Readings in the Theory of Karma


The Wheel of Rebirth

This vast universe is a wheel. Upon it are all creatures that are subject to birth, death, and rebirth. Round and round it turns, and never stops. It is the wheel of Brahman. As long as the individual self thinks it is separate from Brahman, it revolves upon the wheel in bondage to the laws of birth, death, and rebirth. But when through the grace of Brahma it realizes its identity with him, it revolves upon the wheel no longer. It achieves immortality.

Svetasvatara Upanishad (Prabhavananda), 118

Consider how it was with the forefathers; behold how it is with the later (men); a mortal ripens like corn, and like corn is born again.

Katha Upanisad (Radhakrishnan), I.1.6

15:7 An eternal portion of Myself, having become a living soul in a world of living beings, draws to itself the five senses, with the mind for the sixth, which abide in Prakriti.

15:8 When the lord acquires a body, and when he leaves it, he takes these with him and goes on his way, as the wind carries away the scents from their places.

15:9 Presiding over the ear and eye, the organs of touch, taste, and smell, and also over the mind, he experiences sense-objects.

15:10 The deluded do not perceive him when he departs from the body or dwells in it, when he experiences objects or is united with the gunas; but they who have the eye of wisdom perceive him.

Bhagavad Gita

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The Law of Action

According to the doctrine of karma, for every morally determinate thought, word, or action, there will be corresponding karmic compensation, if not in this life, then in some future life. As a man sows, so shall he reap.

K. L. Sheshagiri Rao, in Pappu, 23

He, as the Self, resides in all forms, but is veiled by ignorance... At death he is born again, and the circumstances of his new life are determined by his past deeds and by the habits he has formed.

Kaivalya Upanishad (Prabhavananda), 115

2:14. Experiences of pleasure and of pain are the results of merit and demerit, respectively.


4:7. The karma of the yogi is neither white nor black. The karma of others is of three kinds: white, black, or mixed.


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The Law of Desire

Others, however, say that a person consists of desires. As is his desire, so is his will; as is his will, so is the deed he does, whatever deed he does, that he attains.

Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad (Radhakrishnan), IV.4.5

The desires we get are actually samskaras. They are formed in this way:

1. Having union with an object, possessing it.

2. The object is not present, but stays in the mind.

3. A craving for the object is created.

4. The craving makes a print on the mind which remains after death (samskara).

Desire is the third stage. We don't feel the first two stages, they are too subtle. Samskaras recreate desires in the next birth automatically. A person can get the desire to steal though brought up in a good family. He himself can't understand why he desires it.

These desires develop more when they are fulfilled. Desires can be overcome by controlling them; we have to put a limit on desires.

Baba Hari Dass, 116

The karmic law requires that every human wish find ultimate fulfillment. Nonspiritual desires are thus the chain that binds man to the reincarnational wheel.

Paramahansa Yogananda, 360

...Vedanta says that at the root of the source of the desires is your own Atma which is Truth personified. As such, all desires, good or bad, have got to be materialized. They must be true, because they emanate from Atma, the Truth incarnate. This very Atma, which is the source of all Power, is called God or Ishwara. Therefore, all his desires must indubitably be fulfilled.

Well! The question is that, if in the opinion of Vedanta, all the desires are to be fulfilled, how is it that they are not seen being fulfilled? No body sees his desires materialize all the time. Therefore, it may appear that the assertion of Vedanta is wrong. But Vedanta clears this doubt as well... Some have too many and also big desires within them... It is no wonder, if the cases of such persons (men of desires) may take two, three or even more adjournments (lives and rebirths etc.) for the final judgment (fulfillment of desires)... But it must be remembered that all desires are bound to be fulfilled in course of time. There can be no doubt about it. Therefore, if the desires of any man are not fulfilled early, it means that it is due to his own faults. If, however, they want to see their desires fulfilled early, they should have only a few simple and selfless desires...

Vedanta says that the desires, being innumerable, are often left unfulfilled at the time of the death of a man. To desire is also a sort of action. He, therefore, takes other birth or births to see his desires fulfilled. And, the materialization of these unfulfilled desires may be called destiny. That is why, our scriptures have mentioned that it is because of our own desires, hopes and aspirations that we take other birth or births after death.

Swami Rama Tirtha, 263-265

...Rama will say that generally all the prayers are not accepted. But the prayers of some of the persons do materialize... they are accepted, only when the person praying is intensely merged in his prayer and, knowingly or unknowingly, has reached a stage where he has lost himself in his oneness with God... It is only under such circumstances that our prayers are accepted, because at that moment the person praying is established in his real Self which is Truth personified. As such, his prayers are bound to come true.

Swami Rama Tirtha, 272

Q. If a thing comes to me without any planning or working for it and I enjoy it, will there be no bad consequences from it?

A. It is not so. Every act must have its consequences. If anything comes your way by reason of prarabdha, you can't help it. If you take what comes, without any special attachment, and without any desire for more of it or for a repetition of it, it will not harm you by leading to further births. On the other hand, if you enjoy it with great attachment and naturally desire for more of it, it is bound to lead to more and more births.

Ramana Maharshi, 221-222

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2:12. A man's latent tendencies have been created by his past thoughts and actions. These tendencies will bear fruits, both in this life and in lives to come.

2:13. So long as the cause exists, it will bear fruits--such as rebirth, a long or short life, and the experiences of pleasure and of pain.


Every action that you do produces a two-fold effect. It produces an impression in your mind and when you die you carry the Samskara in the Karmashaya or receptacle of works in your subconscious mind. It produces an impression on the world or Akashic records.

Swami Sivananda (1), 95

If you eat a mango, if you do any kind of work, it produces an impression in the subconscious mind or Chitta. This impression is called Samskara or tendency. Whatever you see, hear, feel, smell or taste causes Samskaras. The acts of breathing, thinking, feeling and willing produce impressions. These impressions are indestructible. They can only be fried in toto by Asamprajnata Samadhi. Man is a bundle of Samskaras. Man is a bundle of impressions. It is these Samskaras that bring a man again and again to this physical plane. They are the cause for rebirths. These Samskaras assume the form of very big waves through memory, internal or external stimulus.

Swami Sivananda (1), 95

The impulse behind most human actions insofar as man is a psychophysical being comes from what are called samskaras (subliminal and latent tendencies) and vasanas (desires rooted in the psyche at an unconscious level but their force is also consciously felt). Each human being is born with a certain configuration of these samskaras and vasanas (their precise nature determined by action in a previous life) and these, felt as attraction towards some things and aversion towards others, act as driving forces behind our actions, insofar as we act out the dharma of our being as part of nature.

Pratima Bowes, in Pappu, 175

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Evolution from Lower Forms

The various stages of existence, Maitreya, are inanimate things, insects, fish, birds, animals, men, holy men, gods and liberated spirit, each in succession a thousand times superior to that which precedes it and through these stages things that are either in heaven or in hell are destined to proceed until final liberation be obtained.

Vishnu Purana, Vol. II, trans. W.H. Wilson. London: Trubner and Co. 1864, p. 22. Quoted by Pratima Bowes in Pappu, 171.

According to some Hindu commentators on scriptures a jiva (life-force) is granted a human life only after going through 8,400,000 previous incarnations of lower forms of life -- 2,000,000 as a plant, 900,000 as aquatic, 100,000 as insects, 100,000 as a bird, 300,000 as a cow, 400,000 as a monkey.

Louis Renou, The Nature of Hinduism. New York: Walker & Co., 1962, pg. 67. Quoted by Pratima Bowes in Pappu, 174

...Individualized souls transmigrate from one body to another after death in their passage of evolution from vegetative kingdom to animal kingdom and finally to the human plane, human kind being the perfect body. Vegetable, animal and human bodies serve the souls as vehicles in their upward journey. The total number of different kinds of carriages is supposed to be 84 lacs.* But, human being the highest evolved form, is the best instrument for God realization...

It is claimed that through human body only moksha or emancipation from the wheels of Maya is possible, and not through the bodies of even gods residing in higher spheres. They too have to come down and take up the bodies of men, which only hold key to the door of evolution to God realization.

Swami Vishnu Tirtha, 22-25 [*Ed. note: 1 lac = 100,000]

4:2. The transformation of one species into another is caused by the inflowing of nature.


Q. Is the individual capable of spiritual progress in an animal body?

A. Not impossible, though it is exceedingly rare. It is not true that birth as a man is necessarily the highest, and that one must attain realization only from being a man. Even an animal can attain Self-realization.

Ramana Maharshi, 197

In fact no evolution is possible from the stage of the mineral to that of the vegetable, for there is nothing in the mineral that can evolve... The whole mineral kingdom has emerged out of the Tamasic aspect of Maya and it forms the material which goes to make the bodies of the Jivas and their means and places of support; mineral matter not composing the body of any Jiva is called "inanimate" or "inorganic," not because there is no life at all in it--for it has its very existence in the life of Ishwara--but because there is no separate coordinating life-principle connecting together the several atoms in harmonious co-operation for serving some common end... The view that is now and then expressed from the modern Theosophical platform: "every grain of sand has its Jivatma" is clearly wrong and opposed to the clear statement in the holy books that the Jivas are to be found only in four classes of bodies, viz., Jarayuja, Andaja, Svedaja and Udbhijja...

Swami Sivananda (1), 193-194

The law of Karma and justice, if it is true at all, shows unmistakably that there is no real foundation for the notion that there is evolution going on below the stage of man. Every brute, every little insect and every one of the plants and trees, all were, and are going to be again human beings themselves. They are only temporarily suspended from the class of humanity for some offenses.

Swami Sivananda (1), 195

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The Threefold Karma

What is threefold karma?

It is: 1) Samchit (collected), the unfinished mass of actions of past births, both good and bad, yet to be worked out and which appear in this birth in the form of desires -- in other words samskaras; 2) Prarabdha (detained), the result of karma already worked out in a previous life which appears in the present life in the form of fate; 3) Agami (present), the karma we are continually making in our present actions and will be making in our future actions.

Baba Hari Dass, 47

Karma is divided into four categories: sanchita karma, or the accumulated past actions; prarabdha karma, or that part of sanchita karma which results in this present birth and is known as predestination; kriyamana karma, or present willful actions, or free will; and agami karma, or the immediate results caused by our present actions.

Sant Keshavadas, 8

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Prarabdha Karma

Q. It is said that prarabdha karma is only a small fraction of the karma accumulated from previous lives. Is this true?

A. A man might have performed many karmas in his previous births. A few of these alone will be chosen for this birth and he will have to enjoy their fruits in this birth. It is something like a slide show where the projectionist picks a few slides to be exhibited at a performance, the remaining slides being reserved for another performance...The different karmas are the slides, karmas being the result of past experiences, and the mind is the projector. The projector must be destroyed so that there will be no further reflection and no further births and no deaths.

Q. Who is the projectionist? What is the mechanism that selects a small portion of the sanchita karma and then decides that it shall be experienced as prarabdha karma?

A. Individuals have to suffer their karma but Iswara manages to make the best of their karmas for his purpose. God manipulates the fruits of karma but he does not add or take away from it. The subconscious of man is a warehouse of good and bad karma. Iswara chooses from this warehouse what he sees will best suit the spiritual evolution at the time of each man, whether pleasant or painful. Thus there is nothing arbitrary.

Q. In Upadesa Saram you say that karma bears fruit by the ordinance of God [karta]. Does this mean that we reap the consequences of karma solely because God wills it?

A. In this verse karta [God] means Iswara. He is the one who distributes the fruits of actions to each person according to his karma. That means that he is the manifest Brahman. The real Brahman is unmanifest and without motion. It is only the manifest Brahman that is named as Iswara. He gives the fruit to each person according to his actions [karma]. That means that Iswara is only an agent and that he gives wages according to the labor done. That is all. Without this shakti [power] of Iswara, this karma would not take place. That is why karma is said to be on its own, inert.

Ramana Maharshi, 218-219

Kabir says in this connection that on the sixth day after the birth of a child, when a special rite is performed, God Himself comes down and decides the destiny of the child, and that cannot be altered. So the allotted span of your life can neither be increased nor decreased. Tulsidas also says that whatever had to be allotted has already been allotted. Therefore, you should live free from anxiety.

Swami Muktananda (4), 17

There is a poet-saint whose one statement is very well known in our country. He says that whatever is written by destiny on the sixth day after your birth can never be blotted out. Shaktipat follows the writ of prarabdha.

Swami Muktananda (4), 45

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Types of Prarabdha

There are three types of prarabdha: iccha, aniccha, pariccha.

Swami Muktananda (3), 327

Prarabdha karma is of three categories, ichha, anichha and parechha [personally desired, without desire, and due to others' desire]. For the one who has realized the Self, there is no ichha-prarabdha but the two others, anichha and parechha, remain.

Ramana Maharshi, 220

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Environmental Conditions for Karma

4:8 Of the tendencies produced by these three kinds of karma, only those are manifested for which the conditions are favorable.

4:9 Because of our memory of past tendencies, the chain of cause and effect is not broken by change of species, space, or time.

Patanjali 4:8-9

Good and bad samskaras are like seeds of different plants kept in a bottle: some grow in winter, some in the summer, and some in the rainy season. If you throw all the seeds on the earth, the seed which grows in that season will grow and the others will remain dormant.

Exactly the same thing happens with samskaras. All kinds of samskaras are there but they grow according to the person, place, or thing with which we associate. If we go with depraved people, the bad samskaras will automatically come up and good samskaras will remain dormant. If we sit with a truthful person, samskaras or truthfulness will automatically come up. A human being is not entirely bound by samskaras, otherwise it would be useless to try to attain enlightenment.

Baba Hari Dass, 120

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Law of the Last Thought

For whatever object a man thinks of at the final moment, when he leaves his body -- that alone does he attain, O son of Kunti, being ever absorbed in the thought thereof.

Therefore, at all times constantly remember me and fight. With your mind and understanding absorbed in Me, you will surely come to Me.

Bhagavad Gita, 8:6-7

You might say that, according to the common belief, a man is reborn according to his thoughts at the time of his death. How, then, can this belief be reconciled to the theory that the rebirth is caused by the unfulfilled desires to be fulfilled in the next life? ...The ideas and the thoughts which come at the time of the death of a man are responsible for his next life. But, at the same time, the Vedanta asserts that at the time of death only those thoughts and desires come to mind, which were upper most during the life of the man.

Swami Rama Tirtha, 265

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The Experience of Death

The point of his heart becomes lighted up and by that light the self departs either through the eye or the head or through other apertures of the body. And when he thus departs, life departs after him. And when life thus departs, all vital breaths depart after it. He becomes one with intelligence. What has intelligence departs with him. His knowledge and his work take hold of him as also his past experience.

Just as a leech (or caterpillar) when it has come to the end of a blade of grass, after having made another approach (to another blade), draws itself together towards it, so does this self, after having thrown away the body, and dispelled ignorance, after having another approach (to another body) draw itself together (for making the transition to another body).

And as a goldsmith, taking a piece of gold turns it into another, newer and more beautiful shape, even so does this self, after having thrown away this body and dispelled its ignorance, make unto himself another, new and more beautiful shape like that of the fathers or of the gandharvas, or of the gods or of Praja-pati or of Brahma or of other beings.

Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad (Radhakrishnan), IV.4.2

So long as Prana pulls up and Apana pulls down the life-forces there is continuity of life. But the moment either of these forces becomes weaker, there is an exit of the life-force. If the Apana gives way then Jiva will pass out of the body through either the head or the nose or the ear or the mouth. If the Prana gives way then it will pass out of the body through the anus.

Swami Sivananda (2), 199

Q. How does the jiva transfer from one body to another?

A. When one begins to die, hard breathing sets in; that means that one has become unconscious of the dying body. The mind at once takes hold of another body, and it swings to and fro between the two, until attachment is fully transferred to the new body. Meanwhile there are occasional violent breaths, and that means that the mind swings back to the dying body. The transitional state of the mind is somewhat like a dream.

Ramana Maharshi, 198

Amrita: If all death is the same, regardless of how one dies, why did Bhisma wait for sixteen days on his bed of arrows for the auspicious hour to die?

Baba: There is only one death. Death is only of one kind. But the manner of dying depends on karma. Different kinds of inner minds are reflected in the manner of dying... Bhisma waited not for death, but for an auspicious hour, when the sun turned towards its northward course. Everything should be done at the auspicious hour because that has great power.

Swami Muktananda (3), 54

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The Reincarnating Being

Yoga asserts that the pranic fluid goes towards the navel, where there is a secondary subtle center; thence during the death agony it rises towards the heart. The manas, the mind, also tends from the brain towards the heart, and the union of these two currents in the center of the heart forms a subtle entity which disengages itself by degrees from the breast of the dying man, and commences to "be" on the subtle plane, which is that of its heaver "matter," the matter of the physical body only existing as a support.

Jacques Riviere, 106-107

When a man dies he carries with him the permanent Linga Sarira, which is made up of 5 Jnana Indriyas, 5 Karma Indriyas, 5 Pranas, mind, Buddhi, Chitta, and Ahamkara and the changing Karmasraya (receptacle of works), the actions of the soul, which determines the formation of the next life.

Swami Sivananda (2), 87

Q. Is the Buddhist view, that there is no continuous entity answering to the ideas of the individual soul, correct or not? Is this consistent with the Hindu notion of a reincarnating ego? Is the soul a continuous entity that reincarnates again and again, according to Hindu doctrine, or is it a mere mass of mental tendencies--samskaras?

A. The real Self is continuous and unaffected. The reincarnating ego belongs to the lower plane, namely, thought. It is transcended by Self-realization.

Reincarnations are due to a spurious offshoot. Therefore they are denied by the Buddhists. The present state of ignorance is due to the identification of consciousness [chit] with the insentient [jada] body.

Ramana Maharshi, 195

But it must be distinctly understood that it is no soul which comes and goes, but only the thinking mind of the individual, which makes it appear to do so. On whatever plane the mind happens to act, it creates a body for itself; in the physical world a physical body and in the dream world a dream body that becomes wet with dream rain and sick with dream disease. After the death of the physical body...soon it becomes active again in a new world and a new body--the astral--till it assumes another body in what is called a "rebirth."

Ramana Maharshi, 197

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The Intermediate State

The most widely accepted Brahmanical description of this mechanism is strongly biological in tone. We are told that after severing its connection with the human body, the soul dwells for some twelve days in a transitional ghostly form (preta). Thereafter, freed from this limbo through ritual offerings (sraddha) by the son of the deceased, it travels upward to the "realm of the father" (pitr-loka),there to remain for an indeterminate period.

Padmanabh S. Jaini, in O'Flaherty, 220-221

After the death of the physical body, the mind remains inactive for some time, as in dreamless sleep when it remains worldless and therefore bodiless. But soon it becomes active again in a new world and a new body--the astral...

Ramana Maharshi, 197

There are two states for man -- the state in this world, and the state in the next; there is also a third state, the state intermediate between these two, which can be likened to dream. While in the intermediate state, and man experiences both the other states, that in this world and that in the next; and the manner thereof is as follows: When he dies, he lives only in the subtle body, on which are left the impressions of his past deeds, and of these impressions he is aware, illumined as they are by the pure light of the Self. Thus it is that in the intermediate state he experiences the first state, or that of life in the world. Again, while in the intermediate state, he foresees both the evils and the blessings that will yet come to him, as these are determined by his conduct, good or bad, upon the earth, and by the character in which this conduct has resulted. Thus it is that in the intermediate state he experiences the second state, or that of life in the world to come.

In the intermediate state there are no real chariots, nor horses, nor roads; but by the light of the Self he creates chariots and horses and roads. There are no real blessings, nor joys, nor pleasures; but he creates blessings and joys and pleasures. There are no real ponds, nor lakes, nor rivers; but he creates ponds and lakes and rivers. He is the creator of all these out of the impression left by his past deeds.

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (Prabhavananda), 105

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Experiences After Death

Some say that those who after death pass into the path of light are not reborn, whereas those who after death take the path of darkness are reborn after they have enjoyed the fruits of karma in their subtle bodies.

Ramana Maharshi, 198

The Path of the Gods

On this there are the following verses: "The narrow ancient path which stretches far away, has been touched (found) by me, has been realized by me. By it, the wise, the knowers of Brahman go up to the heavenly world after the fall of the body, being freed (even while living).

"On that path they say there is white, blue, yellow, green, and red. That path was found by a Brahmana and by it goes the knower of Brahman, the doer of right and the shining one."

Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad (Radhakrishnan), IV.4.8-9

Verily, when a person departs from this world, he goes to the air. It opens out there for him like the hole of a chariot wheel. Through that he goes upwards. He goes to the sun. It opens out for him like the hole of a lambara. Through that he goes upwards. He reaches the moon. It opens out there for him like the hole of a drum. Through that he goes upwards. He goes to the world free from grief, free from snow. There he dwells eternal years.

Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad (Radhakrishnan), V.10.1

... Then when he dies,

They carry him to (be offered in) fire. His fire itself becomes the fire, fuel the fuel, smoke the smoke, flame the flame, coals the coals, sparks the sparks. In this fire the gods offer a person. Out of this offering the person, having the colour of light, arises.

Those who know this as such and those too who meditate with faith in the forest on the truth, pass into the light, from the light into the day, from the day into the half-month of the waxing moon, from the half-month of the waxing moon into the six months during which the sun travels northward, from these months into the world of the gods, from the world of the gods to the sun, from the sun into the lightning (fire). Then a person consisting (born) of mind goes to those regions of lightning and leads them to the worlds of Brahman. In these worlds of Brahma they live for long periods. Of these there is no return.

Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad (Radhakrishnan), VI.2.13-15

So those who know this, and those who in the forest meditate on faith as austerity (or with faith and austerity) go to light and from light to day, from day to the bright half of the month (of the waxing moon), from the bright half of the month to those six months during which the sun moves northward.

From these months to the year, from the year to the sun, from the sun to the moon, from the moon to the lightning. There, there is a person who is non-human. He leads them on to Brahma. This is the path leading to the gods.

Chandogya Upanisad (Radhakrishnan), V.9.1-2

Now, the self is the bridge, the (separating) boundary for keeping these worlds apart. Over that bridge day and night do not cross, nor old age nor death, nor sorrow, nor well-doing nor ill-doing. All evils turn back from it for the Brahma-world is freed from evil.

Therefore, verily, on crossing that bridge, if one is blind he becomes no longer blind, if wounded he becomes no longer wounded, if afflicted he becomes no longer afflicted. Therefore, verily, on crossing that bridge, night appears even as day for that Brahma-world is ever-illumined.

Chandogya Upanisad (Radhakrishnan), VIII.4.1-3

Now as for these arteries (channels) of the heart, they consist of a fine substance which is reddish-brown, white, blue, yellow, and red. Verily, the sun yonder is reddish-brown, he is white, he is blue, he is yellow, he is red.

Even as a great extending highway runs between two villages, this one and that yonder, even so these rays of the sun go to both these worlds, this one and that yonder. They start from the yonder sun and enter into these arteries. They start from these arteries and enter into yonder sun...

But when thus he departs from this body, then he goes upwards by these very rays or he goes up with the thought of aum. As his mind is failing, he goes to the sun. That, verily, is the gateway of the world, an entering in for the knowers a shutting out for the non-knowers.

On this there is this verse.
A hundred and one are the arteries of the heart, one of them leads up to the crown of the head. Going upward through that, one becomes immortal: the others serve for going in various other directions, for going in various other directions.

Chandogya Upanisad (Radhakrishnan), VIII.6.1-2, 5-6

A hundred and one are the arteries of the heart; one of them leads up to the crown of the head. Going upward through that, one becomes immortal; the others serve for going to various other directions.

Katha Upanisad (Radhakrishnan), II.3.16

It is necessary that the subtle forces and the manas which contains the consciousness of the dying man should come out of the top of the head through a fissure called Brahma's hole, which plays a great part in Asian anatomy.

If the human being disengages himself thus, says the tradition, he retains a clear consciousness of his state, and, above all, at a given moment (twenty to twenty-five minutes after apparent death), experience the ecstatic state which is an absolute reproduction of the samadhi of the yogi, a state which permits him to realize his union with the divine. This is an opportunity open to every human being who dies, but unfortunately very few become aware of this possibility.

J. Marques Riviere, 107

Then Raikva asked thus: Venerable Sir, How and by what means does this self which is a mass of intelligence after leaving its seat and moving upward have its exit? To him he replied. In the center of the heart is a red mass of flesh. In it is the white lotus called the dahara which has bloomed like a red lotus with its petals spread in different directions. In the middle of it is an ocean. In the middle of the ocean is a sheath. In it are four nadis called Rama, Arama, Iccha and Apunarbhava. Of these, Rama leads (the practitioner of righteousness) through righteousness to the world of righteousness. Arama leads (the practitioner of unrighteousness) through unrighteousness to the world of the unrighteous. Through Iccha one attains whatever object of desire one recalls. Through Apunarbhava one breaks through the sheath. Having broken through the sheath one breaks through the shell of the crust (skull). Having broken through the skull, he breaks through the earth element. Having broken through the earth element he breaks through water. Having broken through water, he breaks through light. Having broken through light, he breaks through air. Having broken through air, he breaks through ether. Having broken through ether he breaks through mind. Having broken through mind, he breaks through the subtle elements. Having broken through the subtle elements, he breaks through the mahat tattva. Having broken through the mahat tattva he breaks through the Unmanifested. Having broken through the Unmanifested, he breaks through the imperishable. Having broken through the imperishable, he breaks through Death. Then Death becomes one with the Supreme. In the Supreme there is neither existence nor non-existence nor existence and non-existence. This is the doctrine leading to liberation. This is the doctrine of the Veda. This is the doctrine of the Veda.

Subala Upanisad (Radhakrishnan), XI.1

But those who practice austerity and faith in the forest, the tranquil knowers who live the life of a mendicant, depart freed from sin, through the door of the sun to where dwells the immortal, imperishable person.

Mundaka Upanisad (Radhakrishnan), I.2.5-10

Having entered on this path of the gods, he comes to the world of Agni, then to the world of Vayu, then to the world of Varuna, then to the world of Indra, then to the world of Praja-pati, then to the world of Brahma. This brahma-world, verily, has the lake Ara, the moments yestiha, the river Vijara, the tree Ilya, the city Salajya, the abode Aparajita, the two doorkeepers Indra and Praja-pati, the hall Vibhu, the throne Vicaksana, the couch Amitaujas, the beloved Mansi and her counterpart Caksusi, both of whom taking flowers, verily, weave the worlds, the mothers, the nurses, the nymphs, and the rivers. To it (to such a world) he who knows this comes. To him Brahma runs (advances towards), and says, "It is on account of my glory, verily, he has reached the river, Ageless, He, verily, will not grow old."

Five hundred apsarasas (nymphs) go towards him, one hundred with fruit in their hands, one hundred with ointments in their hands, one hundred with garments in their hands, one hundred with powdered perfume in their hands. They adorn him with the adornment (worthy) of Brahma. He, having been adorned with the adornment of Brahma, goes into (advances towards) Brahma. He comes to the lake Ara and he crosses it with his present sink. He comes to the moments yestiha and they flee from him. He comes to the river Vijara (Ageless); this he crosses with his mind alone. There he shakes off his good deed and those not dear, to the evil deeds. Then just as one driving a chariot looks at the two wheels (without being touched by them), even so he will look at day and night, at good deeds and evil deeds and on all pairs of opposites. Thus one, freed from good and freed from evil, the knower of Brahman, goes on to Brahman.

He comes to the tree Ilya and the fragrance of Brahma enters into him. He comes to the city Salajya; the flavor of Brahma enters into him. He comes to the abode Aparajita; the radiance of Brahma enters into him. He comes to the two door-keepers, Indra and Praja-pati and they run away from him. He comes to the hall Vibhu and the glory of Brahma enters into him. He comes to the throne of Vicaksana; the Saman verses, Brhad and Rathantara, are its two fore feet, the Syaita and the Naudhasa the two hind feet, the Vairupa and the Vairaja, the two lengthwise sides (pieces) the Sakvara and the Raivata are the two cross ones. It is wisdom for by wisdom one sees clearly. He comes to the couch Amitaujas. That is the breathing spirit, the past and the future are its two fore feet, prosperity and the earth are the two hind feet, the Bhadra and the Yajnajayniya the two head pieces, the Brhad and the Rathantara the two lengthwise pieces; the Rg verses and the Saman chants, the cords stretched lengthwise, the yajus formulas the cross ones; the moonbeams the cushion, the udgitha the coverlet, prosperity the pillow. On this (couch) Brahma sits. He who knows this ascends it just with one foot only. Brahma asks him "Who are you?" and he should answer:

I am season, I am connected with the seasons. From space as the source I am produced as the seed for a wife, as the light of the year, as the self of every single being. You are the self of every single being. What you are that am I. He says to him, "Who am I?" He should say, "The Real." What is that called the Real? Whatever is different from the gods (sense organs) and the vital breath that is sat, but the gods and vital breaths are tyam. Therefore this is expressed by the word satyam, all this, whatever there is. All this you are. Thus he speaks to him then. This is declared by a Rg verse.

Kausitaki-Brahmana Upanisad (Radhakrishnan), I.3-7

8:12-13 He who closes the doors of the senses, confines the mind within the heart, draws the prana into the head, and engages in the practice of yoga, uttering Om, the single syllable denoting Brahman, and meditates on Me -- he who so departs, leaving the body, attains the Supreme Goal.

8:14 I am easy of access to that ever steadfast yogi who, O Partha, constantly meditates on Me and gives no thought to anything else.

8:15 Having come to Me, these high-souled men are no more subject to rebirth, which is transitory and the abode of pain; for they have reached the highest perfection.

Bhagavad Gita

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The Path of the Fathers

But those who by sacrificial offerings, charity and austerity conquer the worlds, they pass into the smoke (of the cremation fire), from the smoke into the night, from the night into the half-month of the waning moon, from the half-month of the waning moon into the six months during which the sun travels southward, from these months into the world of the fathers, from the world of the fathers to the moon. Reaching the moon they become food. There the gods, as they say to king Soma, increase, decrease, even so feed upon them there.

Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad (Radhakrishnan), VI.2.16

But those, who in the village practice (a life of) sacrifice, (and perform) works of public utility and almsgiving they pass into the smoke, from smoke to night, from night to the latter (dark) half of the month, from the latter (dark) half of the month to the six months in which the sun moves southwards, but they do not reach the year.

From those months to the world of the fathers, from the world of the fathers to space, from space to the moon. That is the king Soma. That is the food of the gods. That the gods eat.

Having dwelt there as long as there is residue (of good works) they return again...

Chandogya Upanisad (Radhakrishnan), V.10.3-5

Whosoever performs works, makes offerings when these (tongues) are shining and at the proper time, these (offerings) in the form of the rays of the sun lead him to that (world) where the one lord of the gods abides.

The radiant offerings invite him with the words, "come, come," and carry the sacrificer by the rays of the sun, honoring him and saluting him with pleasing words: "This is your holy world of Brahma won through good deeds."

Unsteady, verily, are these boats of the eighteen sacrificial forms, which are said to be inferior karma. The deluded who delight in this as leading to good, fall again into old age and death.

Abiding in the midst of ignorance, wise in their own esteem, thinking themselves to be learned, fools, afflicted with troubles, go about like blind men led by one who is himself blind.

The immature, living manifoldly in ignorance, think "we have accomplished our aim." Since those who perform rituals do not understand (the truth) because of attachment, therefore they sink down, wretched, when their worlds (i.e. the fruits of their merits) are exhausted.

These deluded me, regarding sacrifices and works of merits as most important, do not know any other good. having enjoyed in the high place of heaven won by good deeds, they enter again this world or a still lower one.

Mundaka Upanisad (Radhakrishnan), I.2.5-10

Then he said, those who, verily, depart from this world, they all, in truth, go to the moon. In the earlier (bright half), it (the moon) thrives on their breathing spirits, in the latter (dark) half, it causes them to be born (again). The moon, verily, is the door of the world of heaven. Whoever answers it (properly), him it sets free (to go to the higher worlds). But whoever answers it not, him having become rain, it rains down here. Either as a worm, or as an insect or as a fish or as a bird, or as a lion, or as a boar, or as a snake, or as a tiger, or as a person or as some other in this or that condition he is born again according to his deeds, according to his knowledge; when he comes thither, he asks him; who are you? He should answer. From the far-shining, O ye Seasons, the seed was gathered, produced from the fifteenfold from the home of the fathers (the ancestors) sent me in a man as an agent and with a man as an agent, placed me in a mother. So was I born, being born in the twelfth or thirteenth month united to a father of twelve or thirteen months; for the knowledge of this was I, for the knowledge of the opposite of this. Therefore, O ye seasons, bring me on to immortality by this truth, by this austerity I am (like) a season. I am connected with the seasons. Who are you? (the sage asks again) "I am you," he replies. Then he sets him free.

Kausitaki-Brahmana Upanisad (Radhakrishnan), I.2

A man...goes to the next world bearing in his mind the subtle impressions of his deeds; and after reaping there the harvest of his deeds, he returns again to this world of action.

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (Prabhavananda), 109

...the scriptures do not proclaim any competence for acquiring fresh karma in heaven or hell or among lower creatures...

Sankaracarya, Brahma-Sutra Bhasya, III.i.8

When a man who has done meritorious actions dies, he becomes a Deva or god and dwells in heaven. He enjoys various kinds of pleasures in heaven. During his period of stay in heaven he does not do any fresh karma or action. Dwelling in heaven is simply a reward for his past good actions. In the Deva form he does not perform any Karma at all.

Swami Sivananda (2), 115

But the disadvantages of heaven are great indeed. In the celestial region, a person, while enjoying the fruits of acts he had already performed, cannot perform any other new act. He must enjoy the fruits of the former life till they are completely exhausted. Further he is liable to fall after he has completely exhausted his merit. These are the disadvantages of heaven. The consciousness of those about to fall is stupefied. It is also agitated by emotions. As the garlands of those about to fall fade away, fear possesses their hearts.

Swami Sivananda (2), 117

Heaven is a plane of enjoyment only... He cannot attain Moksha or final emancipation from there. He will have to come down to this earth again for trying for his salvation.

Swami Sivananda (2), 152

Nay, even if a man ignorant of the kingdom of the Self should do virtuous deeds on earth, he would not arrive through them at everlasting life; for the effects of his deeds would finally be exhausted. Wherefore let him know the kingdom of the Self, and that alone.

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (Prabhavananda), 81

8:16 The dwellers in the worlds, from the realm of Brahma downward, are subject to rebirth, O Arjuna; but for those who reach Me, O son of Kunti, there is no further return to embodiment.

Bhagavad Gita

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The Worlds of Blind Darkness

Into blind darkness enter they who worship ignorance... Those worlds covered with blind darkness are called joyless. To them after death go those people who have not knowledge, who are not awakened.

Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad (Radhakrishnan), IV.4.8-9

After the death of men who have done bad deeds, another solid body, designed to be tortured, is born out of the five elements. When (the living souls) here have suffered with that body the tortures given by Yama, (the bodies) dissolve, each part distributed into its own basic element.

The Laws of Manu, 12:16-17

The Ruler of Hell is Lord Yama. He is assisted by Chitragupta. Hell is a particular locality which is walled off from the surrounding regions of space by the messengers of Yama. Sinners get a thick body called "Yatana-Deha" when they are punished. The punishment in hell is not remembered by the soul when it is reborn. The punishment in hell is reformatory and educative. The permanent educative effect remains in conscience. The innate fear which some souls feel at the sight of temptation of sin is due to the finer development of conscience in the furnace of hell-fire. This is the permanent gain acquired by the soul. The soul is reborn with keener conscience after being purified by hell-fire. He can make better use of his faculties in the next birth.

Swami Sivananda (2), 126

"Why are we punished?" asked the barrister.

"For our good. To reform us. To remedy the evils we have done," the Great Master replied.

"We do not remember what we did in our past lives and what we are being punished for. What is the effect of a punishment if one does not remember the misdeed?" the barrister inquired.

"The effect of the punishment is so deeply embedded in the antashkaran that it remains forever," the Great Master told him. "In subsequent lives, the soul dreads the act for which it is punished, as one avoids a poisonous snake. That person automatically avoids that act and finds a natural aversion in his heart towards it."

Great Master, 100

But the Yoga asserts that retribution is in exact proportion to the crimes and the faults committed, and that what we have to do with is the exhaustion of a mental force generated by the human being in his ignorance.

J. Marques Riviere, 109

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Length of Time Before Rebirth

People wish to know the exact period that elapses from the time of leaving the body and being born again... Now, there is no definite period of time in this matter. In main two factors decide this issue viz., the nature of the individual Karma and the last impression before death. It may vary from hundreds of years to a few months even. Those that work out some of their Karmas in other planes in subtler regions, take a considerable time before entering a fresh body. The interval is very long, for a year of the earth period passes off as a single day on the celestial plane...

A very sensual individual with strong craving or one with intense attachment sometimes is reborn quickly. Also in cases where life is cut short by a violent death or a sudden unexpected accident, the Jiva resumes the thread very soon.

Swami Sivananda (2), 153-154

Ten years of the earth plane is equal to ten days for the Devas in heaven

Swami Sivananda (2), 198

Q. Theosophy speaks of fifty to 10,000 year intervals between death and rebirth. Why is this so?

A. There is no relation between the standard of measurements of one state of consciousness and another. All such measurements are hypothetical. It is true that some individuals take more time and some less.

Ramana Maharshi, 197

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The Return to Earth Plane

When that passes away from them, they pass forth into this space, from space into air, from air into rain, from rain into the earth. Reaching the earth they become food. Again, they are offered in the fire of man. Thence they are born in the fire of woman with a view to going to other worlds. Thus do they rotate.

Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad (Radhakrishnan), VI.2.16

Having dwelt there as long as there is residue (of good works) they return by that course by which they came to space, from space into air; and after having become the air they become the smoke; after having become smoke, they become mist.

After having become mist they become cloud, after having become cloud he rains down. They are born here as rice and barley, herbs and trees, as sesamum plants and beans. From thence the release becomes extremely difficult for whoever eats the food and sows the seed he becomes like unto him.

Those whose conduct here has been good will quickly attain a good birth (literally womb), the birth of a Brahmin, the birth of a Ksatriya, or the birth of a Vaisya. But those whose conduct here has been evil, will quickly attain an evil birth, the birth of a dog, the birth of a hog or the birth of a Candala.

Chandogya Upanisad (Radhakrishnan), V.10.5-7

The moon, verily, is the door of the world of heaven. Whoever answers it (properly), him it sets free (to go to the higher worlds). But whoever answers it not, him having become rain, it rains down here. Either as a worm, or as an insect or as a fish or as a bird, or as a lion, or as a boar, or as a snake, or as a tiger, or as a person or as some other in this or that condition he is born again according to his deeds, according to his knowledge; when he comes thither, he asks him; who are you? He should answer. From the far-shining, O ye Seasons, the seed was gathered, produced from the fifteenfold from the home of the fathers (the ancestors) sent me in a man as an agent and with a man as an agent, placed me in a mother. So was I born, being born in the twelfth or thirteenth month united to a father of twelve or thirteen months; for the knowledge of this was I, for the knowledge of the opposite of this. Therefore, O ye seasons, bring me on to immortality by this truth, by this austerity I am (like) a season. I am connected with the seasons. Who are you? (the sage asks again) "I am you," he replies. Then he sets him free.

Kausitaki-Brahmana Upanisad (Radhakrishnan), I.2

Eventually it is brought back to earth with the rain, enters the food chain through absorption by a plant, and finally becomes associated with the seed of a male who has eaten the fruit of that plant. The act of intercourse thus "introduces" this soul into the womb where its new body will grow, and the entire process begins once more. The force of karma operates here in determining which potential father will eat which plant, thus guaranteeing the soul a set of circumstances appropriate to its prior experiences.

Padmanabh S. Jaini, in O'Flaherty, 220-221

...Jaina texts make absolutely no mention whatsoever of how a soul actually enters the body of the mother-to-be. It is said only that the soul moves into a new embryo within a single moment (samaya)after the death of the previous body.

Padmanabh S. Jaini, in O'Flaherty, 221

...the Vaibhasika theory that the transmigratory consciousness (referred to as gandharva) enters the vagina at the moment of intercourse and is thus trapped therein.

Padmanabh S. Jaini, in O'Flaherty, 221-222

Note: "According to them there are four chief Buddhist schools...The Hinayana schools are the Vaibhasikas and the Sautrantikas."

It is said in the Garbha Upanishad that when the fetus in the womb is seven months old, the soul receives knowledge of its past and future. It knows who it has been and will be. When the movie of its lives passes before its mind, it becomes frightened and begins moving restlessly here and there...Now, God has been watching all this, and when at last the soul starts crying out and taking refuge in Him, God bestows His grace upon it. He gives it instruction in so'ham, which means "That am I" and which is the same as the hamsa mantra...However, when nine months are over, the fetus is forcibly ejected from its mother's womb. The moment it comes out, it starts crying...It forgets the awareness of so'ham and cries ko ham, which means "Who am I?"

Swami Muktananda (1), 28-30

The Jiva can travel through space. It need not necessarily have any physical support like raindrops, earth etc. It finds entrance into this physical world through raindrops, that is all. There are seven planes which are interpenetrating one subtler than the other. Heaven is one of them...

Till the seventh month the Jiva remains in an unmanifested state. "The soul enters the foetus in the seventh month" -- this does not mean that it newly enters. It only means that it begins to manifest in the seventh month when the formation of the physical body completes.

Swami Sivananda (2), 196-197

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The Fruition of Karma

Karmas can bear fruit in several ways in the astral worlds or in future births, or can be destroyed through the practice of yoga.

Circumstances in Future Births

2:14. Experiences of pleasure and of pain are the results of merit and demerit, respectively.


He who spreads happiness will always get such favorable circumstances as can bring him happiness. He who spreads pain to others will, doubtless, get such unfavorable circumstances, according to the law of Nature as can bring him misery and pain.

Swami Sivananda (1), 83-84

The man is dragged to places where he can get his objects of desire... Suppose there is a poor intelligent boy in India. He has an intense desire to go to England for his I.C.S. examination. His desire to go in this birth cannot be fulfilled. Suppose also that there is a rich lady in England who has no son and has intense desire to get an intelligent one. The poor boy may get his next birth in London as the son of the rich lady according to the law of coincidence. He thus would have his strong desire gratified now. God gives suitable surroundings according to the nature of the desire of the man for his growth and evolution.

Swami Sivananda (1), 84-85

If you develop a carbuncle or get a fracture of the leg or arm, this is obviously due to some bad Karma in your previous birth. The bad Karma was the cause and the carbuncle or fracture is the effect... There is no such thing as a chance or accident.

Swami Sivananda (1), 92-93

If the virtuous man who has not done any evil act in this birth suffers, this is due to some wrong act that he may have committed in his previous birth. He will have his compensation in his next birth. If the wicked man who daily does many evil actions apparently enjoys in this birth, this is due to some good Karma he must have done in his previous birth. he will have compensation in his next birth. He will suffer in the next birth. The law of compensation is inexorable and relentless.

Swami Sivananda (1), 102

"Suppose a man is fond of game shooting and kills one hundred animals in his life," said the Great Master. "This heavy debt can only be cleared by all those animals taking the life of the hunter in their turn. So he will require one hundred lives to adjust this account created by one bad habit only."

Great Master, 99

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An evil-doer is freed from his evil by declaring (the act), by remorse, by inner heat, by recitation (of the Veda), and, in extremity, by giving gifts.

The Laws of Manu, 11:228

Prayaschitta is done for the destruction of sin. In the Code of Manu you will find various kinds of Prayaschitta for the destruction of various kinds of sins... Prayaschitta is of two kinds, viz., 1. Extraordinary (Asadharana) and 2. Ordinary (Sadharana). Extraordinary penances are those which are prescribed in the Code of Manu for the destruction of particular sins... If anyone repents and openly admits his minor offenses, the sin is washed away. In doing Prayaschitta the offender actually suffers, he punishes himself by long fasting and other ordeals as described above. Action and reaction are equal and opposite.

Swami Sivananda (1), 208-209

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Regression to Lower Forms

But those who do not know these two ways, become insects, moths and whatever there is here that bites.

Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad (Radhakrishnan), VI.2.16

But on neither of these ways are those small creatures (which are ) continually revolving (those of whom it is said), be born and die. Theirs is a third state. By this (it comes about) that that world becomes full. Therefore let one seek to guard himself. To this end, there is this verse.

He who steals gold, he who drinks wine, he who dishonors the teacher's bed, he who kills a Brahmana, these four do fall as also the fifth who consorts with them.

Chandogya Upanisad (Radhakrishnan), V.10.8-9

Some souls enter a womb for embodiment; others enter stationary objects according to their deeds and according to their thoughts.

Katha Upanisad (Radhakrishnan), II.2.8

12:3 The action that arises in the mind-and-heart, speech, and the body bears good and bad fruits; the highest, lowest, and middle level of men's existences come from their actions.

12:9 A man becomes a stationary object as a result of the faults that are the effects of past actions of the body, a bird or wild animal from those of speech, and a member of one of the lowest castes from those of the mind-and-heart.

The Laws of Manu

12:35 When someone who has done, or is doing, or is going to do an act feels ashamed, a learned man should realize that the whole act has the mark of the quality of darkness.

12:36 When someone hopes to achieve great fame in this world by a certain act, but does not feel sorry if it fails, that should be known as (an act with the quality of energy).

12:37 But when he longs with his all to know something and is not ashamed when he does it, and his self is satisfied by it, that (act) has the mark of the quality of lucidity.

12:38 Pleasure is the mark of darkness, profit is said to be the mark of energy, and religion the mark of lucidity, and each is better than the one before it.

12:39 Now I will tell you, in a nutshell and in order, the transmigrations in this whole (universe) that one achieves by each of these qualities:

12:40 People of lucidity become gods, people of energy become humans, and people of darkness always become animals; this is the three-fold level of existence.

The Laws of Manu

[Note: The above version translates sattva as lucidity, rajas as energy, and tamas as darkness.]

12:81 But a man reaps the appropriate fruit of any act in a body that has the qualities of the frame of mind in which he committed that act.

The Laws of Manu

14:14 If the embodied soul meets with death when sattva prevails, it goes to the spotless realms of those who know the Highest.

14:15 If the embodied soul meets with death when rajas prevails, it is born among those who are attached to action; and if it meets with death when tamas prevails, it is born in the wombs of creatures devoid of reason.

Bhagavad Gita

Q. Is it possible for a man to be reborn as a lower animal?

A. Yes. It is possible, as illustrated by Jada Bharata--the scriptural anecdote of a royal sage having been reborn as deer.

Ramana Maharshi, 196-197

"Remember, Nature is not extravagant. It gives that form to an individual in which he can best satisfy his unfulfilled desires and cravings. If in human form, such desires and cravings are created that befit an animal, the next birth must be degradation to an animal form."

Great Master, 149

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Effects on Character

According as one acts, according as one behaves, so does he become. The doer of good becomes good, the doer of evil becomes evil. One becomes virtuous by good action, bad by bad action.

Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad IV.4.6 (Radhakrishnan)

Actions produce Samskaras or impressions or potencies. The impressions coalesce together through repetition and form habits. Tendencies develop into habits and character. The sum-total of the tendencies of a man is his character. Karmas manufacture character and character manufactures will. If the character is pure and strong, the will also will be pure and strong, and vice versa.

Swami Sivananda (1), 108

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Assumption by the Guru

"Sir, does the Satguru take upon Himself the sins of all the disciples He initiates?" Rai Ranjit Gopal asked.

"Yes, He takes over the karmic accounts of all Satsangis initiated by Him," the Great Master replied.

"At the time of Initiation?" Rai Sahib asked.

"And later on also," said the Great Master. "This process continues. You have compelled me to disclose something, Rai Sahib, which so far had remained undisclosed. Listen. Initiation by a perfect Master means something more than merely teaching the method of repeating the Holy Names or of hearing the Holy Sound. At the time of the Initiation the Master unties the Dori (the cord or string) of the disciple's soul which binds it to Kal, and attaches it to the Satguru's feet inside. He then continually keeps it moving to higher stages according to how He finds the disciple's love and devotion for the Lord increasing. Kal is seated on the left side of the Kanj Kanwal (the center directly behind the eyes) and Satguru is seated on the right side. At the time of death, uninitiated souls go automatically into the mouth of Kal, as if drawn by a powerful vacuum. If initiation were simply the communication of Five Names, a girl of ten could do that. But saving a soul from the clutches of Kal is something different. Only a Sant Satguru can deliver a soul from Kal."

Great Master, 217

"Sir, how long does it take a Satsangi to reach Sach Khand?" Rai Sahib asked.

"There is no general rule for that. It depends on one's love, faith and devotion, one's zeal, and the effort one makes," the Great Master replied. "The Lord's grace also plays an important part, and so does one's karma...But one thing is certain. That is, after Initiation there is no going down below the scale of mankind, and it takes no more than four births for an Initiate to reach Sach Khand."

Great Master, 218

"...People ask you to pray for their cows, horses, pet dogs, cats, and squirrels. Now, what does this signify? They know--at least the Satsangis do--that all pain and disease come as the result of a jiva's past karmas and this debt of karmas must be paid. Kal must have his pound of flesh if not from the jiva concerned than from the Master who takes upon Himself the burden of that jiva."

Great Master, 137

Our happiness was suddenly marred after a fortnight by the Great Master falling seriously ill--in fact very dangerously ill... The Great Master had initiated a large number of Nepalese and other people from the surrounding hilly tracts, who throughout their lives had been killing goats and other animals for sacrifices and also for eating. Before this also, after initiating people, the Great Master would always be slightly ill. But this time it was much worse than usual, and it made us all very nervous and apprehensive. On the tenth day his condition grew very serious. The doctors lost all hope. This state lasted for three days and even after that we spent many sleepless nights and days. But during all this time the Great Master's joviality and good humor remained the same...Soon after this he recovered very speedily.

Great Master, 130-131

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Destruction by Meditation

4:6 Of the various types of mind, only that which is purified by samadhi is freed from all latent impressions of karma and from all cravings.


4:11 Our subconscious tendencies depend upon cause and effect. They have their basis in the mind, and they are stimulated by the sense-objects. If all these are removed, the tendencies are destroyed.


Q. The present experiences are the result of past karma. If we know the mistakes committed before, we can rectify them.

A. If one mistake is rectified there still remains the whole sanchita karma from former births which is going to give you innumerable births. So that is not the procedure. The more you prune a plant, the more vigorously it grows. The more you rectify your karma, the more it accumulates. Find the root of karma and cut it off.

Ramana Maharshi, 219

A. ...In other words, complete effacement of the ego is necessary to conquer destiny, whether you achieve this effacement through self-inquiry or through bhakti marga.

Ramana Maharshi, 223

Q. Can people wipe out the consequences of their bad actions by doing mantras or japa or will they necessarily have to experience them?

A. If the feeling "I am doing japa" is not there, the bad actions committed by a man will not stick to him. If the feeling "I am doing the japa" is there, the consequences of bad actions will persist.

Q. Does not punya [merit accumulated from virtuous acts] extinguish papa [demerit accumulated from sinful acts]?

A. So long as the feeling "I am doing" is there, one must experience the results of one's acts, whether they are good or bad. How is it possible to wipe out one act with another? When the feeling that "I am doing" is lost, nothing affects a man. Unless one realizes the Self, the feeling "I am doing" will never vanish.

Ramana Maharshi, 220

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Free Will and Destiny

11:32 I am mighty, world-destroying Time, now engaged here in slaying these men. Even without you, all these warriors standing arrayed in the opposing armies shall not live.

11:33 Therefore stand up and win glory; conquer your enemies and enjoy an opulent kingdom. By Me and none other have they already been slain; be an instrument only, O Arjuna.

11:34 Kill Drona and Bhisma and Jayadratha and Karna, and the other great warriors as well, who have already been killed by Me. Be not distressed by fear. Fight, and you shall conquer your foes in the battle.

Bhagavad Gita

18:60 Bound by your own karma, O son of Kunti, which is born of your very nature, what through delusion you seek not to do, you shall do even against your will.

Bhagavad Gita

Those who know that what is to be experienced by them in this life is only what is already destined in their prarabdha will never feel perturbed about what is to be experienced. Know that all one's experiences will be thrust upon one whether one wills them or not.

Ramana Maharshi, 221

Q....can it be that all the details of his life, down to the minutest, have already been determined? Now, for instance, I put this fan that is in my hand down on the floor here. Can it be that it was already decided that on such and such a day, at such and such an hour, I should move the fan like this and put it down here?

A. Certainly. Whatever this body is to do and whatever experiences it is to pass through was already decided when it came into existence.

Q. What becomes then of man's freedom and responsibility for his actions?

A. The only freedom man has is to strive for and acquire the jnana which will enable him not to identify himself with the body. The body will go through the actions rendered inevitable by prarabdha and a man is free either to identify himself with the body and be attached to the fruits of its actions, or to be detached from it and be a mere witness of its activities.

Q. So free will is a myth?

A. Free will holds the field with association to individuality. As long as individuality lasts there is free will. All the scriptures are based on this fact and they advise directing the free will in the right channel.

Ramana Maharshi, 222-223

"Neither is everything predestined, nor do we have free will in everything," said the Great Master. "There was a time when we had free will. We could act as we pleased. We acted, and that act produced a certain result. That "result" became our destiny. We could not escape it. We acted again. This time our free will carried with it the experience of our first act and was qualified and limited to that extent. This act again produced results, and these results again curtailed our original freedom. Now that we have been acting and producing results for millions of ages, these actions and their reactions act upon us as our unavoidable fate. Our body, mind, intellect, and reasoning are fashioned by these and make us choose a certain course. Our previous acts determine our present life, and our present acts go to make our future. We reap now what we have sown in our previous births, and we shall reap in the future what we are sowing now.

"We are at present performing two kinds of actions: (1) new actions, called Kriyaman, and (2) Pralabdh, which are the results of actions done previously. Both actions go on simultaneously. Now you can judge for yourself to what extent we are free, and how far we are bound by our fate. What we call "fate" is nothing but the result or reaction of our own actions previously performed. We have "made" our own destiny, and are now constantly engaged in making it for the future.

Great Master, 209

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Karma Yoga

A man acts according to the desires to which he clings. After death he goes to the next world bearing in his mind the subtle impressions of his deeds; and after reaping there the harvest of his deeds, he returns again to this world of action. Thus he who has desires continues subject to rebirth.

But he in whom desire is stilled suffers no rebirth. After death, having attained to the highest, desiring only the Self, he goes to no other world. Realizing Brahman, he becomes Brahman.

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (Prabhavananda), 109

3:9 The world becomes bound by action unless it be done for the sake of Sacrifice. Therefore, O son of Kunti, give up attachment and do your work for the sake of the Lord.

4:14 Action does not defile Me; nor do I long for its fruit. He who knows Me thus is not bound by his action.

3:19 Therefore always do without attachment the work you have to do; for a man who does his work without attachment attains the Supreme.

3:30 Surrendering yourself to Me, with mind intent on the Self, freeing yourself from longing and selfishness, fight -- unperturbed by grief.

3:35 Better one's own dharma, though imperfectly performed, than the dharma of another well performed. Better is death in the doing of one's own dharma: the dharma of another is fraught with peril.

9:27 Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer in sacrifice, whatever you give away, and whatever you parties in the form of austerities, O son of Kunti -- do it as an offering to Me.

9:28 Thus you shall be free from the bondage of actions, which bear good or evil results. With your mind firmly set on the yoga of renunciation, you shall become free and come to Me.

Bhagavad Gita

"We perform actions with certain desires. These desires forge chains for our future bondage. So the only way to get released is to perform desireless actions. Do your duties in a detached manner without any thought for the result of your actions. Take everything, your body, mind, possessions, children, etc. as a trust from the Lord, and look upon yourself only as a trustee, as His agent. All responsibility for the acts of the agent are transferred to the principal. The agent is not liable for any loss or profit. Trouble comes only when we try to misappropriate the trust property."

Great Master, 209

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Rebirth of Fallen Yogis

6:37 Arjuna said: A man who is endowed with faith, but not with steadfastness, and whose mind has wandered away from yoga -- what end does he gain, O Krishna, having failed to attain perfection in yoga?

6:40 The Lord said: O Partha, there is no destruction for him either in this world or the next: no evil, My son, befalls a man who does good.

6:41 The man who has fallen away from yoga goes to the worlds of the righteous. Having lived there for unnumbered years, he is reborn in the home of the pure and prosperous.

6:42 Or he is born in a family of yogis rich in wisdom. Verily, such a birth is hard to gain in this world.

6:43 There he comes in touch with the knowledge acquired in his former body, O son of the Kurus, and strives still further for perfection.

6:44 By that former practice he is led on in spite of himself. Even he who merely wishes to know of yoga rises superior to the performer of Vedic rites.

6:45 A yogi, striving diligently, is purified of all sins, and, becoming perfect through many births, reaches the Supreme Goal.

Bhagavad Gita

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The Realized Being

He who knows the Self is unaffected, whether by good or evil. Never do such thoughts come to him as "I have done an evil thing" or "I have done a good thing." Both good and evil he has transcended, and he is therefore troubled no more by what he may or may not have done.

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (Prabhavananda), 111

4:7 The karma of the yogi is neither white nor black. The karma of others is of three kinds: white, black, or mixed.


The karma of ordinary people is either black (bad,) white (good), or mixed. But when a man has attained samadhi his acts will cease to produce karmas for him, of any kind (see I,18). Nevertheless, since the illumined yogi continues to act, karmas are being produced, and there may even be some admixture of evil in them. Who gets these karmas? Shankara gives an interesting answer to this question. He says that those who love the illumined yogi will receive the good effects of his karmas, while those who hate him will receive the bad.

Such is not the case, however, with an avatar or divine incarnation. An avatar, such as Krishna, Christ, or Ramakrishna, is an actual incarnation of the Godhead. He enters the phenomenal world by an act of grace and divine free will, not because he is forced to do so by the karmas of previous births. He comes into the world without karmas, and his acts in this world produce none. Therefore, the effects of his karmas cannot be received by others, either for good or for ill.

In Hindu religious literature, there are numerous stories of men who hated God or an avatar...And, in all these instances, these men attained liberation...It is best to love an avatar, but it is better to hate him passionately than to be indifferent to him...Rajas is spiritually higher than Tamas. By way of rajas, we reach sattwa...

Prabhavananda and Isherwood, in Patanjali, p. 145

Q. If I am not the body why am I responsible for the consequences of my good and bad actions?

A. If you are not the body and do not have the idea "I am the doer," the consequences of your good or bad actions will not affect you. Why do you say about the actions the body performs "I do this" or "I did that"? As long as you identify yourself with the body like that you are affected by the consequences of the actions, that is to say, while you identify with the body you accumulate good and bad karma.

Ramana Maharshi, 219

...Prarabdha karma is of three categories, ichha, anichha and parechha [personally desired, without desire, and due to others' desire]. For the one who has realized the Self, there is no ichha-prarabdha but the two others, anichha and parechha, remain. Whatever a jnani does is for others only. If there are things to be done by him for others, he does them but the results do not affect him. Whatever be the actions that such people do, there is no punya and no papa attached to them. ...So long as one identifies oneself with the body, all this is difficult to understand. That is why it is sometimes said in response to such questions, "The body of the jnani will continue till the force of prarabdha works itself out, and after the prarabdha is exhausted it will drop off." An illustration made use of in this connection is that of an arrow already discharged which will continue to advance and strike its target. But the truth is that the jnani has transcended all karmas, including the prarabdha karma, and he is not bound by the body or its karmas.

Ramana Maharshi, 220-221

When a meditator whose Kundalini is awakened becomes stabilized in the sahasrar, piercing all his chakras, he dies right then -- he dies to the state of bondage. He knows no other death. He continues to live in his physical form only on account of his prarabdha.

Swami Muktananda (3), 156

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Projection of the Soul

3:39 When the bonds of the mind caused by karma have been loosened, the yogi can enter into the body of another by knowledge of the operation of its nerve currents.


The yogi can enter a dead body and make it get up and move, even while he himself is working in another body. Or he can enter a living body, and hold that man's mind and organs in check, and for the time being act through the body of that man.

Swami Vivekananda, quoted in commentary to Patanjali, 133

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The Night of Brahma

A cycle, or Day of Brahma, a kalpa, the period of the endurance of the solar system, is 12,000 years of the devas, or 4,320,000,000 earth-years. At the beginning of each Day when Brahma wakes, the "Three Worlds" so often spoken of in the myths, together with the devas, rishis, asuras, men, and creatures, are manifested afresh according to their individual deserts (karma, deeds); only those who in the previous kalpa obtained direct release (nirvana, moksha), or who passed beyond the Three Worlds to higher planes, no longer reappear. At the close of each Day the Three Worlds, with all their creatures, are again resolved into chaos (pralaya), retaining only a latent germ of necessity of remanifestation. The Night of Brahma is of equal length with the Day.

The life of our Brahma or Ishvara is one hundred Brahma-years, at the end of which time not only the Three Worlds, but all planes and all beings -- Ishvara himself, devas, rishis, asuras, men, creatures, and matter -- are resolved into chaos (maha-pralaya, "great chaos"), enduring for another hundred Brahma-years, when there appear a new Brahma and a new creation.

Coomaraswamy and Nivedita, 392-393

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Collective Karma

The collective Karma of a race or a nation is as much a fact in Nature as an individual one. The same principles underlying the Karmic laws apply, without much wide difference, to national and collective Karma. Nations rise and fall, empires flourish and are dismembered on the same ground. The wise heads in a nation should not neglect the dominating sway of this law.

In the midst of a national calamity it is well to remember that nothing can come to us which we have not deserved. We may not be able to see the immediate cause of the catastrophe, but it does not follow that it took place without sufficient cause.

Dr. M. H. Syed, quoted in Swami Sivananda (1), 89

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Copyright 1996-2001 by Joseph F. Morales