Sarada Chiruvolu left a pharmaceutical career to pursue a spiritual calling. She set out on a unique journey that has taken her toward attaining realization of Self or Enlightenment through many years of deep meditation. She continues to lead a normal family life, dedicating her time involving herself in various philanthropic pursuits or in some form of social service where she can make a difference. She lives in Princeton, NJ. Below you can read an excerpt from her book, Home At Last. Courtesy: Amaryllis Press.
The Law of Karma
Over time I understood that we all will be led to the work we are supposed to do in this life, as our evolutionary process unfolds as a result of our previous actions. _is is what is known as the law of karma: simply put, our choices and actions and their consequences depend on how we exercise our free will, the God-given resource we all have. The word karma crops up in so many different contexts, from traditional Hindu belief to popular usage in the West, that I need to explain my own understanding of how karma works. We have all probably wondered why bad things sometimes happen to people who are basically good, including ourselves. Why do some people appear to have an easy time of it in this life, being born into abundance with many gifts and talents, while others are born into dysfunctional families or impoverished, violent, disease-ridden societies? It’s natural to wonder if some of this apparent imbalance might be the result of karma.
The most basic definition of karma is the law of cause and effect: if we do good, then good will flow back to us; if we do evil, we will eventually suffer the results of our bad actions. This is based on the recognition that humans have the God-given capacity to distinguish between right and wrong in most cases. To the extent that we have free will, we should be able to do the right thing; but since we don’t always do so, we pay the karmic consequences.
By this reckoning, if you believe in reincarnation, then you accept that our destiny in this life can be influenced by our good or bad actions in one or more previous lifetimes. But if you believe in free will, then you accept that we have the power to change our destiny by repaying evil with good, dishonesty with truth, and so on. In the Eastern view of karma, each of us carries a bank of memories or impressions (in Sanskrit, samskaras) from our past lives into our current life and subsequent lives. These impressions of past acts create our innate tendencies or inclinations (called vasanas in Sanskrit), which dictate what we will experience in this life. _e differences in the texture of our inner tendencies are part of what makes us unique individuals. Those tendencies may also evoke a sense of familiarity in certain situations that we encounter, which in turn may predispose us to act in a certain manner. When that happens, we are responsible for deciding to follow our tendencies to do good and to resist tendencies to act in an evil or selfish manner.
By choosing not to repeat prior bad actions and to act instead in a more generous, compassionate way, we can alter the course of our karma. For instance, if you know you have a tendency toward anger that often leads you to say or do harmful things to others, you have two choices. If you remain willfully ignorant and keep giving in to your angry outbursts, each expression of anger will strengthen your tendency to have another outburst. In time you may alienate friends and loved ones or even commit an act of violence that leads to dire consequences. Or you may choose to heighten your awareness of your tendency toward anger and find ways to ameliorate it, for instance, by undergoing some form of anger-management counseling.
Another way to develop your ability to consistently choose right over wrong is through effort, by elevating your consciousness to a higher order. Swami Abhedananda, a direct disciple of the Bengali saint Sri Ramakrishna, once wrote, “Just as every effect must have a cause, every consequence must have an antecedent, so also there must be equal balance between a cause and its effect, between an antecedent and a consequence. A cause must always produce an effect of similar nature both in quality and quantity and reaction must be similar to the action.”2
Since the power of the Divine and our individual free will are bound together, our ability to make the right choice depends to some extent on divine guidance. Our given life is nothing more than a cosmic drama that has already been written. It’s true that we have free will, but it serves us only as long as we abide by the cosmic law and remain in tune with Divine Truth. Otherwise, free will can lead us to get frustrated, because we need constant divine intervention. The Divine is the prime mover and absolute decision maker, and under its control each of us enjoys free will in our limited sphere. Our free will is enhanced when we recognize divine guidance within ourselves. God intervenes, deciding retribution according to what best suits the spiritual growth of each of us. Ultimately the Divine dispenses the fruits or selects the consequences of activities that we must undergo in each lifetime, according to our merits and demerits. However, I believe that the Divine also considers the conscious effort we put toward making the right choice. Evolution demands change, and making different decisions by using our free will alters our life so that we can attain better outcomes and evolve consciously.
“Fate and free will co-exist and actually work together to facilitate ongoing evolutionary growth,” says evolutionary astrologer Donna Lee Steele.3 According to the natural law of karma, every choice made or action taken has a corresponding outcome. Our ability to make the right choice depends on our current evolutionary stage. When we choose values that are conducive only to our self-interest without responsibility for others, we generally end up with a negative result.
Also, since we deal with reason and senses, the ability to exercise our free will correctly decreases; this diminshment may lead to actions contrary to the cosmic law and produce a wrong outcome.
As the saying goes, “As you sow, so shall you reap.”
So we are presented with a kind of catch-22. We have to evolve to a higher level in order to make the right choices and grow in consciousness.
But if we don’t evolve, we keep making the same wrong decisions, which create more negative karma. This tends to reinforce our tendency to keep making selfish decisions, leading to still more negative karmic consequences.It’s a little like the alcoholic who keeps going to the same bar and getting drunk instead of going to a meeting or getting counseling. We can handle our negative karmic tendencies only when we exercise our free will consciously and correctly, with vigor and persistence, to an extent that is needed to bear fruit.
So, in the end we are the builders of our own destiny for better or for worse; we are the architects of our own life, of the human evolutionary process that is taking place within all of us. We evolve back to perfection by exercising our free will appropriately. The best solution to the dilemma of karma is to raise ourselves to a higher state of consciousness and attain realization of our True Self. Once we are Self-realized, all our karma is removed.
The use of our free will to improve our karma may sound like pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps. In a sense it is, but we can also use all the help we can get. I continued to search for someone with whom I could speak regarding these kinds of conundrums. Even though I was satisfied with my reading and my practice of meditation, I still wanted to find an illumined teacher to talk to. At times I felt that some kind of awakening had occurred within me, although I did not really understand the meaning of awakening. As I researched the subject, I found certain parallels to my situation, including references to a marked increase in one’s intuitive sense. I also knew that my inner energy had been awakened and that I needed to learn how to manage this development. I was growing frustrated, desperate to have a sincere dialogue with someone who knew more than I did.
At the same time, I knew that I was supposed to do something more. I didn’t believe that I had to change my existing situation, which included being a wife and mother, with all the day-to-day responsibilities of a typical householder. Changing places or abandoning your circumstances is not a solution, though some believe it is. Finally I came to the conclusion that only a highly realized individual would understand what was happening within me. I started looking into this diligently, with the intention of finding a teacher with whom I could have a dialogue in person.