FAQ Karma & Reincarnation

For nearly thirty-seven years I was ambitious, outward looking, self-centered and hardly liked reading. Then a trip to Mount Kailash changed the course of my life. Since then am content yet ambitious to the extent it does not make me unhappy, am both inward & outward looking, believe that my mission in life is gaining and sharing knowledge and am into sharing with the less fortunate. Whatever I do it is with a spirit of seva bhavna (spirit of service), mostly devoid of being attached to the fruits of action and continuously looking for opportunities to help people. The focus now is completely on positive karmas (actions).

In fact have changed so much that old friends wonder whether it is the same Sanjeev. My own mother wonders whether I am the son that she gave birth to. Its as if I were reborn. What was the cause of such a dramatic change? Was it in any way connected with my previous birth? Are some of the questions that I have been grappling with till I came across a book ‘From Death to Birth, Understanding Karma and Reincarnation’ by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait and published by the Himalayan Institute. I have found some answers and decided to share its contents with all of you. To make it user friendly have converted relevant portions of the book into an FAQ format. Contents are verbatim from the book; my comments would always start with the word Friends. The chapters are –

1. Dynamics of Karma - questions answered are – reasons for suffering, how can prayer or mantra help and can one interfere with the Law of Karma.
2. Three types of Karma - questions answered are what is the law of karma, what are the three types of karma, how do you know your dormant (past) karmas, about active and future karmas.
3. Creation of Karmas - questions answered are how are samskaras created, do we get our minds clear and create positive samskaras.
4. The Weaver of Destiny - questions answered are, tells you about the Conscious & Unconscious mind, on what basis is our broad destiny decided before we are born? what about Group Karma? and how one particular karma becomes the leading force in an individual’s destiny and eventually overpowers all other karmas?
5. Loopholes in Law of Karma - questions answered are, ability to detect loopholes in the law of karma, why is that prayers of some sages work, how can anybody give part of their life to somebody else and what happens at the time of death.
6. Propeller of Death & Birth - questions answered are journey to heaven or hell, where does the soul go after death, importance of performing good karmas, are good Karmas enough to free us from the bondage from Karma? What is the logic about Avatars?
7. Return of the Soul - questions answered are, what is the journey from one birth to another and what is the process of reincarnation.
8. Practices leading to Heaven - This chapter starts with a short story of Nachiketa that serves as a model for a spiritual journey. Next it outlines three steps to heaven. One is to have a cool and composed mind – tells you how to have one - the importance of yamas & niyamas. The objective of two is solve the mystery of life and death. The science of fire that unveils the mystery of heaven is known in the yoga tradition as  Agni vidya. Three is the final stage of Sadhana.

Dynamics of Karma      

The questions answered in this chapter are – reasons for suffering, how can prayer or mantra help and can one interfere with the Law of Karma.

Q1. Reasons for Suffering?
A.1 WE LOOK AT THE WORLD around us and see pockets of incredible suffering and wonder why some people are visited by disease, starvation, and violence, while others go through life unscathed. We see people involved in all kinds of unhealthy, unethical, and harmful activities who appear to prosper, while some who are honest, hardworking, and well-intentioned encounter only failure. And we read accounts of people who were so spiritually evolved that they were capable of healing others and transforming their lives, yet who suffered from painful and fatal diseases themselves. Why?

According to yoga the answers to these questions lie in the knowledge of individual and collective karmas - knowledge that explains the mystery of birth and death and all that lies between. As a student I took up the study of philosophy because I was intent on understanding the root cause of fortune and misfortune. Yet for all my reading and pondering, the answers eluded me. I began to grasp the theory of karma as expounded in the scriptures only after spending time with a number of highly accomplished yogis. During my time with them, these spiritual adepts unveiled some of the subtle mysteries that lie in the realm beyond intellectual explanations.

Swami Sadanand did not promise to teach me that science, but he guided me to the scriptures related to Sri Vidya practice, and explained that learning and practicing Sri Vidya requires good karmas well as God’s grace. He told me that both could be gathered by practicing the gayatri mantra, adding that this mantra can erase negative karmas, create new positive karmas, and open the channel for God’s grace.

Although neither these instructions nor the theories he expounded from the scriptures really made sense to me at the time, Swami Sadanand’s love, compassion, and kindness, as well as his knowledge of the scriptures, infused my heart with deep devotion and faith in him. On several occasions he explained the law of karma, yet it remained abstract and incomprehensible to me until I began to get a glimpse of its operation in my own life and the lives of some of those around me.

Q.2 How can Prayer or Mantra practice help?
A.2 Swami Sadanand was kind to everyone and gave medicines freely to the sick, yet when I was sick he paid no attention. I could not understand this. Then one day I received the news that my mother, who lived in a distant village, had been having terrible headaches for more than a month and had recently lost her eyesight. In a panic I went to the saint and begged him to give me medicine for her. He said, “Medicines are too weak to change the course of karma. I will give you medicine for your mother if you want, but it is better that you do the recitation of aditya hridayam” [a prayer to the sun revealed to the sage Agastya].

I was puzzled, but I remained in Allahabad, sixty miles from my mother’s village, and did twelve recitations of this prayer every day while continuing my routine at the university. Eventually my sister told me that my mother had suddenly gotten well. Deeply grateful-and curious about the relationship between this prayer and my mother’s recovery - I went to Swami Sadanand. “How can prayer or mantra practice help not only the practitioner but also someone at a distance?” I asked.

With a smile he replied, “Intense tapas, samadhi [spiritual absorption], mantra sadhana, the grace of God, selfless service, and satsanga [the company of saints] create a powerful positive karma in a short period of time. And this can neutralize the effect of pervious negative karmas.” He got up and pulled out the Yoga Sutra with the commentary of Vyasa and showed me the exact passage he was quoting.

When he put the law of karma into this context, I began to understand the Yoga Sutra and other scriptures more profoundly than before, but I was still unable to really grasp the dynamics of karma and reincarnation.

Another example. A gentleman who suffered from epileptic fits came to meet Swamiji. ‘Take this medicine every morning but only after you have fed grain to the birds’ he instructed. Only then you can take your meal’. For three days the poor fellow starved because the birds would not eat the grain scattered for them. Then, on the fourth day they accepted his offering and he started the medicine. Within six months he was cured.

When I asked Swami Sadanand to explain, he said, “Birds are part of nature. Their relationship with humans is not contaminated by selfishness and expectations. They are happy when you serve them, but they do not mind if you don’t. They operate on instinct alone - they make no personal choices and have no agendas. Serving them is serving nature, which is the repository of all our karmas.

“Our individual chitta [the unconscious mind] and karmashaya [the vehicle of our karmas] always work in conformity with nature, prakriti, which encompasses not only plants, rivers, and the rest of the natural environment - it also encompasses the primordial energy - field which is the source of and locus for this material world. By sacrificing your comforts and giving away that which you believe to be yours, you pay off your karmic debts in the subtle realm. And it is these karmic debts that are the cause of your present misery.”

After observing similar incidents I realized the truth of the scriptural statement that one of the means of counteracting negative karmas is to be in the company and service of saints.
Q.3 Can one interfere with the law of Karma?
A.3 In the winter of 1982 my gurudeva, Swami Rama, asked me not to accompany him to the U.S. but go to Rishikesh and do such and such practice while I stayed at the ashram. Every day visit the Virbhadra temple, he said.

On the last day I felt very sluggish. Every time I picked up the mala beads and started to repeat the mantra, I fell asleep. Finally, I nodded off. The mala dropped from my hand and I began to dream a dream so vivid that I knew it was real.

In this dream I saw myself being driven along the familiar route from New York city to Swamiji’s headquarters in Pennsylvania, where I live. The driver, a woman called Laura, often drove me to New York. She was driving when suddenly a car entered the freeway from the exit ramp and headed toward us. There was no time or option – a head-on collision seemed inevitable. Then a fraction of a second before the crash, an extraordinarily tall man clad in white appeared between the two cars and prevented the collision. He picked us up and deposited us on the median strip. I woke up to find my mala on the floor.

When I returned to the U.S. Laura drove me. On our way home she told me that she had been seeing a head-on collision in her mind’s eye. As she told me this I remembered Swamiji saying that whatever happens in the external world has already happened long before in the inner world. Inspite of knowing what was going to happen I could not tell Laura. Just as were about to crash I saw the white-clad being appear between the two cars, pluck both of us out, and deposit us on the right shoulder of the road.

I found this incomprehensible. I wanted Swamiji to explain, but I knew if I asked him what had happened he would simply remain silent. But one day, while I was still puzzling over these events, I came across a passage in one of the Puranas that answered my question. In the course of a lengthy story, this scripture made it clear that no one can interfere with the law of karma. All the forces, seen or unseen, that function in this mortal world are governed by this law. Birth and death and all that happens between these two events are dependent on the law of karma. The law of karma determines the situation into which we are born in this lifetime, and into which we will be born in the next. But there is one way that karmic events can be amended. The law of divine providence - which is the inherent power of God - is beyond the law of karma and can amend karmic events - although it rarely does so. Nothing is impossible in the realm of divine providence. What is more, we can connect with the divine will through intense tapas, mantra sadhana, samadhi, devotion to God, the company of saints, and selfless services. When that happens, the reshaping of karmic events begins to take place by itself.

The scripture also stated that receiving the grace of the divine will requires preparation, and that even greater preparation is needed in order to retain and assimilate this grace once it has been received. Faith in God and surrender to God’s will makes this possible, and this attitude of faith and surrender is created through meditation, prayer, japa, contemplation, self-study and service to those whose minds and hearts are totally filled with God consciousness.

After the incident Laura was full of fear. When I put Laura’s behavior into the context of this message, I got the answer to my question. It was possible that in my case the force of karma had not interfered with the divine will because that japa practice of eleven days in Rishikesh had given me the opportunity to assimilate the grace flowing through the practice. But Laura had not had a similar opportunity, and that may have been why her initial joy was soon undermined by doubt and fear.

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