After his father’s death in India, Arvind emigrated to Canada with only one mission in life – to improve the quality of life for his four brothers and widowed mother. Arvind at 17 was sincere, handsome, loyal to his family, and had never uttered a harsh word against anyone. He respected his elders and was always willing to help. In Canada, Arvind worked hard and saved his money to send home, eventually fulfilling his mission of sponsoring his family and helping them settle.
Soon, Arvind married Indra, a beautiful Indian woman from Glasgow. The two (not their real names) were ready to start enjoying their life together. But, this happy story took a nasty turn when Arvind, at the age of 30, was diagnosed with a deadly, progressive disease. His health rapidly declined to a point where he lost control of his limbs, and his other organs also began to deteriorate until he had to use a wheelchair, and eventually was bedridden. His wife stood by him, and her life was quickly consumed by her work and caring for her husband. For 15 years, Indra bathed, fed and nursed him.
Indra remained devout, praying twice each day and never losing her faith. But one day, in desperation, Indra asked me how God could allow such a decent person as her husband to suffer so mercilessly. How could God be so cruel? She observed how many people lie, cheat and steal, yet still enjoy the riches of a good life, and strong health. Where, she asked, is the justice? I explained that the answer lies in karma. Many people in the West casually use the word karma in day-to-day conversation without understanding the meaning of this fundamental Hindu concept.
Karma means actions, deeds or work. It’s based on natural laws of cause and effect; every action has an equally strong reaction. Therefore, karma is the cause of all effects. It explains all life’s pleasures and pain. According to this principle, everyone reaps the fruits of actions in present life in accordance with the karma accumulated during previous life or lives.
Although the results of unethical behavior may not become obvious immediately, one can never escape the consequences of one’s action; as you sow, so shall you reap. This is the divine system of justice based on the principle of cause and effect. The law of action, or law of karma, explains that the apparent injustice, obvious inequality in wealth or capabilities, results from the varying actions of the immediate or distant past.
Our karma also dictates the quality of life we will have, and the type of body (human or animal) our soul will assume in the next birth. In this way, the law of karma is intertwined with the concept of rebirth or the transmigration of souls.
Unfortunately, there are many decent and honest people like Arvind who suffer as a result of bad karma accumulated in their previous lives.
The law does not say we should sit idle and suffer, as punishment for the deeds of our previous lives. People are not prevented from improving their present condition. Even if suffering is not instantly alleviated by doing good deeds, we can still hope for better times, once our good karma wipes out the past bad karma.
In this manner, the concept not only rationalizes present suffering but it also offers hope for the future. Karma also inspires Hindus to offer help to other suffering souls as, by doing so, they earn good karma to improve their own lot in the future. This keeps them on the right moral track.
Two years ago, my brother-in-law Arvind’s misery concluded with a peaceful death. Indra hopes the good karma he earned through his good deeds and suffering will ensure him a better lot in his next life. I hold the same for Indra.
Article By: Ajit Adhopia
Book: Dharma, Karma and much more