

    There are 6 trillion cells, 60 trillion bacteria, and 600 trillion viruses in our body. They are timebombs which can be activated at any time. That activation is karma.
    From what you have written, it seems that you equate karma with a destiny. It is not. It is only what will happen to you, not how you will respond to it.

    Vivek Amin

    Thank you for your responses.
    Usually, Karma is equated to destiny. The interesting piece that you bring about is the connection between “guna”, the response of an individual towards karma, that one one undergoes “good” or “bad”. Karma is something that cannot be changed. My understanding is the “guna” to a large extent will determine future Karmas. How does one regulate “guna” how does one know how to act/respond in a particular situation. At times, when you have a great opportunity to excel in something, but I see the “guna” is weak and your response to that opportunity may baffle someone. Please share your thoughts

    Ashish Dalela

    Karma is something that cannot be changed.

    Karma can be changed by devotion to the Lord. This is a special privilege. When this life is finished, and if we have become perfect devotees, then karma for the future lives will be destroyed. Also, karma gives suffering and enjoyment, but suffering and enjoyment can be useful or useless. Useless suffering means just going on suffering without a positive outcome. Useful suffering means getting purified of material desires. Like that, useless enjoyment is that which ends after some time, and then you have to endeavor again to obtain a new type of enjoyment or the same enjoyment again. Useful enjoyment is that which reveals the innate ability to enjoy. We don’t need external enjoyment. The enjoyment is also created internally. But that ability to enjoy internally is hidden from us right now. But if we enjoy by chanting the names of God, that is also enjoyment, and that enjoyment reveals the innate ability to produce enjoyment. So, that kind of enjoyment or sense-gratification is useful. So, enjoyment and suffering are not bad. There are useful and useless enjoyment and suffering. By serving the Lord, we might have some suffering, and that is useful suffering. And by serving the Lord, there is some enjoyment, and that is useful enjoyment. And by both useful suffering and enjoyment, karma is put to an end.

    My understanding is the “guna” to a large extent will determine future Karmas. How does one regulate “guna” how does one know how to act/respond in a particular situation.

    To regulate guna one must be free of guna. Just like to drive a car, you must be different from the car. The car cannot drive itself. Like that to control the body and mind, we have to realize that we are separate from the body and mind. Separate means, I am a soul and not this body. And this soul cannot be burnt by fire, drenched by water, dried by air, or cut by weapons. That is fearlessness. So, if we become detached, then we become fearless, and by these two things, we overcome tamo-guna and rajo-guna and we are placed in sattva-guna. That is a happy state. When we perform devotional activities under that sattva-guna then we realize God and who we are. “I am not the body” is a negative realization, and “I am a servant of the Lord” is a positive realization. To have that realization, we must know God, otherwise, we cannot be servants of some unknown entity. So, the first step is detachment, and from that comes fearlessness, then comes happiness, and then comes permanent happiness by the realization of the eternal nature of the soul and God.

    At times, when you have a great opportunity to excel in something, but I see the “guna” is weak and your response to that opportunity may baffle someone.

    You are only relying on your power. If we rely on God’s power, then He gives inspiration in the heart, and by that inspiration, we are energized automatically to do great things.

    Everything can be done in a great way. Just like you can sweep the floor perfectly. That perfection is greatness. It is not changing the world. It is making every small thing that we are doing perfectly. When we start doing small things perfectly, then we can do big things perfectly. So, greatness is available everywhere and always. It is not that we sometimes have opportunities for greatness. It is 100% available 100% of the time. These material ideas about great or not are not greatness.

    We are insignificant entities in the universe. What great can you do? So, greatness means perfection. Anybody can be great. The mundane idea of great is big. The correct idea of great is perfection. This is called mahattattva or the essence of greatness. Cleanliness is one of the essences of greatness. So, clean the floor perfectly, and that is greatness. Like that, truthfulness is another essence of greatness. Speak the truth and spread the knowledge of God, that is another greatness. Materialistic civilization teaches that greatness is bigness. So big car, big building, big bank balance, this is understood as “greatness”. But how big can you get by size? It is always insignificant. But if you can do perfection in every activity, then the whole essence of perfection is present in every small thing you have done. So, this is the correct type of greatness.

    Once we learn the art of perfection, then if we get an opportunity to do big things, we can also do that. That big is not more perfect, and the small is not less perfect. They are equally perfect. But if we know how to be perfect in small things, then we can also become perfect in big things.

    Vivek Amin

    Thank you for your satisfying response.
    How can one discover one’s core nature. We live in a world of competition and there is always this race to follow someone who is successful, in the process we mimic someone else nature, to be what we want to be. In the process one own “svabhava” is lost. My understanding is that, we can perform any activity with ease if it is done based on one’s core “svabhava”. Is there a process to discover one’s nature based on past “samskaras” ?

    Ashish Dalela

    There is no core nature. Knowledge can be acquired. Skills can be learned. And attitudes can be changed. You are referring to psychological determinism, and there is none. The only question is: What do we want to become? Do we want to become a monster? Or do we want to be divine? Monsters can become divine, and divine people can become monsters. It is called “choice”. It takes some time, but it is continuously happening. Mimicking is not a problem. The question is: Who are we mimicking? You are not realizing the dangerous position in which we all are at the present. This life is short, and it is obtained with difficulty. These mundane ideas about “find out who you are” in terms of material nature are useless. You have got millions of layers of personality acquired over many lifetimes. And while you discover these layers, more layers are being created. So, you can never find out what your true “svabhava” is because it is changing even as you discover it. And because it is changing, is not the real or eternal nature.

    The soul transmigrates from one body to another. In your previous life, you could have been a cow, a tiger, a dog, or a human. And based on what you do in this life, again next life also you can be any one of the millions of species. Do you want to go to a better life or a worse life? If everyone had some core nature, then why would they transmigrate from one body to another? The answer is that there is no core nature. Nature is constantly being created, leading to new bodies. The goal of life is to create that nature by which your next life is better than the present life.

    Everyone in this world has a bad past. Just like people in jail are there because they have done crimes. Few have been reformed and can look forward to a better life. Others are thinking about how to make prison life better, rather than how to get out of prison. So, they can analyze their past, and they will find that it is always bad. There is insecurity, jealousy, anger, lust, and egotism in various proportions. We are not specimens worth knowing. We have to become the specimens which are worth knowing, and that is the enterprise to which time is worth devoted.

    Radhananda Dasa

    Though it is true that one’s nature is constantly changing, Krishna created the varnas based on nature (guna), for gradual spiritual progress. Krishna twice mentions in Bhagavad Gita that it is better to act as per one’s own nature even if it is imperfectly executed as opposed to perfectly executing prescribed duties contract to one’s nature. Thus acting according to one’s varna leads to perfection, and in that regard it seems important the one finds out one’s varna and according to it. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura in his ‘Sri Caitanya-siksamrta’ mentions that one should find out one’s varna and according to it for gradual spiritual progress:
    “A person should do that work and follow those rules of varna which are most suitable to his nature. By honest judgment a person can determine the work and lifestyle most suitable to himself, and if he cannot do so, he should consult a competent authority. ”
    Bhakti-yoga entails all other yogas – dhyana yoga, jnanan yoga and karma-yoga. But if one doesn’t act as per one’s nature, there is no possibility of karma-yoga (yoga of based on prescribed duties as per nature). And there is no such thing as ugra-karma-yoga and vikarma-yoga. In this context isn’t it important to find one’s varna, as it doesn’t seem to be useless exercise, rather foundationally important for spiritual progress.

    Ashish Dalela

    Yes, Krishna created four Varna, and here are their prescriptions:

    1. Brahmana: knows Brahman, lives by alms, or donations for teaching
    2. Kshatriya: ready to lay down his life for the truth/right/good
    3. Vaisya: considers grains, rivers, jewels, minerals as the wealth of humanity
    4. Sudra: do whatever the top three classes tell him to do

    In this age, the first three classes don’t exist. The intellectuals are serving the businesses and government (the military-industrial complex) and teaching false ideas. The rulers preserve themselves and sacrifice truth, right, and good. The businessmen destroy natural wealth to create paper money. Only the fourth class exists, and it does what the other three tell them to do.

    The fact is that both employers and employees are engaged in ugra-karma and vikarma. I have a book on this topic: The Yellow Pill in case you are interested (I’m putting out a new revision in a few days, so wait, in case you haven’t read it). So, what we are doing in day-to-day life is not dharma, and even if we do it in a detached manner, it is not karma-yoga. Just getting to the point of four varnas, which are engaged in dharma, is an unfulfilled desire of Vaishnava Acharyas. Practically everyone is creating numerous sinful reactions just by doing their “jobs”.

    The guna and dharma of water are to be cold, and the guna and dharma of fire are to be hot. This is the deeper topic, but fire and water are not always hot and cold, but they act like that out of a sense of duty and responsibility. Sometimes fire doesn’t burn (as in the case of Prahalada). And sometimes the light is cool (as in the case of the Moon). So, acting according to guna doesn’t mean doing whatever is compatible with our nature. Guna is not understood, that’s why we are led to this conclusion. Guna includes dharma — acting out of a sense of responsibility or duty.

    Guna has three meanings. First, what we are capable of. Second, what we like doing. Third, what is our duty? When “nature” is used, it means what we are capable of, and what we like doing. And when dharma is used, guna is understood as a rope that binds us by responsibilities.

    Certainly, you cannot do what you are incapable of, so it can be said that one must act according to their guna. You can change what you like and dislike, so we may not always act according to guna to develop better guna. And one must never act irresponsibly, even according to guna. So, there is a spectrum — always act according to guna because that’s what you are capable of, sometimes don’t act according to guna to develop better qualities, and never act according to guna if that means creating sinful reactions. What remains after all three are applied is doing what we are capable of, even as we try to change the desire, without sinful reactions. This situation is also called one’s dharma,  but in the modern world, it is as rare as gems.

    If we universalize the idea that “one must act according to their nature” then what would be the argument against a killer who says: “I’m just acting out my true nature”? If one cannot act out one’s true nature, then obviously the interpretation of guna as one’s nature is faulty, and the claim that one must always act according to their true nature must also be faulty.

    Finally, my response was to the question: “We live in a world of competition and there is always this race to follow someone who is successful”, and how to be successful against this by acting out our true nature after discovering one’s true nature and/or “samskara” that give us a competitive advantage. This is so remote from any discussion of duty, truth, and liberation, that supporting the idea by citing verses would constitute an incorrect and out-of-context approval.

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