I have been following Hinduism for more than 20 years now. I have heard several thousand stories and chants. One of the core philosophies of Hinduism is Karma. The concept can be stated simply but it took me years of suffering and heartbreaks to understand it. In this write-up, I will briefly write about my interpretation of Karma as of today. Please feel free to differ.
The common theme to explain Karma has been:
Karma is action and reaction: if we show goodness, we will reap goodness.
This is usually the definition that we teach children. In the western world, this is also called the principle of causality. This definition brings in the fear of doom in humans as a consequence of their acts and hence it is an excellent way to control the crowd. The purpose of religion should not be to induce fear in the minds of humans and hence I discard this definition. Let's look at the second and the actual definition of Karma:
Karma is the control that one has on its action, the consequence is in control of the universe.
This definition can be found in Chapter 2, Verse 47 of Bhagavad Gita:
You have the right to perform your prescribed duties,
But you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions.
Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities,
Nor be attached to inaction.
This definition can be found in Buddhism. One of the core philosophies of Buddhism is the art of letting go. Letting go is the greatest control that an individual possesses. Not only Buddhism, Stoicism, and Taoism also focus on the act of letting go. Attachments lead to suffering. One can get attached to a person or to the consequence of its action. One expects the results to be in the favor of oneself. But consequences are in the control of the universe. The universe is the director and you are mere an actor on the stage of the world. The universe expects you to act. But it never promises you the fruits of your actions. Everything you have lost is what you returned back to the universe, every heartbreak and suffering that you went through was the universe's way to speak to you, to teach you a lesson, and to change you. No amount of suffering is enough. The universe craves more. The universe will bring you down to your knees if required. Just when you thought that you have been left behind to suffer, the universe was watching you, expecting you to detach from the consequences of your action. The sufferings will never let you die. The universe will shower lights, just enough to guide you home.
The act of letting go is so powerful that it is described as the only way to attain salvation. Only when you detach from the consequences is when you find peace. There is nothing in this universe that belongs to you. There is no one that you compete with. It is only you and the universe. The universe gives you something. Do not get attached to the person or thing. It doesn't belong to you, it belongs to the universe. Be ready, as it will be snatched away without notice.
Presenting the lines from Bhagavad Gita which explains the art of letting go:
जो हुआ, वह अच्छा हुआ, जो हो रहा है, वह अच्छा हो रहा है, जो होगा, वह भी अच्छा ही होगा। तुम भूत का पश्चाताप न करो। भविष्य की चिन्ता न करो। वर्तमान चल रहा है।
तुम्हारा क्या गया, जो तुम रोते हो? तुम क्या लाए थे, जो तुमने खो दिया? तुमने क्या पैदा किया था, जो नाश हो गया? न तुम कुछ लेकर आए, जो लिया यहीं से लिया। जो दिया, यहीं पर दिया। जो लिया, इसी (भगवान) से लिया। जो दिया, इसी को दिया।
खाली हाथ आए और खाली हाथ चले। जो आज तुम्हारा है, कल और किसी का था, परसों किसी और का होगा। तुम इसे अपना समझ कर मग्न हो रहे हो। बस यही प्रसन्नता तुम्हारे दु:खों का कारण है।
परिवर्तन संसार का नियम है।
What happened, happened for the good. What is happening is happening for the good. What will happen will happen for the good. Don't remorse for what has been done. Worry not about the future. The present is the only truth.
What did you lose that made you suffer? What did you bring to this world that you have lost? What did you give to this world that was destroyed? There is nothing that you brought with you. Everything you get belongs to the universe. Everything you give belongs to the universe.
You came empty-handed, you will go empty-handed. What belongs to you today, belonged to someone else yesterday. It will belong to someone else tomorrow. The attachments that you have for your belongings will bring suffering to you.
Change remains the only constant in this universe.
Here is the key takeaway - do your actions and detach from the consequences of your actions. That's what Karma tells us. There is nothing either good or bad action. Good and bad are mostly perspectives to view different sides of the same coin. How do we classify an action as good? We cannot. That's why Buddhism calls for intention instead of the action itself. The intention of the action should be good - it should come out of compassion, generosity, and empathy. The action is good if the intention is good. The action that is intended to help humanity. The action, where you sacrifice all your belongings for the happiness of others. Whatever the action may be, it is necessary to detach from consequences. Whether fortune or suffering, accept it with a warm heart and that shall lead to no suffering. As pointed out in Chapter 2, Verse 68:
Fight for the sake of duty,
Treating alike happiness and distress,
Loss and gain, victory and defeat.
Fulfill your responsibility in this way and you will never incur sin.