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Woodinville, WA
Theory of Karma
Original Post: March 9, 2008
Revised: August 29, 2009
कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेशु कदाचन
मा कर्म फलगे तुर्भुः माके संगोत्व कर्मणि
karmaṇyevādhikāraste mā phaleśu kadācana
mā karma phalage turbhuḥ māke saṁgotva karmaṇi

Rough Translation: The rights you have are over your actions and not on the results of your actions. You should not be the reason for such results,. This does not mean that you must refrain from your actions.
arma is usually mentioned in numerous contexts, depending upon the speaker, to mean numerous things. When I asked many the question "What do you mean by Karma?", some associated it with things in general, some associate with only bad things, while some others even struggle to articulate what it meant. The common thing in all these three type of people is, they all associated it with what happened (or is happening) to them. This is because, one of the more common references of Karma implies - Bad Things (as in "All these bad things are happening, because is my karma"). However, the meaning of Karma is quite simple.
Karma = Actions; Deeds. Plain and Simple! (not just good or bad actions)
Karma (in Sanskrit) means Actions (in simple English), not the Results. Results in Sanskrit are called Karma Phala (or Fruits of Actions). Take a closer look at that term used for Results in Sanskrit. Karma Phala! Meaning... the Fruits of the Actions! Results do not come without actions. And Results are the consequences of Actions. They are the "fruits" of our actions. If there are no actions, then there are no results. The reference "It is my Karma", in reality means whatever happened or is happening to me is the result of my own actions (or lack of actions) and not the results of someone else's. By stating so, we are absolving everyone else from the blame and taking responsibility for the actions.
There are three different parts in the above verse.
  • Your right is only over the actions (or Karma)
  • You have no right over the results (or Karma Phala)
  • You must not be the reason for the results, yet must not refrain from performing actions
The first two are pretty straight forward. Since we can only control our actions before we perform them, we have every right over them - we can control and perform what we consider as the right actions. However, once actions are performed, the results shall follow regardless of anything else. Therefore, we do not have any rights over the results.
The third one appears a bit more complicated and self-contradicting. How can I perform actions and yet not be the reason for the results? The gīta is filled with such contradictions. The gīta is one giant 700-piece puzzle. Each verse renders a piece of the puzzle and the gīta as a whole is the solution. The essence of gīta is detachment. The third part is clarified when one delves deeper into the part with a broader understanding of the essence of the gīta. The following is my understanding of the third part.
Since you can only control the actions before performing them, one ought to think hard and analyze possible consequences of one's actions. After careful consideration our actions, we perform the (presumably) right actions with at most detachment, devotion, and dedication to the Lord. The reason I mention detachment first is to stress the importance of renouncing all attachment to the actions as well as the results of the actions. This can be achieved by means of at-most devotion to the Lord. The devotion will then help us dedicate all the results (or Karma Phala) to the Lord. When we achieve these three 'D's prior to our actions, and then perform actions, we would not be the reason for the results. The Lord and the Lord alone will then be the reason for the results. This will absolve our spiritual self (or the soul) from all repercussions of our actions. We must perform our actions as per the set of guidelines provided by our chosen faith. Results, such as they are, come from our actions. Assuming that our actions are right, the results would follow.
That said, it is important to draw a distinction between good actions and harmful actions. Regardless of their nature (good or harmful) the results will follow. Regardless of the dedication, the repercussions of our actions will be felt by our physical self. This is true whether we perform the actions with our knowledge and consent or without. An simple example I often sight in this regard is - touching fire will result in burnt hand and pain, regardless of touching it with or without our knowledge and/or consent. It doesn't matter if we touched fire because we wanted to burn, or someone has held our hand and forced us on to the fire, or just by an accident. It doesn't matter whether we are grown ups who understand the nature of the fire or infants who don't have such an understanding. The result will follow and be felt by our physical/mortal self.
Here is the caveat. The soul (the spiritual self) acts a transceiver of the actions performed by the host (the physical self) in which the soul resides. The intentions and thoughts, and the actions resulting from such intentions and thoughts affect not just the physical self, but also the spiritual self. While the results of actions at the physical level are received by the physical body that performed such actions, the results at the soul level sometimes transcend the physical body. As such, the results of actions performed/transmitted by one soul during the lifetime of one body may thus be received by another body of the same soul. The physical knowledge, however, ends with the physical body and does not transcend to the next body. The unfortunate consequence in this transcended results is that the body in which the soul is now residing is unaware of the actions performed by the body in which the soul resided at the time of transmitting, and yet bares the brunt of those actions. Hence the words of God - You (as a body) do not have any right to the results. Your actions shall have repercussions, either while you are still hosting the soul, or the soul moved on to the next body.
Towards the end of The gīta Discourse given to the mightiest of the warriors, Arjuna, the Lord himself is said to have clarified - "Dedicating ALL your actions and their consequent results to me, becoming free of all desires by means of the knowledge of me, dispelling your pride, and setting aside your worries and sadness, Oh Mighty Warrior, fight the war.".
With that thought, I will now conclude this writing and leave any readers out there to delve on these thoughts of mine, on your own. Please do feel free to contact me with your thoughts and inputs. I do value and appreciate them.

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