Overcoming the Reward and Punishment View of the Law of Karma

We focus generally on the law of Karma in the light of our nature of desire. We seek pleasure and try to avoid pain. We want to be rewarded and we want to avoid punishment. This is the nature of the desire-soul in man that is based on the vital principles of attraction and repulsion, with an underlying principle of desire. We therefore tend to see the law of Karma as an external representation of this desire-soul’s focus, and thus, overlay our all-too-human tendencies on the universal Spirit.

While it may seem to operate this way for some time in our development, eventually we begin to recognize that the Spirit is beyond the limitations imposed by our vital seekings. The higher aspirations and deeper meaning of our lives can at that point no longer be held hostage to the desire-soul’s limited view.

Sri Aurobindo explains the transition to a new view of Karma, the spiritual view: “The universal Spirit in the law of Karma must deal with man in the lower scale of values only as a part of the transaction and as a concession to man’s own present motives. Man himself puts these values, makes that demand for pleasure and prosperity and dreads their opposites, desires heaven more than he loves virtue, fears hell more than he abhors sin, and while he does so, the world-dispensation wears to him that meaning and colour.”

This is however not the entire story: “The dependence of the pursuit of ethical values on a sanction by the inferior hedonistic values, material, vital and lower mental pleasure, pain and suffering, appeals strongly to our normal consciousness and will; but it ceases to have more than a subordinate force and finally loses all force as we grow towards greater heights of our being.”

Sri Aurobindo reminds us that there is more to existence than our daily grasping and avoidance routines: “But the spirit of existence is not merely a legislator and judge concerned to maintain a standard of legal justice, to dole out deterrents and sanctions, rewards and penalties, ferocious pains of hell, indulgent joys of paradise. He is the Divine in the world, the Master of a spiritual evolution and the growing godhead in humanity.”

As we transfer our view of the law of Karma to the larger evolutionary purpose of existence, we can begin “to develop a nobler spiritual law of Karma.”

Sri Aurobindo,Rebirth and Karma, Section I, Chapter 12, Karma and Justice, pp. 106-107,


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