Karma In History: An Evolutionary Perspective-III-M.S. Srinivasan

[Published in Sraddha, February 2010]

We were discussing the factors which determine the quality of karma.  This brings us to the question what are the types of action which can forge the highest and the most positive karma? To answer this question we have to move on to the deeper spiritual foundation of karmic law.

The Law of Oneness

In the integral perspective karma is the process or mechanism by which two primal laws of life, Law of Unity and the law of spiritual evolution of the human soul, are enforced and worked out in human life.  Let us first look at the law of unity and its relation to the law of karma.

One of the greatest contributions of Indian civilization, for which it acquires an incalculable and indestructible positive karma, is the discovery of the Law of Unity.  Indian seers discovered that the innermost essence of all being and life is Oneness without a second.  We are all, and the entire creation, the expression of an indivisible Oneness in which there is no other.  We are part of each other and in our highest self all that exists are parts of my own universal and indivisible being.  This is the spiritual foundation of all ethics, justice and karma.  If I hurt you I am ultimately hurting myself because I am You.  The energies of hurt, pain and violence thrown by me onto you finally returns back to haunt me in some form or other with a more or less ugly and painful face.  Similarly If I do good to you I am doing good to myself because I am You.  The energies of kindness, beneficence, helpfulness, love and service which I have released returns back to me in some form or other, enriching my life.  So ultimately, the justice inherent in the law of karma is not a moral justice based on punishment or reward for virtue and sin but a spiritual justice based on the law of Oneness.

Karma and the Law of sacrifice

This essential inner Oneness of the Spirit manifests or expresses itself in Life as harmonious mutuality and an interdependent and interconnected wholeness.  We are all part of each other, connected to and dependent on each other and part of a larger whole.  So, unity, mutuality, harmony, interdependence and wholeness are the highest law and values of collective life.  Those groups, nations or civilizations which make a conscious effort to attune all the activities of their corporate life with these highest laws and values of life acquires the highest positive karma.  In strategic terms, it means gradual and progressive subordination of the individual and the collective ego and its self-interest to the well-being and progress of others and the larger whole.  In terms of motive and action, it means a greater emphasis on giving rather than on taking or possessing contribution to the well-being and progress of others or the larger whole rather than on personal profit complementing partnership rather than competitive strife.  For in a cosmic order governed by the law of unity, mutuality and interdependence, the highest karmic benefit accrues not to the selfish taker or possessor selfless-giver who can give without expecting anything in return.  The more we are able to do this, the more we receive from Nature and grow inwardly as well as outwardly.  This is the reason why the Indian spiritual tradition viewed “sacrifice” as one of the highest law.  As Sri Aurobindo explains the deeper significance of this Indian concept of sacrifice:

“For this is the truth in Nature, that this ego which thinks itself as a separate and independent being and claims to live for itself, is not and cannot be independent nor separate, nor can it live to itself even if it would, but rather all are linked together by a secret Oneness.  Each existence is continually giving out perforce from its stock; out of its mental receipts from Nature or its vital and physical assets and acquisitions and belongings a stream goes to all that is around.  And always again it receives something from its environment in return for its voluntary or involuntary tribute.  For it is only by giving and receiving that it can effect its growth while at the same time it helps the sum of things.”

Thus the Indian concept of Sacrifice is based on the Law of Unity and Interdependence.  Each existence is compelled by this law to give or “sacrifice” to others whether it is conscious of it or not or doing it willingly or not.  Most of us are not conscious of this law.  So we are forced to sacrifice unconsciously and unwillingly deriving only a minimum of karmic benefit.  But when we do the sacrifice consciously, with full understanding of the law in the mind and gladness in the heart, we get the maximum of karmic benefit.  As Sri Aurobindo elaborates further:

“But, most often, the sacrifice is done unconsciously egoistically and without knowledge or acceptance of the true meaning of the great world-rite.  It is so that vast majority of earth-creatures do it, and when it is so done, the individual derives only a mechanical minimum of natural inevitable profit and achieve by it only a slow painful progress limited and tortured by the smallness and suffering of the ego.  Only when the heart, the will and the mind of knowledge associates themselves with the law and gladly follow it, can there come the deep joy and happy fruitfulness of divine sacrifice.  The mind’s knowledge of the law and the heart’s gladness in it culminates in the perception that it is to our own self and spirit and the One-Self and spirit of all that we give.”

So to get the highest spiritual benefit, the act of sacrifice or giving should be done not with the moral attitude of the do-gooder or that of someone seeking openly or secret some reward for his virtuous act; it should be done with a spiritual understanding that we are giving to our own highest and universal self in other person, giving unconditionally without expecting anything in return, but at the same knowing fully well, there will be many-fold return because we are giving to our own self.  Again as Sri Aurobindo points out:

“Our sacrifice is not a giving without any return or any fruitful acceptance from the other side; it is an interchange between the embodied soul and conscious Nature in us and t he eternal Spirit.  For even though no return is demanded, yet there is the knowledge deep within us that a marvelous return is inevitable.  The soul knows that it does not give itself to God in vain; claiming nothing, it yet receives the infinite riches of the divine Power and Presence.”

This brings us to an important karmic implication of the Law of Sacrifice.  Sharing or distribution of goodness¾wealth, power, knowledge, culture¾brings a much greater karmic reward than creating goodness.  Infact, creating wealth or knowledge or culture involves a responsibility on the part of the creator to distribute or share whatever he has created with others.  Not doing it due to elitist pride, unwillingness, selfish attachment to the status and privileges of the elite lead to negative karma.  Most of the great and ancient cultures of the world like India and Greece, which created high and noble ideals made no sufficient attempt to share and distribute their knowledge, ideals and culture with the masses.  Whatever knowledge, wealth or culture created by these civilizations remained within a small ruling, trading or thinking elite, while the large population of masses remained in poverty, misery and ignorance, oppressed and exploited by the privileged upper classes.  As a result these great cultures might have accumulated a certain amount of negative karma which was perhaps one of the factors behind the calamities that fell on them like for example two painful and humiliating foreign invasions of India and the barbarian invasions of Greece which destroyed the civilization.

But until now, in the past or present history of our race, there is no nation, group or civilization which had understood fully the practical implications of the highest law of unity and sacrifice and applied it successfully and consciously in its collective life.  This includes the Indian civilization which discovered the law.  Ancient Indian seer discovered the law of spiritual unity of all existence.  But the attempt made by the philosophic, religious and pragmatic mind of India to apply or embody this highest law in the outer economic, social and political life ended only in what  Sri Aurobindo aptly describes as a “a half-aristocratic, half- theoretic feudalism”.  To manifest this highest law of unity and sacrifice in the outer life requires an enlightened and creative subordination of the individual and collective ego gradually, step by step, to a larger and larger whole, until at a certain stage, ego is lost and disappears into the divine Whole and Unity.  Until now, the ego in man, especially his collective ego, is either too gross to do this in the right way.  But in the future, this law of unity and sacrifice will become something imperative for the survival and success of individuals and groups.

For the future evolution of earth is moving towards a conscious manifestation of a global unity-consciousness in all the levels of our being¾physical, vital, mental and spiritual.  So in the future this law of unity and sacrifice will not be a moral or spiritual ideal pursued by a few spiritual seekers; it will become a pragmatic necessity for the survival and success of groups, even in the mundane areas like economics, politics or business.  So in the future we may see more and more groups, to begin with smaller groups like organizations or smaller nations, opting for the unity-paradigm.  And those groups which are able to successfully implement this unity-paradigm in their corporate life will be the leaders of the future.


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