Our Divine Purpose
The following article is based upon an English language satsang given by the present Master in Delhi in March 2013.
Many of us live our lives in confusion because we don’t understand how creation works. We see someone leading a life of virtue yet who suffers terribly. We see someone else leading a selfish and immoral life yet who seems to enjoy only comforts and happiness. Life is clearly a mix of ups and downs but we don’t see what makes it so, and it doesn’t appear to make sense. This is where understanding the principle of karma can help. Karma is the law of cause and effect, of action and reaction - what we sow is what we reap - jesi karni vesi bharni as the Punjabi proverb says, or “what goes round comes around”. Karma is the principle of creation that makes us accountable for every single thing we do.
According to the law of karma, the consequences of every action have to be undergone at some point in time, and there are no exceptions. Wellbeing and happiness are the consequence of good deeds; pain and suffering are the consequence of bad deeds. It is very simple. But because the causes and effects of karma may be separated by many lifetimes, we don’t see the connections. Either we don’t believe in karma, or if we do, our belief remains at the conceptual level and we live as though the principle is not true.
In the world, people have credits and debits in their bank accounts and the credits and debits offset each other to give a net balance. In the karmic bank, good actions - the ‘credits’ in the karmic account -do not offset ‘debit’ entries. All living creatures have to face the consequences of both good and bad actions to keep on balancing their account - impact for impact, positive and negative. In this way the law of karma keeps souls trapped in the creation, like in a prison, as souls go from suffering to happiness again and again, perpetually, since there are always accounts of give and take outstanding at the end of each life.
Some people think that to improve their destiny, a person can turn to the practices of religion - to prayers, rituals, self-denial, or giving in charity (pooja, path, jap, tap, daan). But by the law of karma, such actions cannot bring liberation. At best they may lead to a happier life in a future birth since all actions are part of the cycle of karma. Our actions may lead us to a better environment, more comforts, more wealth and luxuries - but then that lifestyle itself may lead to pride, arrogance, self-importance and greed. Recall the Indian proverb: Tapo raj, rajo nark - “Austerities bring royal abundance; royal indulgence brings hell”. We are bound to the cycle of birth and death and the cycle continues on and on. Human nature - we know this from our own experience - lives blind even to the very next moment.
The trap of karma
When we observe people who are noble and righteous in their conduct but they are suffering, it is because the consequences of negative actions performed at some earlier time - maybe many lifetimes ago - are now causing them pain. While noble conduct certainly makes the world a better place, in the karmic bank of life good deeds cannot offset the debts incurred from bad deeds - no matter how long ago they happened, who we are now, or how or where we live. And while we are undergoing the consequences of actions already done, we go on creating fresh consequences that will affect us in some future time or future life.
Another way to help us understand creation is to see it as a ladder - a journey of thousands of steps from the simplest life forms at the base to the most complex at the top. A soul takes on different coverings as it passes from one rung to another, undergoing a particular karmic lot or destiny for each life. Life subsists on life. In some lives the being may hurt or kill others and cause suffering. Or sometimes that being suffers or is killed. Some lives are very brief and some last for hundreds of years. For each life, the breaths are numbered; pleasure and pain are experienced according to dues for that life; in each life, we are programmed to act within particular parameters. Were a soul to live even just one year in every life form, it would need to be in the creation for millions of years to climb the ladder of life even just once. Karma is the operative law for all; karma keeps life going; karma ensures that the creation will never run out of fuel.
Our unique potential
How then does the pure and entirely positive consciousness or energy that is our essence ever escape from the workings of this law? At the top of the ladder, where the coverings over the soul are most complex, life is endowed with a particular intelligence or power of discrimination (vivek). For the human form alone, consciousness is invested with a unique potential that can be used to step off the karmic ladder. The extraordinary and distinctive quality of human consciousness is its ability to discriminate, to reflect and to choose its own way of being. By using this power of discrimination wisely, a human being can free itself from the prison of action and reaction. By using their unique power of discrimination, human beings can first of all choose to minimize the effects of karma in their lives. The true human dharma is not religion - it does not depend on whether whether one is Hindu, Sikh or Muslim or a member of another religion - it asks that we recognize our intrinsic and extraordinary shared potential as human beings, and then reflect this understanding in how we choose to live.
With an understanding of karma we see that there is no one to blame for the pain one suffers - it is for each person to cultivate a truer perspective. It is an understanding of the workings of karma that makes us choose to live on a vegetarian diet and separate ourselves from the violence inherent in eating the flesh of animals - higher forms of being - simply to sustain ourselves. It is an understanding of the law of karma that makes us choose not to take recreational drugs and such substances that affect our clarity of mind and our decisions and actions. An understanding of karma gives us the commitment to lead an honest life of high moral principles, knowing that what we give is what we get and whatever we do will rebound back to us. With clear thinking on the workings of karma we can take tough decisions relatively effortlessly to gain control of our wants and desires - our body, mind and feelings - rather than be driven by them, with all their instabilities, predilections, addictions, and negative potential.
The practices of religion may orient a person towards spirituality, but just as in school we grow in capability and progress from class to class, so to realize life’s spiritual nature we need to go beyond the material world with its physical and mental activities. We need to go beyond defining God as something outside of us, shaped by different cultures and languages. We need to experience God for ourselves as the one timeless divine power or creative energy, as what we have come out of and what we will merge back into, a spiritual oneness beyond all definition. Understanding and acting on this awareness is the ultimate human calling or vocation, the true dharma. In pursuing this calling we fulfil the highest potential of human being: only a human being can use his distinctive consciousness to learn how creation works and rise beyond the play of karma.
To understand this better, we focus on Shabd, on Nam, or any other names given in the Gurbani to describe the divine creative power. In Christian teachings this ocean of creative energy is called the Word. “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. In the Vedas it is called Anahad Nad. No matter by what words it is called, it is the primal energy responsible for the existence of everything.
The power of Shabd
To free oneself from the field of action and reaction, the ‘me’ or ego-centred reality needs to merge in a power so great that it can absorb all the actions we have ever done. It is these actions that stand between our extraordinary potential and us as we are now. This power is Shabd. Like a process of ‘mergers and acquisitions’ in the business world where one company acquires both the assets and liabilities of another company, we need to merge with and be acquired by Shabd. Our assets are our good actions; our liabilities our bad ones. When a merger takes place with Shabd, because that power is unlimited and so packed with positive energy, it automatically dilutes, absorbs and cleanses us of all our karmic balances. When a tiny drop of dirty water joins with a vast, limitless ocean it is automatically diluted and purified. No longer is it an individual particle or drop; it has merged and become part of the ocean.
We cannot imagine the power that will be ours when we are in touch with the Shabd within us. Right now, and at all times, we have all the riches of the world within this human body, yet we behave as beggars, chasing happiness wherever it presents itself to us, moment to ever-changing, unpredictable moment.
Humans are blessed with the power of discrimination to enable them to take stock and then to seek and find that eternal treasure of spirituality within themselves. To find the Shabd we do not have to go anywhere - not on any pilgrimage, not to any place of worship, not to any other town, culture or country. We have only to seek this power within us by sitting in silence and becoming aware of it.
The one purpose of the perfect living master is to tell us of the need to get in touch with Shabd, to make us aware of it, to show us how to contact it within ourselves. Who knows for how many aeons our soul has suffered from the deadly disease of karma, imprisoned by the karmic law? When a person starts recovering from a disease, doctors prescribe booster vitamins to help him regain his strength. Like taking booster vitamins, associating with a spiritual master strengthens us so we can walk the path of spirituality and experience what we are.
Saints share their vision of life with anyone who seeks to know life’s purpose. They assure us that we do have a purpose and that nothing happens by accident. Everything happens within the limitless compassion of Shabd and the logical boundaries of karma. We can understand this - we can know it for ourselves - by coming in touch with Shabd.
In the Bible (James 1:22) it says, “Be ye the doers of the Word”. The responsibility to fulfil our divine nature is described in the Gurbani as Nam (Shabd) ki kamai - earning the wealth of Nam, of Shabd. Hazur Maharaj Charan Singh spent forty years sharing this same message with us. The true human dharma, the human responsibility, the greatest work we can do - is to take right action, engage with spirit, with Shabd, and be liberated (mukti). This is the purpose of human life. No other life form has this option or possibility.
Shabd karm ki rekh kataave, shabd shabd se jaye milaave: Shabd alone erases the karmic record. Shabd within us merges with Shabd that is all and everything. Shabd is the one way to communicate with the divine, whether we call this infinite power God, Truth, Nam, Bliss, Love or anything else. Shabd brings salvation. Spiritual practice, sitting in meditation to become aware of Shabd within, is the real human duty. In this way, karma is overcome.