kurvann eveha karmani
jijivisec chatam samah
evam tvayi nanyatheto ‘sti
na karma lipyate nare
TRANSLATION by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
One may aspire to live for hundreds of years if he continuously goes on working in that way, for that sort of work will not bind him to the law of karma. There is no alternative to this way for man.
Lecture by Patita Pavana das (V. Ruzov), the disciple of H.H. Indradyumna Swami
Getting Free from the Influence of Karma
One can read hundreds of treatises on diagnostics of karma and volumes of other esoteric literature, but it is only on the pages of “Sri Isopanisad” that one can gain an understanding of how to become completely free from its influence. These are not just philosophical musings – this is a life-and-death issue. In fact, it’s the only issue deserving attention in this world. What is death? Am I dying? What will be after death? These are all different facets of one and the same problem. If we stick to the opinion that this world is chaos, we are children of chaos and our task is to increase chaos. If this world is harmony, we are children of harmony and our task is to restore and maintain harmony. A simple daily life experience leads us to conclude that the idea of harmony is yet still closer to our hearts. Even in our homes, we try to maintain at least some kind of order. We try not to scatter rubbish around the room – somehow we try to throw it into the dustbin.
In this regard, it should be noted that every action towards establishing harmony within oneself and in the outside world is a step on the path of development, so one should never miss an opportunity to make it. All the while that we are not disturbed by inner or outer disharmony we don’t just fail to make headway – we’re running along the downward path. Suppose you notice a chair that looks misplaced in your room. By placing it properly right away, you move a step closer to understanding happiness and truth.
It’s a sign of intelligence when one pays attention to details and is attentive to little things. Stupidity is when one focuses on big projects and great accomplishments, thinks and talks about lofty matters but brings trouble to everyone around when it comes to small deeds. One may dream of great accomplishments but be totally unbalanced, harmful and even dangerous for others in some little things. A really intelligent person is highly moral in little details and little things. Such a person behaves equally in the presence of others and when alone. In former times, people didn’t even lock the doors of their houses. You could always come to visit someone, and he/she would never be ashamed to show up because he would always remain highly cultural. For a person of high culture, it doesn’t matter whether he/she is in the public eye or stays by himself/herself. He/she is always cultural. It’s another thing altogether when one needs a few hours to tidy oneself up, for example, before he/she can finally make an appearance.
A right-minded person always pays attention to little details and little things. Our lives consist of little things. Our consciousness and happiness are also made up of small deeds. Therefore, we should be particularly careful in them. Yes, we can make a little step, but it will be a step forward. Back to our example, if we are sitting around looking at the chair that is misplaced, without bothering about its proper placement — all this while we are getting farther and farther from the cherished goal, that of happiness and truth.
Thus, a right-minded person can’t stand disharmony. A man achieves this understanding through philosophy and logic, a woman comes to it through intuition – she simply can’t stand it when something is ugly or unbeautiful. And death is the most unbeautiful? Why? Because it lays bare the truth of life. The truth is that as long as we aim at material achievements, time and old age will destroy everything.
No one living on this planet wants to die; therefore, anti-ageing rejuvenation and prolongation of life are the most popular research subjects. The idea of eternal life continues to attract new researchers and followers, although no tangible results have been achieved so far. The desire to live forever is inherent not only in separate individuals, but in all social structures, whether that be love, friendship, a social organization or a nation. Sometimes, to save itself, one nation begins to destroy other nations. It’s the same as to set neighbors’ houses on fire when your own house is ablaze, instead of putting the blaze out. The same weird thing. Modern humans have learnt to make explosives even out of peanuts. As far back as many years ago it was noticed that any serious scientific study results in making a bomb.
The struggle for life is quite natural. By our constitutional position, we are eternal souls, but when we get into the three-dimensional reality of the material world, we are faced with a problem here. Everything in this material world perishes at one time or another. Anything, whether this be an atom, a table, a chair, a human body, a project – is subject to perish in due course of time. This is a condition of existence in this cross-section of reality. It reminds of a long-distance relay. In a relay, there’s a start, acceleration, tiredness and finish line. Then, there different types of relays: sack racing relays, jumping relays, crawling, obstacle leaping, swimming relays. In a material life, one also has either to swim in a body of a fish or fly in a body of a bird, or to crawl in a body of a snake, or to jump in a body of a hair… This is relay for dear life, and in Sanskrit, it is called samsara, the repeating cycle of birth and death. It represents a peculiar feature of our three-dimensional space.
We got so much used to this crazy lifestyle that we even take delight in it. Hardly anyone remembers that the first ever eau de cologne was invented as a protective measure against plague. Now we use it for sheer enjoyment. We don’t seem to worry about the problem of birth and death, don’t want to talk about it, although this is the main question to be solved by humans. The cycle of rebirth can be stopped, moreover, it’s the main task standing before human consciousness. All the great thinkers of mankind spoke out on the problem of death. Whatever serious treatise we may take, we can see at least part of it is dedicated to this topic – why everything perishes, what can be done with that, how to get free. And we can make the first steps towards solving the problem of birth and death by stopping to be the cause of death to others. If we stop causing death to children of mother nature, she will change her attitude to us. This is what makes a healthy way of life: ahimsa, or causing minimal harm to all living beings.
In this world, everything causes addiction. Addiction is a universal problem; we don’t even realize how deeply our consciousness is submerged into this state. We can’t imagine our lives without TV, electricity, a spoon, a table, a vacuum cleaner etc. One becomes addicted to tea quicker than to heroin. We can lose an ordinary box of matches and look for it in anger for several days, suffering from real cravings. And what if our homes are left without power for two days running? And yet, we got quite accustomed to this nightmare of our life and can’t imagine ourselves outside it.
33 new products daily appear on the market; 20 of them are new versions of old items, usually less qualitative ones than their predecessors, and 13 other items are playthings. We simply don’t want to grow up. One reaches adulthood when one becomes able to talk and hear about life and death. If we prefer to get off the subject, our consciousness has stopped at the level of a five-year-old child. We have turned this world into a large sandpit, we play store, play house, although the children are born for real…
This process is otherwise called karma-bandhana, bondage by one’s own work. One has to work for one’s livelihood because that is the law of material nature, but if one falls back on unlawful methods, inflicting pain and suffering on other living entities, one will have to meet with one’s deserts. Mother nature doesn’t like it when children fight one another, and she definitely doesn’t like it when one of them is ready to kill a younger brother for food, even if he/she is very small and can’t talk. Animals are our younger brothers and sisters: for their cruel slaughter comes equal punishment. Otherwise, why does one suffer from illnesses, even though one leads a seemingly good, honorable life?
On Mondays the number of back injuries increases by 25% and that of heart attacks by 33%. This points to the fact that one is not really happy at work and regards it as no more than just a survival technique in a war against competitors for a warm place in the sun. By the way, the world’s second most traded commodity is coffee. People drink tons of coffee, not knowing how to cope with stress and hectic pace of modern life. Coffee comes in second place after oil, which is the most actively traded commodity. That’s just how we live: oil for iron horses and coffee for ourselves.
As long as one uses violence against his/her close ones, one won’t be able to break free from this relay of life and death. One fine day a person is fed up with all that and decides to get out of this rat race. Generally, this can be done at any time of one’s own free will. The escape is called ahimsa, or a strong desire not to be or any trouble to anyone, and even more so, not to abuse anyone. By making such a decision, one immediately stops racing around our present dimension and begins to transition into a different dimension. This transition is called shanti: one feels lasting peace and contentment. In our present dimension, there’s no peace. There’s constant anxiety. But as soon as one refrains from causing any harm to others, one stops running round, and it immediately makes him/her happy.
Time has come for us to pause and think about what we are doing. Our way of living causes the earth to shake. Every single minute two earthquakes occur. We consider ourselves the masters of the planet, but over the last 4,000 years humans haven’t domesticated any new wild animal species. What is more, we lost our families, ruined our countries, learnt to differentiate between nations and religious denominations. We became more ill-natured and aggressive. It can’t go on this way, or else we may turn into monkeys again, or someone even worse than that. If we look closer into the matter, we humans are the guests on this planet of insects. Out of 50 mln insect species only 1 mln has been described by scientists. And yet, we search for aliens on the moon, although we’re not quite in the picture about what happens on the planet where we live now…
At the present time it is widely thought that in youth, one feels happier than in old age. However, the study carried out by researchers from the University of Michigan has shown that the opposite is true. Authors of the study have found that young people have a problem apprehending future happiness and therefore, try to exhaust all pleasures in life while they are still young. This is also the reason why they smoke, drink alcohol, take drugs and have uncontrolled sexual behavior.
However, one feels greater happiness when one has accomplished something, which becomes a reality in more senior years. One can become really effective, capable of giving good advice. This makes him/her wise, needed and thus, happy. People respect such a person and listen out to him/her. These successes minimize the negative effects of old age, such as deterioration of health. In fact, one may not even notice old age when one is much-needed by others.
How to Achieve Your Desired Goals
In Vedic treatises, achievement of a stated objective is called yoga. We often associate it with asanas, but asanas are only a tiny part of the whole theory of yoga, while its primary purpose is effective goal achievement. Yoga advises us to focus on the present moment, focus on reality to understand what we are doing and how, what we pursue in our present actions.
If we focus on the future, thinking only of the result, it’s possible that in the present we may fall back on dirty methods for its attainment. This is a very dangerous idea. It found its expression in the principle “the ends justify the means”, however, such suspicious methods of attaining happiness can easily become a cause of suffering not only for an executor of an action but for everyone who cooperates with him/her in some way or another.
What does this trap remind you of? Indeed, a new-fangled concept of visualization. It’s very much like meditation and is aimed at expanding one’s intuitive abilities. But do we know all the side effects? Let’s get all this straightened out.
Adverse Effects of Visualization
Visualization theory says that one should picture oneself as vividly as possible as having already achieved one’s goal. The longer one can keep an image of victory in one’s mind, the closer and more attainable it becomes. It seems that everything is simple and clear. But it invites some questions. We want to change our lives, to change our karma, to change ourselves, but if we engage in visualization, it means that we are interested in the result, not the process. How shall we change then? What do we need these results for? What is the purpose of obstacles that come our way? Indeed, any plans we conceive are the plans of how to overcome obstacles. Obstacles arise along the way to inspire us to change ourselves for the better. Hence, everything points to the fact that visualization is a mere attempt to thwart fate, to apply pressure to get what you want without changing yourself. We want to obtain the looked-for results without changing our character traits. It’s the same as the desire to consume goods without paying for them. But everything has its price — we should work to attain our goals. But we don’t want to work – we want to cheat. I hate to offend anyone but visualization is nothing else than a very subtle, hidden form of deceit.
Let’s take a look back into history. Visualization mental training originated in sports sphere where one strives to increase one’s physical capacities (although, they are not so easily increased; there’s a limit to everything; it is only one tenth or one hundredth of a second that makes a difference). A sportsman, for instance, tries to focus attention further above the bar, for the brain to send out enough impulses for the body to get over the bar. A sportsman works out like that all life long, and thanks to this mental technique improves performance by 1 or 2%. So if we want to get a pay raise of 2%, visualization method will work for us, but if we want a 300% salary hike, it is ill-suited for solving this problem.
What is more, in social spheres of development, such as love, friendship, team relationships, — not only doesn’t visualization give the desired result, but may even be counterproductive. The goals are viewed separately from the means necessary for their achievement. One rejoices before a goal is attained, and it distracts him/her from the process of its attainment. One stops working hard, working on oneself, making efforts. One hasn’t even embarked on the path to success but thinks he/she has already achieved it. More often than not, one ends up living in his/her own illusory world, as he/she completely gives up any further efforts to solve his/her problems.
A worthwhile visualization experiment was set up by American scientists. They experimented with groups of students. Group 1: students were asked to spend a few moments each day visualizing with a clear image how great it would feel to make a high grade on an important mid-term exam that would take place in a few days time. Group 2: students were asked to spend a few minutes each day thinking when, where, and how they intended to study. Group 3: control group of students not asked to visualize doing especially well on the exams. Students visualizing being A students (Group 1), studied less and made lower grades on the exam. They felt better about themselves but achieved less. Students giving thought to studying, prepared better, studied more, scored higher grades, and were less stressed.
This is exactly what yoga says: one should focus on the process, not the result. Focusing on results is always a little faulty. Why? It’s because things never work out the way we intend them to. One thinks if he/she buys a bicycle, he/she will have a lot of fun, but has to spend time pumping up the tires or fixing the chain that keeps falling off. One breaks legs and arms. One thinks marrying a certain person will make him/her happy but spends his/her whole life fighting with a partner over whose turn it is to wash the dishes.
Our plans are not obligated to materialize like we want them to, and thus, we’ll never be able to get the level of pleasant sensations we hoped to get during visualization.
A right-minded person should realize that the result also depends on his/her karma and ultimately, the Absolute Truth. Therefore, it’s quite enough to remember the goal and continue on the path towards it, but what one should focus on are the character qualities needed for its achievement. Why so? It’s because changing our consciousness for the better is within the objectives to be achieved. Even if nothing is working out and the goal doesn’t seem to be getting any closer, if we remain patient, don’t lose temper, don’t work off anger on those around us, we may be said to have practically reached the goal because development of patience is one of the primary tasks standing before us. Any obstacles in our path serve the purpose of helping us to develop patience. This is the main quality of a person on the path of advancement. Without it, we won’t be able to progress on the spiritual path rapidly enough and for long.
All Things Are Topsy-Turned
It’s an open secret that we ourselves are the aliens who require careful examination. Can a master born in his own home behave the way we behave? Will he spoil air, water, pollute the soil or destroy relationships with kith and kin? It is obvious that we act like guests here who don’t want to take responsibility for their actions. Imagine that your child invited all his classmates to a house party. So our planet also looks like a wreck after the party with aliens, although, strange to say, aliens are we ourselves…
What should we understand to get out of this vicious circle? The laws of karma, of course. Only in a human form of life is it possible to study, understand and apply this knowledge to life. We all have a chance to get free from the chains of karma. We only think we are free – we were born in the shackles, the shackles of karma. It’s time to break free! We are strong! Strength is measured based not on the amount of weight lifted, but on the nearness to the Absolute Truth. The closer one is to understanding the Truth, the stronger one is. Karma, akarma and vikarma are described in the Bhagavat-gita treatise.
Actions that are performed in terms of one’s prescribed duties, healthy living, honesty, carefulness, faithfulness and cleanliness are called karma. Actions that free one from the cycle of birth and death and enable one to enter the other reality are called akarma. And actions that are performed through the misuse of one’s freedom and that direct one to the lower life forms are called vikarma, or sinful actions. These include violence, stealing, dishonesty, uncleanliness, gambling and debauchery.
It’s hard to escape an interesting conclusion: no matter whether one behaves well or badly, it doesn’t make any conceptual difference. The core problem of material existence remains unsolved because one only changes his/her position in this reality, but doesn’t go beyond its limits. Both for a good and a bad person access to a different dimension is closed. It’s just that a bad person gets on ill and a good person gets on well in this world, but they both have to undergo old age, disease, death and rebirth.
Therefore, of the three types of action (karma, akarma, vikarma) an intelligent person prefers that which frees one from the bondage to karma. Ordinary people wish to perform good work in order to be recognized and achieve some higher status of life in this world, to earn more, to get ill less frequently and less severely etc. But more advanced people want to be free altogether from the actions and reactions of work. Intelligent people know well that both good and bad work equally bind one to the material miseries. Consequently they seek that work which will free them from the reactions of both good and bad work. Such liberating work is specifically described in the pages of Sri Isopanisad.
This miraculous state of akarma that removes our handcuffs is based on knowledge we got from the previous verse. After we understand that this world is not ours and nothing belongs here to us, we should come to realize that we don’t belong here: we are neither from this planet, nor any other planet of the material world. We came down here from anti-world, the world of anti-matter, of eternity, knowledge and bliss. Extra-mundane information currently known as Vedic literature descended thereupon. By studying it, we can remember who we are, where we hail from, and thus, start making our way back home. The instructions of Sri Isopanisad are more elaborately explained in the Bhagavat-Gita, sometimes called the Gitopanisad, the cream of all the Upanisads.
A Funny Story
A prominent scholar died and his soul appeared before God. Charmed by the amount and depth of his own knowledge, the scholar announced impudently to the Lord, “We, the people of science, have reached the conclusion that we no longer need You! We have grasped all Your secrets and know everything that You know: we can transplant a heart or any other organ of the body, we know how to clone people, make new species of animals and plants… In other words, we can do everything that was once considered miraculous and was attributed to Your wisdom and omnipotence.”
The Lord listened patiently to the presumptuous scholar’s tirade of self-praise and, when he stopped talking, offered to him:
“All right! Let’s conduct a little competition in creativity to see whether mankind still needs Me or not.”
“Great,” replied the scholar, “What do you want me to do?”
“Let’s go back to the very beginning and make the first man, Adam.”
“Excellent!” replied the scholar and bent over to scoop up a handful of dust.
“Hey, not so fast!” said God and stopped him, “You use your own dust, and don’t touch Mine!”
The Concept of “Isavasya”
However, in the lower stages of life one cannot completely stop fruitive work at once. We are accustomed to working for sense gratification – for our own selfish interests, immediate or extended.
When a person works selflessly for the benefit of society, having the good of other people at heart, he/she is called an altruist. Altruism being a counterpart to selfishness conceals many puzzles. In the main, it leaves us questioning Darwin’s theory because natural selection is bound to be selfish and conduce only to those changes that benefit a species. In “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection” Darwin writes, “…conformably with my theory, the instinct of each species is good for itself, but has never, as far as we can judge, been produced for the exclusive good of others.” In “The Descent of Man” he acknowledges that interpretation of altruism does present a problem. Darwin’s followers tried hard to explain altruism, but for the scientific community, the arguments are not quite tenable.
When principles of social equality, freedom and justice, as well as social system embodying these principles are put forward as an ideal and a goal, people upholding these principles are called socialists. The term “socialism” appeared in the second half of the nineteenth century, although, historically, the concept dates back to ancient ideas of “golden age” that are described in the ancient Vedic treatises and can be found in all spiritual systems. The further development of “higher stage” of socialism is communism, which implies abnegation of private property.
Those who declare a nation as a form of community to be of the highest value are called nationalists. Nationalism is a great force that can effect overturns, revolutions and is often characterized by the ideas of national supremacy and exclusiveness. It has extreme forms, such as chauvinism, very close to racism, and can lead to acute internal and inter-state conflicts.
And lastly one is called a humanitarian if one considers respect for such values as personal freedom of choice, right to freedom of expression or personal fulfillment as a criterion for evaluation of social relations.
Unfortunately, all these “isms” are nothing more than very attractive forms of karmic bondage. Sri Isopanisad, however, gives a very interesting solution: if one actually wants to live for any of the above-mentioned “isms”, one should put the Absolute Truth in the center. There is no harm in becoming a family man, or an altruist, a socialist, a communist, a nationalist or a humanitarian, provided that one executes his/her activities in relation with isavasya conception, that is, with the understanding that any activity should have a higher purpose. And thus, it should lead to eternity, knowledge and bliss. By developing such a state of consciousness, one becomes saved from the greatest danger, the danger of gliding down again into the evolutionary cycle of birth and death among the 8, 400, 000 species of life.
A Funny Story
A European atheist once got lost during a trip through Africa. After a while, he came upon a savage tribe. A tribal chief reading the Bible came into his view. Having approached the chief, the European remarked,
“Is it the Bible that you are reading? This book is completely outdated. No one reads it anymore.”
“Lucky for you, a white man, that a missionary came to us a fortnight ago and I’m reading the Bible now. Otherwise, you would have been roasting on fire.”
The Greatest Misfortune
If somehow or other one misses the spiritual opportunity afforded by the human form of life and falls down again into the evolutionary cycle of samsara, one must be considered most unfortunate. Therefore, Sri Isopanisad advises us to exert our energy in the spirit of isavasya. It means that some way or other, all our efforts should nurture our spiritual growth. This is what makes real cosmoenergetics. Any activity, executed in this kind of mood, becomes karma-yoga. It guarantees its executor protection from the danger of sliding down into the evolutionary process of birth and death. Even though such God-centered activities may be half-finished, they are still good for the executor because they will guarantee him/her a human form in the next life. In this way, one can have another chance to improve his/her position on the path of liberation.
Being so engaged, we may wish to live for many, many years; otherwise a long life in itself has no value. A tree lives for hundreds and hundreds of years, but there is no point in living a long time like trees, or breathing like bellows, or begetting children like hogs and dogs, or eating like camels. A humble God-centered life is more valuable than a colossal hoax of a life dedicated to godless altruism or socialism.
How to attain such a state of consciousness?
First of all, it must be understood that our activities can be directed towards the Absolute Truth only if we perform them in the spirit of the Absolute Truth. Since the Truth is full of happiness, we should at least maintain a cheerful attitude. It means our negative thought patters should be changed to positive, hope-filled thinking. For this purpose we should use psychological boosters. Many of them have been known for a long time, e.g.:
— It’s not that a loved one is late for a date – it’s just that he/she is delayed due to exigent circumstances.
— A loved one is as stubborn as a mule – a loved one is farseeing and consistent, and always tries to follow through on his/her plans.
— It’s not that a loved one overeats late at night – it’s just that he/she recharges his/her batteries after hard work for the sake of the family;
— A loved one doesn’t suffer from memory loss – he/she is just a simple, forgiving person who bears no grudges.
— It’s not that a loved one spreads rumors – he/she only tries to consult with as many experts as possible to find the best solution to a problem.
— A loved one does not make mistakes – he/she tries various options to make you (his/her partner) happy and rich, sometimes even putting his/her own life and reputation at risk.
— A loved one is not dead from the neck up – he/she is none other than a creative individual who is not in a hurry to reveal his/her plans before he/she has finished his/her work.
— A loved one does not laze away — especially when he/she is sleeping, he/she is taking rest before accomplishing a feat for the sake of his/her close ones.
— It’s not that your loved one is deceitful – he/she is thoughtful of your health and nervous system in inescapable situations.
— It cannot be that a loved one is indecisive – he/she simply mulls problems over until he/she is able to find economically advantageous solutions that are win-win for all.
— A loved one doesn’t shout or make scenes – he/she tries to protect you from fatal mistakes by making their discussion memorable.
It’s a pity people today have a fear of losing each other only when they stand in a line…