Understanding Karma

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    Sri Vasudeva Das

    Dear Rishiraj Prabhu,
    One complicated question regarding karma is that what happens to the instrument of the reactions.
    Lets say two people ‘A’ and ‘B’. If ‘A’ slapped ‘B’ and now ‘A’ is subject to punishment. Hypothetically lets say that to balance it out(usually it does work that way), ‘B’ gets chance to slap ‘A’.

    If ‘B’ does slap ‘A’, will ‘B’ get reaction for that?
    If yes, then isn’t Karma just binding everyone in the reactions, how does it help anyone?

    If no(especially when the reaction covers time phase of several lifetimes),then how do we understand the dharmic laws which say that to slap(violence) is sinful(in the absence of threat)?

    Ashish Dalela

    You can read this post Dharma vs. Law, to begin with. The basic principle of dharma is the most perfect action in a given context. The perfect may not be ideal. To understand this difference, read this: Is Contextualization of Eternal Principles Pragmatism? An example is that sometimes we must tell the truth although it is unkind. And sometimes we must tell a lie to show kindness. Both are not ideal but they are perfect in some situations. Due to this, dharma is extremely complex.

    What is ideal? The answer is God. He is ideal. Then, by removing some of God’s qualities, the world is created. Since God’s qualities are removed and separated in the material world, therefore, the world is called duality. An example of duality is the tradeoff between truthfulness and kindness. When such a tradeoff is created, then dharma is to minimize the duality. For example, even if you tell a truth in an unkind manner, tell the truth with the minimum amount of unkindness. Then, if you have to cheat to show kindness, show the kindness with the minimum amount of deceit.

    In all situations, try to act just like God would have acted, which means try to uphold the four principles of truthfulness, kindness, cleanliness, and sacrifice as much as possible, but no more than God will. For example, before the Mahabharata war, Lord Krishna took a peace proposal to Duryodhana under which Duryodhana will give five villages to Pandavas. This is sacrifice. Under this peace proposal, the Pandavas would sacrifice most of their kingdom, but not completely. They will still get five villages. Duryodhana rejected this peace proposal, and even tried to imprison Lord Krishna. At that point, Lord Krishna renounced peace which led to the Mahabharata war.

    SB 6.3.19 states: Real religious principles (dharma) are enacted by the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Although fully situated in the mode of goodness, even the great ṛṣis who occupy the topmost planets cannot ascertain the real religious principles, nor can the demigods or the leaders of Siddhaloka, to say nothing of the asuras, ordinary human beings, Vidyādharas and Cāraṇas.

    We cannot easily determine what is most perfect in a given situation. Therefore, we always remember the Lord and ask: How would He have acted? Of course, this requires us to know God’s nature, to begin with. If you know a person intimately, then you can tell how they would have acted in a given situation. Similarly, if we know God, then we can determine how He will act. When we act just like God, then we become godly, which means we are acting precisely like God will act. Hence, such a person is often called sākṣāt-hari, which means “the visible form of Hari”.

    This understanding of God is not mere faith in God; there is an objective principle of perfection and rationality is nothing other than maximizing that perfection. Irrationality is minimizing that perfection to create imperfection. Sometimes telling a lie is more perfect than telling the truth, because by it, other principles of perfection in God are upheld. Therefore, God has an inner logic by which He acts most perfectly. If we try to understand that logic, then in an objective sense we are studying perfection, and how it increases or decreases through our actions. However, in a subjective sense, we are studying God’s nature, which means how He maximizes perfection. These two produce the same outcome in different ways.

    In most modern religions, the principle of initimately understanding God and acting just like He would have acted, has been replaced by universalist laws. These laws are oversimplifications of the understanding of God, ignorance of the principle of attaining greater perfection, and therefore, often contrary to what God would do in a given situation. By such neglect and ignorance, they become adharma.

    By universal laws, we cannot figure out what to do in different situations, because violence and non-violence are appropriate in different situations. Therefore, the above verse says that even the great sages cannot determine the most perfect action. The devotees, however, can determine the perfect action because they know the meaning of ideal which is God. Then, they do the most ideal thing possible in a given situation, which is how God would have acted in the same situation. Therefore, slapping or not slapping is not a universal rule. It is based on understanding what God will do. That action is also objectively the most perfect action.

    There are many levels of perfection too. For example, the mental dharma is more important than bodily dharma. Due to this, a mother can punish a badly behaving child; by such punishment, the mental duty to correct the child is prioritized over the bodily duty to protect the child. Similarly, sanātana-dharma prioritizes spiritual well-being over material well-being. Using the least amount of pain that can correct someone’s spiritual faults is hence sanātana-dharma, although based on the aforementioned principles of dharma, such pain would be unwarranted.

    Hence, Lord Krishna says: Abandon all varieties of dharmas and simply surrender unto Me alone. I shall liberate you from all sinful reactions; do not fear. The abandoning of dharma refers to material dharma, and surrender to Krishna refers to sanātana-dharma. Dharma can be overridden by sanātana-dharma, because it is greater perfection. However, one cannot reject dharma whimsically–i.e., without performing sanātana-dharma. Due to the possiblity of overriding one duty by another, duty can never be decided by universal rules. Any religion that tries to create duty via universalist rules hasn’t even grasped the nature of the problem.

    This doesn’t mean duty is irrational or unknowable. The principle is: Attain greater perfection through your actions. Perform dharma as opposed to adharma. Then reject dharma if needed in preference for sanātana-dharma. When this principle of perfection is understood, then there is no karma, neither good nor bad.

    Sri Vasudeva Das

    Thank you very much I can appreciate now. You’ve changed the perspective of viewing this.

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