What Does It Mean to Adopt the Path of Karma?
Karma consists of the activities that one performs with the body or mind in the course of maintaining one’s life. There are two types of karma: auspicious (sabha) and inauspicious (asubha). The results that the jiva obtains by performing auspicious karma are auspicious, whereas those that he obtains from inauspicious karma are inauspicious. Inauspicious karma is also known as sin, or prohibited acts. The non-performance of auspicious-karma is known as akarma. Both prohibited acts and non-performance of auspicious-karma are bad, whereas auspicious-karma is good.
There are three types of auspicious-karma:
- Obligatory daily rites.
- Circumstantial duties.
- Ceremonies performed out of a desire for personal benefit.
Religious rites performed to obtain some specific material benefits, are completely self-interested, and should be rejected. The scriptures direct us to adopt obligatory daily rites, and circumstantial duties. The scriptures have considered what is fit to be taken up, and what is fit to be abandoned, and they have classified obligatory daily rites, circumstantial duties, and ceremonies performed out of a desire for personal benefit, as karma; whereas the non-performance of auspicious activities, or prescribed duties, and impious activity ,have not been included in this category. Although religious rites performed to obtain some specific material benefits, are counted as karma, it is undesirable, and should be given up; hence, only obligatory daily rites and circumstantial duties, are truly accepted as karma.
Obligatory daily rites are karma that produces auspiciousness for the body, mind, and society, and which results in promotion to heavenly planets after death. Everyone is obligated to perform obligatory daily rites, such as chanting the brahma-gayatri-mantra at the three junctures of the day, offering prayers, using honest means to maintain one’s body and society, behaving truthfully, and caring for one’s family members and dependents.
Circumstantial duties are karma that one must carry out under certain circumstances, or on certain occasions, for example; performing rituals for the departed souls of one’s mother and father, atoning for sins and so on.
The authors of the scriptures, first examined the natures of human beings, and their natural eligibility traits, and then established varnasrama-dharma, the duties for the social castes and spiritual orders. Their intention was to prescribe a system, in which obligatory daily rites, and circumstantial duties, could be carried out in an excellent way in this world. The gist of this arrangement, is that there are four natural types of human beings; classified according to the work that they are eligible to perform, and they are called varnas:
- Brahmanas, teachers and priests.
- Ksatriyas, administrators and warriors.
- Vaisyas, agriculturists and businessmen
- Sudras, artisans and laborers.
People are also situated in four orders or stages of life, which are known as asramas:
- Brahmacari, unmarried student life.
- Grhastha, family life.
- Vanaprastha, retirement from family responsibilities.
- Sannyasa, the renounced ascetic life.
Those who are fond of the non-performance of auspicious activities or prescribed duties and impious activity, are known as outcaste, and are not situated in any asrama.
The different varnas are determined by nature, birth, activities, and characteristics.
When Varna is determined only because of birth, the original purpose of varnasrama is lost.
In modern India, 99 percent, of all the societies, determine varna solely because of birth; resulting in the extreme dreadful conditions, that one can observe in India.
Asrama is determined by the various stages of life, depending on whether one is married or unmarried, or has renounced the association of the opposite sex. Married life is known as the grhastha asrama and unmarried life is known as the brahmacari asrama.
Disassociation from spouse and family is characteristic of the vanaprastha and sannyasa asramas. Sannyasa is the highest of all the asramas and the brahmanas are the highest of all the varnas.
This conclusion is established in the crest-jewel of all the scriptures, Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.17.15-21):
“The varnas and asramas of humanity have higher and lower natures in accordance with the higher and lower places on Sri Bhagavan’s universal body from which they appeared.
The natural qualities of the brahmanas are control of the mind, control of the senses, austerity, cleanliness, satisfaction, forbearance, simplicity, devotion unto Sri Bhagavan, compassion for the suffering of others, and truthfulness.
The natural qualities of the ksatriyas are prowess, bodily strength, fortitude, heroism, tolerance, generosity, great perseverance, steadiness, devotion to the brahmanas, and sovereignty.
The natural qualities of the vaisyas are theism, dedication to charity, freedom from pride, service to the brahmanas, and an insatiable desire to accumulate wealth.
The natural qualities of the sudras are sincere service to the devas, brahmanas and cows, and being satisfied with whatever wealth is obtained by such service.
The natural characteristics of those who are in the lowest class, and who are estranged from the varnasrama system are: uncleanness, dishonesty, thievery, lack of faith in Vedic dharma and the existence of a next life, futile quarrel, lust, anger, and greed for material objects.
The duties for the members of all the varnas are non-violence, truthfulness, abstention from theft, freedom from lust, anger, and greed, and endeavoring for the pleasure and welfare of all living beings.”