Basic Principle of the Law of Karma

It is clear that we cannot encompass the entire complexity of the universe and the various forces at work within a definition of a law of Karma that fixates solely on an ethical or moral code of recompense or retribution. And yet it is also quite clear that there are certain laws operative in the universe that show that there is Intelligence at work. Each type of energy has its own pattern of action. In the physical world, we see that scientists have formulated physical energy laws under the principle “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” If we examine emotional energy, mental energy, ethical or moral energy, we find that there are corollary results that indicate that while the type of energy at work is different, and therefore the exact manner of its working varies, there is nevertheless a system of output of energy leading to a characteristic result.

Sri Aurobindo asks us to begin our understanding of the law of Karma by creating a formulation that is its most simple and universal principle, and to then utilize this basic principle as a foundational step for our deeper review and understanding of the action of Karma:

“And for a beginning it is best to phrase the law of Karma as generally and vaguely as may be and put it simply thus without any particular colour or content that according to the energy put forth shall be its return, not with any mathematical precision of conscious will and its mechanical consequences, but subject to the complicated working of any world forces.”

He goes on to clarify further: “The whole law of the cosmic action or even the one law governing all the others cannot well be the measure of a physical, mechanical and chemical energy, nor the law of a life force, nor a moral law or law of mind or of idea forces; for it is evident that none of these things by its single self covers or accounts for all the fundamental powers.”

Sri Aurobindo,Rebirth and Karma, Section II, Chapter 13, The Foundation, pp. 114-115,

Moral Law Is Not the Sole Significance of the Universal Manifestation

When we consider the law of Karma, the first thought is that it is some kind of moral or ethical framework for the universe. It is much simpler to try to understand our lives and the significance of life itself if we can find a way to boil it down to one dominant concept or principle. The reality, however, is far more complex than such an approach can actually resolve.

Sri Aurobindo comments on this issue: “The universe is not solely an ethical proposition, a problem of the antinomy of the good and the evil; the Spirit of the universe can in no way be imagined as a rigid moralist concerned only with making all things obey the law of moral good, or a stream of tendency towards righteousness attempting, hitherto with only a very poor success, to prevail and rule, or a stern Justicer rewarding and punishing creatures in a world that he has made or has suffered to be full of wickedness and suffering and evil.”

A serious review of the many-sided and multifarious manifestation in the universe makes it patently obvious that there are a variety of goals and principles at work, interacting and in some cases actually appearing to be in conflict with one another. We can even determine a hierarchy which helps us resolve apparent contradictions with the advent of a new power or term that needs to modify and upgrade the action of a prior line of development.

“The law of the world is not this alone that our good brings good to us and our evil brings evil, nor is its sufficient key the ethical-hedonistic rule that our moral good brings to us happiness and success and our moral evil brings to us sorrow and misfortune.”

We need to expand our view and understanding of the development of the universal manifestation to get a true sense of what the real goals and principles are. We can say that the moral and ethical law appears to be one, among a number of other principles, that has a role in the human development. This law, however, is constrained and modified by other principles and powers that need to be taken into account.

Sri Aurobindo,Rebirth and Karma, Section II, Chapter 13, The Foundation, pg. 114,