INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY IN THEORY OF KARMA.
I have been discussing various aspects of theory of karma from psychological perspective in my last few blogs. As mentioned earlier , my interest in this topic is mainly because I am in the process of writing a novel based on the concept of reincarnation. In my previous blogs , I had suggested that our belief in the theory of karma does not depend on logical arguments but on the theory’s emotional appeal. I had discussed in my previous blog how our behavior is shaped by this karmic belief. I had pointed out that our belief that one can atone one’s bad karma is based on the erroneous belief that theory of karma is about individual ego and its redemption. The theory of karma , in it’s purest form , is a theory about the whole universe and not about individuals. In this blog , I would try to explain why the belief in atonement of bad karma is for our personal consolation and it is not consistent with the theory of karma.
The theory of karma , in it’s purest form , is about equilibrium. For every change in the universe there must be an equal and opposite response. The change and the subsequent response bring the universe back to the equilibrium. Upto this point , the theory of karma is just like a physics theory. However the theory of karma leaves this scientific domain and seeks to transcend it by postulating a notion of karma and the corresponding notion of Kartaa. Kartaa is the entity that is an author and an owner of karma. Therefore according to the theory of karma , it is Kartaa who has the free will and a choice to act in a particular manner. However , Kartaa need not be an individual soul as prescribed by our religions. The term Kartaa refers to any entity that exercises free will and chooses particular karma . Therefore it is this free entity that is responsible for its karmas. This particular way of defining Kartaa is crucial to understand the the notion of responsibility of individual karma. To the extent , one chooses the option and to the extent one exercises free will , one is responsible for ones karma. On the other hand , to the extent one has no free will and to the extent one does not have freedom of choice , the ownership of one’s karma does not exist.
The question that I want to focus on today , viz. can there be any atonement for one’s bad karma , needs to be understood in the context of definition given above. In order to understand the context of bad karma and it’s atonement , it is necessary to know that there are two important issues that must be clarified. The first issue is that of ownership of bad karma and the the second issue is that of definition of bad karma.
Let us think about the idea of individual ownership of one’s bad karma. In light of the definition of Kartaa , it looks very simple that we ,as individuals , must be responsible for our bad karmas if we consciously perform them. However , there is a problem with what constitutes a conscious choice. The theory of karma says that the kind of choices , that our subconscious mind throws up for us to choose from , are also influenced by your past karmas. Thus what appears to be straightforward becomes convoluted. If one’s past karmas were to shape the very subconscious mind that provides one with options , the question of making choices out of free will does not arise . It is for this reason that Hindu philosophy describes reality as a kind of illusion ( Maya). It is Maya because the notion of free individual capable of making choices is itself an illusion. Not only the individual ‘s mind is shaped by her / his past karmas but also the choices created by her/his mind are shaped by her/his past karmas. One may be justified in disbelieving this consequence of the theory of karma ( at least I don’t believe it) , but this is what the theory implies. Therefore ,as far as , the theory of karma is concerned , the annulment of any karma , whether good or bad , is not possible. The karmas , once performed , can not be negated. Therefore the atonement of one’s bad karma is a kind of illusion. However one can take consolation from this conclusion that ,though the sense of atonement may be an illusion , this illusion is a psychological truth. As discussed in my previous blog , the psychological truth need not be true in reality but it is operative none the less. It is for this reason that atonement works for all of us. Our bad karmas do not get annulled but at least our subconscious and conscious minds find sense and satisfaction in our acts of atonement.
This brings me to the second issue of the definition of bad karma. Just as our acts of atonement arise because of our subjective interpretations , so is our definition of what is a bad karma. The notion of bad and good are always subjective. However , it so happens that majority of us share common sensibilities , therefore more often than not ,our definitions of good and bad also coincide. However ,there are always some fringe areas where we differ from one another. In those situations our perception of good and bad also differs. Similar differences can be seen between different cultures and between different eras . Thus what constitutes a bad karma would change from time to time and from place to place. These differences are not important because the act of atonements are decided and executed by the minds of the individuals. Thus feeling of guilt of having performed bad karma and it’s atonement are both psychological events and they are , by very definition , subjective. Since this subjectivity is individual , the collective differences about what is good and bad are not relevant.
I would close this discussion of the theory of karma in my next blog and focus thereafter on my forthcoming novel in my future blogs.