The Law of Karma Is More Than a Mechanical Law of Cause and Effect

Karma is frequently understood to be a law of cause and effect, but rarely do we dig deeper to understand how this works. This leads to a lot of generalizations that may not be entirely correct when examined more closely. One of these generalizations tends to treat the action of Karma as some kind of automatic cause/effect mechanism such as we see in the laws of physics expounded by the early Western physicists. “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” for instance, as well as the mechanical laws of motion, mass and momentum. If it were only that simple!

While we are treating Karma as some kind of mechanism, we also want it to have a moral and ethical component, but we now have something of a conflict. In the physical world, a “cause” may lead to an effect that redounds, not upon the “doer” but on some other party who perhaps was innocent and unaware of the action. For instance, a mountain climber could make a loud sound in a glacier region and trigger an avalanche which buried a number of people, but not the person who instigated it! We can come up with any number of scenarios where “cause and effect” on the physical plane clearly visits its results on others than those undertaking the initiating action.

To understand the complexity of what is intended by the concept of Karma, and its necessary connection to the process of rebirth, we need to step back from the purely mechanical aspects and see it as an implementation mechanism for the evolutionary development that takes place through rebirth to bring about the development of consciousness in a systematic outflowering through Time.

“Karma is action, there is a thing done and a doer and an active consequence; these three are the three joints, the three locks, the three sandhis of the connexus of Karma. And it is a complex mental, moral and physical working; for the law of it is not less true of the mental and moral than of the physical consequence of the act to the doer. The will and the idea are the driving force of the action, and the momentum does not come from some commotion in my chemical atoms or some working of ion and electron or some weird biological effervescence. Therefore the act and consequence must have some relation to the will and the idea and there must be a mental and moral consequence to the soul which has the will and idea. That, if we admit the individual as a real being, signifies a continuity of act and consequence to him and therefore rebirth for a field of this working. It is evident that in one life we do not and cannot labour out and exhaus all the values and powers of that life, but only carry on a past thread, weave out something in the present, prepare infinitely more for the future.”

Sri Aurobindo,Rebirth and Karma, Section I, Chapter 11, Rebirth and Karma, pp. 93-94,