Karma is the universal principle of cause and effect. Our actions, both good and bad, come back to us in the future, helping us to learn from life’s lessons and become better people. In religions that include reincarnation, karma extends through one’s present life and all past and future lives as well. Karma is basically energy. One person throws out energy through thoughts, words and actions, and it comes back, in time, through other people. Karma is the best teacher, forcing people to face the consequences of their actions and thus improve and refine their behavior, or suffer if they do not. Even harsh karma, when faced in wisdom, can be the greatest spark for spiritual growth. The conquest of karma lies in intelligent action and unemotional response.

The concept of cyclical patterns is very prominent in Indian religions. The wheel of life represents an endless cycle of birth, life, and death from which one seeks liberation. In Tantric Buddhism, a wheel of time concept known as the Kalachakra expresses the idea of an endless cycle of existence and knowledge. However it is to be noted that the cycle of life in Buddhism does not involve a soul passing from one body to another, but the karma of the deceased being carrying on to another being born. To get rid of this cycle the person should get rid of its karma through the attainment of enlightenment.

Hindus look at time as a circle, as things cycle around again. Karma is a very just law which, like gravity, treats everyone the same. The law of karma puts man at the center of responsibility for everything he does and everything that is done to him. Understanding the way karma works, Hindus try to live a virtuous life. This is called dharma.

There are three types of karma in Hinduism: sanchita karma, the sum total of past karmas yet to be resolved; prarabdha karma, that portion of sanchita karma that is to be experienced in this life; and kriyamana karma, the karma that humans are currently creating, which will bear fruit in future. As long as a stock of Sanchita karma lasts, a part of it continues to be taken out as Prarabdha karma for being experienced in one lifetime, leading to the cycle of birth and death. A jiva (living being) cannot attain moksha (release from the cycle of reincarnation) until the accumulated sanchita karmas are completely exhausted.

Karma is considered one of the natural laws of the mind, just as gravity is a law of matter. Just as God created gravity to bring order to the physical world, He created karma as a divine system of justice that is self-governing and infinitely fair. It automatically creates the appropriate future experience in response to the current action. Several different views exist in Hinduism regarding the role of divine beings. Many see the deities or devas as playing a role, but other Hindus, such as the Mimamsakas, reject such notions and see karma as acting independently.

It is said in Bhagavad Gita, a classic Hindu text, that only karma done with a sense of doership and with attachment to the karma could cause good or bad reactions. Karma that is done with an attitude of duty and without attachment to the results will not create any effect and will move one closer to God. The context of the Gita is a conversation between Lord Krishna (an avatar of God) and the Pandava prince Arjuna taking place in the middle of the battlefield before the start of the Kurukshetra War with armies on both sides ready to battle. Responding to Arjuna’s confusion and moral dilemma about fighting his own cousins who command a tyranny imposed on a disputed empire, Lord Krishna explains to Arjuna his duties as a warrior and prince.

Many Western cultures have notions similar to karma, as demonstrated in the phrase ‘what goes around comes around.’ The concepts of ‘reaping what you sow’ from Galatians, ‘violence begets violence,’ and ‘live by the sword, die by the sword’ are Christian expressions similar to karma. Some observers have compared the action of karma to Western notions of sin and judgment by God or gods, while others understand karma as an inherent principle of the universe without the intervention of any supernatural being. In Hinduism, God does play a role and is seen as a dispenser of karma. The non-interventionist view is that of Buddhism and Jainism. The secular Western view is that of a deterministic universe.

Since the 20th century emergence of emotional intelligence as a novel paradigm for viewing human experience, karma has become a sectarian term which umbrellas the entire collection (both conscious and subconscious) of human emotionality. This modern view of karma, devoid of any spiritual exigencies, obviates the need for an acceptance of reincarnation in Judeochristian societies and attempts to portray karma as a universal psychological phenomenon which behaves predictably, like other physical forces such as gravity. Bhuddist monk Sakyong Mipham eloquently summed this up when he said, ‘Like gravity, karma is so basic we often don’t even notice it.’ This view of karma, as a universal and personally impacting emotional constant, correlates with Buddhist and Jungian understanding that volition (or libido, created from personal and cultural biases) is the primary instigator of karma. Any conscious thought, word and/or action, arising from a cognitively unresolved emotion (cognitive dissonance), results in karma.

Jung once opined on unresolved emotions and the synchronicity of karma, ‘When an inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside as fate.’ Popular methods for negating cognitive dissonance include meditation, metacognition, counselling, psychoanalysis, etc., whose aim is to enhance emotional self-awareness and thus avoid negative karma. This results in better emotional hygiene and reduced karmic impacts. Permanent neuronal changes within the amygdala and left prefrontal cortex of the human brain attributed to long-term meditation and metacognition techniques have been proven scientifically. This process of emotional maturation aspires to a goal of Individuation or self-actualization. Such peak experience are hypothetically devoid of any karma (nirvana). As Bengali polymath Rabindranath Tagore explained about the heat of human emotions, ‘Nirvana is not the blowing out of the candle. It is the extinguishing of the flame because day is come.’

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