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Karma & Destiny

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The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi

From The Mahabharata
Karma (1)  What the fruits are of good deed

From The Mahabharata
Karma (2) 
There was no other cause by which this child came
by its death. It was killed as a result of its own Karma.

From The Mahabharata
Karma (3)
Destiny is all-powerful and it is difficult to
evade the consequence of our past actions.
Evil Karma may be expiated in various ways.
The commandment that people should not do harm to any
creature was ordained of old by men, who were ignorant of
the true facts of the case. For, O Brahmana, there is not
a man on the face of this earth, who is free from the sin of
doing injury to creatures.
Why does the spirit take its birth, and why
does its nativity become sinful or virtuous?

Karma and Destiny
From The Bhagavad Gita

Translations by Swami Shivananda
The Divine Life Society, Rishikesh

As the blazing fire reduces fuel to ashes, O Arjuna,
so does the fire of knowledge reduce all actions to ashes.
-Gita, Ch.4, Verse 37.

Verily, there is no purifier in this world like knowledge.
-Gita, Ch.4, Verse 38.

Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer in sacrifice, whatever you give, whatever you practice as austerity, O Arjuna, do it as an offering unto Me.
-Gita, Ch.9, Verse 27.

Thus shall you be freed from the bonds of actions yielding good and evil fruits; with the mind steadfast in the Yoga of renunciation, and liberated, you shall come unto Me.
-Gita, Ch. 9, Verse 28.

The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi

Karma and Destiny

Sri Ramana Maharshi
Edited by David Godman

By David Godman

The theory of Karma is common to many oriental religions. In its most popular form it states that there is a universal accounting system in which each individual must experience the consequences of all his actions (Karmas); good actions bring good results and bad actions inevitably result in suffering to the one who does them. The theory also states that the consequences of actions (also known as Karmas) need not necessarily be experienced in the present life, they can be carried over into future lives. Because of this, several sub-divisions of Karma have been postulated. The following classification, which was used by Sri Ramana Maharshi, is common to many Hindu schools of thought.

  1. Sanchita Karma. The store of Karmic debts accumulated from previous births.
  2. Prarabdha Karma. That part of one’s Sanchita Karma which must be worked out in the present life. Because the law of Karma implies determinism in human activities, Prarabdha is often translated as destiny.
  3. Agami Karma. New Karma accumulated in the present lifetime which is carried forward into future lives.

Sri Ramana Maharshi accepted the validity of the laws of Karma but said that they were only applicable as long as a person imagined that he was separate from the Self. At this level (the level of the ajnani or the ignorant), he said that individuals will pass through a series of pre-ordained activities and experiences, all of which are the consequences of previous acts and thoughts. He occasionally even said that every act and experience in a person’s life is determined at birth and that the only freedom one has is to realise that there is no one acting and no one experiencing. However, once one realises the Self there is no one left to experience the consequences of actions and so the whole structure of Karmic laws then becomes redundant.

Sri Ramana regarded the law of Karma as a manifestation of God’s will. He said that prior to Self-realisation there is a personal God, Iswara, who controls each person’s destiny. It is Iswara who has ordained that everyone must suffer the consequences of his actions and it is Iswara who selects the sequences of activities that each person must undergo in each lifetime. One cannot escape from Iswara’s jurisdiction while one still identifies with the activities of the body. The only way to become free of his authority is to transcend Karma completely by realising the Self.

Question: Is it posssible to overcome, even while the body exists, the Prarabdha Karma which is said to last till the end of the body?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Yes. If the agent, upon whom the Karma depends, namely the ego, which has come into existence between the body and the Self, merges in its source and loses its form, how can the Karma, which depends upon it, survive? When there is no ‘I’ there is no Karma.

Question: It is said that Prarabdha Karma is only a small fraction of the Karma accumulated from previous lives. Is this true?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: A man might have performed many Karmas in his previous births. A few of these alone will be chosen for this birth and he will have to enjoy their fruits in this birth. It is something like a slide show where the projectionist picks a few slides to be exhibited at a performance; the remaining slides being reserved for another performance. All this Karma can be destroyed by acquiring knowledge of the Self. The different Karmas are the slides, Karmas being the result of past experiences, and the mind is the projector. The projector must be destroyed so that there will be no further reflection and no further births and no deaths.

Question: Who is the projectionist? What is the mechanism, which selects a small portion of the Sanchita Karma and then decides that it shall be experienced as Prarabdha Karma?

Sri Ramana Mahrshi: Individuals have to suffer their Karmas but Iswara manages to make the best of their Karmas for his purpose. God manipulates the fruits of Karma but he does not add or take away from it. The subconscious of man is a warehouse of good and bad Karma. Iswara chooses from this warehouse what he sees will best suit the spiritual evolution at the time of each man, whether pleasant or painful. Thus there is nothing arbitrary.

Question: In ‘Upadesa Saram', you say that Karma bears fruit by the ordinance of God (Karta). Does this mean that we reap the consequences of Karma solely because God wills it?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: In this verse Karta (God) means Iswara. He is the one who distributes the fruits of actions to each person according to his Karma. That means that he is the manifest Brahman. The real Brahman is unmanifest and without motion. It is only the manifest Brahman that is named as Iswara. He gives the fruit to each person according to his actions (Karma). That means that Iswara is only an agent and that he gives wages according to the labour done. That is all. Without this Sakti (power) of Iswara, this Karma would not take place. That is why Karma is said to be on its own, inert.

[Note: Iswara: For explanations about Iswara, the manifest Brahman and the unmanifest real Brahman, see Page ‘Nature of Reality’]

Questioner: The present experiences are the result of past Karma. If we know the mistakes committed before, we can rectify them.

Sri Ramana Maharshi: If one mistake is rectified there yet remains the whole Sanchita Karma from former births which is going to give you innumerable births. So that is not the procedure. The more you prune a plant, the more vigorously it grows. The more you rectify your Karma, the more it accumulates. Find the root of Karma and cut it off.

Question: Does the Karma theory mean that the world is the result of action and reaction? If so, action and reaction of what?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Until realisation there will be Karma, that is action and reaction. After realisation there will be no Karma and no world.

Question: If I am not the body why am I responsible for the consequences of my good and bad actions?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: If you are not the body and do not have the idea ‘I am the doer’, the consequences of your good or bad actions will not affect you. Why do you say about the actions the body performs ‘I do this’ or ‘I did that’? As long as you identify yourself with the body like that you are affected by the consequences of the actions, that is to say, while you identify with the body you accumulate good and bad Karma.

Questioner: But since I am not the body I am not really responsible for the consequences of good or bad actions.

Sri Ramana Maharshi: If you are not, why do you bother about the question?

Questioner: In some places it is stated that human effort is the source of all strength and that it can even transcend Karma. In others it is said that it is all divine grace. It is not clear which of them is correct.

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Yes, some schools of philosophy say that there is no God other than Karma of the previous birth, that is Karma done in the present birth in accordance with the scriptures is known as Purushkara (human effort), that the previous and present Karmas meet for a head-on fight like rams and that the one that is weaker gets eliminated. That is why these people say that one should strengthen Purushkara. If you ask such people what the origin of Karma is, they say that such a question is not to be raised as it is like the eternal question, ‘Which is earlier, the seed or the tree?’

Debates such as this are mere arguments, which can never arrive at the final truth. That is why I say first find out who you are. If one asks, ‘Who am I? How did I get this Dosha (fault) of life?’, the ‘I’ will subside and one will realise the Self. If one does this properly the idea of Dosha will be eliminated and peace will be obtained. Why even obtained? The Self remains as it is.

The essence of Karma is to know the truth of oneself by enquiring ‘Who am I, the doer, who begins to do Karmas?’ Unless the doer of Karmas, the ego, is annihilated through enquiry, the perfect peace of supreme bliss, which is the result of Karma Yoga, cannot be achieved.

Question: Can people wipe out the consequences of their bad actions by doing Mantras or Japa (repeating God’s name) or will they necessarily have to experience them?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: If the feeling ‘I am doing Japa’ is not there, the bad actions committed by a man will not stick to him. If the feeling ‘I am doing the Japa’ is there, the consequences of bad actions will persist.

Question: Does the Punya (merit accumulated from virtuous acts) extinguish Papa (demerit accumulated from sinful acts)?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: So long as the feeling ‘I am doing’ is there, one must experience the result of one’s acts, whether they are good or bad. How is it possible to wipe out one act with another? When the feeling that ‘I am doing’ is lost, nothing affects a man. Unless one realises the Self, the feeling ‘I am doing’ will never vanish. For one who realises the Self where is the need for Japa? Where is the need for Tapas (austerity)? Owing to the force of Prarabdha life goes on, but he who has realised the Self does not wish for anything.

Prarabdha Karma is of three categories, Ichha, Anichha and Parechha (personally desired, without desire and due to others' desire). For the one who has realised the Self, there is no Ichha-Prarabdha but the two others, Anichha and Parechha, remain. Whatever a Jnani (Self-realised) does is for others only. If there are things to be done by him for others, he does them but the results do not affect him. Whatever be the actions that such people do, there is no Punya and no Papa attached to them. But they do only what is proper according to the accepted standard of the world – nothing else.

Those who know that what is to be experienced by them in this life is only what is already destined in their Prarabdha will never feel perturbed about what is to be experienced. Know that all one’s experiences will be thrust upon one whether one wills them or not.

Question: The realised man has no further Karma. He is not bound by his Karma. Why should he still remain within his body?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Who asks this question? Is it the realised man or the Ajnani (ignorant)? Why should you bother what the Jnani (Self-realised) does or why he does anything? Look after yourself. You are now under the impression you are the body and so you think that the Jnani also has a body. Does the Jnani say he has a body? He may look to you as if he has a body and he may appear to be doing things with the body, as others do, but he himself knows that he is bodiless. The burnt rope still looks like a rope, but it can’t serve as a rope if you try to bind anything with it. A Jnani is like that – he may look like other people, but this is only an outer appearance. So long as one identifies oneself with the body, all this is difficult to understand.

That is why it is sometimes said in reply to such questions, ‘The body of the Jnani will continue till the force of Prarabdha works itself out, and after the Prarabdha is exhausted it will drop off’. An illustration made use of in this connection is that of an arrow already discharged which will continue to advance and strike its target. But the truth is the Jnani has transcended all Karmas, including the Prarabdha Karma, and he is not bound by the body or its Karmas.

Not even an iota of Prarabdha exists for those who uninterruptedly attend to space of consciousness, which always shines as ‘I am’, which is not confined in the vast physical space, and which pervades everywhere without limitations. Such alone is the meaning of the ancient saying, ‘There is no fate for those who reach or experience the heavens’.

Question: If a thing comes to me without any planning or working for it and I enjoy it, will there be no bad consequences from it?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: It is not so. Every act must have its consequences. If anything comes your way by reason of Prarabdha, you can’t help it. If you take what comes, without any special attachment, and without any desire for more of it or for a repetition of it, it will not harm you by leading to further births. On the other hand, if you enjoy it with great attachment and naturally desire for more of it, it is bound to lead to more and more births.

Question: According to the astrological science, predictions are made about coming events taking into account the influence of the stars. Is that true?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: So long as you have the feeling of egotism all that is true. When the egotism is destroyed, even if they appear to see they do not really see.

Destiny is the result of past action. It concerns the body. Let the body act as may suit it. Why are you concerned with it? Why do you pay attention to it? Should anything happen, it happens as the result of one’s past actions, of divine will and of other factors.

Question: The present is said to be due to past Karma. Can we transcend the past Karma by our free will now?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: See what the present is. If you do this you will understand what is affected by or has a past or a future, what is ever-present and always free and what remains unaffected by the past or future or by any past Karma.

Question: Is there such a thing as free will?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Whose will is it? So long as there is the sense of doership, there is the sense of enjoyment and of individual will. But if this sense is lost through the practice of Vichara (self-enquiry), the divine will will act and guide the course of events. Fate is overcome by Jnana, Self-knowledge, which is beyond will and fate.

Question: I can understand that the outstanding events in a man’s life, such as his country, nationality, family, career or profession, marriage, death, etc., are all predestined by his Karma, but can it be that all the details of his life, down to the minutest, have already been determined? Now, for instance, I put this fan that is in my hand down on the floor here. Can it be that it was already decided that on such and such a day, at such and such an hour, I should move the fan like this and put it down here?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Certainly. Whatever this body is to do and whatever experiences it is to pass through was already decided when it came into existence.

Question: What becomes then of man’s freedom and responsibility for his actions?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: The only freedom man has is to strive for and acquire the Jnana (knowledge) which will enable him not to identify himself with the body. The body will go through the actions rendered inevitable by Prarabdha and a man is free either to identify himself with the body and be attached to the fruits of its actions or to be detached from it and be a mere witness of its activities.

Question: So free will is a myth?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Free will holds the field in association with individuality. As long as individuality lasts there is free will. All the scriptures are based on this fact and they advise directing the free will in the right channel.

Find out to whom free will or destiny matters. Find out where they come from, and abide in their source. If you do this, both of them are transcended. That is the only purpose of discussing these questions. To whom do these questions arise? Find out and be at peace.

Question: If what is destined to happen will happen, is there any use in prayer or effort or should we just remain idle?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: There are only two ways to conquer destiny or be independent of it. One is to enquire for whom is this destiny and discover that only the ego is bound by destiny and not the Self, and that the ego is non-existent. The other way is to kill the ego by completely surrendering to the Lord, by realising one’s helplessness and saying all the time, ‘Not I but Thou, O Lord’, giving up all sense of "I" and ‘mine’ and leaving it to the Lord to do what He likes with you. Surrender can never be regarded as complete so long as the devotee wants this or that from the Lord. True surrender is love of God for the sake of love and nothing else, not even for the sake of liberation. In other words, complete effacement of the ego is necessary to conquer destiny, whether you achieve this effacement through self-enquiry or through Bhakti Marga (path of devotion).

From The Bhagavad Gita
Translations by Swami Shivananda
The Divine Life Society, Rishikesh

The Lord takes neither the demerit nor even the merit of any; knowledge is enveloped by ignorance, thereby beings are deluded.
-Gita, Ch.5, Verse 15.

But to those whose ignorance is destroyed by the
knowledge of the Self, like the sun, knowledge reveals the Supreme (Brahman).
-Gita, Ch.5, Verse 16.

Neither agency nor actions does the Lord create
for the world, nor union with the fruits of actions.
But it is Nature that acts.
-Gita, Ch.5, Verse 14.

Karma   (1)

The Mahabharata
Anusasana Parva, Section VII
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Yudhishthira said:

O the best of Bharata’s race and the foremost of great men, I wish to know what the fruits are of good deed. Do thou enlighten me on this point.

Bhishma said: I shall tell thee what thou hast asked. Do thou, O Yudhishthira, listen to this which constitutes the secret knowledge of the Rishis. Listen to me as I explain what the ends, long coveted, are which are attained by men after death. Whatever actions are performed by particular corporeal beings, the fruits thereof are reaped by the doers while endued with similar corporeal bodies; for example, the fruits of actions done with mind are enjoyed at the time of dreams, and those of actions performed physically are enjoyed in the working state physically. In whatever states creatures perform good or evil deeds, they reap the fruits thereof in similar states of succeeding lives. No act done with the aid of the five organs of sensual perception, is ever lost. The five sensual organs and the immortal soul which is the sixth, remain its witnesses.

That man who is able to renounce that intense yearning of the heart for happiness and material enjoyments,- a yearning that is difficult of conquest by the foolish and that does not abate with the abatement of bodily vigour and that clings like a fatal disease unto him,- is able to secure happiness. As the young calf is able to recognise its dam from among a thousand cows, so does the previous acts of a man pursue him (in all his different transformations). As the flower and fruits of a tree unurged by visible influences, never miss their proper season, so does Karma done in a previous existence bring about its fruits in proper time. With age, man’s hair grows grey, his teeth become loose; his eyes and ears too become dim in action; but the only thing that does not abate is his desire for enjoyments. Prajapati is pleased with those acts that please one’s father, and the Earth is pleased with those acts that please one’s mother, and Brahma is adored with those acts that please one’s preceptor. Virtue is honoured by him who honours these three. The acts of those that despise these three do not avail them.

One should devote one’s eye to the service of the guest and should devote one’s heart on the same; one should utter words that are agreeable; one should also follow and worship (one’s guest). This is called Panchadakshin Sacrifice, (the sacrifice with five gifts). He who offers good food to the unknown and weary travellers fatigued by a long journey, attains to great merit. Those that use the sacrificial platform as their only bed obtain commodious mansions and beds (in subsequent births). Those that wear only rags and barks of trees for dress, obtain good apparel and ornaments in next birth. One possessed of penances and having his soul on Yoga, get vehicles and riding animals (as the fruit of their renunciation in this life). The monarch that lies down by the side of the sacrificial fire, attains to vigour and valour. The man, who renounces the enjoyment of all delicacies, attains to prosperity, and he that abstains from animal food, obtains children and cattle.

He who lies down with his head downward, or who lives in water, or who lives secluded and alone in the practice of Brahmacharya (see Page ‘Celibacy’ or ‘Brahmacharya’), attains to all the desired ends. He who offers shelter to a guest and welcomes him with water to wash his feet as also with food, light and bed, attains to the merits of the sacrifice with the five gifts. He who lays himself down on a warrior’s bed on a battlefield in the posture of a warrior, goes to those eternal regions where all the objects of desire are fulfilled. A man. O king, attains to riches that makes charitable gifts. One secures obedience to one’s command by the vow of silence, all the enjoyments of life by practice of austerities, long life by Brahmacharya, and beauty, prosperity and freedom from diseases by abstaining from injury to others. Sovereignty falls to the lot of those that subsist on fruits and roots only. Residence in heaven is attained by those that live on only leaves of trees. A man, O king, is said to obtain happiness, by abstention from food. By confining one’s diet to herbs alone, one becomes possessed of cows. By living on grass one attains to the celestial regions. By foregoing all intercourse with one’s wife and making ablutions three times during the day and by inhaling the air only for purposes of subsistence, one obtains the merit of a sacrifice.

Heaven is attained by the practice of truth, nobility of birth by sacrifices. The Brahmana of pure practices that subsists on water only, and performs the Agnihotra (Sacred Fire Ceremony), and recites the Gayatri (Mantra), obtains a kingdom. By abstaining food or by regulating it, one attains to residence in heaven. O king, by abstaining from all but the prescribed diet while engaged in sacrifices, and by making pilgrimage for twelve years, one attains to a place better than the abodes reserved for heroes. By reading all the Vedas, one is instantly liberated from misery, and by practising virtue in thought, one attains to the heavenly regions.

Vaisampayana said: the prince of Kuru’s race became filled with wonder upon listening to this speech of Bhishma. All of them became pleased in mind and overpowered with joy. As Mantras applied with a desire to win victory, or the performance of the Shoma sacrifice made without proper gifts, or oblations poured on the fire without proper hymns, become useless and lead to evil consequences, even so sin and evil results flow from falsehood in speech. O prince, I have thus related to thee this doctrine of the fruition of good and evil acts, as narrated by the Rishis of old.


Karma (2)

From The Mahabharata
Anusasana Parva
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli
Part 1, section I

Kala (Time) said: Neither Mrityu (Death), nor this serpent, nor I, O fowler, am guilty of the death of any creature. We are merely the immediate exciting causes of the event. O Arjunaka, the Karma of this child formed the exciting cause of our action in this matter. There was no other cause by which this child came by its death. It was killed as a result of its own Karma. It has met with death as the result of its Karma in the past. Its Karma has been the cause of its destruction. We all are subject to the influence of our respective Karma. Karma is an aid to salvation even as sons are, and Karma also is an indicator of virtue and vice in man. We urge one another even as acts urge one another. As men make from a lump of clay whatever they wish to make, even so do men attain to various results determined by Karma. As light and shadow are related to each other, so are men related to Karma through their own actions. Therefore, neither art thou, nor am I, nor Mrityu (Death), nor the serpent, nor this old Brahmana lady, is the cause of this child’s death. He himself is the cause here.p

Upon Kala (Time), O king, expounding the matter in this way, Gautami, convinced in her mind that men suffer according to their actions, spoke thus to Arjunaka.

Gautami said: Neither Kala, nor Mrityu, nor the serpent, is the cause in this matter. This child has met with death as the result of its own Karma. I too so acted (in the past) that my son has died (as its consequence).

Bhishma said: Then Kala and Mrityu and the serpent went back to their respective destinations, and Gautami became consoled in mind as also the fowler. Men attain to heaven or hell as the result of their own Karma.

Karma (3)

From The Mahabharata,
Vana Parva, Sections CCVII & CCVIII
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Destiny is all-powerful and it is difficult to evade
the consequence of our past actions.

Addressing King Yudhishthira:

Markendeya continued: The pious fowler said to that Brahmana (Brahmin), ‘Undoubtedly my deeds are very cruel, but, O Brahmana, Destiny is all-powerful and it is difficult to evade the consequence of our past actions. And this is the Karmic evil arising out of sin committed in a former life. But, O Brahmana, I am always assiduous in eradicating the evil. The Deity takes away life, the executioner acts only as a secondary agent and we, O good Brahmana, are only such agents in regard to our Karma. Those animals that are slain by me and whose meat I sell, also acquire Karma; because (with their meat), gods and guests and servants are regaled with dainty food and the manes are propitiated. It is said authoritatively that herbs and vegetables, deer, birds and wild animals constitute the food of all creatures. And, O Brahmana, king Sivi, the son of Usinara, of great forbearance attained to heaven, which is hard to reach, giving away his own flesh.

And in the matter of animal food, this rule has been laid down by Munis (sages): ‘Whoever partakes of animal food after having first offered it duly and respectfully to the gods and the Manes (ancestors), is not polluted by the act. And such a man is not at all considered to have partaken of animal food, even, as a Brahmachari (celibate) having intercourse with his wife during the menstrual period, is nevertheless considered to be a good Brahmana. After consideration of the propriety and impropriety of the matter, this rule has been laid down’.

Evil Karma may be expiated in various ways.

And, O good Brahmana, knowing this to be the consequence of my own actions, I obtain my livelihood from this profession. The forsaking of one’s own occupation is considered, O Brahmana, to be a sin, and the act of sticking to one’s own profession is without doubt a meritorious act. The Karma of a former existence never forsakes any creature. And in determining the various consequences of one’s Karma, this rule was not lost sight of by the Creator. A person having his being under the influence of evil Karma, must always consider how he can atone for his Karma, and extricate himself from an evil doom, and the evil Karma may be expiated in various ways. Accordingly, O good Brahmana, I am charitable, truthful, assiduous in attending on my superior, full of respect towards regenerate Brahmanas, devoted to and free from pride and (idle) excessive talk.

The commandment that people should not do harm to any creature was ordained of old by men, who were ignorant of the true facts of the case. For, O Brahmana, there is not a man on the face of this earth, who is free from the sin of doing injury to creatures.

Agriculture is considered to be a praiseworthy occupation, but it is well known that even there, great harm is done to animal life; and in the operation of digging the earth with the plough, numberless creatures lurking in the ground as also various other forms of animal life are destroyed. Do you not think so? O good Brahmana, Vrihi and other seeds of rice are all living organisms. What is your opinion on this matter? Men, O Brahmana, hunt wild animals and kill them and partake of their meat; they also cut up trees and herbs; but O Brahmana, there are numberless organisms in trees, in fruits, as also in water; do you not think so? This whole creation, O Brahmana, is full of animal life, sustaining itself with food derived from living organisms. Do you not mark that fish preys upon fish, and that various species of animals prey upon other species, and there are species the members of which prey upon each other?

Men, O Brahamana, while walking about here and there, kill numberless creatures lurking in the ground by trampling on them, and even men of wisdom and enlightenment destroy animal life in various ways, even while sleeping or reposing themselves. What have you to say to this? The earth and the air all swarm with living organisms, which are unconsciously destroyed by men from mere ignorance. Is not this so? The commandment that people should not do harm to any creature was ordained of old by men, who were ignorant of the true facts of the case. For, O Brahmana, there is not a man on the face of this earth, who is free from the sin of doing injury to creatures. After full consideration, the conclusion is irresistible that there is not a single man who is free from the sin of doing injury to animal life.

Even the sage, O good Brahmana, whose vow is to do harm to no creature, does inflict injury to animal life. Only, on account of greater heedfulness, the harm is less. Men of noble birth and great qualities perpetrate wicked acts in defiance of all, of which they are not at all ashamed. Good men acting in an exemplary way are not commended by other good men; nor are bad men acting in a contrary way praised by their wicked compeers; and friends are not agreeable to friends, albeit endowed with high qualities; and foolish pedantic men cry down the virtues of their preceptors. This reversal of the natural order of things, O good Brahmana, is seen everywhere in this world. What is your opinion as to the virtuousness or otherwise of this state of things? There is much that can be said of the goodness or badness of our actions. But whoever is addicted to his own proper occupation surely acquires great reputation.

Markendeya Continued: O Yudhishthira, the virtuous fowler, eminent in pity, then skillfully addressed himself again to that foremost of Brahmanas, saying:

It is the dictum of the aged that the ways of righteousness are subtle, diverse and infinite. When life is at stake and in the matter of marriage, it is proper to tell an untruth. Untruth sometimes leads to the triumph of truth, and the latter dwindles into untruth. Whatever conduces most to the good of all creatures is considered to be truth. Virtue is thus perverted; mark you its subtle ways. O best of virtuous men, man’s actions are either good or bad, and he undoubtedly reaps their fruits. The ignorant man having attained to an abject state grossly abuses the gods, not knowing that it is the consequence of his own evil Karma. The foolish, the designing and the fickle, O good Brahmana, always attain the very reverse of happiness or misery. Neither learning nor good morals, nor personal exertion can save them. And if the fruits of our exertion were not dependent on anything else, people would attain the object of their desire, by simply striving to attain it.

It is seen that able, intelligent and diligent persons are baffled in their efforts, and do not attain the fruits of their actions. On the other hand, persons who are always active in injuring others and in practising deception on the world, lead a happy life. There are some that attain prosperity without any exertion. And there are others, who with the utmost exertion are unable to achieve their dues. Miserly persons with the object of having sons born to them worship the gods, and practise severe austerities, and those sons having remained in the womb for ten months at length turn out to be very infamous issue of their race; and others begotten under the same auspices, decently pass their lives in luxury with heaps of riches and grain accumulated by their ancestors.

The diseases, from which men suffer, are undoubtedly the result of their own Karma. They then behave like small deer at the hand of hunters and they are racked with mental troubles. And, O Brahmana, as hunters intercept the flight of their game, the progress of those diseases is checked by able and skillful physicians with their collection of drugs. And, the best of the cherishers of religion, you have observed that those who have it in their power to enjoy (the good things of this earth), are prevented from doing so from the fact of their suffering from chronic bowel complaints, and that many others that are strong and powerful, suffer from misery, and are enabled with great difficulty to obtain a livelihood; and that every man is thus helpless, overcome by misery and illusion, and again and again tossed and overpowered by the powerful current of his own actions (Karma). If there were absolute freedom of action, no creature would die, none would be subject to decay, or await his evil doom, and everybody would attain the object of his desire. All persons desire to out distance their neighbours (in the race of life), and they strive to do so to the utmost of their power; but the result turns out otherwise.

Many are persons born under the influence of the same star and the same auspices of good luck; but a great diversity is observable in the maturity of their actions. No person, O good Brahmana, can be the dispenser of his own lot. The actions done in the previous existence are seen to fructify in our present life. It is the immemorial tradition that the soul is eternal and everlasting, but the corporeal frame of all creatures is subject to destruction here. When therefore life is extinguished, the body only is destroyed, but the spirit, wedded to its actions, travels elsewhere.

The Brahmana replied: O best of those versed in the doctrine of Karma, and in the delivery of discourses, I long to know accurately how the soul becomes eternal.

The fowler replied: The spirit dies not, there being simply a change of tenement. They are mistaken, who foolishly say that all creatures die. The soul betakes itself to another frame, and its change of habitation is called its death. In the world of men, no man reaps the consequences of other man’s Karma. Whatever one does, he is sure to reap the consequences thereof; for the consequences of the Karma that is once done, can never be obviated. The virtuous become endowed with great virtues, and sinful men become the perpetrators of wicked deeds. Men’s actions follow them; and influenced by these, they are born again.

Why does the spirit take its birth, and why
does its nativity become sinful or virtuous?

The Brahmana enquired: Why does the spirit take its birth, and why does its nativity become sinful or virtuous, and how, O good man, does it come to belong to a sinful or virtuous race?

The fowler replied: This mystery seems to belong to the subject of procreation, but I shall briefly describe to you, O good Brahmana, how the spirit is born again with its accumulated load of Karma, the righteous in a virtuous, and the wicked in a sinful nativity. By the performance of virtuous actions it attains to the state of the gods, and by a combination of good and evil, it acquires the human state; by indulgence in sensuality and similar demoralising practices it is born in the lower species of animals, and by sinful acts, it goes to the infernal regions. Afflicted with the miseries of birth and dotage, man is fated to rot here below from the evil consequences of his own actions.

Passing through thousands of births as also the infernal regions, our spirits wander about, secured by the fetters of their own Karma. Animate beings become miserable in the next world on account of these actions done by themselves and from the reaction of those miseries, they assume lower births and then they accumulate a new series of actions, and they consequently suffer misery over again, like sickly men partaking of unwholesome food; and although they are thus afflicted, they consider themselves to be happy and at ease and consequently their fetters are not loosened and new Karma arises; and suffering from diverse miseries they turn about in this world like a wheel. If casting off their fetters they purify themselves by their actions and practise austerities and religious meditations, then, O best of Brahmanas, they attain to Elysian regions by these numerous acts and by casting off their fetters and by the purification of Karma, men attain those blissful regions where misery is unknown to those who go there.

The sinful man, who is addicted to vices, never comes to the end of his course of iniquities. Therefore must we strive to do what is virtuous and forbear from doing what is unrighteous. Whoever with a heart full of gratefulness and free from malice strives to do what is good, attains wealth, virtue, happiness and heaven (hereafter). Those who are purified of sins, wise, forbearing, constant in righteousness, and self-restrained enjoy continuous felicity in this as well in the next world. Man must follow the standard of virtue of the good and in his acts imitate the example of the righteous. There are virtuous men, versed in holy writ and learned in all departments of knowledge. Man's proper duty consists in following his own proper avocation and this being the case these latter do not become confused and mixed up.

The wise man delights in virtue and lives by righteousness. And. O good Brahmana, such a man with the wealth of righteousness, which he hereby acquires, waters the root of the plant in which he finds most virtue. The virtuous man acts thus and his mind is calmed. He is pleased with his friends in this world and he also attains happiness hereafter. Virtuous people, O good man, acquire dominion over all and the pleasure of beauty, flavour, sound and touch according to their desire. These are known to be the rewards of virtue. But the man of enlightened vision, O great Brahmana, is not satisfied with reaping the fruits of righteousness. Not content with that, he with the light of spiritual wisdom that is in him, becomes indifferent to pain and pleasure and the vice of the world influences him not. Of his own free will he becomes indifferent to worldly pursuits but he forsakes not virtue. Observing that everything worldly is evanescent, he tries to renounce everything and counting on more chance he devices means for the attainment of salvation. Thus does he renounce the pursuits of the world, shuns the ways of sin, becomes virtuous and at last attains salvation. Spiritual wisdom is the prime requisite of men of salvation, resignation and forbearance are its roots. By this means he attains all the objects of his desire. But subduing the senses and by means of truthfulness and forbearance, he attains, O good Brahmana, the supreme asylum of Brahman (God).



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