What is Karma?


by Jayaram V

Notes: I have translated the Bhagavadgita twice. The first one was a loose translation. The second one was a word to word translation with a detailed commentary. The commentary is however different from what you will find here. In this section I will share with you my thoughts about the knowledge, philosophy and wisdom of the Bhagavadgita as I understand it from my perspective. Jayaram V

The word karma has many definitions. The most basic meaning of karma is action. A somewhat wider definition is actions having consequences. Another definition is desire-ridden actions. The word was originally used in the Vedas to connote sacrificial rituals, which are collectively referred to as karmakanda (the body of rituals), in contrast to jnanakanda (the body of spiritual knowledge).

In the eighth chapter of the Bhagavadgita, Arjuna asks what karma means (8.1), and in reply Krishna states, "bhutabhavodbhavakaro visargah kamra samjnitah." It means that the sacrificial offering, oblation or (sexual) emission, (visargah), which is the cause (kara) for the origin (udbhava) of all beings (bhuta) and existence itself (bhava) is called karma. Visargah is the sacrificial act of creation.

The source of all karma (actions) is God Himself. Creation was the result of His sacrifice, which is mentioned in the Vedas. All beings who exist in His creation share His karma, as they are His children. As long as they believe that they exist because of God and perform their actions for Him or as an offering to Him, they are not bound to the consequences arising from their actions.

However, when they perform actions solely for themselves, they will have to take responsibility and accountability for their actions and bear the burden of their actions. Joint families were the norm in ancient India. Members of the family respected the head of the family and followed his instructions, since he took personal responsibility for their welfare.

The logic is the same. God is the Head of the family of all beings (Vasudaika Kutumbam) and we have to take Him into confidence before undertaking any actions. It is very much like what happens in an organization. We do not have joint family system nowadays, but we still follow the principle in different ways.

For example, in every organization, there is a chain of command. When you inform your supervisor and take her permission to do a task, you will not be held responsible for your actions, but if you do it on your own without consulting anyone, you will become solely responsible for them. Therefore, whatever you do, let God know and keep Him informed.

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