Philosophy Discussions, February 24 and 26, 2015: Karma

This Tuesday and Thursday, we will discuss Sutras 2.12 through 2.14.  These three sutras deal with the subject of Karma — the law of cause and effect (It is also in these three sutras that reincarnation is discussed). This is an interesting topic and one that certainly is not without controversy. I would encourage you to read any commentary you have on these three sutras in order to make our discussions more fruitful.

Sutra 2.12 provides:
The accumulated imprints of past lives, rooted in afflictions, will be experienced in present and future lives (Iyengar)
The stock of karma has the kleshas as its root. It is experienced in present or future lives. (Bryant)

Sutra 2.13 provides:
As long as the root of actions exists, it will give rise to class of birth, span of life, and experiences (Iyengar)

Sutra 2.14 provides:
According to our good, bad or mixed actions, the quality of our life, its span, and the nature of birth are experienced as being pleasant or painful. (Iyengar)
These (type of birth, span of life, and life experience] bear the fruits of pleasure and pain, as a result of [the performance of] virtue and vice. (Bryant)

Jaganath Carrera does a nice job of introducing this topic:

“What goes around comes around. “ Karma is the universal law of cause and effect; action and reaction. Actions and experiences are linked.
As a central tenet in Hindu thought, karma was probably as familiar to Sri Patanjali’s students as the concept of sin is for those in a Judo-Christian-influenced society. They most likely learned that karma is the universal law of cause and effect and understood that their karma binds them by embroiling them in the world of relative, material existence. The relentless cycles of action and reaction would also be recognized as the cause of reincarnation. However, the notion that karma is rooted in the obstacles, which are in turn grounded in ignorance — that karma cannot operate without ignorance — might have been unsettling or perhaps a revelation. It meant that they couldn’t blame an impersonal, immeasurable, cosmic payback system — or anyone else for that matter — for their bad luck or suffering. They confronted then what we confront now: that all experiences of pleasure and pain are and have always been in our own hands. Though this information may clarify the “what and how” of karma, it does not explain the “why.”

Karma is the cosmic law that makes learning possible. Every encounter with a piece of information is a cause that has an effect on our lives. The law of cause and effect allows us to learn from our experiences: Rain falls (cause); seeds sprout (effect); certain herbs lower blood pressure; deep, regulated breathing calms the mind; too much cheesecake causes a stomachache; stress causes a headache. Knowledge is the result of observing relations — the impact that objects, circumstances, and actions make on each other…..[Karma’s] ultimate aim is to guide us to enlightenment.