What is Karma: Its three types and how does it affect our lives

Karma means action. Deeds, words, and thoughts together come under actions. Whatever jiva does, outwardly or inwardly, there leaves an impression (vasanaas) in the chitta/ mind, intention of each happening too accounts.

Various kinds of emotions like love, hatred, happiness, sadness, jealously, calmness, pride, fear, etc., exhibited by us settles as a memory in the antahkarana and thus forms our samskaars. These samskaars, in turn, are the propelling elements that motivate the jiva in committing further actions, thereby habits are developed.

Repeated habits become one’s character which again is the driving force in performing newer actions. Thus, the nature of jiva is dependent on his latent impressions formed by one’s own thought process. 

Often we observe in humans a very calm and gentle nature, some are aggressive and in others cruel attitude. These variants are the personality types formed by one’s own impressions and most prevalently known as the Guna-Karma factor. Hindu Dharma, so as to go deeper, Vedanta – The practical study of human nature, purely depends on the guna factor: Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas. In fact, the whole creation is the manifestation of trigunas.

Advaita Vedanta boldly reveals the true source of jiva as the ever free atman and this whole universe is a reflection of that Atman. The pinnacle of Advaita lies in the experience of seeing that Supreme Being in Man. Due to the limiting adjuncts of time-space-causation or per se conditioning of maya/ bound by gunas, the jiva forgets his real nature and continues to remain in the karmic chain.

One who transcends the trigunas is a realized jiva. But one who is attached to the trigunas is bound and fall under the cycle of birth-death-old age-rebirth. Even sattvic nature becomes a hindrance in the pursuit of realizing oneself. It’s like a golden chain whereas rajas and tamas are compared to silver and iron chains respectively.

No doubt that those who rise above and slay their karmic bondage, unite with the higher self – Eternal Consciousness Bliss. This is the ideal or the goal of a human being.

What is karmic bondage?

Sanchita, Prarabdha, Kriyamana, and Agami karma are the four types of karma where men are trapped. For every action, there is a reaction. Hindu dharma calls this mode of reaction as result/ fruits of action. And there is a time interval in reaping these actions. It could be immediate or later or a combination of these two.

Prakruti (Nature) does the work of assigning the fruits of karma which is beyond the range of human limitation. From time immemorial jiva does actions and experiences their results. It’s a continuous flow/ flux. The only disconnect from the perspective of the material world is the disappearance of the form i.e., death of a body. 

Just in a way Law of Gravity functions equally to all in the universe, it is interesting to know that Law of Karma too is subject to all of us irrespective of gender and color. This is the bedrock principle for the functionality of the life cycle. The four karmas categorized earlier fall under the Law of Karma and are termed as ‘Karmic Baggage’.

Sanchita Karma

Results of the accumulated karma, both punya and paapa phala, by one’s own deeds, words, and thoughts from lives innumerable.

Prarabdha Karma

Prarabdha means that which has begun. A portion from the sanchita baggage comes forward to play the game. The present life of any being represents that finite portion to experience those results.

Experiences which come of their own accord without the personal will of the experiencer, are the workings of prarabdha. An experience caused by mere prarabdha does not cause another fresh result but is exhausted.

When all the prarabdha phala completely exhausts the life ends. Again some part comes forth where the birth starts.

If and when only punya phala comes forward from the sanchita storage the jiva experiences a heaven-like life. When that gets exhausted, he must come to the human level. For example, it’s like ending a holiday trip when the money gets exhausted. 

If and when only paapa phala comes forward from the sanchita storage the jiva experiences a hell-like life. When that gets exhausted, he has to come to the human level. For example, prisoners, after the period of jail, returns to the general society. 

But such possibilities are rare occasions. Many times, when carefully observed there are occurrences of Dhrishta and Adhrishta Phala. Those fruits which show immediate appearances are Drishta Phala. Those fruits which show up suddenly without any connections are Adrishta Phala.

Kriyamana and Agami Karma

In the pursuit of exhausting the ripened actions, one may commit newer actions called kriyamana karma. As this karma is attended by the sense of action, a conscious act tends to produce a fresh experience in the future known as agami karma. 

Say suppose you want to swim across a river to reach another bank. To swim is a human effort. The flow of river current is the effects or results of our past karmas, possibly a helping agent or a dangerous situation. Occurrences like the flow are weak and the strong swimmer stops not to reach the destination. And if the flow is heavy there’s always a choice in our hands to act accordingly.

Being Wise enough to deal with, calm ourselves, wait patiently, allow them time to pass, and then cross over else direct your efforts to afresh worthy objectives.

Always remember, you must have done something dharmic-adharmic in one of your previous lives else why would we deserve something which is not ours. Your actions affect your results. Out of imbalanced mental stability, one may curse God or blame others for the situations which we receive in life’s journey. Supreme reality/ God has no biasing attitude towards anyone.

When understood properly, the doctrine of Karma helps to overcome the stress developed by something not achievable, a failure, or any physical defects by birth. There’s always a chance to change our minds and shape up our deeds which will generate an undisturbed pathway.

‘Who sows must reap’, they say, ‘and the cause must bring the sure effect; good, good; bad, bad; and none escape the law. But whose wears a form Must wear the chain.’ Too true; but far beyond Both name and form is Atman, ever free. Know thou art that – Swami Vivekananda.

Conclusion

The presence of divinity lies in pure and a steady mind. From age to age Hindu land produced great rishis and avataras descended to proclaim Universal truth and guide humanity through countless pathways.

Nishkamya Karma (works which benefit humanity and not for self-sustenance), pure bhakti, study and reflection, and Ashtanga Yoga are the ways through which one can cut asunder the chains of Karma and rise from the material world to a higher realm.

(Featured image source: Art of living foundation)


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About the Author

Supriya Bellamkonda
House wife and practitioner of Vedantic principles as expounded by Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa