by Swami Krishnananda
Incarnation is the descent of God for the ascent of man. This has been briefly touched upon in two verses which we studied yesterday: yada yada hi dharmasya glanir bhavati bharata, abhyutthanam adharmasya tadatmanam srijamyaham (4.7); paritranaya sadhunam vinasaya ca duskritam, dharma-samsthapanarthaya sambhavami yuge yuge (4.8).
In two verses, the great mystery of incarnation has been stated. Still, this incarnation is a mystery. It is supposed to be a response of the cosmos to the demands of the individual, but only when the demand arises from the deepest recesses of the heart of the individual. Otherwise, the response will not come, just as a radio can receive the signals that come from the broadcasting station only if its heart, which is the receiving capacity, is on the same frequency as the broadcasting station.
When the heart cries, God is supposed to come. What is the meaning of the heart crying? We usually do not have such an experience in this world. Our hearts never cry, because we are – at least most of us are – not in such an urgent need of God. “It does not matter if He comes after ten days. I have the capacity to get on without Him for ten days.” Don’t we have such subtle thoughts? Is it so urgent that He must come just now? It shows how shallow our hearts are, and how foolish are our thoughts, and how inadequate is our understanding of what God is. To say that God may come tomorrow or the day after is like saying, “I can breathe after ten days; today I need not breathe.”
God is a greater necessity than our daily diet. The only comparison that I can make is to the breath of life. We cannot say, “Let me breathe after ten days; it doesn’t matter if I don’t breath now.” Breathing is an immediate necessity. The necessity of God as an immediacy is not felt by the ego-ridden individuality, which feels self-conscious and not God-conscious. The karmas of the individual bind it so fast with the ropes of its own desires that even the coming of God may not be recognised.
Avataras of God, incarnations of God, are supposed to be a perpetual occurrence – not something that took place centuries back and something that will take place later on, after another few centuries. It is a perpetual occurrence, like the rays of the sun perpetually falling on the earth. There is a perpetual inundation of the earth by the light of the sun, day in and day out, somewhere or the other. So, in many ways, the coming of God into this world is an avatara for, without this, we would not be able to walk on this earth. We would not be able to lift a finger; we would not be able to digest our food; our lungs would not function; our hearts would not function; our breath would not be there; our brains would not be there. It is the coming of God in a particular form through our individuality, the cosmic operation through the individual in some form unknown to the individual, that is the reason for the very existence of the so-called ego-ridden individual.
The karmas which bind the soul are such intricate processes of relativistic association in this world that it is not easy to know what actually is happening when a karma binds. Kim karma kim akarmeti kavayo’py atra mohitah (4.16). Learned people very advanced in knowledge are also bewildered as to what karma actually is. What is karma? What is akarma? Many a time even people with great insight are also confused. Kim karma kim akarmeti kavayo’py atra mohitah, tatte karma pravakshyami yaj jnatva mokshyase’ shubhat (4.16): Now I shall tell you what kind of thing karma is. Karmano hy api boddhavyam boddhavyam ca vikarmanah, akarmanas ca boddhavyam gahana karmano gatih (4.17): Iit is necessary to know not only what karma is, but also what non-karma, or inaction, is, and what wrong action is. Therefore, what is right action, what is wrong action, and what is inaction? It is necessary to know all these things.
Karmano hy api boddhavyam boddhavyam ca vikarmanah, akarmanas ca boddhavyam: Very difficult is this peculiar intricate way in which karma works. There is no such thing as karma sitting outside on a tree. It is not a thing whose existence we can visualise somewhere. Just as we consider diseases to be a peculiar maladjustment of the physical functioning of the body, rather than a thing that is sitting outside the body and existing separately there, so also the karma is not sitting outside, waiting to harass us.
Karma is the peculiar automatic reaction set up by the cosmic forces in proportion to the action performed by an individual. The reaction will be exactly in proportion to the action that we perform. In a way it, looks like tit for tat. In a crude way, we may say it is like that.
The world is supposed to be something like a mirror through which we see our own face. We see our contour in our relationships with the world. If we smile at the world, the world smiles at us; if we get angry with the world, it gets angry with us; and if we denounce it, it will denounce us also. It will treat us the same way as our body treats us. We cannot know how the body acts and reacts in regard to our own individual existence. The body is not outside the soul. It is inseparably acting on our consciousness, which is our individual soul. Automatic action takes place through the body, and that experience of an automatic reaction set up by the body is the pleasure or the pain that we speak of.
In a similar manner, there is a spontaneous action that is taking place in the cosmos when any activity, any action, takes place anywhere. The reaction is not created by somebody like God in heaven. God does not sit there and say, “So-and-so is doing something. I shall react in this manner.” It is an automatic action of the cosmos. When something happens to some part of the body, an automatic reaction is set up by the entire organism in relation to the particular event taking place in a limb of the body. There is no third person who pushes the button.
The difficulty in understanding what karma is arises on account of our difficulty in knowing what our relationship is with the world at all, and finally with God Himself. There is an inveterate habit of the sense organs to compel us to feel that the world is totally outside, and God is very far away. Even the most learned in scriptures cannot escape this difficulty of suddenly feeling that the world is outside, and God is away and not as near as their skin. This erroneous apprehension of the relation of oneself with the world and God is the cause of the reaction set up by what reality is in the form of the world or God – and this error itself is a karma.
The wrong apprehension of our relation to the world and God is the karma that we perform. Our consciousness is our action. Actually, the physical movements are not action. How we modulate our consciousness, how we direct our thoughts, and how we feel things around us – this is the action that we are performing day in and day out. Every moment we feel something and think something and understand something. This psychological activity perpetually taking place inside is the perpetual action in which we are engaged, and this is also the reason for the perpetual reaction that is being set up. Karma is supposed to get accumulated in our psyche, in the sense of a propensity of the reality outside, to give the due to the individual that has motivated this wrong action. And if this impact goes on continuing again and again – if we persist in wrong thinking, wrong feeling, and wrong understanding – the cosmos persists in giving us a blow again and again in the same way that if we persist in having a wrong diet and living a wrong life, nature will persist in tormenting us with varieties of illnesses.
The piling up of impacts coming repeatedly from the cosmos on account of our repeated wrong actions every day becomes thick – like a cloud, as it were. Inasmuch as it is a force that is acting upon us from the cosmological side, karma cannot be regarded as a substance. The action engendering a reaction from another source is a kind of experience, and the karma residuum which causes rebirth, etc., is also a potentiality for experience in the future. The repeatedly occurring impact of cosmic forces upon individuals becomes thick like a cloud, and it becomes what we call the unconscious, subconscious and conscious levels of the mind. These three layers are: the thick and turbid residuum at the bottom, like the thick layers on top of clouds; a slightly thinner layer further down; and a thinner layer further on, like the layer which slightly illumines the sunlight even in the rainy season when the clouds are thick.
The thickest part of our karma is in the anandamaya kosha. This is what psychologists called the unconscious level. The slightly thinner part is in the subconscious which we experience in dream many a time, and the thinnest part is in the waking condition. Because of its transparency, consciousness is reflected so clearly that even through that karmic residuum we begin to perceive things in the world as clearly as if it were in the waking state. But we perceive things dimly in the dreaming condition because it is subconscious and not as clear as the waking condition. And we know nothing in the sleeping condition because the cloud is very thick and consciousness does not penetrate through that cloud – just as during the monsoons we will not see the sun even at midday, and it will be like night due to the thick clouds covering the entire sky.
This is the difficulty in knowing what karma is. Gahana karmano gatih – the way of karma is indeed very hard to understand, says Bhagavan Sri Krishna. But karmas loosen their grip upon the individual who acts not entirely according to the preponderance of the demands of the sense organs but in the spirit of a yajna, to which reference is made in the Third Chapter – yajnayacharatah karma samagram praviliyate. Gatasangasya muktasya jnanavasthita-cetasah, yajnayacharatah karma samagram praviliyate (4.23): The person who is totally detached (gatasanga), and free from attachments (mukta), and established in the wisdom of life – (jnanavasthita-ceta), and who performs action as a sacrifice as detailed in the Third Chapter, for him every action melts, as ice before the sun.