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Reflections on karmā: nature and functions

The question of karmā, both from eschatological and philosophical perspectives, as well as from psychological and sociological viewpoints, has a series of implications. The concept of "karmā" is polysemous: it needs to be studied from different semantic perspectives.
First and foremost, karmā is not a punishment: in the texts of the sources, both in Vedic revelation and tradition, as in the Bhagavad-Gītā, also known as Gitopaniṣad, Śrī Kṛṣṇa does not present himself as an angry, resentful, touchy, and vindictive God who hurls karmā upon us.
Instead, he is portrayed as the most loving being, the best friend, the Beloved of the heart of all those who practice Dharma for the benefit of all creatures.
Karmā is the mathematical remuneration of every action of ours. Action here doesn't just mean physical movements of objects; it includes actions in a broader sense, such as words, thoughts, reflections and desires. Various terms like "kriyā-yoga," preliminary actions of yoga, and "Kṛta-Yuga," also known as Satya-Yuga or the era of truth and perfection, are derived from the verbal root of the noun karmā, "kṛ" (see Ṣaḍ-darśana, Karmā mīmāṁsā, also known as Pūrva-mīmāṁsā, the Ancient Vedānta).

Beneficial and Malefic Karma

Karmā does not only mean "doing evil" but also "doing good": there is, therefore, favorable karmā, which brings good to both the doer and the receiver. At the same time, even benevolent actions produce karmā, that is, remunerations. On the path of spiritual realization, sometimes we experience difficulty and suffering; sometimes, with regret, we lose dear companions on the
Even purification experiences, as well as contamination experiences, are part of karmā: actions of endurance, resistance, kindness, and tolerance (titikṣu) or all their opposites. The type of karmā that we might define as "beneficial" brings great good to the person who performs it and to the one who receives it. However, this kind of good is not desirable because it compels us to be reborn to reap the fruits, that is, to receive the remuneration of the good done, which comes back to us in full. Even if we do not want it, even if we run away and hide, goodness finds us and leaps upon us, leaving us with no escape. This, however, activates the dynamic by which we are reborn and remain prisoners of the cycle of birth and death known as "saṁsāra." This does not mean that, out of fear that goodness will leap upon us as the reward for our actions, we should avoid doing good. Not at all! Doing good is our earthly duty.

Naiṣkarmya and the Path of Bhakti

To break free from what might appear at first glance as an endless cycle of death and rebirth, there is an action called "naiṣkarmya" or "free from karmā": it allows liberation from saṁsāra for those who, acting with dedication and devotion, offer the fruits of their actions to God (BG. XVIII.65-66).

When we act with the attitude of offering to the Lord, we perform the action not for our selfish benefit, to enjoy it or to expect the reward for the good deeds done but to satisfy the Lord. Therefore, we do not desire to collect the fruits of our actions; instead, we are fully satisfied with the action itself, without any ulterior motives. There is indeed an infallible way to perform actions free from karmā, described in the path of bhakti (bhakti-Yoga), the highest and most elevated yoga system described by Kṛṣṇa in the Bhagavad-gītā in chapters XII and XVIII. Karmā can be performed in the mode of ugra-karmā: terrible, dreadful actions that arise from the performance of cruel acts. The consequences are severe and cause intense suffering to both those who undergo them and, as a result, to those who commit them.> In another sense, sukṛti-karmā refers to virtuous, favorable, sattvic actions - derived from the Sanskrit verbal root "sat," from which many names are generated, such as truth, holiness, and supreme health - which enable the production and collection of good. Lastly, there is a third sense of karmā: the "non-karmā" we have previously described as the importance of acting according to naiṣkarmya, an action free from karmā, to avoid the risk of being reborn to reap the fruits of both favorable and unfavorable actions. Naiṣkarmya, as highlighted, consists of offering with a spirit of love and service the fruit of our actions to Bhagavān Śrī Kṛṣṇa.

The Soul of souls, God of love, grace and mercy does not impose the limit of just one life for spiritual realization on anyone. He knows well that human beings are very fragile and burdened by heavy karmic debts from time immemorial. For this reason, Kṛṣṇa offers those who cannot attain perfection in just one life the opportunity for a second, a third, a fourth and countless incarnations until the pilgrim, purified from all impurities, reaches the perfection of existence, the pure and authentic version of themselves:

brahma-bhūtaḥ prasannātmā
na śocati na kāṅkṣati
samaḥ sarveṣu bhūteṣu
mad-bhaktiṁ labhate parām
(BG. XVIII.54)

At that point, you can fall in love with Me," says Kṛṣṇa.

Krishna does not desire to surround Himself with slaves, nor the company of those who feel obligated to be with Him. Krishna lets go of those who wish to distance themselves from Him. To live with Krishna, one must be in love. It is only Love that keeps us in the presence of Krishna.

Karma is not a punishment but the loving care of God, the Supreme Friend, Antaryāmī, who resides in our hearts and accompanies us throughout our migration across various worlds and different species of life, until we arrive at the appropriate sentiment to leave behind the mortal dimension. The planet where we currently reside in Puranic literature is called mṛtyu-loka, the planet of death. It is not our eternal abode. We are here solely to learn essential existential lessons that deeply concern us; thus, this world is crucial for our evolution. It is a gift from Krishna, a representation of His, which provides us with the opportunity to evolve and ultimately liberate ourselves from all conditioning (Bhagavad-gītā XV.15):

sarvasya cāhaṁ hṛdi sanniviṣṭo
mattaḥ smṛtir jñānam apohanaṁ
ca vedaiś ca sarvair aham eva vedyo
vedānta-kṛd veda-vid eva cāham

"I am seated in everyone's heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness."

Therefore, karma is not a curse to defend against. If we understand its meaning well and perfect our awareness through practice, it becomes a precious tool to liberate ourselves from the cycle of death and rebirth (mokṣa).

Marco Ferrini (Matsya Avatār Dās)

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