The Complex Web of Karma

When we think about the law of Karma, we tend to look at it from the ethical or moral implications. This leads us to question providence when we see evil apparently prospering and good apparently suffering. We then try to justify this obviously incorrect result with the idea that there was something in that person’s past lives that justifies this “unjust” dispensation.

What we fail to consider is that different types of energy have different workings, and that to each type of energy the law of cause and effect provides its own type of result. To the strong belong the fruits of strength. If we reflect on it, dispassionately, without ethical preconceptions coloring our view, we would clearly find no grounds for disagreement. No one would expect that a person who embodies compassion or caring in their nature would be granted thereby a victory in the 100 meter dash in the Olympic Games. We naturally would expect that a trained athlete, focused on conditioning the body, and carrying out an intense programme of development of the physical capacity, would be the Olympic athlete.

Sri Aurobindo describes the interaction and relationship of these various types of energies, which in turn manifest based on stages, phases and appropriate times, to create a much more complete view of the working of the law of Karma, not as one immutable ethical or moral law, but as a subtle and highly complex standard which can actually provide us valuable insight as to the rationale for what are otherwise inexplicable results.

“If it is just that the virtuous man should be rewarded with success and happiness and the wicked man punished with downfall and pain at some time, in some life, on earth or in heaven or in hell, it is also just that the strong man should have the reward of his cultivated strength, the intellectual man the prize of his cultivated skill, the will that labours in whatever field the fruit of its effort and its works.” This view transcends the ethical view.

“But what is right working in this connection of will and action and consequence? I may be religious and honest, but if I am dull, weak and incompetent? And I may be selfish and impious, but if I have the swift flame of intellect, the understanding brain, the skill to adapt means to ends, the firm courageous will fixed on its end? I have then an imperfection which must impose its consequences, but also I have powers which must make their way.”

“The truth is that there are several orders of energy and their separate characteristic working must be seen, before their relations can be rightly discovered in the harmonies of Nature. A complex web is what we have to unravel. When we have seen the parts in the whole, the elements and their affinities in the mass, then only can we know the lines of Karma.”

Sri Aurobindo,Rebirth and Karma, Section I, Chapter 12, Karma and Justice, pg. 108,

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