It is more than six months since my last blog on Freedom. Recent Global events that affect all of us made me to take a break from the intended series of posts on freedom but write about positive affirmations the help us to cope with difficult situations.
We were in Tasmania, Australia on a hiking tour during our presidential election and heard the news while on a long hike. We returned back home on December 1. As everyone knows this has been an interesting time ever since. The stark increase in polarization, marked absence of empathy, compassion and accommodation, the rise of ‘me first’ thinking, intolerance and the resultant uncertainties in life made me wonder about what a concerned human being can do to help humanity at large. What adds to the sense of deep anguish is that this situation here may represent a microcosm reflecting happenings nowadays in other developed and developing nations as well. This made me think about the living tradition in which I was born and brought up, whose philosophical underpinnings I studied in depth. I find solace in some of well-known daily affirmations (prayers?) chanted by many in India, the ones I know and used to chant daily!


While reflecting on these lines, I remembered a reply I read in a small magazine in Tamil when I was about ten years old. To a question about what one could do under emotionally draining situations when the mind gets stuck in an infinite loop of real or imagined helplessness, the author of the magazine wrote “ இருகரம் கூப்பி இறைவனைத் தொழுவதன்றி வேறு வழியொன்றில்லை! – Other than holding both hands (in prayer) and praying to God, there is no other go.”
Thus such a daily prayer came to my mind. But, when I see the meaning of the words of these Sanskrit verses, I do not find anywhere the word God or its equivalent. To me it looks more like what one says when meeting someone “Good day, mate!” or, when one is sick, saying “wish you a speedy and complete recovery” or a ‘bon voyage’ to a friend going on a journey. These are not really prayers, but are nevertheless sincere words wishing for the good of people or offering words of solace.
There is no explicit mention of God or Higher Being in these Sanskrit verses. These cannot be considered to be religious, nor restricted to any single faith or theology. Not long ago, I heard one of these verses chanted at the closing of a talk by a Teravada monk from Sri Lanka at a Stanford University Hospital Spiritual Care Interfaith conference. At that time I was serving as a volunteer Hindu Chaplain at the hospital.

The English rendering (not a literal translation) of these Sanskrit verses captures the spirit of these affirmations

“May the rulers of nations follow the right path, may the subjects be prosperous
May animals and seekers of truth be at ease, may all the world be happy.
May the rains come at the right time, may the Earth be bountiful
May the nations be free of adversity, may seekers of truth be fearless.
May all be happy, may all be free of afflictions
May all see goodness, may none be sorrowful.”

The verses in Roman transliteration and in devanāgarī script follow.

Svasti prajābhyaf paripālayantām nyāyyena margeṇa mahīm mahīśāḥ
Gobrāhmaṇebhyaś śubhamastu nityam lokāssamastāssukhino bhavantu.
Kāle varṣatu parjanyaḥ pṛthivīśasyaśālinī
Deśo’yam kṣobharahitaḥ brāhmaṇāssantu nirbhayāḥ.
Sarve bhavantu sukhinaḥ. Sarve santu nirāmayaḥ.
Sarve bhadrāni paśyantu. Mākaścidduḥkhabhāg bhavet.

स्वस्ति प्रजाभ्य: परिपालयन्ताम् न्याय्येन मार्गेण महीम्महीशा:।
गोब्राह्मणेभ्यः शुभमस्तु नित्यम् लोका: समस्ता: सुखिनो भवन्तु।।
कालेवर्षतु पर्जन्यः पृथिवी शस्यशालिनी।
देशोsयं क्षोभरहितः ब्राह्मणा: सन्तु निर्भया:।।
सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः। सर्वे सन्तु निरामया:।
सर्वे भद्राणि पश्यन्तु। मा कश्चिद्दु:खभाग्भवेत्।।

For the few of among us who like to hear these chants in Sanskrit I have attached an audio file. If you are so inclined, this chanting helps you memorize them in order to repeat them daily before you go to bed and also when you get up from bed. I believe, like many a wise person in India, the more participants in this affirmation, the more it gains potency for the affirmations.

A comment on my English rendering

Many of you who know the Sanskrit language may not think that my rendering is precise. The reason is the popular meanings of some of the Sanskrit words, such as  ‘go – cow’ (animal) and ‘brāhmaṇa – member of the brahmin caste’ (seeker of truth). As most of you know, one of the objectives of these affirmations is to highlight the intent, called tātparya in Sanskrit, and not the words of the verse. These verses have nothing to do with the ‘holiness of cows’ for Hindus or with members of the caste called ‘brahmins’. The fact is that both animals and seekers of truth – be they scientists, scholars, philosophers or journalists – have relatively limited means of defending themselves. World history, ancient or modern, clearly shows how those who pursue the path of truth are typically persecuted, and helpless animals neglected, during political or religious upheavals. It is the role, if not the responsibility of the rulers to follow the right path to protect the innocent and defenceless. These affirmations reflect a keen understanding of the world and what can and does seem to happen too often.
Regarding the question of authorship or age of these verses: in India authorship and the date of compositions are relegated to the background, often just unavailable and untraceable. It is true of these affirmations as well. I do not know the origin or the author. It has been part of the Indian tradition.

I thank my friend Richard Goeller for his input and for editing this post.

What is mokṣa, freedom?

In Heaven and Freedom I discussed the popular theistic idea that an eternal sojourn in Heaven after death is considered to be mokṣa, freedom. This concept is common to almost all religious theologies of the world. But there is a contrarian view about freedom in two ancient Indic systems – Vedānta and Sāṅkhya / Yoga – which stress that real freedom is not something promised after death, but is to be enjoyed while living. This freedom while living, known as jīvanmukti is what we will discuss now. Before we go into technicalities, we must first understand the rather loaded words, mokṣa, nirvāṇa, kaivalya, jīvanmukti, satori, freedom, liberation, living-liberated, liberation/salvation-here-and-now, as well as several similar expressions meaning the same thing.

 Freedom / liberation
pragmatists’ question

Whether Heaven is eternal or temporary is a subject of belief and not verifiable until I am dead. A pragmatic person might think: I am not interested in such a posthumous reward but something here and now, while living. I also do not care about theological belief systems or philosophical wranglings about what freedom really means. One may consider me perhaps an agnostic or an atheist. What does mokṣa mean to me? It obviously cannot mean to be free of this body and mind, since liberated-while-living means the person must be alive! And, as long as I am alive, I am subject to natural laws and so cannot be free of them. So what does it really mean ‘to be free’?

Such a questioning pragmatist indeed existed about 2,500 years ago. He was a born prince who was turned off by Vedic ritualistic tradition; nor did he care about an Eternal Self, ātman. Nor did he subscribe to another equally ancient tradition of Sāṅkhya / Yoga stressing kaivalya. He was convinced that direct perception and inference alone were sufficient for him to gain any knowledge and thus there was no need for scriptures or a guru to talk about unverifiable things. Thus he set out to find a way to end human suffering and later was called the Buddha. This Sanskrit word means ‘one who has understood’; usually this is translated as ‘the enlightened one’. Today his teaching forms the basis of a ‘religion’ practiced by hundreds of millions of people in all countries of the world.

My purpose here is not to talk about Buddhism per se but just to highlight the simple fact that pragmatism in this matter is not confined to the 21st century; mankind’s desire to be free of human limitation is found throughout human history. This quest for freedom is called, in the Vedic tradition, parama-puruṣartha, the ultimate quest of any human being. More about this later (in my next blog post).

Freedom / liberation is
freedom from sorrow / fear

This fundamental quest was best expressed by the commander-in-chief of an army facing an imminent fratricidal war about two millennia ago. He was torn about what was the right thing to do – to fight or just refuse to fight and walk away. His poignant question to his dear friend, who chose to be his charioteer was:

“If I were to win this war, or even gain overlordship of the Heavens,
I do not see a way to remove the sorrow that saps all my senses.”

Na hi prapaśyāmi mamāpanudyāt  yacchokamucchoṣaṇamindriyāṇām
Avāpya bhūmāvasapatnaṁṛddham rājyaṁ surāṇāmapi cādhipatyam.
(Bhavadgītā, Ch. 2-8)

This indeed is the human problem, a life tinged with sorrow that saps us all. This is not a negative or pessimistic view of life as many describe about Indic thought, but is experienced by all human beings. In and through all our achievements, there is this underlying fear of loss and consequent sorrow that saps all our senses.

This fear has been expressed eloquently by a sixth century king-turned-saint, Bhartṛhari in Vairāgyaśataka, One hundred Verses on Dispassion thus

In enjoyment,  there is the fear of disease; in social position, fear of fall
n wealth, fear of kings in honour, fear of humiliation
n power, fear of being overthrown; in beauty, fear of old age 
In erudition, fear of opponents; in virtue, fear of slanderers
n body, fear of death;  all the things of this world are attended with fear
Dispassion indeed is fearlessness. (31)
Bhoge rogabhayaṁ kule cyutibhayaṁ vitte nṛpālādbhayaṁ
         māne dainyabhayaṁ bale ripubhayaṁ rūpe jarāyā bhayam
Śāstre vādibhayaṁ guṇe khalabhayaṁ kāye kṛtāntādbhayaṁ
         sarvaṁ vastu bhayānvitam bhuvi nṛṇāṁ vairgyamevābhayam. (Vairāgyaśatakam, 31)

Mind is the cause of both Bondage and Freedom

Whether it is fear or sorrow or a sense of being hemmed in on all sides, they are not centered on the body or bodily pain. They are centered on one’s mind. Thus one can say that the cause of both bondage and freedom are the mind:

Mind indeed is the cause for bondage and freedom,
(mind) attached to sense objects is bondage, and
freedom is to be free of (attachment to) sense objects.
Mana eva manuṣyāṇāṁ kāraṇaṁ bandhamokṣayoḥ
bandhāya viṣayāsaṅgi mokṣo nirviṣayaṁ smtamiti.”
Maitrāyaṇyupaniṣad (6-34)

If one explores further, one finds that in both waking and dream, one experiences joys and sorrows due to contact with objects of the world, or impressions of such past experiences in one’s own mind. In dreamless sleep one is free of the mind and its activities. But whether in a  dream world created by oneself, or in this waking world, one identifies with the mind and suffers the consequences. Almost all spiritual literature, whether theistic or nontheistic stresses this simple fact of the mind dominating almost all aspects of human experience and activity.

Though seemingly a simple matter, it is not easy to get away from the mind; one cannot just be mindless or use drugs or stay in deep sleep or in samādhi (as popularly understood by this word) and be free. Nor is it easy to be the master of the mind. This mastery of the mind, our existing desire-ridden mind, is the journey one has to undertake in this life to gain freedom.

In the next post we will start exploring the tools used in spiritual traditions of the East to accomplish this, how apparently contradictory philosophical bases of the systems are all centered on this task of gaining freedom from the mind, being the master of the mind rather than being a slave of it.

I thank my dear friend and gurubhai, Richard Goeller for his helpful comments and edits.

Karma (consequence of action),
svarga (heaven) and mokṣa (freedom)

Karma, consequence of action: In my previous three blogs I covered a few topics centered on karma – that it is not fate, what dharma is, and the role of prayer in mitigating karma’s effects.The word karma has two distinct meanings. One, the actual etymological meaning of the word, is action. The other is the more popular meaning in the world at large: the result of action, more precisely called karmaphala. There is a better English word for karmaphala, namely ‘‘consequence of action”. If the word is used in this sense, karma implies that every deliberate action has a consequence, not just within this birth but one that gets added to the soul’s store of ‘consequences’, that is, sañcitakarma .

Svarga, heaven: This Sanskrit word is derived from the verb ṛj (to obtain, acquire, gain) with the prefix su (well) and suffix a (to arrive at the noun form). Thus etymologically it means a state acquired or gained. That is, one gains svarga after death due to deliberate actions performed in this world while alive. The English word nearest in meaning to Svarga is Heaven.

Mokṣa, freedom: This Sanskrit word is derived from the verb muc meaning to liberate, to release, to be free. Another synonym for mokṣa is mukti, also derived from the same verb. There are many words pointing to the same meaning in different philosophical systems of India and of the rest of the world  – nirvāṇa, satori, asamprajñāta-samādhi, nirvikalpa-samādhi, liberation, freedom, salvation – to name a few.
These two words, svarga and mokṣa are well known to most Hindus and to those who are familiar with Indic culture, with diverse religions subscribing to different philosophies and theologies. Despite this diversity of Indic systems, there is a common thread, one of freedom for the saṁsārin, the human being, from this world called saṁsāra.
The two words heaven and liberation mean two different ends that can be sought by a human being. In the current blog post we discuss the idea of svarga and will take up the concept of mokṣa in later posts.

Svarga, Heaven

The idea of svarga, heaven is common to almost all religions of the world, not unique to Hinduism, though details and descriptions of heavens differ. The commonality is that one reaches heaven after death as a result of righteous actions performed while living on this earth. The opposite, naraka or hell also has commonality in all theologies in that unrighteous actions performed on the earth result in a trip to this place after death.
The meaning of righteous and unrighteous actions, called dharmika or adharmika karma, starts at the societal level, centered on actions that maintain harmonious living. Thus it includes desisting from actions such as stealing, telling lies, coveting others’ possessions, greed etc. In addition, there is a set of positive actions to engage in — charity, helping the needy, selfless actions and so on. Religious theologies postulate ‘consequences’ to these actions that accrue in another world, call it heaven or hell. No point is served in exploring hell since no one wants a continuation of suffering either here or hereafter in another place called hell.
Despite diversity of religions, there is a consensus that leading a righteous life in this world will result in the posthumous reward of heaven. There are differences relating to whether one goes to heaven with this earthly body or gets a different body or something else, but this also is not the focus of discussion here.

Eternal stay in svarga

This vision of heaven as the posthumous reward for leading a righteous life here is common to Judaism,  Christianity,  Islam and Hinduism, particularly in bhakti-mārga, the path of total devotion to God. All these theologies postulate a heaven after death to be eternal. That is, there is no more suffering, including the suffering inherent in life on this earth being born again. The latter is a central focus for Hindus who believe in karma and thus countless rebirths on Earth. Thus, it is a common custom in India, even today to use the expression “xxxx gained Kailāsa (abode of Śiva), xxxx gained Vaikuṇṭha (abode of Viṣṇu)” in obituary notes reflecting this belief, in a way giving the benefit of doubt to the departed one that he or she is in the eternal heaven of the Lord.

Eternal Svarga-stay: reconcile with karma concept?

A person subscribing to the concept of karma may have difficulty in understanding this theological certainty of eternal stay in heaven. This is because sañcitakarma, the total load of ‘consequences of action’ is so vast that it cannot be exhausted in any number of human births. If one’s stay in svarga were eternal what happens then to this total accumulated karmic load, the sañcitakarma?
But no such conceptual contradiction arises in western religions since the belief system is based on the view that the current human birth for the soul is the only one and the karma in this life determines afterlife. But most religions of Indic origin subscribe to the concept of karma and consequent countless births and deaths.
A Hindu devotee does not have a problem with this either! Because the Hindu idea of God is that He/She is beyond the bounds of karma and is full of compassion for the Created. One of the names of God is Karuṇānidhi, repository of compassion. Out of compassion, God absolves the devotee of sañcitakarma, total accumulated karmic load, and at death of the body, the soul is totally free of rebirth and gains eternal stay in Heaven, the abode of his / her favorite God. This freedom from saṁsāra after death is expressed as eternal sojourn in Heaven, being in the Lord’s presence, be it Kailāsa (abode of Śiva), or Vaikuṇṭha (abode of Viṣṇu), or whatever the devotee believes in.
This may raise a valid question “If God were so compassionate, why does he not get rid of all of my karma now, so that I can start having an eternal stay in heaven instead of continuing to live in this limited world of pain and sorrow?” This is more a rhetorical one than real, since no human being who has a ‘normal’ life wants to die now for the promise of eternal heaven! This is illustrated by a story I heard somewhere. A small digression:

There was a dedicated pastor who lived in a small town tending his flock of believers. He went one day to a neighboring town and much to his dismay found a number of his parishioners gambling. He felt gambling was a sin, so the next time at the church he gave a sermon taking pains to explain the effects of sin and how it prevents the soul to enter heaven. At the end he accosted his audience “Those who want to go to heaven, go to the right side of this hall”. All moved to the right except an old man with a cane. The pastor was shocked and asked him “Why, you do not want to go to heaven? Do you want help to move over to the other side of the chapel?” The man replied, “Padre, I thought you asked us about going to heaven now. I do not want to die today to go there!”

Joke apart, this represents the desire for any living being not to die “now”. And, God the Compassionate One does not end the devotee’s life! His/Her reason for not taking the devotee right away to heaven is also based on, and not incompatible with karma theory: this life is the result of fructification of a portion of total accumulated karma, and is called prārabdha-karma. It is more like an arrow that has been taken out of the quiver, attached to the bow, aimed at a target and let go. Once the arrow has left the bow, it cannot be stopped even by the archer. Thus God, the One who is the Lord (in charge of doling out to the soul all karmic load) cannot stop the effect of what has already begun. This seems to be a satisfying explanation to a devotee, if ever he were to venture asking such a question, which is construed as questioning God’s Limitless Powers.
There is another way to look at this issue by going to the very foundation of karma theory. Karma is the subtle result that accrues to the soul, the result of a deliberate action undertaken by the human being (or similar being capable of deliberate action). An action is typically possible only by total identification of the person with his or her mind and body, that is, ego and desire-prompted actions arising in the mind. If one surrenders the ego at the altar of God and performs all actions as an offering to God, then the person can gain the vision that there is nothing but God, dissolving his ego-centered individuality.
Such a true devotion is defined as bhakti by the sage Narada in his Bhaktisūtra:

परमप्रेमस्वरूपा  भक्तिः। सा त्वनन्या।
Paramapremasvarūpā bhaktiḥ, sā tu ananyā.
“Devotion is of the form of limitless Love,  it however does not allow otherness”

Lord Kṛṣna states this in simpler terms in bhakti-yoga chapter in Bhagavadgītā:

मय्येव मन आधत्स्व मयि बुद्धिं निवेशय।
निवसिष्यसि मय्येव अथ ऊर्द्ध्वं न संशयः।।
Mayyeva mana ādhatsva mayi buddhiṁ niveśaya
Nivasiṣyasi mayyeva atha ūrdhvaṁ na samśayaḥ. (12:8)
May you fix your mind in me, may your intellect be directed towards me,
You will indeed reside in me, there is no doubt (about this).

Again, in a different chapter he says

यत्करोषि यदश्नासि यज्जुहोषि ददासि यत्।
यत्तपस्यसि कौन्तेय तत्कुरुष्व मदर्पणम्।।
Yat karoṣi yadaśnāsi, yajjuhoṣi dadāsi yat
Yattapasyasi Kaunteya tat kuruṣva madarpaṇam. (9-27)
Whatever you do, enjoy, offer as a sacrifice, or give
Whatever austerities you perform, Kaunteya! May you do it as an offering to Me! (9-17)

Svarga only as temporary sojourn – The Contrarian Vedic View and gaining Mokṣa

In contrast to this Bhakti-view, both Sāṅkhya and the Vedānta (the last section of Vedas) take a different view of heaven – that it cannot be eternal, that any heaven gained by action for a limited time while alive must result only in a limited duration of stay in Heaven, and the soul will get back to this earth endowed with a physical body. This more logical view appeals to me. These systems say that the only place where one can gain total freedom, that is mokṣa, is on this earth where the soul is reincarnated as the indweller in a human body. An elaboration of this contrarian thought of svarga as a return trip to the Earth, the reason for the sense of bondage and the way to gain mokṣa constitute topics of my next few posts.

I thank my dear friend and gurubhai, Richard Goeller for his helpful comments and edits.


I would like to share with you all my deep sense of gratitude to my Vedānta teacher, Swami Dayananda Saraswati, who passed last week in his āśrama in Rishikesh.  A personal tribute penned by one of his students, Professor Anantanand Rambachan was published recently in Swarajya magazine in India. I liked it very much and thought I would share with you.

Being a scientist by training and a skeptic by nature, I decided to play it safe! I was afraid the teaching by a ‘traditional teacher’ might not appeal to me, and  I knew nothing of Swami Dayananda, the resident ācārya (teacher). So, armed with a 120-day return ticket and an assurance from my beloved boss that I could come back any time to the same research position, I quit my job in the US, left for India, got my parents’ blessing, and landed in Sandeepany Sadhanalaya in Powai, Bombay.

When I arrived, Swami Dayananda was teaching an afternoon class, so I quietly entered and sat in the back. He was saying, “Yadyat kṛtakam, tattannaśyam kṛtakatvāt ghaṭavat (whatever is created is subject to destruction, like a created pot),” a logical syllogism to explain how this created physical body is subject to destruction/death. The tightness of logic and his uncompromising analysis grabbed my attention right away. I felt I had come to right place and to the right teacher. Not many days after that I told him about the never-to-be-used part of my return ticket! He made it public in a satsanga and we all had a hearty laugh! The rest, as they, is history.

He was a teacher par excellence and full of dayā, compassion, a person true to his sannyāsin name Dayānanda, one of the meanings of this word is “Bliss of Compassion.” One incident during the course that really stuck in my heart demonstrated how he lived the teaching, that is, he walked the walk, not just talk the talk.

There were a few devotees who were dissatisfied with us, his students. They felt that we lacked the ideal discipline that they felt we should have had! Swamiji was a bit hurt by this gossip. So, that evening he came to the class (all the devotees also were also attending the class) and talked about the core of the vedānta-śāstra —  that a person who understood the teaching is rooted in abhaya, is unafraid (abhayam pratistām vindate – Taittirīyopaniṣad).. He said, “With this understanding of fearlessness described in the Śruti, how can I force a discipline that you all will abide by due to fear? I give you all the armamentarium necessary for you to understand and abide by the śāstra, so that you can fully own up the teaching.” Needless to say, for us, his students, the first emotion that wells up toward him is love, then only respect.

Another incident worth mention: I was in my thirties, idealistic, harsh and judgmental–hopefully in my seventies I am a bit better! In one of our many conversations I asked him why he had this motley crowd of 65 students of different ages, with different goals and agendas, and what he planned to accomplish for his efforts. His reply was disarming but reflected a keen understanding of his visionary role as a Vedānta teacher. He said “Remember Śaṅkara? For all his life of dedicated spread of Vedānta, he had only four students who continued the vedāntic teaching tradition. If I start with 65 and teach a few such courses, I am sure there will be many more than his four to carry on the teaching tradition all over the world for a long time.”

Rabindranath Tagore said that when thoughts are translated to words, something is lost. As I write this blog post, I realize how true his statement is! I invite you, many of whom are students or Swamiji, to send me your personal experience as comments to this blog so I can post them on this site.

Yasya deve parābhaktiryathā deve tathā gurau.
Tasyaite kathithāhyarthāḥ prakāśante mahātmanaḥ.
Who has the highest love of God, and same love for the teacher,
To that great soul the Truth (of Vedānta) shines.”
Śivamānasollāsa by Sureśvarācārya

While working on mokṣa and karma for the karma-series blog posts, I happened to come across a podcast containing a thoughtful analysis of the concept of karma by Sharon Salzberg, a Buddhist teacher. I find her responses in the interview on this topic really capture the idea of Karma and of its relevance – specifically, that it is meant to be applied to oneself and is not to be used to pass judgement upon others! I also like her analogy to epigenetics, that karma is not fate but only predispositions. I recommend listening to this podcast. This podcast is in the religion section of an e-Paper.
The subtitle for the podcast is –
If you are talking about someone else’s karma you are doing it wrong.


In the blog post Karma and Dharma Karma and dharma, I wrote that human birth is due to prārabdhakarma, a fraction of sañcitakarma, the soul’s total karmic load and that Karma is not Fate. Prārabdhakarma is a mixture of both puṇyakarma and pāpakarma. While puṇyakarma, the result of righteous actions from previous births, gives rise to pleasurable experiences in one’s life, pāpakarma, the result of unrighteous actions yields unpleasant or uncomfortable life experiences.
It is natural for all living beings including humans to avoid uncomfortable situations. The uniqueness of the human being is that he / she can exercise free will, however limited it may be, to overcome many of them . But in everyone’s life there will be situations that defy remedy by available methods. Under those conditions, one who believes in Karma and Īśvara, God, seeks to remedy the situation by resorting to religious actions called prāyaścittakarma, expiatory action, centered on God. In this blog post we elaborate on this aspect of action, called remedial action..

Reducing the Effect of Pāpakarma in this Life – the Role of Prayer

When one encounters hardships in life, it can be explained as a way for the soul to experience pāpakarma. Indians call it ‘bad karma’. These hardships can take the form of the loss of a loved one, a serious illness that can be physical or mental, loss of one’s livelihood, a natural calamity and so on. Human efforts to deal with them, from the karma angle are attempts to reduce this karmic effect.
In life, more often than not one cannot be successful in overcoming obstacles despite one’s best efforts. Instead of giving up, saying ‘it is my fate’ or ‘it is my bad karma’ or, worse still, blaming others or the world, a religious person can resort to prayer instead. Note that prayer is in addition to and not in place of the best human efforts. This action, called an expiatory act in religious literature, necessarily brings in the Hindu concept of God.
Prayer is common among all religions of the world. Western religions do not subscribe to karma, action and karmaphala, the consequence of one’s actions, that accrue to the soul, or to its rebirth. The expiatory rites, also called acts of atonement are primarily for ‘sins’ committed in this life. Note however, prayers and pilgrimages to holy shrines seeking cure from physical or mental diseases are not uncommon in those religions. These acts also come under the umbrella of prāyaścittakarma from the perspective of Hindu thought.
The major differences in Hinduism compared to Western religions are (1) the understanding of the role of prayer within the karma framework and (2) the multi-layered concept of the nature of God and His / Her role in helping people to reduce the effects of pāpakarma, as well as getting rid of all karma for the one interested in mokṣa, liberation.
In this blog post my focus is on the role of prayer to reduce if not annul the effect of one’s pāpakarma.

Different Types of Karma in the Tradition

Since prāyaścittakarma is discussed here, it is appropriate at this point to briefly discuss other types of karma recognized in the Hindu tradition. Though this analysis is not directly related to the topic, for the sake of completeness of analysis, these must be included. They are: kāmya-karma, niṣkāmya-karma, vihita-karma and niṣiddha-karma. Since any type of karma by definition will add to the soul’s karmic load, we will briefly discuss all types of actions and their results.
Kāmya-karma, Desire-prompted Action:  Any action undertaken by a human being is prompted by desire. The basic desire common to all living beings is to continue to live; but human beings have an additional layer of desires beyond this. And it is in pursuit of fulfillment of these that dharma and adharma and consequent accrual of puṇya and pāpa come in. In general, desire-prompted action will add to the karmic load differently based on whether or not the action is undertaken in accordance with dharma. The intensity of one’s desire often drives one toward overriding the need to follow dharma, and this in turn results in adding to the load of pāpa. Scrupulously following the dictates of dharma will however add to the load of puṇya. Either way one ends up adding to the total karmic load on the soul, perpetuating the cycle of life and death, otherwise called samsāra.
Niṣkāmya-karma, Action Not Centered on One’s Selfish Desires:  In contrast to self-centered desire-prompted actions, one can perform many a selfless act in life. This can arise due to a sense of empathy, compassion or a desire to follow a dharmic practice like charity as a scriptural injunction. If the underlying saṅkalpa, clear conviction or intention, is that one wants out of this puṅya-pāpa cycle (in other words, if one is clear that one’s basic desire is for mokṣa, freedom), tradition says such actions are non-binding. That is, there will be no addition to the karmic load, but there will still be results in this life itself, such as developing clarity of mind, a mind that is less and less buffeted by impulsive urges to act. An extension of this attitude toward any action is the well known karma-yoga concept described in the Bhagavadgīta.
Vihita-karma, Action Enjoined by the Tradition:  The life of a Hindu is governed by scriptural injunctions that mandate certain actions. These enjoined actions can be nitya-karma, daily actions (e.g. scriptural study, daily prayers) and naimittika-karma, actions for certain occasions (e.g. rituals at birth of a child, initiation to Vedic study, marriage, end-of-life rituals).
Niṣiddha-karma, Actions Prohibited by the Tradition: Prohibited actions are those that are not dharmic – they can be ordinary unethical actions (stealing, lying) with a religious overload or purely scripturally prohibited actions.
Prāyaścittakarma, Remedial Action to Mitigate Unfavorable Effects of Pāpakarma: This remedial action is prayer. The necessary ingredient for prayer is acceptance of a Being above all that we know in this phenomenal world. This Being is otherwise denoted by the common, though loaded word God.
The common issue one faces regarding prayer as prāyaścittakarma, is that it does not seem to work always – there are at least as many who pray but their wish to overcome a difficulty is not fulfilled, as those who can attest to the fact that prayer indeed was effective. To understand the role of prayer, one has to discuss the Hindu concept of God and how it dovetails with karma framework.

The Multi-layered Hindu Concept of God

My prefered Sanskrit word equivalent to God is Īśvara. It is derived from the verb Īś meaning to rule, to lord over. The more apt English term would thus be The Lord, a phrase common in Christianity. There is no easy way to characterize God. I think the following Sanskrit verse succinctly states about God.
“Oh Effulgent One! I know not the Truth of You, how, what or where You are.
Oh Great Lord, whatever, whoever or wherever You are, my salutations!” l

In Hinduism the idea of God covers a large spectrum.

  • The totally dualistic view of God the Creator, different from the creation and the souls that are incarnated in different physical bodies. This God-World-Me separation is taken as the basis for worship and prayer. Many believe that the role of the human being is to worship God and that by the Grace of God the human being will be saved. After death the person resides in Heaven with God. This is what one commonly observes in Hindu practices of temple worship as well as worship at an altar in people’s homes. This is not too different from western religions.
  • God is described with multifarious anthropomorphic forms including with non-human head(s), multiple arms and legs. One typically encounters these as idols in temples and as described in very many purāṇa-s, mythologies. The central theme is that God takes these forms to protect the innocent and punish cruel demonic ones who are against dharma.
  • There are many purāṇas (mythologies),  based on this concept of World-God dualism with the anthropomorphic representation of God and Goddess. There are about 18 purāna-s in which many other Gods and their exploits are described. They provide a rich source of stories that enthrall both the young as well as not so young even today. An Indian publishing house has taken up the task of making a scholarly translation of these works in English for the benefit of most of us who do not know Sanskrit.2 There are also many such works in many regional languages.
  • Not unlike God in Western religions there is also the Hindu idea that God is One. With reference to the three features one observes in this phenomenal world – creation, sustenance and dissolution – the one God is represented as Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Śiva respectively,  often referred to as the Hindu Trinity, like the Christian Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • Intelligence and Power: Creation presupposes knowledge and power. Power of knowledge (śakti) is represented as the Goddess Sarasvatī, consort of Brahmā. Sustenance needs the power of wealth, and this is Goddess Laksmī, Viṣṇu’s wife. And, destruction needs power, represented by Durgā, Śiva’s spouse. In actual practice, to an ardent devotee of any Goddess or God, his/her God represents all three aspects of creation, sustenance and destruction as well as knowledge and power rolled into one, which the devotee worships. This favorite God, called iṣṭadevatā in Sanskrit need not be the Gods described above. It can be Ganeśa, Kārtikeya, Rāma, Kṛṣṇa and others. The common expression used in the West is ‘the Hindu pantheon’. But for an informed Hindu, this popular expression only shows lack of an in-depth understanding of the Hindu idea of God.
  • The physical forms of the God/ Goddess represented and worshipped separately in temples in India do not mean that they are separate. That they are inseparable is seen in the icon of Ardhanārīsvara with the right side as the male form and  the left as the female form. Poet Kālidāsa expresses this inseparability by the simile of the inseparability of a word and its meaning in his invocatory verse in Raghuvamśa3
  • The Yoga system of Patañjali, on the other hand treats Īśvara, God as a special puruṣa, soul who, unlike other souls is not conditioned by karma. 4  God, souls and prakṛti, Nature are independent realities.
  • No God is postulated in the karma-kāṇḍa, the ritual section of the Vedas, to grant the wishes of ritualists. The view is that the very acts themselves yield the desired result due to the power inherent in rituals, called apūrva. There is thus no need to postulate the presence of an independent single conscious entity to bestow the result of Vedic rituals. Note that the Vedas are not ‘Godless’, in the sense of being atheistic! A number of devatā-s, deities/Gods are mentioned, including the Hindu Trinity and their consorts. There are several hymns dedicated to them. The only difference is there is no single overarching God. The Hindu view is that the Vedas are Divine, more akin to western Holy scriptures. The word Veda in Sanskrit means knowledge, and a Hindu considers the book as a source of knowledge.
  • In contrast to the karma-kāṇḍa, the jñāna-kāṇḍa, knowledge section of the same Vedas, also known as the Upaniṣads, or Vedānta (end portion of the vedas) has a totally different vision of God and world. This section of the Vedas has a non-dualistic vision. Sometimes one sees a similar vision in mystical literature in the West. The non-duality underlying the perceived Creator-Created duality is the pāramārthikasattā, Absolute Reality. This Reality, called Brahman,  Conscious Limitless Being,  is the substratum of all the observed world-man, man-God and God-world duality. From the standpoint of the perceived phenomenal world, the duality of souls, world and God is not imaginary or illusory but real, thus validating the role of prayer and karma. This reality of duality is called vyāvahārika-sattā, relative reality. As a student of science, this makes me think of the reality of atoms being discrete entities from the standpoint of chemistry, though in the reality of modern physics, there are no discrete Daltonian atoms; the reality is mostly just empty space with very little ‘matter’, and this too present in a way difficult to define categorically. But within the level of chemistry the acceptance of discrete atoms does not impinge on or interfere with any of the laws of chemistry.

Despite the diverse movements of idol worship, pantheism, polytheism, panentheism, henotheism and so on, in practice any informed Hindu understands that the physical representation is just a form symbol to focus the mind on the One-Beyond-Many conceptualization. When the conditions are right and the mind has enough focus, one transitions from this worship through physical form to the mental repetition of sounds called mantra-s which are specific to the God of one’s choice. The idea here is to provide a basis of worship suited to a diversity of situations and people, rather than to force fit one way to all with a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude.

The Role of God in prayer to mitigate the effect of karma

My Vedanta teacher used to illustrate the role of Īśvara 5 by comparing it to the application of Nature’s laws; if one trips and falls breaking a leg, one does not blame Nature. Nor does one say that Nature blesses us by our success in launching a rocket beyond the gravitational pull. Similarly, neither can human beings attribute their misfortunes to God’s capriciousness, or the receipt of prayed-for results to God’s favoritism.
In contrast to our notion of Nature, which we consider to be inert and insentient, Īśvara, God is considered to be a Sentient Being according to all religious theologies. Three words attributed to God are Omnipotence, Omniscience and Omnipresence. The equivalent Sanskrit words used in Hindu thought are sarvaśaktimān, sarvajñaḥ and sarvāntaryāmī, respectively. From the karma viewpoint, however, Īśvara  has two roles – as karmādhyakṣa, or overlord of all karma, and also karmaphaladātā, the giver of the fruits of one’s karma. Īśvara’s role is to follow the laws of karma.
If one experiences a series of misfortunes or gains an unexpected fortune in life, the Lord’s role has been just that of the giver of the results of that person’s puṇya or pāpa karma, the fraction of the total karmic load or prārabdha-karma that has been given through this human body for the soul to experience. This idea frees God from the notion of being uncompassionate or capricious or beneficent or vengeful.
Prayer is a volitional act or karma by a human being with a specific saṅkalpa, an intent to seek relief from a difficult situation in life. Since every karma has to have a result, God, as karmaphaladāta, giver of fruit of karma, bestows upon the devotee the result commensurate to the action of prayer.

Why Prayer is Not Answered All the Time

We all know that our prayers are not answered all the time. The result of prayer appears to be random. The explanation based on the karma framework is as follows:  prayer is a karma that is pitted against the unknown force of pāpa karma. And the Lord as the giver of the result of an action has no partiality to the devotee which could lead Him / Her to override the karmic force if the counter effort of prayer is not strong enough. This does not mean the Lord is either unkind or capricious. Since a priori we do not and cannot know the power of karma, religious traditions always recommend prayer as a means of seeking Divine help to get over difficulties not amenable to other efforts.

Praying for Others

A related issue is how to explain the role of prayer on others’ behalf within a karma framework. This selfless act of prayer is common across all religions. In the Hindu tradition, it is common to offer a daily prayer for the good of all beings in the world before one goes to bed. The karma concept extends to all beings. Thus when a priest or a well-wisher performs an act of prayer for the wellbeing of a person, this interacts with that person’s karmic load. In my own life, when a member of my family was gravely ill, our relatives in different parts of India offered special prayers for her recovery, and the effect was nothing short of miraculous. I have to add here that the person was given the best medical attention possible, and prayer may have added the unquantifiable plus that made the difference. When our family was going through this period of intense and directed prayer activity, I was reminded of some lines  I memorized while I was in school, from Morte D’ Arthur by Tennyson, a 19th century English poet.

“More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice
Rise like a fountain for me night and day.
For what are men better than sheep or goats
That nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
Both for themselves and those who call them friend?
For so the whole round earth is every way
Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.”

I also remember a favorite verse of my father from Śivānandalaharī  by the 8th century Advaita exponent Śaṅkarācārya with the following statement in the last line – ‘Oh! What devotion cannot accomplish”.6


Prārabdhakarma, the fraction of the total karmic load that results in a human birth for a jīva, the soul, is a mixture of puṇya and pāpa karmas, the latter giving rise to painful or unpleasant life experiences for the human. Despite the best efforts by the person, if such experiences do not get better and if he or she has a belief system, there is a way to resort to remedial action, called prāyaścittakarma and this is a kind of prayer to Īśvara, the Lord.
There can be a complete or partial remedy of the situation as a result of this remedial action centered on God. His/Her role in the result is simply one of karmaphaladātā, giver of the result of one’s action and not as a special favor to the devotee praised. But if the remedial action is not adequate when pitted against the pāpa karma force, the effect can be less than total removal of the obstacle, or in some instances the prayer may have no impact at all. This too, based on the karma framework does not mean that God does not care since He / She is also the giver of the result of all actions, including the pāpa karma. The karma concept thus explains how prayer works sometimes but not always. It also helps one to own up to one’s karma, whether done in this lifetime or in previous lives. A natural consequence of this is not to excuse oneself and blame others for misfortunes. Nor does it allow a person to gloat about great successes in life, since this too is the result of puṇya-karma in addition to exercising best efforts for success.

1 Tava tattvam na jānāmi kīdṛśosi mahādeva
Yādṛśosi maheśvara, tādṛśāya namo namaḥ.

2 Mahapuranas  ISBN(Hardbound):  8120802896, 978812080289, Translated into English 100 Vols. by J.L Shastri, G.P. Bhatt  Motilal Banarsidass

3 Vāgarthāviva smpṛktau vāgarthapratipattaye Jagatafpitarau vande Pārvatīparameśvarau.

4 Kleśkarmavipākāairaparāmṣṭapuruṣaviśeṣa Īśvaraḥ. (yogasūtra 1:24)

5For those with a smattering of Sanskrit knowledge – note that the masculine gender form used here does not mean that God is a male! As Jewish mystic tradition mentions, it is impossible to attribute sex to that One from whom creation came about. It is just that gender is formal in Sanskrit, more akin to German and French than to English.

6 “…..Bhaktiḥ kim na karoti …….”  (Saundaryalaharī, Verse 63)

I thank my dear friend, one of my gurubhais, Richard Goeller for his insightful comments and technical editing.


In my blog post last month I introduced the word karma, meaning the  results of actions that accrue over an infinite number of incarnations of jīva, the soul, as a human being. To summarize – Karma that is related to a soul is three fold

  • Sañcitakarma, total karmic load
  • Āgāmikarma, future karmic load that will accumulate when the jīva incarnates again as a human being, and,
  • Prārabdha-karma, the infinitesimal fraction of the total karmic load, that gives the soul a physical body. This fraction of the karmic load can give rise to the birth of a plant or animal or a human being on Earth.

The type of body that a soul enters depends on prārabdha-karma. If this is all  puṇya-karma, the soul incarnates as different gods (depending on the karmic load) in many heavens described in Indian tradition. If it is all pāpa-karma, the soul is born in a body appropriate to exhaust that karmic load. In both these two types of incarnations, the soul can only exhaust prārabdha-karma. On the other hand, if this prārabdha-karma is a mixture of puṇya-karma and pāpa-karma, the soul incarnates as a human being. According to the Karma concept, both puṇya-karma and pāpa-karma are acquired by the soul in human incarnations only, which are considered to be infinite, thus resulting in endless transmigrations of the soul, till it is liberated.

According to the concept of karma, being born as a human being is unique because, among all living beings, only the human can

  • Add to future karmic load by performing any karma, action.
  • Reduce the bad effects of past karma that brought about this birth by performing remedial actions – well known in many religions as  acts of expiation (called prayaścitta-karma), and also
  • Perform actions directed towards what is called mokṣa, salvation or freedom from total karmic load.

In this blog post I plan to focus only on actions that lead to āgāmikarma, that is, addition to future karmic load.


Adding to future karmic load (āgāmikarma) by actions

What is action?

One can wonder what kind of actions count toward adding to future karmic load. Obviously, actions necessary for maintaining the body such as breathing, eating, sleeping and other bodily functions do not contribute to this addition. Only volitional actions contribute toward addition to karmic load. For example, though eating is not an action that can generate an additional karmic load, stealing food for fulfilling one’s hunger is an action that will result in addition to it.

This ability of choice in action by the human being is illustrated by a favorite saying of one of my Vedānta teachers “If a donkey feels like kicking, it kicks; it cannot but do so. But if you feel like kicking somebody, you have choice. It is this choice that differentiates you from the donkey.”

In India, the words karma (meaning action), dharma and duty are sometimes used interchangeably. Webster’s New World Unabridged Dictionary defines the word dharma –  “In Buddhism and Hinduism, religious observances, conformity to the Law, duty, virtue.”

What is Dharma?

Etymologically, the Sanskrit word dharma is derived from the verb meaning ‘that which sustains the world’. Based on etymology alone, this applies to any action undertaken by the human being to sustain the society, ecology and natural systems of the world. Thus one can say the word inherently has no religious connotation of heaven or hell, sin or virtue. But, primarily this word is used in a religious connotation and thus is centered on religious laws and religious codes of conduct. Thus any action that conforms to the tenets of a religious code of conduct is called right or righteous action, and also called dharmic action. Actions contrary to this code of conduct are unrighteous or wrong, or adharmic actions. If one looks at all religions of the world, one sees that many ‘shalls‘ and ‘shall nots’ are but a religious overlay on actions that sustain the world.

And this potential to choose dharmic life is what separates a human being from animals. All animals including humans have the ability to choose what is necessary for perpetuation of life, though to varying degrees. Mere choice for maintaining life is not the point here. But ability to choose the right action, that is dharmic action, is the mark of a human being. A Mahābhārata verse describes this unique difference between human beings and animals thus.

“Food, sleep, copulation and fear are common to animals and humans.
What is special for a human being is dharma.
Being devoid of dharma is equivalent to being an animal.”1

In Hindu thought, ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ action is only adding a religious dimension to actions typically considered socially responsible or ethical or moral actions. Though one does not have to be religious to choose to act ethically, from the religious standpoint, any action, whether ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ (righteous or unrighteous, dharmic or adharmic)  results in addition to the karmic load; right action adds to puṇya, called virtue, while wrong action adds to pāpa, sin. But both result in further impetus for rebirth, in order to exhaust one’s puṇya-karma and pāpa-karma through experiences during the life of a living being.

It is neither easy to understand the concept of dharma and adharma (not-dharma), nor to choose to perform only dharmic actions, eschewing all adharmic actions. Even if one focuses primarily on common sense moral and ethical actions, without delving into complexity of dharma, the human being is unable to desist from all adharmic acts due to the pressure of impulses. Leading a life driven by one’s impulses, that is, following impulses is far easier than deliberately choosing dharma, the right thing to do. This human condition is expressed by king Duryodhana in Mahābhārata:

” I know what is dharma but have no inclination to follow,
and know what is adharma but am unable to desist….”.2

According to the concept of karma, this assiduous avoidance of doing the right thing and tendency to do the wrong thing will add to the karmic load of pāpā. What is less understood however is that the opposite is also true – undertaking right actions by leading a deliberate way of life will add to the puṇya karmic load as well. Thus, no matter what the human being does, there is potential for adding to the karmic load, and hence rebirths. This idea is highlighted by Saint Rāmānuja’s saying that while pāpā is like an iron shackle, puṇya is a shackle made of gold. His teaching is that both are going to bind you to future births by adding to the karmic load and one’s real goal should be to get out from under it all.

I do not discuss here the complexity of dharma since this is a big topic. Any human being can face such conflicts in life, and the solution typically consists in choosing the greater good not based on selfish ends. What is dharmic under one set of conditions can be adharmic under a different set of conditions. Many of our epics and mythologies highlight this complexity as it is played through characters such as Rāma in Rāmāyaṇa, Yudhiṣṭhira and Karṇa  in Mahābhārata, to mention a few.


Prārabdha-karma, the infinitesimal fraction of the total karmic load gives the soul a physical body to exhaust the karmic load. As a human being endowed with the ability to choose a righteous / dharmic or unrighteous / adharmic action, the soul in this embodiment will add to the karmic load.

Two other possibilities exist for soul incarnated as a human being. They are (1) the ability to remediate the effect of  pāpā-karma in this life, which typically this manifests as an uncomfortable and / or unhappy life experience, and (2) the ability to eradicate the entire karmic load. How these two can be accomplished is the subject matter of subsequent blog posts.


1 Āhāranidrābhayamaithunam ca, sāmānyametat paśubhir narāṇām
 Dharmo hi teṣām adhiko viśeṣo dharmeṇa hinaḥ paśhubhis samānaḥ.

2 Jānāmi dharmam na ca me pravṛttiḥ jānāmyadharmam na ca me nivṛttiḥ
 [Tvayā hṛṣīkesa hṛdis sthitena yathā niyukto’smi tathā karomi. not cited].

I wish to express my thanks to Phillipe and Richard for their continued help in reviewing and
offering valuable suggestions to make my blog posts more effective.

 Karma, Definition

The Webster dictionary’s definition of the word karma
(1) In Buddhism and Hinduism, the totality of a person’s actions in one of the successive
states of his existence, thought of as determining his fate in the next.
(2) Loosely, fate; destiny (Webster’s Universal Unabridged Dictionary, 2nd Edition).

To understand the first definition one has to delve into Indian thought on action and its results. Thus one has to bring in the theory of reincarnation (punarjanma), the seemingly endless cycle of births and deaths (saṁsāra), and the exercise of self-effort or free-will (puruṣārtha) to fashion our lives while living, despite being subjected to the force of karma.

The concept of liberation or freedom is called mokṣa in Hinduism, nirvāṇa in Buddhism and satori in Zen-buddhism. In many bhakti, that is, devotional traditions (in both Indian and Western religions) this freedom is considered to be eternal life in Heaven after death. Attaining liberation is the primary goal of spiritual and religious practices such as yoga in India, as well as in the three principal ancient religions of India – Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. These practices that are actions (physical or mental) are also called karma – the etymological meaning of the word karma is action. The dictionary citation here has a philosophical overlay on this word, and this overlay is the focus of this blog.

Subtle Result of Karma, Action, also called Karma

Creation in Indian thought and mythologies is cyclical. The usual term used for creation is anādi (beginningless). In this beginningless creation, birth is a soul gaining a physical body on this Earth at any one time. The soul comes with a collection of karma, but it is just a fraction of the karma accumulated over countless births through choosing good and bad actions. In this context, this word karma does not mean action but the subtle results of actions, more precisely called karmaphala in Sanskrit. Unfortunately, it is common practice to use the same word karma to mean both action and result of action. As the English dictionary definition above refers to the subtle result of one’s actions in countless births, we will also use the word karma to mean only karmaphala, the subtle results of one’s actions in this blog post.

Note the important words ‘subtle results’ and ‘by exercising one’s choice (exercise of free will)’ in defining karma. The subtle results that occur are technically called adṛṣṭaphala (adṛṣṭa-unseen, phala-result of an action). This is a religious concept: if a person steals from another, the action can be punished in the perpetrator’s lifetime if he is found by law enforcement. This may be called dṛṣṭaphala, a seen result in this world while the person is alive. In addition, the result of this harmful action still accrues to his soul, and this subtle or unseen result is also called karma. The same is true for an act of kindness, compassion, helping the needy etc… The word ‘sin’ (pāpa) refers to the result of harmful actions, and ‘virtue’ (puṇya) to the effect of beneficial actions. Note that there is no cancellation of sin and virtue, it is not a zero sum game! This fact that there is no escape from the result of one’s harmful or beneficial actions, simply because one is not caught by man-made laws in this lifetime is a concept common to both Eastern and Western religious traditions. The result of good karma is to drive a person toward pleasant experience while that of bad karma is toward painful experience. Karma can be exhausted only by experiencing the effect (as a positive or negative experience).

Three types of Karma: Sañcita ‘total-collected’ ,
Āgāmi ‘to come in future’ and Prārabdha, ‘well-begun’

Karma is grouped under three classes – sañcitakarma, āgāmikarma and prārabdha- karma. The first one, sañcitakarma literally means wellearned results of actions. This represents the accumulated results of a soul’s actions while embodied in a life form capable of choice, that is, by exercise of free-will over eons of birth/death cycles. This, according to tradition can be only possible by humans in this world. Since creation is cyclical, that is beginningless, any soul has a big total karmic load.

The second one, āgāmikarma means results of future actions of the soul when embodied as a human being. In our lives we do many good and bad acts by exercising our free-will. The results of these acts will result in future karmic load. This potential karmic burden is  āgāmikarma.

Now to the question of a birth of a living being, and this is where the third type of karma comes in. The birth can be that of a plant, an animal, bird or human. According to the doctrine of karma, a small fraction of the total karmic load of sañcitakarma, called prārabdhakarma (karma that has begun fructification) gives rise to entry of the soul in a body and thence to the birth of a living being. Thus birth really means a soul acquiring a physical body to use up this prārabdha-karma, and death is dropping off the mortal coil when this quantum of total karma is used up. This specific karma load that results in a birth is always a mixture of good and bad karma. Thus every living being is subject to ups and downs of experiences in life.

This karma concept explains countless births and deaths – the different physical bodies the soul inhabits for some time. This also explains how two living beings born at the same time and place, and even identical twins, can have entirely different sets of life-experiences. Being brought up in this tradition in India, when I see a person here carrying a little poodle dressed in velvet, I think “The soul in that dog’s body is born with good karma, while many dogs in my country of birth are being pelted by little stones by street urchins!”

To the question “why not keep taking births and deaths, for at each birth a bit of the karma is used up, and eventually this sañcitakarma will be gone, and the soul will be free?” The answer is that samsāra, the cycle of births and deaths is endless as long as the soul, born as a human being can and will add to the karmic load. So, there is no end to transmigration and thus no freedom for the soul.

The Concept of Karma and Respect for Every Life Form

First let us answer the question ‘how does karma apply to other living beings’? It is clear from the theory of karma that all living beings are equal in the sense that souls have no inherent distinction among them except for their their karmic load.  This idea, in a practical sense manifests as treating all life forms as sacred, since one soul inhabiting a body is not superior or inferior to any other soul. The difference is just the body which the soul inhabits limits the capacity of the soul to manifest. Thus the ‘higher forms of life’ only have better equipment through which the soul can manifest.

This underlies vegetarianism and the idea of ahimsā, to not willfully do violence to other life forms by thought, word or deed. But one may argue that vegetables also are life forms, not superior or inferior to the human. It is also known that life lives upon life, so the tradition recommends doing the least harm consistent with keeping the human life going. Thus vegetarianism centers on not killing a life form that is manifest in bodies that are capable of moving away from you when you try to kill them. Doubtless it is arbitrary, but the line is drawn at as low a point in the food chain as is feasible.

A small digression here to highlight this aspect of being a vegetarian: In the 1980s when I was working for a high-tech company, one of my colleagues, a microbiologist, questioned me on being a vegetarian. “Ram, how do you justify being a vegetarian since yanking a carrot to eat also is killing a living being according your religion?” I had to explain to him this principle of doing least harm and eat as low in the food chain as possible adding “If one of these days, an eggplant starts running away from me, I will stop picking and eating egg plants!” He persisted “How about eggs? They cannot run away from you. Why don’t you eat eggs?” I have to be honest here (though I do not eat omelettes or other dishes where the egg looks at me which is just an emotional rather than rational reaction) I do eat ice cream and cakes! My reply to him was “True, but I still look upon the eggs as potential chickens! I do eat cakes here since in this country it is illegal to sell fertilized eggs, and so there is no potential for life to manifest in them. I also take milk products since they are not obtained by killing cows.” That seemed to satisfy his curiosity about vegetarianism. The idea of veganism is based on the premise of not treating as commodities sentient animals – vegans do not use any animal product including milk, honey, wool or  leather. Even stricter are many Jain monks who wear a mask to avoid inhaling some life form, and use a broom to clean the area where they step to eliminate the possibility of accidentally killing insects.

All living beings other than humans are born just to use up the small quantum of karmic load that gave birth to a specific body for the soul to inhabit. They live that life subject to ups and downs which are the effects of karma, with no ability to do good or bad actions, being entirely driven by instinct. The tradition thus calls such a body a bhoga-śarīra, a body for enjoying/enduring the karma the soul came with. Humans are given a special place since only the human being can exercise free will, however limited it may be, by choosing to do a good action or desist from doing a bad action.

Human Being and Karma – Is Karma fate?

The second definition in the dictionary is
Loosely, fate; destiny” (Webster’s Universal Unabridged Dictionary, 2nd Edition) .

Indian religious and or philosophical systems stress that the human birth is unique and special since only the human can either increase the karmic load by choosing bad or good actions, or strive towards liberation, by exercising his/her free will. Thus one can choose to overcome impulse-driven action by using viveka, the discriminative ability of the human intellect. This exercise of choice is the basis of human advancement. Thus it was possible to ‘liberate’ us to some extent from the ravages brought about by Nature. I use ‘liberate’ here in the sense of using appropriate measures to minimise Nature’s impact on man.

A minority of people in India believe that Karma is fate or destiny, the second meaning in Webster’s Dictionary cited earlier. This idea of total determinism or preordination by some Superior Power is reflected in almost none of the cultural, religious and philosophical pursuits common in India for millennia. For example, the primary emphasis of vedic astrology is interventional and not just predictive of potential life events. Also, there are many temples in India which are centuries old, with idols made before sculpting of granite or marble was known. Thus we know temple worship has been there for a very long time. Worship is an act of choice, and even today there are billions all over the world who believe in the effect of prayer and find it provides both mental and actual relief from problems.

The concept of liberation of the human being from this cycle of lives is the basis of Yoga, Vedānta, Buddhism, Jainism and several other theological or purely philosophical systems. All these point to the human being choosing to act. This choice is by execise of free will. These actions are able to mediate the effect of past karma.

In actual life, karma must be looked upon as predispositions, certain urges to act in a particular way, resulting in pleasant or unpleasant experiences in life. But the uniqueness of human beings is that one is endowed with a certain amount of free will / choice, which one can and must exercise to mediate this rather powerful karmic predisposition, though apparently going against karma’s mandate. Based on my science background, I look upon karma like genes with which one comes into life. Genes show a predisposition to certain diseases but do not predetermine their incidence. An informed human being can and will take actions to minimise or forestall the effect of the genetic predisposition. It is also seen that despite the best actions taken by exercising choice one can still succumb to the disease due to genetic predisposition and environmental factors. Similarly, one’s actions to mediate the ill effect of karma can be looked upon as an attempt at a karmic override by human effort.

I look upon the interaction between the effect of one’s karmic repository and actions by choice / free will to go against it, to be similar to  a tug of war. I would like to end this section with a favorite story of the late Swami Chinmayananda, one of my two Vedānta teachers. “Imagine a cow tied to a post with a very long rope. It is free to graze as far as the rope will allow. Beyond that, however much the cow tries, it cannot go farther. Your karma is like that long rope. Just as the cow does not know the length of the rope, you too do not know what is the force of karma to pull you back, but you have to push as far as you can go (like the cow in this story) using your limited free will.” This is what the tradition calls exercising one’s puruṣārtha (the Sanskrit word equivalent to free will or choice).

In conclusion, the connotation of karma, meaning results of actions of previous lives, does not mean it is totally deterministic. Fate or destiny, as commonly understood is not the correct way to look at one’s karma. The other meaning, the primary etymological meaning of the same word karma is action. Exercise of free will, that is, choice is karma, meaning action. This also is a very important and relevant topic that needs exploration, and I will take it up in my next blog post.

In my last blog post Mind and I, the focus was how to become the master of one’s mind. In the well known yogasūtras of Patañjali, he says īśvarapraṇidhānād vā. This sūtra means ‘Or, one can gain this complete mastery mind by total dedication to Īśvara [God]’.  He follows this with a few more aphorisms on the definition of God and the name of God, the syllable Om. No other name, form, function or relationship to creation is given. In our yogasūtra group we continue to discuss the few aphorisms on this topic of God over several sessions (

This question of God almost always comes up during my conversations with many of my friends and relatives. It takes many forms – “I do not believe in idols, many Gods and worship”; “I do not believe in droning on mantras without knowing what they mean”; “I believe in a Higher Being and praying is not my thing”; “I do not pray but I meditate” and similar sentiments. Long ago, in an interfaith seminar, I heard a buddhist declaring ‘we do not believe in God’. This blog post focuses on the topic of God and the worship of idols in our homes and temples, the milieu in which I was born and raised.

At the outset I have to say that I do not think it is possible to logically establish the existence or non-existence of God. His/Her/Its existence is asserted by resorting to scriptures, a kind of logic called śruti-sammata-yukti in Sanskrit. Also I do not think that anyone can be commanded to have faith or belief in God, scriptures or to take up a religion. One has to discover in oneself a faith or belief in God, develop a personal relationship not through externally imposed religion, culture and society. With this caveat I delve into this topic.

The Webster dictionary’s definition of the word God:

(1) A being conceived of as possessing supernatural power and to be propitiated by sacrifice, worship, etc.; a divinity; a deity; an object of worship; an idoland, (2) ‘The Supreme Being; the eternal and infinite Spirit, the Creator, and the Sovereign of the universe’ (Webster’s Universal Unabridged Dictionary, 2nd Edition).

In my tradition several names are used to refer to God. As far as I  know, there is no semantically equivalent word in Indian languages to the Anglo-Saxon word God. A few popular names in Tamil and Sanskrit follow.

Tamil words: there are two commonly used words in Tamil – Iraivan (இறைவன்) and Kadavul (கடவுள்). One of the meanings of the first word is ‘The Lord’, though the word can also mean all pervasive. The second word can have two meanings – ‘One who is inside’ and ‘One who transcends everything’.

Sanskrit words:  A few words are common – Īśvara ( ईश्वरः), The Lord; puruṣa (पुरुषः), indweller, all pervasive; and paramātman (परमात्मा), the limitless self. Limitless means not limited by time and space. Note the word ātman is also resolvable to one who dwells in the body and one who is all pervasive.

Note that a majority of these traditional words indicate nature of God to be both indweller in all living beings and all pervasive. This is not just the words I cite here but what is stated in many of the Upaniṣads, the last portion of the Vedas, also known as Vedānta. The vision of Vedānta is that one Limitless manifests as both the creation and the consciousness in all creation. The word limitlessness naturally includes no limitation of either time or space. This Limitlessness (called Brahman in the Upaniṣads), from the standpoint of the created world is called by the word God (Īśvara  or puruṣa or paramātman). In reality nothing exists apart from this God including me, the devotee.

The question then for the believer is ‘How can I focus my mind on such a Being that includes me, the entire phenomenal world and beyond?’ This is where one uses a form or name as a focus for the mind on this Limitless Being called God. My Vedānta teacher used to cite the flag and the national anthem of a country as examples of symbols representing the country. It is not that the song is the country, nor is it that piece of cloth. We superimpose on that piece of cloth and the sound of the anthem the lofty vision of the vast nation we live in to pay our respect. This conscious superimposition is called upāsanam in Sanskrit.

So too, in a temple, the idol symbolizes that which defies all definition and description. This unfortunately is not widely understood, nor is it stressed or taught when one becomes an adult. Thus the whole temple worship is reduced to the idea that God is other than, and separate from, the human being, and our role is to worship Him/Her. By His/Her Grace one gains freedom, either here in terms relief from pain and sorrow or, after death of the physical body, in Heaven. Unfortunately, this lack of understanding of the idea of God (as revealed in Upaniṣads) results in establishing, if not perpetuating the I-God duality, master-servant mentality with inescapable logical inconsistencies about creation and the creator. It is left to the ‘mystical’ side of most religions to explore the existing essential non-duality between me and God. This idea itself is considered sacrilegious in many religions. In the Indian tradition however, this teaching of nature of God is relevant even today. The appreciation of the existing non-duality between the created me and the Creator can be nurtured during our lifetime. This knowledge is considered to be the highest knowledge, parāvidyā.

The representation of God as an idol is a symbol one uses for the purpose of worship. There can be two types of symbols, pratīkā, sound symbol and pratimā form symbol. The sound symbol Om referred to by Patañjali in his Yogasūtras is considered to the most sacred symbol. Māndūkyopaniṣad is dedicated to elaborating the symbolism of this sound. This and a number of other sound symbols in the tradition are not God, but indicators or pointers representing God.

With this in mind, idols and idol worship in temples can be seen as symbols pointing to the divine, and form an integral part of almost all religions, though in different modalities. This idea of God, concretized as a pratimā, form symbol is the idol in a temple. This separation of God from me, the devotee, not appreciating the true nature of God, nor understanding the symbolism behind the symbol is what is called ‘idol worship’. This type of blind idol-worship is ridiculed in a millennia old Tamil verse.

Natta kallai daivam enru nālu pūvum sāttiye
Suttivandu munumunukkum mūda mandiram edadā
Nattakallum pesumo nādanullirukkaiyil
Sutta satti sattuvam kariccuvai aryumo.

Offer a few flowers on a stone that is planted (in a temple),
Circumambulate (that stone) mumbling some dumb chants,
Will that stone talk while the Lord is within?
Can the ladle that stirs a curry know the taste?

Even so, the tradition of temple going, offering flowers and circumambulating the sanctum sanctorum mumbling some chants whose meaning is not known, is still alive and vibrant in modern India, including in the software capitals of Hyderabad and Bangalore! More new temples are being built and old ones renovated across the subcontinent. Despite the possibility that many of such temple-going worshippers have no idea nor interest in understanding the philosophical underpinnings of God, Creation and the devotee, they do gain peace of mind and relative quietude.

This tradition, like many other religious traditions believes in divine Grace and that it helps the devotee. Also it is said that this act of what appears to be an empty ritual in itself, but performed in a dedicated manner can make one see God everywhere. There was a Tamil saint who lived a few centuries ago who was an ardent devotee of Lord Śiva, who used to fetch flowers from his garden daily to offer at the altar in his home. One day while in the garden he realized that the flowers he picked are but the same Śiva, the picker, the altar, the garden, and everything is but one Limitless Śiva. This is the culmination of true devotion to God. This kind of devotion is described in Nāradabhaktisūtra as one that ‘does not admit of otherness’.


My mind and I . . . !

A common thread among many questions I receive from my friends, relatives, and Vedānta students is the mind. Here are some typical questions: How do I deal with grief? How can I stop my wandering mind? How come I am unable to meditate? Why do I get bothered so much despite my dedicated years of study of Vedanta? Though the questions appear to be varied and many, the underlying issue is simple: “How can I get a handle on my mind?”

I remember one Vedānta teacher’s comment about body and mind: “Problems with the body? Never mind! Problems with the mind? Doesn’t matter!” By this play of words he drove home one of the underpinnings of both Yoga and Vedānta philosophies:  Both mind and body are matter. The mind is subtle matter; and the body, including the brain, is gross matter. I, the indweller of the body, am the wielder of the mind. Ironically, most of us feel that we ARE our minds. My emotions become me. Thus I say, “I am angry, I am sad, I am agitated, I am happy, I am peaceful,” and so on. The wielder of the mind is mistaken to be the mind. It is like the tail wagging the dog. Instead of wielding the mind, I get dragged by my mind wherever it goes.

Accepting this common and natural identification of ‘I’ with ‘my mind,’ let us explore what we can do to deal with the mind. But note that this, too, has to be done only with the mind!

In the Bhagavadgīta, a small section in the epic Mahābhārata written by Vyāsa, it is said “Mind indeed is the cause for bondage and freedom” (Bhagavadgīta 6-5). In this epic, Arjuna, the great warrior and the commander of an army, is stricken with grief at the prospect of having to lead his army in a fratricidal war. To help him deal with his mind in this state of confusion and despair, he asks his charioteer Kṛṣṇa for guidance, entreating him to be his teacher. Kṛṣṇa talks about freedom and the cause of the grief and sense of limitation Arjuna feels.

In this blog post I will not get into the central topic of Kṛṣṇa’s teaching, which is that the appreciation of the truth of one’s being is real freedom. Instead I will focus on what the bulk of Bhagavadgīta covers: the techniques we can use to accomplish a semblance of mastery of the mind. Patañjali’s Yogasūtra is also dedicated to this subject, defining yoga as mastery of the mind (Yogasūtra 1-2). Yogasūtra is the most extensive work on mastering the mind, a how-to manual for accomplishing this goal. A pure and steady mind is necessary to discover that we are not bound or limited, but always free and limitless.

Mind is difficult to control

During the course of the dialog in the Gītā, Kṛṣṇa describes the mind of a yogin to be as steady as a flame in a draft-free place (Bhagavadgīta 6-19)! Our inability to master the mind is eloquently stated by Arjuna: “Kṛṣṇa, mind indeed is agitation. I  think mind is very difficult to control like (controlling) the wind  (Bhagavadgīta 6-34).” Kṛṣṇa’s response to Arjuna’s plight is equally applicable to all of us today. He replies, “Undoubtedly mind is difficult to master, but it can be controlled by abhyāsa (practice) and vairāgya (dispassion) (Bhagavadgīta 6-35).” Haṭhayoga practitioners who delve into Patañjali’s Yogasūtras can relate to this prescription of practice and dispassion as the means to gain mastery of the mind (Yogasūtra 1-12). Following the footsteps of these two masters, Patañjali and Vyāsa, I will touch upon these twin handles of practice and dispassion to tame the mind. First let us review different practices.

Taming the mind – Part I. Abhyāsa (Practice)

The practice needed to tame the mind is meditation, a word that conjures up all kinds of images and misconceptions. Simply put, meditation is setting the mind at ease. This has nothing to do with religion, Eastern or Western, esoteric or exoteric. A mind at ease is a mind ready to learn. Only with a mind at ease can I be efficient and effective, a prerequisite for success in any type of endeavor. Meditation is a technique to consciously disengage ‘me’ from ‘my mind’, using the mind. This sounds paradoxical, but the reality is that we have only the mind we are blessed with, so we better start with what we have!

Attaching any belief system to meditation can give it a religious connotation that may not appeal to those who don’t subscribe to that religion. People familiar with Eastern religions are aware of many meditative practices associated with those religions, but such practices are present in almost all religions. Many of these techniques, stripped of their religious connotation, can be used to set the mind at ease.

Before I begin to describe some of the many meditative techniques, let me answer the most common question about meditation: How long must I practice? Real mastery in any field involves time and consistent effort. It is true in dealing with the mind as well. A spasmodic or sporadic foray into meditation will not be effective, irrespective of what kind of meditation you engage in. Consistently spending a few minutes a day will yield the results you are looking for.

I. Meditative techniques using the body

Mind being subtle, we can use a grosser, that is, more tangible thing like the body to gain mastery over it. Pūjā, daily worship of the Lord at an altar in the house, helps by focusing the mind on something that is far higher and holier than my body and mind. Taking a shower, picking flowers, doing the worship, and eating only after this daily activity is done have a two-fold benefit: gaining disciplined control over inherent tendencies, impulses, or moods that come in the way of this sacred task; and focusing the mind during this time of worship. Overcoming impulses makes the mind less capable of taking you for a ride with every little fancy.

A little digression here. When I was in fifth grade in a small town public school in India, there was an annual inspection by a District Educational Officer. He would go to classes, observe teaching, visit the administrative office, inspect documents, and write a report.  It was big deal for the headmaster of the school. I knew that the officer who visited our school was a Muslim, because he was wearing a muslim cap. In one class, right in the middle of the visit, the officer spread a small carpet on the floor, kneeled in the direction of Mecca, and started his namāz, prayer! This to me is an example of constant devotion to a Higher Being, even in the midst of  whatever else the person is called upon to do. The goal of any such religious observance centered on the body is to help one master the mind.

If you do not have an altar of worship at home, going to a temple daily is another activity that achieves the same result. In other religions, the common practice of routinely visiting a church, synagogue, or mosque has the same effect on the mind. Regular observance of fasts–fasting on ekādaśī (the eleventh lunar day after a full or new moon) for Hindus, Lent for Christians, Ramadān for Muslims, Yom Kippur for Jews–are also instances of use of the body as a means for mastering impulses while focussing the mind on something higher..

If you do not have a belief system to fall back on, yogāsana practice accomplishes the same objective. Anyone who is a long time yogāsana practitioner can attest to the efficacy of this secular activity. By a focus on postures, the mind becomes steady and free of distraction; and being regular in the practice helps master the mind’s impulses.

II. Meditative techniques using music and sound

A subtler physical activity to help gain control of the mind is to use chant, song, dance, listening to devotional songs, repetition of a thousand names of the Lord, and so on. Devout Muslims repeat the names of Allah, Catholics say the rosary, Buddhists chant to prepare for meditation. Chanting the Vedas or even listening to others chant produces an effect on the mind, even when the listener doesn’t know the meaning of the words. When I came to the United States in 1970, I heard for the first time Gregorian Chant in New York City. My mind was drawn to it, and I felt as though I were listening to Vedic chanting.

III. Meditative techniques using breathing

Use of breathing is another way to tame the mind. By this I do not mean different kinds of prāṇāyāma, but simply being aware of your breathing, being a witness to the autonomic process of breathing. This technique of observing the breath is one of the well-known meditative practices in Buddhism. It appears simple in that it does not need a correct posture or a teacher to train you in different types of prānāyāma, and it can be done even when you have a few free minutes. In reality, however, the practice is quite subtle; and before you realize it, the mind has wandered away, taking you with it!

IV. Meditative techniques using mantras

Mantra is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘that which protects one by just thinking of it.’ Thus, this is purely a mental process with no movement of the body, a silent, mental repetition of a meaningful sentence or just a few syllables that have no given meaning. Transcendental meditation (TM) uses mantras consisting of just syllables, called bījamantras. Bīja means seed. Just as by looking at a seed one cannot easily visualize the tree or the plant it will become, so too through learning the meaning of these mantras we will not know the deities to which they are dedicated or be able to assess their subtle effects on the mind. The most well-known single syllable mantra is Om. It is traditional belief that chanting Om leads one towards renunciation of worldly pursuits. Yogasūtra states that the name of the Lord is Om. Māndūkyopanisad elaborates on this syllable. This is usually the first syllable of most of the mantras centered on different names of the Lord.

It is generally believed that a mantra is not effective unless the person using it has been initiated into its use by a qualified teacher. However, if a person is interested in gaining a degree of mastery of the mind and has no means or desire to search for a person to provide this initiation, s/he can simply pick a mantra and repeat it mentally.

Here are some well known mantras and the name of the Lord to whom each is is dedicated: Om gam gaṇapataye namaḥ (Gaṇeśa, remover of obstacles), Om namaśśivāya (Śiva, destroyer of ignorance), Om namo nārāyaṇāya (Viṣṇu, the protector), Om namo bhagavate vāsudevāya (Kṛṣṇa, an incarnation of Viṣṇu).

A question that naturally comes up is “What if I am not a Hindu, or I am atheist? Can I  benefit from a mantra, whether it is composed of just syllables or has the Lord’s name associated with it?” The short answer is “Yes, you can and you will.” The reason is simple. You are not asking for any special benefit from this or that deity you do not care for or believe in. Nor do you care for the esoteric benefits of the mantra. You just use it as a tool to slowly gain control of your mind. You just want to be in charge of your mind.

V. Meditative technique of observing the mind

This method is the essence of vipassana, the mindfulness meditation practice well known in Buddhism. Vipassana is a Pali word; the Sanskrit equivalent is vipaścanam, meaning seeing clearly. The method is delightfully simple to describe, but in practice it is not that easy! You become the observer of your mind, its meandering thoughts, memories, conclusions, judgments and emotions, including boredom and frustration. You just remain a silent observer of whatever comes up in the mind without reaction. This very process results in developing a separation between you and the mind, the instrument you wield.

Taming the mind – Part II. Vairāgya (Dispassion)

Will any of these practices make me a better human being? The simple answer is probably not! These practices only make you adept in using the mind, a mind that is more focussed. Technically you have antahkarananaiscalyam, steadiness of mind; but you do not become automatically a more ethical, forgiving, loving and compassionate person, a better human being. These meditative practices only give you a superior tool, your mind; but you are the one who wields the tool. How you use the tool is dependent on your impulses and your unique set of likes and dislikes. And these can overpower you, causing you to lose control of your mind.

This is illustrated in many Indian epics and mythologies. In the epic Rāmāyaṇa, Rāvaṇa is described as a great devotee of Lord Śiva. He had superior steadiness of mind, but still his behavior was terrible. He abducted Rāma’s wife, refused to listen to the wholesome advice of his brothers and his wife, fought a war with Rāma, and was killed. In the process he lost one of his brothers, his son, and a part his capital was in flames. There are many mythological stories of great devotees of God and sages with great powers coming to grief due to unchanged behavior. The only way for one to become a better human being is to discover a value for positive qualities and work on changing habituated negative thought and action patterns. The tool for this task is the mind, and a steady mind can be more easily directed to changing oneself to be a better human being. The attitude that works synergistically with steadiness of mind and is equally necessary is vairāgya, dispassion.

Dispassion does not mean turning away from life, suppressing or denying our desires. Dispassion is the ability to  reduce our clinging and passionate attachment to certain concepts, things and beings. Typically the triggers for these attachments are external: they can be objects or people. The actions we take because of these attachments can be due to insecurity, fear, a need for control or recognition, and so on. Dispassion is based on a mature understanding of the triggers of these impulse-driven actions and the emotional attachments behind them. During moments of calmness and quietude, we can examine the reactions of the mind and see, just observe. This process of non-judgmental introspection is a sure way to gain control over the sort of  impulsive, desire-driven actions that invariably cause us grief and mental anguish.

The world around us is not going to change to accommodate you and me and satisfy all our quirks! The best method to achieve peace despite what happens around us is through this dual process of meditative practice and developing dispassion.  Following it, you can develop a mind that is both pure and steady, a mind that is managed by you, instead of the other way around.