Karma is the Law of Cause and Effect – one of several Laws that govern life in all the worlds, physical and otherwise – one of the most important natural laws. The simplest explanation maybe the one explained in the Bible – “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap”. This quote sounds very judgmental – in actuality the Law of Karma is quite impersonal, objective and exacting in its operation. It makes no exceptions and plays no favorites. Every thought, every word and every action is a cause that leads to effects.
Karma ‘earned’ in physical form has to be ‘paid for’ in physical life. As a being in incarnation performs actions, speaks or thinks, he could be said to be creating a ‘bank balance’ of karma good or bad, which he needs to work out in the future – either in this life or in subsequent ones. Any good act he commits will be repaid as a receiver of a good action by someone else, any bad one will be repaid in the same way in the same exact proportion of his own action. At the same time as he is adding to his karma, he is working out the resulting karma of actions from his past.
The ‘system’ automatically keeps track of every action, thought and word. It maintains an exact accounting of his ‘karma balance’ at all times. There are four Devarajas or Lords of Karma who manage this system for our planet and all beings on it. Before a soul takes an incarnation, a life plan is created – this is a roadmap, not an exact day-by-day plan. It is decided how much of his total accumulated karma (known as Sanchit Karma in Sanskrit), he should work out in his new life.
Luckily for all of us, this karma to be worked in the current life (known as Prarabhda Karma) is never more than what the individual can handle for his current stage of development. The new karma that he will create, is of course entirely up to him. Hopefully the net addition to the karma balance at the end of the life is positive for good karma and negative for bad karma – but obviously this is not always the case. By the time all karma is worked out, we are usually ready to complete the cycle of life and birth. Of course the purpose of life is not to create new karma or even to work out old karma, but the development or evolution of the individual soul.
As mentioned elsewhere, though the poor circumstances of other people may be present because of their own karma, it does not imply that they ‘deserve’ it. It is often your dharma (duty) as a fellow human, to save them from their bad karma. Also, we need to be very careful in life not to become the instrument of someone else’s bad karma (even inadvertently). One of the important messages of the Bhagvat Gita is that the way to avoid creating new karma is to perform your dharma (or duty) without any regard for its fruits – in other words perform actions without any desire for its results for yourself (nishkam karma).
However, things get even more complicated than that – besides this individual karma, there is also different types of group karma – national karma, racial karma or other types of group karma which may affect a person’s life and circumstance. Any group which is cohesive enough to function as a unit and develop its own causal body (where all karma is stored, hence called ‘causal’), will have its own ‘Sanchit Karma’ which will affect the members of its group, though each member may not have played an equal part in building this karma, they will have to bear its consequences to some degree (though the consequences will be fairly distributed amongst the group members, the karma is worked out as a group outside the individual’s ‘life-plan’).
One consequence of the [new age] is that as the spiritual level of the earth rises, the working out of karma is accelerated. Groups as well as individuals have to face the karmic consequences of their actions sooner, what previously took several lifetimes to workout, now happens in just a few years.