• Caitanya Chandra dasa

Explaining the law of Karma

Updated: Mar 29, 2020

In 1976 there was a football game between a brazilian team, Cruzeiro and the European Bayern Munich, that would decide the winner of the Intercontinental Cup. The game was on 21 December in the Mineirão stadium, in Belo Horizonte. Both teams had 11 players, but the match started with the scoreboard showing 2 x 0 for Bayern Munich. This is a real story. Cruzeiro would need to score at least three goals, otherwise the European team would be the champion.

Why did one of the teams started the match with such an advantage? Was this fair?

This is the kind of question people have to answer when they discuss the inequalities of the world. Some people are born into wealthy families, where they receive a good education and have all facilities in life. Others are born in very poor families and have to struggle for existence since their early days. Some are born with very health bodies, others are born with a weak constitution or some incurable disease. Some are born very intelligent, others not so much. Some are beautiful, others ugly, some are born with physical defects, others are killed in the womb, without the opportunity of being born at all.

Just like in the game, the opportunities are not the same. Some start life with a huge advantage and others in the opposite situation. How can this be explained?

There are three possible explanations:

First possibility is to say that everything is decided by chance. Therefore, instead of 2 x 0 the scoreboard could be showing 0 x 2, 199 x 56 or any other number. People that agree with this explanation believe that people are born in different conditions by mere coincidence. There is no superior arrangement, everything happens randomly.

A consequence of this conclusion is that since everything just happens by chance and there is no superior force in control, one can do whatever he wants with his life, even committing immoral acts or exploiting others. As long as he can avoid punishment by law, he will not have anything to fear, since everything finishes with death. The belief that there is no superior force also leads to the belief that there is not a creator, and that therefore everything should be explained by just the interactions of physical laws. This leads to conclusions like the theory of evolution and the big bang.

This is the view of atheists in general. The result, as we can observe all over the world, is that people become hedonistic and devoid of any higher goals in life. To pursue pleasure becomes the sole objective of human life and people become progressively more and more degraded, which ultimately leads to the destruction of the society.

As Arjuna explains in the Bhagavad-Gita (1.39-42):

"With the destruction of the dynasty, the eternal family tradition is vanquished, and thus the rest of the family becomes involved in irreligion. When irreligion is prominent in the family, O Kṛṣṇa, the women of the family become polluted, and from the degradation of womanhood, O descendant of Vṛṣṇi, comes unwanted progeny. An increase of unwanted population certainly causes hellish life both for the family and for those who destroy the family tradition. The ancestors of such corrupt families fall down, because the performances for offering them food and water are entirely stopped.By the evil deeds of those who destroy the family tradition and thus give rise to unwanted children, all kinds of community projects and family welfare activities are devastated."

A second possible explanation is that there is a superior force, but this superior force is whimsical or partial. In the example of the game, this would equal to say that the organizers of the game were partial to the european team and therefore they set the scoreboard to 2 x 0 to give it the advantage.

In real life, it would mean to believe that there is a God, that He is all-powerful but somehow or other he allows such injustices to happen. In other words, there is a God, but He is whimsical or partial. This is actually the idea prevalent in most abrahamic religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Islan. According to them, there is a God and He created the universe and all of us. God is accepted as all-powerful, but since they believe that we live only once, there is difficulty to explain the inequalities and injustices of the world.

If God is all-powerful and He allows injustice to happen, it would mean that He is partial or whimsical. If God is just and good, and injustices happen because of the work of evil, it would imply that there is an opposing force that God has no power to stop. The conclusion then would be that God is not all-powerful, there are two “gods” and they compete between themselves. If one would accept that God does have the power to stop evil and He doesn't do so, it would imply that God is cruel or whimsical.

This lack of a reasonable explanation makes people resistant to religion, since they can’t find good answers to their inquiries. This makes many people lose their faith, becoming cynical or even turning towards atheism.

However, there is a third possible explanation, and it is the law of karma.

This is not the first time we are born in this world. We lived other lives and thus accumulated credits and debits that lead to the positions we started our current lives. Someone is born rich because he did some pious acts in his past lives, and someone is born poor or with some physical defect because of some wrong-doing. There is a God in control and he is both all-powerful and just. He makes the world work under perfect laws and there is no injustice. We are responsible for our actions and just like we are reaping now the results of our past actions, our position in future lives are going to be defined by the choices we make in this life. The same way God gives us free will to make our choices, He also allows us to reap the results of such choices. Ultimately, karma is a tool that allows us to experience this world, learn our lessons and ultimately go back to our original position in the transcendental realm, away from the dualities of material existence.

As long as one ignores God, pretending that he doesn't exist or that He can’t hear, He reciprocates by staying absent of his life. God loves us, but He doesn’t impose himself. If we want him to stay out of the picture, he does that and just allows us to get the results of our past actions. If we turn to Him, however, He helps us from inside the heart, helping us to find knowledge and spiritual teachers that help us on the path.

The law of karma, as explained in the Vedas, elucidates the workings of the universe and clarifies the position of God. It shows how we are responsible for our choices, and that we can’t blame others when we get the results. There is however another principle that works hand in hand with karma: compassion.

Compassion is the basis of any bona-fide spiritual process. It allows us to relate to people’s suffering and to try to help those in difficulty, just like we would like to be helped if we would be in the same situation, regardless of the situation being fair or not. It makes us understand the pain of material suffering and to help people that are in difficulty. By doing that, our hearts become soft and we can understand spiritual subjects and progress in spiritual life. To properly understand the law of karma leads us to develop compassion and makes us better persons.

In the case of the game, this is also the explanation for the incongruence of the scoreboard. It was a decision held in two legs. Bayern Munich won the first game by 2 x 0, and therefore this was the starting score for the second game. Everything was perfectly fair. It was not due to chance, nor due to parciality from the organizers.