Posted in Birth, Brahma Sutra, Siddhantham

Re-birth and the Effects of Karma

As Hindus who believe in Karma theory, it is natural for us to have wondered about the following questions at some point of time in our lives:

(i) What was the original mistake I did for which I was given this life to make up for my bad deeds?

(ii) What is the mistake for which I am being punished by having to undergo multiple births?

The answers to these questions are available in parayattadhikarana in Brahmasutra (Sutra: 2-3-41). I will try to clarify the answers to these questions by drawing upon the commentaries of Sri. Kozhiyalam Srinivasacharya swami’s Sareeraka Karikavali and S.V. Narasimhachariar swami’s Sri Bhashyartha Deepikai.

At the beginning of every action that the soul performs, it is (first) given the independence to decide its course. When it chooses to conduct itself in the path advocated by the scriptures (dharma sastras), it becomes favourable (anukula) to the Supreme Lord. On the other hand, when the individual soul conducts itself in a manner not recommended by the scriptures, it becomes unfavourable (pratikula) to the Supreme Lord. This initial decision made by the soul, at the beginning of every action, determines its journey to achieving salvation.

If the individual soul conducts itself in line with the prescriptions of the scriptures, the Supreme Lord, subsequently, as its internal controller (antaryami), directs it to perform deeds that will result in good karma (and thereby eventually leads it to salvation). If the individual soul conducts itself in a manner not authorized by the scriptures when given this independence, the Supreme Lord, as its internal controller, directs the soul to engage in deeds that will augment its negative karma*. The sum total of these karmas, unless completely neutralized, will result in the soul being reborn in this world.

However, the ocean of mercy and compassion that the Supreme Lord is, He continues to provide the soul with opportunities whereby it could conduct itself more favourably towards Him.

It is imperative to note the following points in the context of this discussion:

1) When a king confers authority (independence in performing certain tasks) to some of his ministers, the ministers will carry out their duties by exercising this authority. This temporary arrangement, however, does not mean that the king’s authority is undermined. Also, the temporary devolution of power does not void the minister’s dependence (paratantriyam) on the king for carrying out instructions. Similarly, when the Lord confers independence upon the jiva for the first time, and when the jiva reciprocates this gesture with an exertion from its end, the Supreme Being’s sovereignty (svatantriyam), instrumentality (karanatvam) or His ability to confer fruits of actions (karmanuguna phalapradatvam) do not change. Neither does the dependency of the jiva on the Supreme change as a result of this offer.

2) In the first instance, where the Supreme Lord confers independence on the soul, He lacks the ability to direct the actions of the jiva (visesha karanatvam). However, since He is the one who conferred this independence on the jiva, His greatness does not get undermined. Thus, at all times, the actions of the jiva are subservient to the will of the Supreme Lord (paramatma dhina).

3) If the Supreme Lord is to be the internal controller (antaryami) of the soul’s actions as well as the judge of them vis-a-vis the prescriptions of the dharma sastras, isn’t it unfair? Why is there a need for the scriptures in the first place? The clarification to this question is that the Supreme Lord offers the jiva an option to be independent during the first instance (of every action). Depending upon the jiva’s choice, the latter’s actions are subsequently determined by the fruits of the previous actions carried out by the soul. This eventually determines its rebirth or ascension to the Divine abode.

* – There are two viewpoints here. Another view holds that the Supreme Lord remains indifferent to the actions of the Jiva when it conducts itself against the prescriptions of the scriptures.


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