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Every action has a reaction
The word karma is derived from the Sanskrit root 'kri,' meaning 'to do,' implying that all action is karma. Technically, the term incorporates both an action and its consequence. Thus Garuda's karma consisted of the act of carrying away the bird and also its consequent snatching by the cruel hands of destiny.
Hence, a deed, pure in its content, led to an apparently unfavourable outcome. Through this subtle tale, we are made to confront a dilemma which constantly recurs in our own lives, namely, the relative impurity and purity of an action. Is an action to be deemed positive or negative solely on the basis of the result it generates? Or, is there some other criterion? Indeed there is.
What determines the nature of the karma is the will or intention behind an act. As is mentioned in the Buddhist text Anguttara Nikaya, published by the Pali Text Society, "It is will (chetana), that I call karma; having willed, one acts through body, speech or mind."
Indeed, an action is right or wrong as the motive is right or wrong:
"One who acts with the best of intentions, does not get the sin of the outward consequence of his action." (Yoga Sikha). For example, a doctor is not responsible for murder, if the operation
"Even if a man does not succeed, he gets all the merit of doing his duty, if he strives the utmost to his capacity." (Mahabharata: Udyoga Parva 93.6)
"Some undertakings succeed and others fail. That is due to the divine order of things. If a man does his part of the work, no sin touches him." (Mahabharata: Santi Parva 24.30)
It is the psychological impulse behind an action that is 'karma,' that which sets going a chain of causes culminating in karmic fruits. Actions then must be intentional if they are to generate karmic fruits. This Buddhist belief is slightly at variance from that of the Jains, and for the Buddhists, accidentally treading on an insect does not have such an effect as the latter believe.
Thinking of doing some bad action is a bad karma, however, especially when one gives energy to such a thought, rather than just letting it pass. Deliberately putting down such a thought down is a good karma. In the same vein regretting a past bad action, and resolving not to do it again lessens its karmic result as it reduces the psychological impetus behind the act.
One of the most significant instructional references to karma comes from the Bhagavad Gita, which says:
"You have the right only to work, but not to the fruits thereof." (2.47)
Significant here is the fact that we are entitled only to act, and have 'no right' over the ensuing results. This profound assertion is not mere discourse, but rather loaded with sound practical advice, which can act as a sensible strategy for whatever we set out to achieve. This is because the outcome of any enterprise is not solely dependent on our individual efforts but is bound to numerous other factors over which we may or may not have influence. Thus why worry over something on which we do not have control? Also, detaching ourselves from the burden of anxiety over the impending result frees us from mental stress, and enables us to devote ourselves with calm concentration to the matter at hand.
Mill has very forcibly pointed out that the best way of getting happiness is to forget it: "The conscious ability to do without happiness gives the best prospect of realizing such happiness as is attainable."
Body & Self