By Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya
Two of the most important principles of Dharma are the dual realities of karma and reincarnation. Both of these concepts are so mutually dependent upon one another that it is impossible to understand one of these concepts without understanding the other. More accurately, karma is the direct cause of reincarnation. Despite the fact that much has been written and stated about these dual principles in recent decades, there remain a great deal of misconceptions about how these two principles operate. In the following, we will examine karma and reincarnation from the Sanatana Dharma perspective.
The word "karma" is derived from the Sanskrit verb root "kr", meaning "to do, act, work, perform", etc. In this most general of senses, then, any action that we engage in is really "karma" - from reading this article, to strumming a guitar, to helping our fellow man. In Sanatana Dharma, it is recognized that there are three ways in which we can engage in action: a) in thoughts, b) in words, c) and in deeds. Where the concept of karma goes from being merely a neutral activity to being a metaphysical principle is precisely at the moment that our actions have specifically ethical content to them. In other words, when an action is then motivated by either a desire to harm another living being or to benefit another living being.
When we choose of our own free will to either harm or benefit another, at that moment we are in the process of making an ethical or moral decision. It is at this point that the impersonal and perfect law of nature known as karma, in the more common sense of this word, comes into play. As we engage in either ethical or unethical actions, we are doing two things: 1) we bring into motion the natural law that states that for every action there must be an equal and opposite reaction; thus necessitating a future result as a consequence for our present actions. If we perform positive ethical actions, then we will in the future experience meritoriously positive states of equal portion. If we perform negative, unethical deeds, then we have secured for ourselves future experiences that will be equally negative. 2) By choosing to perform actions that are either ethically positive or negative, we are choosing at the exact moment of such activities to create our own future states of being. We are choosing to mold our psycho-physical state, our mode of consciousness, our future course of action. The principle of karma teaches us that we have the power through our own free-will present decisions to literally create who and what we will be in the future. Thus, rather than being a doctrine that teaches the importance of "fate", "predestination", or a type of unalterable "destiny", the principle of karma actually teaches us the opposite: That we are radically free beings, with the ability at every given moment to choose to mold ourselves and our individual futures. Karma is thus a doctrine of radical freedom.
Karma is ultimately a theory of inherent cosmic balance. Both the physical laws of nature, and the underlying metaphysical laws on nature, known as Dharma, that form the more subtle basis of even physicality, each seek the return to balance in all states. This is the case, as well, when it comes to the more metaphysical concept of justice, and the attendant karma that serves as the enforcing mechanism of justice. It is no mistake that the symbol of justice in Western civilization to this very day is a blindfolded woman holding the scales of balance in her outstretched hand. Justice is balance. For every negative act, there must be a corresponding corrective and punitive measure. For every positive act, likewise, there needs to be a corresponding benevolent motion of reward. This is the nature of justice, and of the most powerful ensurer of justice, which is karma.
Karmic effects (karma-phala, or the "fruits of karma") can become manifest either in the same lifetime as the actor (karmi), or such effects might take many lifetimes to eventually manifest. Understanding the operative procedures of this karmic mechanism, we can see how karma serves as the very engine for reincarnation, and how reincarnation can only become operative and properly understood through the workings of karma. If I am meant to either suffer the consequences or enjoy the rewards of my present activities in 1,000 years, then that necessitates future births. In this sense, then, both good and bad karma have always been equally considered something to avoid, since both forms of karma force us to have future lives bound to material illusion.
The only way to understand the mechanics and the meaning of reincarnation is to understand the fundamentally distinct natures of body (deha) and spirit (atman). The body is inherently temporary, imperfect, bound by space and time. The soul, on the other hand, is eternal, perfect in its essence, and transcends both space and time. We are soul. We are atman, and our relationship to our bodies has been compared to the relationship between the person and his clothes. While we will temporarily wear a coat, for example, and while others may even be able to identify us because we're wearing our specific coat, we are not the coat. Being different from us, when our coat eventually becomes old are worn out, we throw away our old coat and put on a new one, yet we are not affected by this change. In the Bhagavad Gita, reincarnation is described as being a similar process: "As a person puts on new garments, giving up the old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones" (BG 2:22). Our bodies are temporary and multiple, but our soul is eternal and constitutes perfect self-identity.
The goal of life, according to Sanatana Dharma, is to put an eventual end to the perpetual cycle (samsara) of births and deaths that form the process of reincarnation, along with the accompanying suffering that we experience as a result of our egoic attachment to the results of our activities, and to eventually transcend this cycle altogether through spiritual liberation (moksha).
In the ecstatic state of radical existential freedom known as moksha, we are no longer in illusion; therefore we do not act out of false ego; therefore we no longer produce karma; therefore we no longer need to reincarnate in a series of material forms designed as vehicles through which we can meet our ultimate spiritual purpose. At liberation, material form has served its purpose, and can be left behind as we joyfully commence our final journey toward our blissful and eternal spiritual Source.
About the Author
Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya (Dr. Frank Morales, Ph.D.) is universally acclaimed as one of the world's most respected and qualified Dharma teachers and Hindu spiritual leaders alive today. He personifies what it means to be a true and authentic guru.
Dr. Deepak Chopra has exclaimed in 2002: "You've done truly phenomenal work teaching the pure essence of Yoga". In a similar manner, Dr. David Frawley has said about Sri Acharyaji, "Dr. Frank Morales represents the Sankalpa [the will] of the Hindu people and the cause of Sanatana Dharma. I urge all Hindus everywhere to give him your full support, assistance, and encouragement in his crucial work. He needs and deserves our help."
Sri Acharyaji began his personal spiritual journey over 35 years ago at the tender age of ten when he read the Bhagavad Gita for the very first time. He coupled his decades of intense spiritual practice and study with advanced academic achievements, earning a B.A. in philosophy/theology from Loyola University Chicago, as well as an M.A. and Ph.D. in religious studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
He has lectured on Dharma at dozens of top universities, such as Harvard, Columbia, Rutgers, Cornell, and Northwestern. He has also served as a consultant for such Fortune 500 companies as Ford Motor Corporation and Lucent Technology.
Explaining to his doctoral advisor that "I don't want to just study the history of religion…I want to make religious history", Sri Acharyaji eventually left academia to devote himself exclusively to spiritual teaching and to the preservation of the great tradition of Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism).
Today, Sri Acharyaji occupies his full time teaching Dharma spirituality to diverse audiences. In addition to leading classes, satsanghas, seminars and lecturing on Sanatana Dharma widely, Sri Acharyaji is a renowned author, as well as a personal spiritual guide (guru) to a rapidly increasing following of enthusiastic students from both the Indian and the non-Indian communities.
Sri Acharyaji was the Resident Acharya (Spiritual Preceptor) of the Hindu Temple of Nebraska (2007 - 2009), which represents the first time in American history that a Hindu temple has ever made such an esteemed appointment. He is the Founder-President of the International Sanatana Dharma Society, a global movement dedicated to teaching Dharma in its most authentic form.
Sri Acharyaji is the real thing: an enlightened guru with the ability to deliver the highest wisdom and spiritual liberation to his sincere students.
Sri Acharyaji's teachings stress the achievement of enlightenment through the practice of meditation, Yoga, and directly experiencing the presence of the Divine. Another overarching aspect of Sri Acharyaji's teachings focuses on the importance of love, compassion and service toward all living beings.
Whether speaking to an audience of thousands, or having a heart-felt discussion with only one person, Sri Acharyaji vividly conveys a deeply moving sense of compassion, peace, humility, and spiritual insight that has endeared him to thousands of students and admirers throughout the world.
Some of his books include:
"Sanatana Dharma: The Eternal Natural Way"
"Living Dharma: The Teachings of Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya"
"Radical Universalism: Does Hinduism Teach that All Religions are the Same?"
"Taking Refuge in Dharma: The Initiation Guidebook"
"The Vedic Way of Knowing God"
"The Shakti Principle: Encountering the Feminine Power of God"
"The Art of Wisdom: Affirmations for Boundless Living"
His latest book Sanatana Dharma: The Eternal Natural Way, is scheduled for publication in 2011.
For more information on following the life-transforming path of Sanatana Dharma, please visit his website:
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