Karma means work, and work means reaction. It is similar to Newton’s Third Law – “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” The saying, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” has a basis in karmic understanding. If you abuse people and cause others to suffer, the same thing will eventually happen to you. Of course, karma is generally understood in terms of human behavior and our interaction with other people. However, this should be extended to the whole environment, and in particular to our animal friends. Selfish work produces a bad reaction.
Most people think karma is always bad, but the actual word karma means good results. When you study the laws of karma, you will find there are three types – karma, vikarma, and akarma – good reaction, bad reaction and no reaction. Karma means good work for your next life. For the yogi there is never just one life – we are here now in time and space, and have been countless times before, in this universe and others. The question is where will we go and in what state of consciousness will we be in the next life? This is reincarnation, or samsara. The thing called the ‘self’, is known in Sanskrit as the atma and it is the atma that travels from one body to the next, taking on the forms of various species according to one’s good or bad activities in life. The atma never ceases to exist, it has always been and always will be.
न त्वेवाहं जातु नासं न त्वं नेमे जनाधिपा: ।
न चैव न भविष्याम: सर्वे वयमत: परम् ॥
“There was never a time that you, nor I, nor all these warriors assembled here did not exist. Nor shall we cease to exist in the future.” (Bhagavad-gita 2.12)
Vikarma means bad results. ‘Kill and be killed’ is basically the law of vikarma. We are involved in so many things in this world that cause suffering to other beings, and this suffering eventually comes back to us. Eating meat necessitates the killing of animals. In Sanskrit, the word for meat is mamsa. This is a compound word (mam – I, and sa – he). The meaning is, “In this life I kill him, and in the next life he will kill me!” People are wondering why the world is the way it is. Why is there suffering? The problem of suffering is something that has troubled every philosopher and every religionist in the world from the beginning of history. India understood this problem thousands of years ago and understood that suffering is based upon the laws of karma. As long as people commit violence in order to feed themselves, particularly by the mass slaughter of animals, then there will be continued suffering of all types in this world – war, disease, terrorism, etc. Weapons of mass destruction, by some people, are considered to be the direct reaction of factories for the mass slaughter of animals. If we want peace in this world, then we have to reduce our violence towards the animal kingdom.
Work that is done in an ashrama doesn’t have a material reaction – that is called akarma, or work that produces no further material reaction to enjoy or suffer. Akarma is activities such as sadhana and devotional practices that situated you in transcendence. Akarma takes one to a higher plane, a transcendental dimension where there is no good or bad. Good and bad are simply dualities of the material world. Akarma elevates one’s consciousness and ultimately helps us to attain a life beyond matter. In yoga, this is called samadhi (perfection).
Once, one of my students asked me, “Can you see God?” I replied, “You mean that you can’t?” It is just a matter of perception. It is not that I look at the sky, the sun or the ocean and I see Krishna dancing with His flute. No – by an evolution of consciousness I understand the emanations of this universe and all beings in it come from that Supreme Spiritual Being. In that sense, yes – I can see God. For someone who does not have the training, the experience or the purification of consciousness, everything is very jaded.
From the Bhagavad-gita we learn that Krishna is the Supreme Conscious Being from which all other minute units of consciousness emanate. He is known as Yogeshvara, the Master of all yogis. He speaks the Bhagavad-gita to his student Arjuna and shows him that everything has a spiritual dimension – you just need the eyes to see it.
We think that the world is here for us to enjoy, but what will the next generation enjoy? There will not be anything left unless we curb our present spirit of enjoyment. If enjoyment is what the world is for, then why are we running out of so many necessities? In other words, philosophically, that cannot be the spirit of the world. The vision of the world should be that we are an organic spiritual whole, we are all interdependent, we are not here to enjoy, we are here for enlightenment. If we think like this, then exploitation of the elements of this world and nature is greatly reduced, and an atmosphere of peace and prosperity will prevail – that is Vaikuntha.