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KARMA AND REINCARNATION

Karma is intimately related with the principle of reincarnation. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna describes the soul as the source of consciousness and the active principle that animates the body of every living being. At the time of death, the indestructible soul transmigrates into another physical body, just as one changes clothing.

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In human society, if one kills a man he has to be hanged [or punished]. That is the law of the state. Because of ignorance people do not perceive that there is a complete state controlled by the Supreme Lord. Every living creature is the son of the Supreme Lord, and He does not tolerate even an ant’s being killed. One has to pay for it.

—Srila Prabhupada, Iskcon Inc founder and achraya

Capital punishment is the state’s ultimate act of reprisal, and no sacrifice surpasses offering one’s life for the sake of others. But although we seemingly attach great value to life, each year all over the world hundreds of millions of defenceless animals are butchered. This wholesale slaughter of animals is not necessary to prevent us from starving. Moreover, it is economically extravagant and ethically reprehensible. Most seriously, however, animal killing violates the universal law of karma, which is similar to the modern scientific principle of action and reaction.

Scientists clearly understand how the physical law of action and reaction (“for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”) applies to material objects, but most are unaware of the more subtle laws of action and reaction in the realm of consciousness. Nevertheless, we do have a kind of instinctive awareness that somehow we all create our own happiness and distress. This realisation dawns upon us when in response to some mishap we reflect, “Well, maybe I had that coming to me.”

In fact, we sometimes find people jokingly attributing unfortunate occurrences in their lives to “bad karma”. But the law of karma ensures that those who cause violence and suffering to other living beings must themselves experience equivalent violence and suffering—immediately or in the future.

Karma, as many in the West now know, is intimately related with the principle of reincarnation. In India’s greatest spiritual classic, Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna describes the soul as the source of consciousness and the active principle that animates the body of every living being. This vital force, which is of the same spiritual quality in all beings, is distinct from and superior to the matter comprising the temporary material form. At the time of death, the indestructible soul transmigrates into another physical body, just as one changes clothing. All living beings (not just a few select individuals) undergo this process of reincarnation, lifetime after lifetime. The Bhagavad Gita states, “As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.”

THE JOURNEY OF THE SOUL

The Vedas explain that the soul, known as the atma, may inhabit any of 8,400,000 general species of material bodies. The physical forms vary in complexity, beginning with the primitive microbes and amoebas, continuing on through the aquatic, plant, insect, reptile, bird, and animal species, and culminating in human beings and demigods. In consequence of its own desires to enjoy matter, the atma continually journeys through these various bodies, on an endless voyage of births and deaths.

The action of the mind is the prime force compelling the living entity to transmigrate from one body to another. The Gita explains, “Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state of being he will attain without fail.” Our minds are constantly recording all of our thoughts and desires, and the totality of these memories floods our consciousness in the last moments of life. The nature of our thoughts at this critical juncture propels us into the appropriate physical body. Thus, the body we now occupy is an accurate physical projection of our state of mind at the time of our last death.

The Bhagavad Gita explains, “The living entity, thus taking another gross body, obtains a certain type of eye, ear, tongue, nose, and sense of touch, which are grouped around the mind. He thus enjoys a particular set of sense objects.”

According to the Vedas, a soul in a form lower than human automatically evolves to the next-higher species, ultimately arriving at the human form. But because the human being possesses freedom to choose between matter and spirit, there is a chance that the soul will descend again into the lower species. The laws of karma are so arranged that if a human lives and dies with the animalistic mentality of a creature such as a dog, then in the next life he will be able to fulfill his doglike desires through the senses and organs of a dog. This is certainly an unfortunate occurrence, but such a fate is a definite possibility for a person immersed in ignorance. The Gita declares, “When he dies in the mode of ignorance, he takes birth in the animal kingdom.”

So, the soul in the body of an animal may once have inhabited a human form and vice versa. Although a soul may successively occupy plant, animal, and human bodies, its intrinsic nature remains the same. Because the soul is pure spiritual energy, it cannot be altered in any way by matter. Bhagavad Gita explains that the soul is “immutable and unchangeable.” It is only the bodily covering, with its particular combination of mind and senses, that temporarily restricts or releases the conscious energy of the soul.

THE EQUALITY OF ALL LIVING THINGS

The basic and transcendental equality of all conscious entities is not an abstract notion but is obvious to everyday sense perception—if only we look beyond the superficial differences in the varieties of material bodies. Anyone who has ever had a pet or visited the zoo has experienced that animals behave much like humans as they search for food, protect their young, play, sleep, and fight. The outstanding difference is that their intelligence and emotions are less developed, but this distinction is insufficient to discount the far more numerous and significant similarities in thinking, feeling, and willingness that clearly point towards the universal equality of the consciousness within all bodies.

In nonhuman species, the living being is stringently controlled by his natural instincts. He is deprived of freedom of choice in eating, sleeping, mating, and defending, being compelled by bodily demands to follow rigid behavioral patterns. For this reason, the atma dwelling within forms of life lower than humans is not responsible for its actions and thus does not generate new karma. A similar principle operates within our everyday experience—a dog chasing a cat across the roadway is immune from any traffic citations. Animals are not expected to understand or obey a sophisticated set of laws. On the other hand, in both the social order and the universal order, a human being is obligated to be informed and obedient.

Therefore, when a human unnecessarily takes the life of another entity, especially under conditions of great pain and suffering, this act of overt aggression produces a severe karmic reaction. And, if year after year millions of animals are mercilessly butchered in huge, mechanised slaughterhouses, the accumulated negative karma produced by all those participating is almost unfathomable.

In his Bhagavad Gita commentary, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada sternly warns about the karmic danger of animal slaughter. “In human society, if one kills a man he has to be hanged. That is the law of the state. Because of ignorance people do not perceive that there is a complete state controlled by the Supreme Lord. Every living creature is the son of the Supreme Lord, and He does not tolerate even an ant’s being killed. One has to pay for it.”

‘DO UNTO OTHERS…’

This same instruction is present in all religious teachings. The Bible emphatically states, “Thou shall not kill,” and Lord Jesus Christ, who always displayed deep compassion for all living beings, stated, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Lord Buddha also taught the principle of ahimsa, nonviolence, specifically to protect innocent creatures from being slaughtered.

People who find that personally killing an animal is too gruesome tend to believe that merely eating flesh does not implicate them in violence. But this opinion is shortsighted and unsupported by any valid spiritual authority. According to the law of karma, all those who are connected to the killing of an animal are liable—the person who gives permission for the killing, the person who kills, the person who helps, the person who purchases the meat, the person who cooks the flesh, and the person who eats it. In a court of law all those who conspire in a murder are considered responsible, especially the party who purchases the assassin’s services.

Psychological and emotional growth are essential to a progressive life, and all our thoughts and actions influence our character development. The Bible explains, “As you sow, so shall you reap.” And the subtle laws of karma inform us that negative personality traits such as hostility, cruelty, depression, arrogance, apathy, insensitivity, anxiety, and envy are the psychological harvest of those who directly or indirectly make killing a regular feature in their life. When someone adopts a vegetarian diet, it is much easier for him to remain peaceful, happy, productive, and concerned for the welfare of others.

As the brilliant physicist Albert Einstein said, “The vegetarian manner of living, by it’s purely physical effect on the human temperament, would most beneficially influence the lot of mankind.” But when human consciousness is polluted by the effects of the negative karma resulting from destructive and injurious actions, its good qualities become covered.

THE CAUSE OF VIOLENCE

At present, despite impressive progress in science and technology, the world is faced with a crisis of unremitting violence in the shape of wars, terrorism, murder, vandalism, child abuse, and abortion. More than 140 wars have been fought since the United Nations was formed in 1945. With social and political solutions conspicuously failing, perhaps it’s time to analyse the problem from a different perspective—the law of karma. The callous and brutal slaughter of countless helpless animals must be considered as a powerful causative factor in this wave of uncheckable violence.

In his purports to the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Srila Prabhupada has pointed out how the widespread violence among humans is a karmic reaction to animal slaughter. “In this age the propensity for mercy is almost nil. Consequently, there is always fighting and wars between men and nations. Men do not understand that because they unrestrictedly kill so many animals, they must also be slaughtered like animals in big wars. This is very much evident in the Western countries. In the West, slaughterhouses are maintained without restriction, and therefore every fifth or tenth year there is a big war in which countless people are slaughtered even more cruelly than the animals. Sometimes during war, soldiers keep their enemies in concentration camps and kill them in very cruel ways. These are reactions brought about by unrestricted animal-killing in the slaughterhouse and by hunters in the forest.”

The question is sometimes raised that if the atma (soul) is completely transcendental to the material body, why should killing, if great pain is avoided, be considered wrongful violence? Even the Bhagavad Gita states, “For the soul there is neither birth nor death. He is not slain when the body is slain.” In his Srimad-Bhagavatam purports, Srila Prabhupada addresses this question. “All living entities have to fulfill a certain duration for being engaged in a particular type of material body. They have to finish the duration allotted in a particular body before being promoted or evolved to another body. Killing an animal or any other living being simply places an impediment in the way of his completing his term of imprisonment in a certain body. One should therefore not kill bodies for one’s sense gratification, for this will implicate one in sinful activity.” In short, killing an animal interrupts its progressive evolution through the species.

We can also appreciate the unjustness of animal-killing by seeing that the body is a dwelling place for the atma residing within. An individual unexpectedly driven out of his comfortable home suffers great inconvenience and distress. Such merciless and unjustified action is undoubtedly criminal. Furthermore, in order to receive his next material body, the living being must suffer extended pre-birth tribulations. For the human being this involves months of being tightly packed in the darkness of the womb, where one is constantly disturbed by infections, acid fluids burning the skin, jarring motions, and discomforts resulting from the eating and drinking habits of the mother.

IS KILLING VEGETABLES WRONG?

Another common metaphysical question is, “If all living entities are spiritually equal, then why is it acceptable to eat grains, vegetables, etc., and not meat? Aren’t vegetarians guilty of killing vegetables? In response, it may be pointed out that vegetarian foods such as fruits, nuts, milk, and grain do not require any killing. But even in those cases where a plant’s life is taken, the pain involved is much less than when an animal is slaughtered, because the plant’s nervous system is less developed. Clearly there is a vast difference between pulling a carrot out of the ground and killing a lamb. But still, one must undoubtedly suffer karmic reactions even for killing plants.

For this reason, Lord Krishna explains in the Bhagavad Gita that not only should man eat only vegetarian foods, but he should also offer these eatables to Him. If we follow this process of sacrifice, the Supreme Lord, Krishna, protects us from any karmic reactions resulting from the killing of plants. Otherwise, according to the law of karma, we are personally responsible. The Gita states, “The devotees of the Lord are released from all sins because they eat food that is offered first for sacrifice. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, verily eat only sin.”

Srila Prabhupada elaborates on this principle of spiritual vegetarianism. “Human beings are provided with food grains, vegetables, fruits, and milk by the grace of the Lord, but it is the duty of human beings to acknowledge the mercy of the Lord. As a matter of gratitude, they should feel obliged to the Lord for their supply of foodstuff, and they must first offer Him food in sacrifice and then partake of the remnants.” By eating such sanctified food (prasadam) one is protected from karmic reactions and advances spiritually. 

Gauranga Sundar Das is Iskcon Inc Communication Director and SM IT Head.

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Spiritually Speaking

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RELIGION AND SPIRITUALITY

B.K. Surya

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When we see the external form of religion that people practice, such as rituals, prayer, reading scriptures and going on pilgrimage, we often comment that ‘this person is very religious.’ This usually means that we consider them to be humble, polite and kind. But religion without spirituality is like the skin of a fruit, with nothing inside — it lacks power.

Spirituality is that which enriches and strengthens the soul, makes it virtuous. Religion and rules governing its practice can make one fearful — people are afraid of committing sin by doing this or that, or they worry about divine retribution for something they have done in the past. Understanding spiritual principles, on the other hand, makes one wise, strong, and fearless.

But people take more easily to religious rather than spiritual practices. The former, with their ceremony, colour, and — in some religions — song and dance, seem more appealing. Moreover, spiritual knowledge has not been propagated as widely as religion.

Religious figures preach compassion, ethics, and charity, but it is all regarded as part of recommended behaviour, and little thought is given to the spiritual truths that lend them value. Even reading the Gita, a book that contains deep spiritual truths, has become a ritual. Reading a chapter of the book every day is considered a virtuous act. People are content to just read the book, and give no thought to living by its teachings.

Religious teachings benefit us and add value to our life only when we live by them. Once we recognise the fact that we are souls, children of the Supreme Soul, and relate to God with that awareness, we no longer feel the need to seek solace in religious rituals. The fulfilment the soul experiences through a direct and heartfelt connection with God ends the search for truth.

But the plurality of faiths in the world confuses many people as to which one to follow. The proof of the right path is that it is simple, purifies and strengthens the soul, and makes life easy and happy. It puts a stop to all our doubts.

B.K. Surya is a Rajyoga teacher at the Brahma Kumaris headquarters in Mount Abu, Rajasthan.

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WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE HOLY?

B.K. Usha

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What does it mean to be holy? Do vestments, ochre robes, or ash smeared over the body make one holy? What are the qualities of a holy person?

Being holy means to be pure, which in turn means to have elevated thoughts – always and for everyone. Someone with a pure mind has clarity, due to which they can tell the difference between good and bad. A clean and clear intellect enables them to discern the intentions of others and act accordingly. Yet they are not cynical or apathetic, and instead have benevolent feelings.

When we know other people’s intentions, we are not influenced by their nature or behaviour, because we know where it is coming from. Moreover, when we have a pure attitude, we see others compassionately, through the prism of their good qualities. Even when we see a not very impressive side of someone, with our benevolence we are able to show the other person a better way to be. This is purity in action. It is not just a quality to be cherished; it is of greatest value when it serves others.

There are many ways in which purity is manifested and it touches and inspires others. We have a kind vision — no matter what the other person is like, we accept and respect them, and have good wishes for them. Purity in speech means to speak gently, politely, and to the point — no gossip or idle talk. When these qualities are visible in someone, they appear special — they stand out with their friendly and reassuring vibrations and demeanour.

But to be like that we need to watch our thoughts, words and behaviour, to avoid what is ordinary or wasteful. When the intellect is pure, we hold ourselves to the highest standards and do not reason that it is alright to be a little slack as many others are so.

Our time and thoughts are wasted when we do not recognise whether something is right or wrong. We consider unnecessary or wrong activity to be right, and deceive the self by thinking that we are intelligent or strong and our judgement is correct.

A clean intellect, which is the basis of holiness, saves us from these pitfalls. Another sign of such an intellect is that it does not condemn people for their flaws. One who is truly holy, when they see a defect in someone, does not think, “This one is like that anyway”. Instead, they inspire the other person to overcome their shortcomings.

B.K. Usha is a Rajyoga teacher at the Brahma Kumaris headquarters in Abu Road, Rajasthan.

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HOW TO EMPOWER THE CAPACITY FOR SELF-HEALING

Dr Judith Kocken

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When a young child grows up in unsafe circumstances and is not fully welcome, then insecurity is normal and a child gets used to it. A young child always attaches to (a) parent(s), even when circumstances are unsafe. Then ‘unsafety’ is the comfort zone and normal for a child. An impactful event during childhood has a direct relationship with chronic diseases at a later age.

Rejection gives the greatest pain. As a result, the child is unable to access real feelings. When pain is too big to handle in an unsafe situation; when a child is unseen, unheard, not supported in their needs, this impactful situation is transferred to the subconscious mind and survival mechanisms are needed. There is a big difference between survival and living a healthy life. Human beings have three survival mechanisms: fight, flight or freeze. To prevent being rejected, the child often rejects others, becomes angry, bossy, and anxious, is fearful and feels powerless.

Chronic diseases are psychosomatic, which means that the body asks for attention to a deeper cause in the self. The body has a 24-hour relationship and communication with the soul (thinking, memory and emotions). Body and soul are the best friends when in balance, or the worst enemies when there is chronic stress or unresolved pain.

The body grows and exists in relationship with the environment: circumstances, culture, parents, teachers, friends, physical, mental and emotional food have an impact on physical health. Impactful situations break the connection and awareness of the body with the inner soul. Because of feeling rejected, the basic subconscious assumption of a child, based on what they have learned, is: ‘nobody loves me, or, I am not worthy, something is wrong with me’.

In holistic medical treatment, coming home to yourself has a central role. Recognition of the journey of survival up until now and making contact with the desire of the heart (to feel loved and safe) are the golden keys. The adult or child learns how to say ‘yes’ to the present, even if the present is painful and unpleasant. The second step is to take a risk and dare to not know certain things and learn something new. We use deep breathing and meditation to rebuild contact with old emotional pain that is stored in the body. Healing means feeling all the pain, loss, sadness and loneliness that had been stored in childhood because all that was needed so much as a child was not available.

When contact between body and soul is restored, the body begins to increase the self-healing capacity. When we heal ourselves of the old inner wounds, scars remain, which is much easier to live with than open wounds and chronic diseases.

The body possesses tremendous power and wisdom. It gives us messages through physical complaints and chronic diseases as to what is needed in our life. Learning to listen to those messages brings miracles for physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health. We can heal ourselves. Healing creates a healthy relationship with ourselves and with each other.

Dr Judith M. Kocken MD, PhD, is a paediatrician and a paediatric gastroenterologist. A pioneer in holistic healthcare, she studies and practises Rajyoga with the Brahma Kumaris in The Netherlands.

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SPIRITUAL DETACHMENT SAVES US FROM NEGATIVE INFLUENCES

Dadi Janki

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Let me be humble and let me harmonise and work well with all others but let me not become like them. Others may be influenced by their own arrogance, or by their own negativities, or by ordinariness in the mind, but this does not mean that I have to be.

There should be so much truth in me that others become truthful. My inner state should be such that not only am I not influenced by the negativity of others, but my very presence is a positive influence on all negativities. This is true, spiritual detachment.

It is so exhilarating to experience yourself as a spiritual being. You should never hide that sparkle on the face that comes from having come to God. Everything we used to do on the basis of ego can now be done out of love.

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The silent mind

B.K Meera

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They say that if you can conquer the mind, you can conquer the world. In other words, we can become masters of the self. So, it is worth taking time each day to see what the state of my mind is. It has been said that the difference between prayer and meditation is that prayer is when I talk to God, and meditation is when God talks to me. But for me to be able to listen to what God is saying, I need to have a silent mind, a quiet mind. Do I allow God to talk to me or is my mind so busy and chattering all the time about this and that, that I do not give God the chance to speak to me?

Silence of the mind is not stopping thinking or suppressing thoughts or making the mind blank. A silent mind is full, not empty – an empty vessel makes the most noise! A silent mind is not judging, commenting, criticising; there are no thoughts of attraction, desires or attachments. The image that comes to mind when I think of silence is a calm lake that has not even one ripple on the surface and yet is deep and powerful. To achieve this state of mind I need to go into the essence of being – just ‘I am’.

I am a being of peace. I, the soul, am silent. My religion is peace. I am the child of the ocean of peace and a resident of the land of peace. This consciousness of being a soul cools the sense organs. When I am in soul consciousness, the mind is calm, and the body is cool.

A silent mind does not need to overthink. Overthinking is a sickness of the mind. A silent mind will know what is the right thing to do, and when it is done there will be no further thinking.

A silent mind will be light, and that silence and light will automatically connect me to God, who is also full of light and power. I can then detach from situations and simply observe in peace and love and all actions that spring from that state of being will be powerful and successful.

I need to practise this return to the essence daily, in fact many times during the day. I need to contemplate and experience this peace and silence for many moments each day. This nourishes my mind, fills it with power, connects me to God.

B.K. Meera is director of the Brahma Kumaris’ services in Malaysia.

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HOW TO REMAIN CALM AT WORK

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At work, the anger we feel not only upsets us emotionally but has a deleterious effect on our physical body. It causes stress, which in turn contributes to stress-related ailments. This can affect us by increasing our risk for heart disease, cancer, stroke, high blood pressure, and other diseases.

It takes a great amount of strength to withstand the temptations to overcome anger. We may think the angry person is strong, but actually, they are succumbing out of weakness to their own temper. It takes one who is brave of heart to say no to anger.

If someone at work has hurt us, we can choose to forgive and forget or we can choose to retaliate. The choice is ours to make.

There is physical harm we do to ourselves when we are caught up in the opposite of forgiveness: anger, hatred, and vengeance. These feelings cause damage to the physical body.

Doctors and medical researchers are realizing that anger and hatred have detrimental effects on our bodies. Let us analyse the reason.

First, there are certain responses in the physical body designed to help protect itself to preserve the species. When a living creature senses danger, certain hormonal and chemical reactions within the body help it respond to danger. These hormones cause one to fight or take flight. They are useful for giving the body strength and quick physical responses, such as running or protecting one’s self. But if one interprets it as life-threatening problems of daily life that are not a threat to survival, then one is responding with the fight or flight hormones for no reason.

The result is that we do not see a need to flee or fight but feel threatened. This converts into anger or rage. Thus, we become angry over situations that don’t threaten our life. This causes the body to circulate hormones needed to run or protect one’s self over minor situations that are part of daily life. Because these hormones, such as cortisol, are circulating through us when we do not need them to, they end up causing damage to the physical body.

We know for example that real cortisone has side effects on the body, so doctors recommend them cautiously. However, the body’s natural cortisol when we are angry or under stress ends up circulating through us causing stress-related ailments. If one is continually in that state of fear, anger, or stress, those hormones cause a breakdown of other body tissues. This is what causes stress-related ailments such as digestive problems, headaches, heart problems, skin problems, and breathing problems.

The solution for protecting the body against the hormones released by hatred, anger, and vengeance is simple: forgiveness. It is only through forgiveness that we can calm ourselves down and avoid the reactions of hatred and violence. A majority of the time at our jobs we are responding to minor problems with the same intensity as if our lives were threatened. Think about all the things that make us angry. How many of them threaten our lives? How many are just minor annoyances?

We can learn how to stay calm at work by practising forgiveness when someone hurts us. In this way, we can protect our bodies from the damage of hormones released because of anger. We will see a reduction in stress-related ailments.

One of the keys is to let go. When we forgive and forget we are letting go of the past and what has happened. We are saying, “I forgive the person for what has happened. Then I am going to forget about it.” In this way, we are letting it go.

One technique to develop forgiveness so we can stay calm at work is meditation. The problems of life will not end. However, through meditation, we can focus our attention on the peace within so we can rise above life’s difficulties.

Through meditation, we are in touch with a place of calm within us that gives us the strength to forgive others, overcome anger, and stay calm at work. We cannot control others at our job, but we can control ourselves. At work, we can choose peace and calm which will help improve our physical and mental health and make for a happier life.

The author is the head of the Sawan Kirpal Ruhani Mission.

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