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Freedom From Karma

Part 29 of the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

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Do you remember the television ad that asked: “Why trade a headache for an upset stomach?”? Many people trade fear of sin and hell for fear of bad karma and bad karmic consequences. That is a perfect example of Jesus’ statement that “no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved” (Luke 5:37, 38).

It is pointless to adopt new ideas while retaining the old attitudes that were consistent with or shaped by the old rejected ideas. The resulting inconsistency will have a negative, even a disruptive, effect. As Jesus said before the passage just cited: “No man putteth a piece of a new garment upon an old; if otherwise, then both the new maketh a rent, and the piece that was taken out of the new agreeth not with the old” (Luke 5:36). Putting a new top layer over the old leads to the ruin of both.

This is why the majority of Westerners who think they have adopted Hinduism or Buddhism have really only created their personal simulations of those religions. For they have only changed or rearranged their intellectual furniture; everything else remains the same. In fact, under pressure the old ideas emerge as entrenched as ever. For example, those who for years have professed belief in karma immediately wail: “Why did this happen to me?” when something unpleasant occurs. After 9/11 a multitude of American book-Hindus began demanding why it took place, many of them suggesting far-fetched reasons; but not one of them said the k-word.

As Sri Ramakrishna observed, you can teach a parrot to call out: “Radha-Krishna! Radha-Krishna!” but when you pull its tail it only squawks. It is a simple matter to jump from Western religion to Eastern religion, but to really become a Hindu or a Buddhist is a matter of profound transformation, having little to do with mere ideas.

Once in a conversation with Swami Maheshananda Giri, one of the leading sadhus and yogis of Northern India, I asked him: “Have you ever met a Westerner who really understood Sanatana Dharma?” “No,” he answered, “and neither have I met an Indian who understood Western religion and philosophy. For to do so, both would have to completely tear down their present ideas and build anew from the ground up.” Since Swamiji had held the chair of Sanskrit and Indology for many years at Harvard, I knew he had a basis for his opinion. There must be a complete sweeping away before a new structure can be erected in the mind (buddhi) of the prospective seeker. This had been my own experience when like a thunderclap all I thought I “knew” was wiped out in a moment, and real life and understanding began for me.

That is what I have to say: now we should listen to what Krishna tells us about freedom from karma, not forgetting that good karma is as binding as bad karma.

Right action

Those who constantly follow this teaching of mine, full of faith, not opposing it, they are released from the bondage of their actions (3:31).

Karma need not be worked out or worked through. As Krishna says later on: “He has consumed his karma in the fire of knowledge” (4:19).

This is one of the most important verses in the Gita, for it tells us how to attain moksha (liberation) in the simplest possible way. (I said, simple; not easy.) There are some words that deserve contemplation. Shraddhavanto means “believing” and “full of faith.” Anasuyantas means quite a few things: “not sneering,” “not spiteful [in the sense of being annoyed at having been told the truth],” “not caviling,” “not grumbling [complaining],” and “not speaking ill of [what has been taught].” In short: “whiners never win.”

If the Gita is diligently studied daily by the serious sadhaka and followed with faith and without any reservation or compromise whatsoever, he will be “released from the bondage of actions.” A knowledge of the Gita and a living out of its precepts are a guarantee of liberation. Nothing more is needed. It may seem too simple, but why not try it out?

On the other hand…

But those opposing and not practicing my teaching, confusing all knowledge, know them to be lost and mindless (3:32).

There is not much need to comment on this verse. Those who in their ignorance disregard or even despise the principles set forth in the Gita are hopeless. Everything they think they know is an illusion. Life itself proves the truth of this. When I hear someone say: “I have never been impressed with or interested in Indian philosophy or religion,” there is no need for me to mentally cross them off the list: they are not even there.

Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: “Nature”

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Introduction to The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

Preface to The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

Bhagavad Gita for Awakening links:

  1. The Battlefield of the Mind
  2. On the Field of Dharma
  3. Taking Stock
  4. The Smile of Krishna
  5. Birth and Death–The Great Illusions
  6. Experiencing the Unreal
  7. The Unreal and the Real
  8. The Body and the Spirit
  9. Know the Atman!
  10. Practical Self-Knowledge
  11. Perspective on Birth and Death
  12. The Wonder of the Atman
  13. The Indestructible Self
  14. “Happy the Warrior”
  15. Buddhi Yoga
  16. Religiosity Versus Religion
  17. Perspective on Scriptures
  18. How Not To Act
  19. How To Act
  20. Right Perspective
  21. Wisdom About the Wise
  22. Wisdom About Both the Foolish and the Wise
  23. The Way of Peace
  24. Calming the Storm
  25. First Steps in Karma Yoga
  26. From the Beginning to the End
  27. The Real “Doers”
  28. Our Spiritual Marching Orders
  29. Freedom From Karma
  30. “Nature”
  31. Swadharma
  32. In the Grip of the Monster
  33. Devotee and Friend
  34. The Eternal Being
  35. The Path
  36. Caste and Karma
  37. Action–Divine and Human
  38. The Mystery of Action and Inaction
  39. The Wise in Action
  40. Sacrificial Offerings
  41. The Worship of Brahman
  42. Action–Renounced and Performed
  43. Freedom (Moksha)
  44. The Brahman-Knower
  45. The Goal of Karma Yoga
  46. Getting There
  47. The Yogi’s Retreat
  48. The Yogi’s Inner and Outer Life
  49. Union With Brahman
  50. The Yogi’s Future
  51. Success in Yoga
  52. The Net and Its Weaver
  53. Those Who Seek God
  54. Those Who Worship God and the Gods
  55. The Veil in the Mind
  56. The Big Picture
  57. The Sure Way To Realize God
  58. Day, Night, and the Two Paths
  59. The Supreme Knowledge
  60. Universal Being
  61. Maya–Its Dupes and Its Knowers
  62. Worshipping the One
  63. Going To God
  64. Wisdom and Knowing
  65. Going To The Source
  66. From Hearing To Seeing
  67. The Wisdom of Devotion
  68. Right Conduct
  69. The Field and Its Knower
  70. Interaction of Purusha and Prakriti
  71. Seeing the One Within the All
  72. The Three Gunas
  73. The Cosmic Tree
  74. Freedom
  75. The All-pervading Reality
  76. The Divine and the Demonic
  77. Faith and the Three Gunas
  78. Food and the Three Gunas
  79. Religion and the Three Gunas
  80. Tapasya and the Three Gunas
  81. Charity and the Three Gunas
  82. Sannyasa and Tyaga
  83. Deeper Insights On Action
  84. Knowledge, Action, Doer, and the Three Gunas
  85. The Three Gunas: Intellect and Firmness
  86. The Three Kinds of Happiness
  87. Freedom
  88. The Great Devotee
  89. The Final Words
  90. Glossary

Visit our e-library page for Free Downloads of this and other ebooks in various formats.

Read the Maharshi Gita, an arrangement of verses of the Bhagavad Gita made by Sri Ramana Maharshi that gives an overview of the essential message of the Gita.

Read The Bhagavad Gita (arranged in verses for singing) by Abbot George Burke (Swami Nirmalananda Giri).

Read about the meanings of unfamiliar terms in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary

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