Karma Is a Complex Interaction, Not a Mechanical Law

Our surface nature, impelled by the force of desire, wants to believe that the law of karma operates in such a way as to provide material prosperity and well-being in return for our good acts in the realm of moral and ethical conduct; and similarly, that our bad acts ethically or morally will yield to us concrete harm in some outwardly visible way. The law of Karma however appears to be much more subtle and complex than this simplistic view, however appealing to our sense of vital rightness, can explain.

Sri Aurobindo frames the question that arises: “But where is the firm link of correspondence between the ethical and the more vital and physical hedonistic powers of life? How does my ethical good turn into smiling fortune, crowned prosperity, sleek material good and happiness to myself and my ethical evil into frowning misfortune, rugged adversity, sordid material ill and suffering,–for that is what the desire soul of man and the intelligence governed by it seem to demand,–and how is the account squared or the transmutation made between these two very different energies of the affirmation and denial of good?”

We can see that effort made in one field primarily yields results in that field, although it is clear that there are influences from one to another. We may act in a morally positive or negative way and this has an impact in the world around us, in some cases causing joy or suffering in others affected by those acts. In some cases we can even see and recognize a response, more or less according to one of the basic laws of physics, that for each action there is an equal and opposite reaction. But it is difficult to see an exact balancing account, particularly when we are looking for a reaction of a different order or type of energy than that which was put out.

“But this mechanical rebound is not the whole principle of Karma. Nor is Karma wholly a mixed ethical-hedonistic order in its total significance, for there are involved other powers of our consciousness and being. Nor is it again a pure mechanism which we set going by our will and have then helplessly to accept the result; for the will which produced the effect, can also intervene to modify it. And above all the initiating and receiving consciousness can change the values and utilities of the reactions and make another thing of life than this automatic mechanism of fateful return or retribution to the half-blind embodied actor in a mute necessity of rigorous law of Nature.”

Sri Aurobindo,Rebirth and Karma, Section I, Chapter 12, Karma and Justice, pp. 105-106,


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