The Four Pillars of the Complete Theory of Karma

Having established that there is an organised law of action at the moral and mental levels, as at the physical level, we avoid the issue of everything occurring through chance, and provide an underpinning of intentionality to the universe. It is easy, however, at this point to go to the opposite extreme and assert that everything is in fact predetermined and that there is thus no free will, but only the illusion of free will. The debate about predestination and free will has occupied human beings for our entire existence in one way or another.

Sri Aurobindo sets forth at this point the 4 steps in the law of karma which help us to avoid both extremes and come to a balanced view of the role of karma in the unfolding of the universe. The first step is the existence of the law of karma in and of itself on the planes of mental and moral energy. The second step is the “Idea which creates all relations.” The concept of a formative Idea has played an important role as well, with the Bible’s assertion “In the beginning was the Word” being just one example, while the concepts of Plato, and Goethe have a similar causative role for the Idea. Sri Aurobindo, in another place, implied this when he indicated that the French Revolution took place because of a yogi in a cave in the Himalayan mountains dreaming of freedom. Once again, if we go to the extreme here and attribute ultimate reality to the Idea with nothing further, then we lose any independent existence for ourselves.

Thus enters the third “pillar”: “I am a soul developing and persisting in the paths of the universal Energy and that in myself is the seed of all my creation. What I have become, I have made myself by the soul’s past idea and action, its inner and outer karma; what I will to be, I can make myself by present and future idea and action.” The acknowledgement of the reality and role of the soul provides the opportunity for the exercise of free will within the larger scope and context of the action of the Idea under the impulsion of the universal Laws.

The fourth pillar then: “…there is this last supreme liberating step that both the Idea and its Karma may have their origin in the free spirit and by arriving at myself by experience and self-finding I can exalt my state beyond all bondage of Karma to spiritual freedom. These are the four pillars of the complete theory of Karma. They are also the four truths of the dealings of Self with Nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, Rebirth and Karma , Section I, Chapter 8, Karma, pp. 73-74