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Karma and Reincarnation || Acharya Prashant, at Arth : A Culture Fest (2022)

Author Acharya Prashant

Acharya Prashant

5 min
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Questioner (Q): Karma is such a ubiquitous word. Everyone is using it. And the word ‘Karma’ is right now popular in the west, too. Even if you see Hollywood movies, they use the word Karma, maybe with some negative words between. What is Karma?

Acharya Prashant (AP): You see, the entire Vedantic approach is to inquire into ‘Who I am?’ ‘Ko-aham’—Who am I? Because unless I have self-knowledge, unless I know who I am, it's futile acting, believing, relating, doing whatever, even existing. But since it's very difficult to get into oneself and just know who one is, what one's real identity is, therefore, we use a proxy to know oneself. That proxy is ‘*Karm*’.

The one we want to know is the ‘ Karta , the doer, but because we cannot directly know the doer, so instead we use a proxy, a surrogate to know the doer, his actions, his doing, his Karm . That's the reason why Karm is actually very important though that's not the reason why today most people talk so much of Karma .

Q: And one question, even in the west you can see this fascination for Indian culture including the word Karma, and many people think about that there is a possibility of reincarnation, and rebirth, such ideas are getting rooted everywhere. These are very different, difficult, nuanced multilayered topics, but generally speaking, for a common man like us, is there reincarnation and rebirth? Do we take multiple births?

AP: Definitely. There is reincarnation and rebirth, and reincarnation is such a beautiful and deep Vedantic concept, but reincarnation is not what most people take it to be. At the level of the person, there is no reincarnation. It is the tendency that forms the person. It is that that takes rebirth, again and again, the person obviously will not come again.

I will die and I will not be reborn. You, too, will die and you will not be reborn. But the Aham Vritti (‘I’ tendency), the mother tendency that speaks through both of us, that seeks fulfilment through the physical existence of both of us, that'll keep taking birth again and again. Just like the ocean keeps waving again and again, and waves come and waves go, but no particular individual wave takes birth again. Though waves keep coming one after the other and all waves have something great in common, so, that really is reincarnation and I'm afraid it's very badly misunderstood.

Q: And for a common man, how do you explain what Vedic wisdom is, what Vedantic knowledge is, and what are the applications for them in their practical life? Even Vivekananda used to say practical Vedanta. So, what is the importance of learning this Vedic wisdom?

AP: To someone who is totally uninitiated, I would say, Vedanta means, ‘You are not what you take yourself to be.’ And it's of very little use to you to take yourself as what you do. What you think of yourself, or what you consider yourself as is not doing much good to you. So, first of all, get rid of through the process of negation (Neti-Neti) all the concepts, all the identities that you hold with respect to yourself, and then what emerges is something so powerful and so beautiful that it'll make life really worth living.

Q: And perhaps the most common question of all: How is it that many good people who are doing good things don't get back good things in life and many seemingly bad people get a lot of things in life?

AP: Very interesting to hear this once again, anyway. If you're doing something really good, the reward is instantaneous. You need not wait for the reward and if you are waiting for the reward, then the goodness is still very partial, incomplete. That's the beautiful thing about goodness. It is so instantaneous, so guaranteed and so independent that it does not have to look towards the future or towards circumstances or towards any external party giving you a reward. You do the right thing and you have been rewarded.

In fact, doing the right thing is a product of internal rightness. When you are internally right, it's then that you do the right thing. And then the right thing is its own reward. Then you are not really staring at the future with your arm stretched almost like a beggar, asking for a reward and feeling disappointed, “Well, I did the right thing, but life did not reward me the way it does other people.”

Equally, if you are doing something that's against your nature and your nature is beauty, your nature is joy, your nature is freedom. If you are doing something against this, then that is a wrong action and the punishment lies in the very doing. When you are doing this, at that moment, you are not being yourself. And that's a great suffocation. That's a great humiliation to oneself.

So please, all the ones who want to lead an upright life, a life of courage, of power, of freedom, never be afraid or doubtful that if you live rightly, the consequences might not be favourable. I repeat, one great characteristic of the right life is that one becomes free of the botheration and the worry related to consequences and that's a great unburdening.

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