By Dr David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva Shastri)
Karma, meaning action, is a Vedic term for explaining the reincarnating soul’s evolution from life to life. Karma is portrayed as the effect of our individual actions, extending from past lives to present and future lives. It is often regarded as a force of determination, like fate or destiny. We speak of a person’s karma catching up with them, ‘what goes around comes around’ or ‘as you sow so shall you reap’, indicating this inescapable result of what we have done.
Yet if we look deeper, we see that karma reflects the fact that we create our own reality. We fashion ourselves and our environment according to all that we do in life. Karma, therefore, means that we are universal creators, not simply helpless products of external forces. Karma is the underlying process of the ‘self-creating universe’. It indicates that the universe creates itself according to its own inner intentionality. Through the power of karma, we are self-creating beings in a self-creating existence. Even the forces of nature, like time or gravity, which appear beyond our control, are manifestations of an intelligent reality in which we are active participants. However, karma is not under control of the ego or the mind, but is the action of our inner being.
The Evolution of Consciousness
Modern science recognizes an evolution of form, noting how the bodies of different animals adapt over time, becoming more complex and sophisticated through succeeding generations. It has outlined a physical or bodily evolution from plants and animals to human beings. Since the time of Darwin, science has gone into great detail trying to explain this movement of bodily evolution in terms of the outer factors of natural selection, survival of the fittest and adaptation to changing environments, as if it were a process that occurred of itself by natural necessity.
Today’s science emphasizes genetics as the main mechanism behind this evolutionary process. It has discovered an underlying ‘genetic code’ behind the vast diversity of life, linking all creatures together in the evolutionary process. This marvelous genetic code is simpler, more concise and yet more powerful than any code or data base that the human mind can invent. So one must also ask: Can such a physical information code exist without any enduring intelligence behind it?
Yet the scientific account of evolution leaves any life-force or consciousness out of the picture except as a by-product of bodily processes. It is as though we are following the tracks of an animal and proposing an evolution of the tracks without positing any creature making the tracks, as if one track somehow manages to evolve into the next!
We can contrast this with the view of Yoga, the science of consciousness that arose in India, which recognizes an evolution of consciousness as well as one of form. Yoga neither denies evolution in order to justify a religious view of creation, nor reduces evolution to a blind play of material forces. Yoga teaches that form cannot evolve without consciousness. An inner consciousness brings about evolutionary changes of form, not the form itself, which is no more than a shell. The creatures that we observe in life are the result of an inner consciousness evolving its self-expression through the great movement of time.
Karma and rebirth are the means of this evolution of consciousness, its underlying modus operandi. Only an intelligence that is reborn can evolve in awareness. Otherwise intelligence would die with the body.
Vedic Astrology and our Karmic Code
The reincarnating soul is our ‘karmic being’ as opposed to our human personality that is but its mask. The soul, called Jivatman in Sanskrit, carries our karmic propensities called samskaras from one body to another.
Our karma, we could say, is the DNA of our reincarnating soul. Just as the body has its particular genetic code, the reincarnating soul has its particular ‘karmic code’. The soul’s karmic code is based upon the life patterns it has created, the habits, tendencies, influences and desires it has set in motion over many births. These karmic tendencies or samskaras like seeds ripen in the soil of our lives, taking root and sprouting according to circumstances. Our soul’s energy is filtered through our karmic potentials, which create the pattern of our lives down to a subconscious and instinctual level.
For the evolution of our species and for our own growth in consciousness, we must consider both the genetic and karmic codes. We cannot understand ourselves through genetics alone, which is only the code of the body; we must also consider the karmic code, the code of the mind and heart. Note how two children in the same family can share the same genetic pattern, education and environment and yet can have very different lives, characters and spiritual interests. This is because of their differing karmic codes.
Fortunately, there is a way that we can see our karmic code as clearly as our genetic code. Vedic astrology, which is called Jyotish or the science of light (Jyoti), helps us understand the laws of both time and karma. The Vedic astrological birth chart is the best indicator of our karmic code. The pattern of the birth chart is like the ‘DNA of the soul behind the current physical incarnation. The positions of the planets in the birth chart–not only relative to the twelve signs of the zodiac but more importantly in regard to the Nakshatras or twenty-seven mansions of the Moon–provide a wealth of knowledge through which we can read our karmic code in detail.
The Vedic astrological chart is probably the most important document we have in life and more important than our genetic code. Yet like our DNA it is a code written in the language of nature and needs to be deciphered by a trained researcher to make sense of its indications. Through the Vedic astrological chart we can understand the greater purpose of our lives, our vulnerabilities and our hidden strengths that help us fulfill our true karmic potential.
In addition to showing our karmic code, Vedic astrology can plot its unfoldment throughout our lives using its system of planetary periods, annual charts and transits. Through the use of planetary gems, mantras, yantras and meditation on planetary deities, Vedic astrology also provides us many methods to optimize our karma and take us beyond the limitations of our karmic code.
It is imperative that each one of us is aware of our karmic code and learns how to bring out it optimal potential. Vedic astrology is probably the best tool in this regard. This doesn’t mean that the birth chart will answer all our questions. We still have to act, but it can show us how to act in the best possible manner. In this regard, the birth chart is our karmic guide to life.
To change ourselves it is not enough to alter the genetic code. We must learn how to alter our karmic code. However, to change our karmic code is not much easier than to alter our genetics! It requires that we change the way we live, breathe, see and think, such as Yoga and other Vedic sciences instruct us.
Our Collective Karmic Crisis
Our present planetary crisis, our crisis in consciousness, is also a ‘collective karmic crisis’. We are setting in motion long-term negative karmic consequences by our civilization out of harmony with life. Such powerful collective karmas can bring about deep disturbances in the world of nature, including alterations at geological and climatic levels that can go far beyond what our species can control. The coming century looks like an era of karmic rectification for the devastation already wrought by our current spiritually immature civilization. We need the wisdom to take us through this coming fire of collective experience and help minimize its potential destruction as nature once more demands that the soul within us comes to the front. As this was written originally fifteen years ago, the current pandemic is showing our karmic challenges.
The problem is that our culture does not believe in karma. We don’t teach the law of karma in our schools and or even many of our religions are ignorant of it. Many who speak about the law of karma act in violation of it as well. We think that if we make money or become famous that we have achieved the goal of life, regardless of the karmas we have set in motion for ourselves or for our world.
Our individual soul is a karmic center of consciousness that we must face sooner or later. When we die, the only thing that goes with our soul is its karma. The bodily self does not continue but the soul–the sensitive core of awareness within us that allows us to feel happiness or sorrow–goes on to wherever its karma may lead, which we must eventually experience.
The truly enlightened or Self-realized individual brings higher forces to the Earth from the power of liberated consciousness. That is how individual enlightenment can uplift the entire world, even without any overt external actions. Such individual enlightenment, however, is not the enlightenment of the separate self, which is a contradiction in terms, but that of the soul, our universal being which is inherently one with all. It does not occur through denying or ignoring karma but through reaching a level of action that is no longer external or bound by time.
While few of us can reach the state of supreme enlightenment, we can bring aspects of enlightenment into our daily lives. We can bring a unitary consciousness into our environment, establishing our relationship with all aspects of the conscious universe from greeting the Sun in the morning to remembering the stars at night. We must respond to the evolutionary message of our karma, which is to take responsibility for our world and look upon all creatures as our own Self.