In India almost all religions and communities, namely, Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs, and others, believe that a person undergoes pain or pleasure as a result of his own previous actions, and he bears the consequences of the actions performed in his present life, in the future.
Jews, Christians, and Mohammedans do not believe in the transmigration of the soul, nor in the law of karma. They believe that God is the Creator and the Lord of the entire universe. Just as a potter makes a pot or unmakes it at his will and the pot has no say in the matter, so is it up to God either to grant Salvation to His creatures or to keep them all in ignorance. It is also their belief that God being independent, nobody has the right or power to interfere with His actions nor does anybody know about His doings. These matters are beyond human ken and would best be left alone.
But the Saints in India have very clearly indicated the pros and cons of the law of karma. It is a theory of cause and effect, which operates throughout the universe. Emerson and other philosophers, and also professors of physics, have called it the law of compensation.
As ye sow, so shall ye reap.
Whatever a person speaks has a two-fold effect. One is the action, and the other is the reaction. The reaction resounds in and near the speaker and creates the same type of thought-currents in his environment. Thus whatever thoughts – virtuous or wicked – emanate from him, they engender their exact resonance. This is an inviolable and unrelenting law, which operates in connection with both animate and inanimate objects alike. It cannot be erased.
Karma is also a process of working out one’s credits and debits. If we take from somebody, we have to give to him in return, and under this principle fate karmas are formed; and by this our ups and downs in life can be explained. Pleasure and pain, poverty and riches, sickness and health, taking and giving, are all the result of such actions and have to be paid for. If one is not able to pay off in this life, he will have to do so in some future life.
A person dies but the scroll of his actions does not perish. The account of all such deeds is imprinted upon the soul which, after death, is still enveloped in an astral body. The soul leaves the body at death, but the accounts remain with it until they are cleared.
In Hindu philosophy this is known as Awagawan or Ghaurasi, meaning the coming and going into the eighty-four lakh1 species of life. The Mohammedans call it Tanasukh. Saints of all communities have accepted and preached the principle of transmigration.
Shamas-i-Tabriz, a Muslim Saint, says:
I have grown a number of times as a blade of grass, and I have seen the eighty-four sides of life.
Shamas-i-Tabriz also says:
We live in this universe, and in various births we wear different garbs. Sometimes we come into one specie and sometimes into another, but we are all a part of the Creator. In other words, we came into this world and we left this world hundreds and thousands of times, because this universe is a workshop with exits and entrances.
Oh man, apart from my present parents, I have had nine fathers and have seen fourteen mothers. I have also seen myself happy in the devotion of my Lord. Even now, I have flown away from my real Abode. Oh my sons, I have lived in the seventh heaven with gods for many ages. If I were to tell you the entire story of my births and deaths, I would say that I appeared in seventy different species. And if you were to inquire from me the story of my past lives, then I would say that I have grown a number of times as a vegetable.
Transmigration is simply the coming of the soul into different species to enable it to carry out its allotted task according to its own karma. The soul emerges from the great ocean of life and returns to it. It is a drop from this ocean and assumes a human form, after which it goes back and merges itself into its Original Home.
Maulana Rumi says:
The Negative Power has created a vast web of transmigration, which is woven around three gunas, and in that net actions with their reactions play a very prominent part.
Tulsi Das says:
As is the action, so is the reward.
We are all bound down by our fate karmas. Many people are good, and they perform good actions because of their fate karmas. Others are bad and perform bad actions on account of their fate karmas. They are all powerless to do otherwise. Even if an opportunity to do a good deed comes their way, they ignore it. They do not feel the necessity of the Master and the Lord.
Satsang is essential for spiritual progress. Good as well as bad persons are influenced by Satsang and make progress because of it, each according to the three gunas - qualities - predominant in him.
No specie below the human form is free to act. But human beings have freedom of action, consistent with their fate karmas. They can therefore take advantage of the power of freedom of action to a certain extent.
But the question arises as to how can one do it? By attending Satsang and by fully imbibing its teachings, we are able to gain freedom from some of our karmas. However, the shackles of our karmas, or the results of our own actions, are very strong. Even incarnations - gods and goddesses - are not free from them.
The law of transmigration is irrevocable, and the results of good or bad actions are borne even by Brahma himself.
In the time of Kabir Sahib, the great Sage, Ramanand, who was aware of all his previous lives, knew that since in a previous life he had impaled a rabbit on his spear and dragged it for some distance, he was to pay for that deed in his present life. It so happened that the same rabbit came back to this world as a human being and was a Minister to the King at the time. Whenever Ramanand thought of the dire consequences of his previous action, he would tremble and become unhappy.
One day Kabir Sahib asked Ramanand the reason for his anguish. Ramanand then spoke out his heart and related the whole story of the previous life, as well as the fact that he was to die by being impaled on the spear of the Minister and dragged through the streets until the last breath of his life. Kabir Sahib assured Ramanand that he would help him and then went to the house of the Minister and remained waiting outside his gate.
One day the Minister asked Kabir the reason for his squatting there day after day, and Kabir Sahib narrated the whole story to him. The Minister was also an evolved soul and had knowledge of this incident in a previous life. He assured Kabir Sahib that although it was not possible for him to remit the punishment of death for Ramanand, he would not have him dragged.
When Ramanand was told about this, he heaved a sigh of relief.
History tells us that in due course the country was invaded by Sikandar Lodi, and while Ramanand was sitting at his window, he was shot dead by the Minister during the attack on the city. The principle of the karmic law, or action and reaction, has been described in the Adi Granth Sahib in terms of Palabdh or Fate karmas.
It has been said that we are all helpless in the face of our Fate karmas. Whatever a man does as a result of his Pralabdh, he does under the influence of his Fate karmas. Such is the irrevocable law of the Negative Power.
Man performs such actions as have been imprinted on his forehead, as a result of his actions in previous lives, and he cannot evade them.
Adi Granth, Maru 5, 1102-17
Guru Amar Das Ji has also said:
(…) that God Himself forces His creatures into destined paths of karmas (fruits of previous action) over which they have no control and which cannot be effaced. Whatever is destined to take place, must take place.
Adi Granth, Sorath 3, 601-9.
We have to meet certain people, We have to part from others. This meeting and parting is also in conformity with the Law of Karma. It is on this basis that the functions in and of this world are performed.
Adi Granth, Jap Ji, 6-19
It is also as a result of previous actions that we incarnate as human beings or as lower species. All this, as well as our meeting and parting, is in accordance with our Fate karmas. Whatever has been ordained will be performed by us. But from Satsang we get solace and sustenance. We meet a Master only if we are destined to do so. It is through His noble company alone that we receive the Elixir of Naam and attain God-Realization.
Our inner eye is shut, and we have imprisoned ourselves behind high and thick walls. We make ourselves subject to the dictates of our own mind rather than to the advice of the Saints. If we are destined to meet a Master, we do meet him, surrender ourselves to him and follow His Path. We repeat the Holy Names and we love Him. As a result, we behold the Light of Naam within.
If your Fate Karmas justify meeting a Master, then alone we meet Him, and following the Path, we worship at His Feet and gain more merit than by going on the pilgrimage of sixty-eight holy places.
Adi Granth, Mah 1, 147-13
If one is in a house that is on fire, he will first think of the quickest way of getting out of it before enquiring as to who set the house on fire and when it was set on fire. The answers to these questions can be determined after he has escaped from the burning house. In the same manner, we can find the answers to these questions after we have achieved our goal. The only thought that should occupy us at present is how to terminate this bondage and attachment.
Then why should we ask: ‚Why is this Path? Why is that Goal? How and when were this Goal and this Path made?‘
All this will be solved automatically when we reach our Destination. At present, the only possible answer to all these questions that arise in the mind is that God created all this out of His own Free Will.
Whatever actions are performed by the souls that have been sent to the regions of dissolution, their fruit will constitute their Fate, written in indelible letters by the pen of our Lord God. And by that fate the souls have been sent into the upper or lower regions of dissolution and then ascended to the highest regions by the Grace of God, are superior to the souls residing in the upper regions.
The Scriptures of the Muslims and the Christians have stated that God has created man superior to all gods and goddesses, who must bow before him. This is a concession that He has granted to the souls that degenerated from Him into the human form.
Action is in the hands of the one who performs it, but the Grace and the Blessing of God are the right of only a few, gained through His Mercy alone. It is no doubt true that human beings have freedom of action to a certain extent, but the key of such actions is in His Hands. And so long as we do not have His Grace, we poor mortals have no power to achieve anything, less so to realize Him.
It follows therefore that the Originator and the root of all actions is God Himself, and He cannot be realized by our own efforts alone. We can realize Him only within ourselves by the Grace of a Master. Grain is ground when put between the two parts of a grindstone, except the few grains that fall into the central shaft and thus are saved from being ground into flour. Similarly, we are saved from the cycle of births and deaths if we cling to God and enjoy His Grace and Blessing.
Footnote: For more information see the book ‘Karma – The Wheel of Life’ by Kirpal Singh, 1894–1974.
1) Lakh is a scale unit of the Indian number system and it is equivalent to 100,000.