Misunderstood as destiny, Karma is much more. For every negative incident in life, we often try to place the blame on someone or something else. We try to wash our hands by blaming our opponents, destiny, stars and even gods.So, what is (or who is) responsible for all that is happening in our life ? This is an important question that gets a complex answer. Here's a Vedic perspective.
Story of Gautami and a serpent
There once was a wise lady named Gautami, blessed with peace and tranquillity of mind. One fateful day she found her son dead in consequence of having been bitten by a serpent. An angry fowler, by name Arjunaka, found the serpent and bound it with a string and brought it before Gautami and asked "This infamous destroyer of a child does not deserve to live longer. Shall I throw it into the fire or shall I hack it into pieces?"
To this Gautami replied "Arjunaka, release this serpent as it does not deserve death at your hands. By killing this serpent, my boy will not get back his life, and by letting it live, no harm will be caused to you." But the fowler, unconvinced, retorted "These words which you have spoken don't behove a person who is plunged in sorrow. Those who value peace of mind assign everything to the course of Time as the cause, but practical men take to revenge. Therefore, relieve your grief and order me to kill this serpent."
Gautami replied "People like us are never afflicted by fear. Seldom to be sever from the path of virtue. The death of my son was predestined: therefore, I don't approve killing this serpent. The wise do not harbour resentment because resentment leads to all kinds of pain. I earnestly request that you forgive and release this serpent on grounds of compassion."
Arjunaka, still unconvinced, said "Why do you say so ? Let us earn great and inexhaustible merit here after by killing this evil creature. Merit is acquired by killing an enemy: by killing this despicable creature, you shall acquire great and true merit hereafter."
Gautami disagreed "What good is there in tormenting and killing this serpent and what good is won by not releasing this serpent -it is his tendency to bite. Therefore, Arjunaka, why don't you serpent and try to earn merit by releasing it?"
The wise Gautami, although repeatedly persuaded by the fowler to let him kill the serpent did not change her mind. The serpent, in severe pain, then uttered spoke in a human voice."O Arjunaka, what fault is there of mine ? I have no will of my own, and am not independent. Mrityu (Death) sent me on this errand. By his direction, I have bitten this child, and not out of any anger or choice on my part.
Serpent blamed Mrityu (Kaala) for his deeds
Therefore, if there be any sin in this, 0 fowler, then it is of Mrityu." The fowler, untouched by the serpent's argument, replied "If you have done this evil, led there to another, the sin is yours also as you are an instrument in this act. As in the making of an earthen vessel the potter's wheel and rod and other things are all regarded as causes, so are you. He who is guilty deserves death at my hands. You are guilty. Indeed, you confessed yourself this in this matter !"
Even after presenting several arguments serpent failed to impress the fowler. Fowler could seldom accept that Mrityu was the cause of death and not the serpent. Eventually, the Mrityu (Death) himself appeared on the scene and said "Guided by Kaala (Time), I, 0 serpent, sent you on this errand, and neither you nor I is the reason for this child's death. All creatures, mobile and immobile, in heaven, or earth, are influenced by Kaala. The whole universe, 0 serpent, is imbued with this same influence of Kaala. Knowing this 0 serpent, do you still consider me to be guilty ? If any fault attaches to me in this, you also would be to blame."
The serpent responded thus "I do not, 0 Mrityu, blame you, nor do I absolve you of all blame.I only suggested that I am directed and influenced in my actions by you. If any blame attaches to Kaala, or, if it is not desirable to attach any blame to him, it is not for me to scan the fault. We have no right to do so. As it is incumbent on me to absolve myself from this blame, so it is my duty to see that no blame at taches to Mrityu."
Then the serpent, addressing Arjunaka, said "You have listened to what Mrityu has said. Therefore, it is not proper for you to torment me, I am guiltless, by tying me with this chord."
Karma is the cause of Destruction
The fowler said "I have listened to you, 0 serpent, as well as to the words of Mrityu, but these, 0 serpent, do not absolve you from all blame. Mrityu and you are the causes of this child's death. Accursed be the wicked and vengeful Mrityu who causes affliction to the good."
Mrityu argued "As already said, we both are not free agents, but are dependents on Kaala (Time), and ordained to do our appointed work. You should not find fault with us if you do consider this matter thoroughly."
Fowler was still unconvinced. And then Kaala (Time) arrived at the scene of disputation on this point of morality and spoke thus to the serpent and Mrity u "Neither Mrityu, nor this serpent, nor I, 0 fowler, are guilty of the death of any creature. We are merely the immediate causes of the event. 0 Arjunaka, the Karma of this child formed the cause of our action in this matter. There was no other cause by which this child came by its death. It was killed because of his own Prarabdha Karma (past deeds). His Karma has been the cause of its destruction.
We are all subject to the influence of our respective Karma. Karma is an aid to salvation even as sons are, and Karma also is an indicator of virtue and vice in man. We urge one another even as acts urge one another. As men make from a lump of clay whatever they wish to make, even so, do men attain to various results determined by their own Karma. As light and shadow are related to each other, so are men related to Karma through their own actions.
Therefore, neither are you, nor am I, nor Mrityu, nor the serpent, nor this Gautami is the cause of this child's death."
Gautami who was quiet witness to the conversation intervened and said to Arjunaka in a consoling tone "It is true. Neither Kaala, nor Mrityu, nor the serpent, is the cause in this matter. My son has met with death as the result of his own Karma. I too so acted in the past that my son has died as its consequence. Let now Kaala and Mrityu retire from this place, and you too do the same after releasing the serpent."
Karma is a clear and unbiased method
Interestingly, the essence of this story is the essence of all Vedic scriptures, including Vedas, Upanishads, Aranyakas, Shatakas and Gitas. Yet many adherents of Hindu religion waste much time blaming destiny, stars and even gods for their pains and gains. At the same time, the scriptures do not say precautionary actions should not be taken or that we should accept our fate as is. The scriptures advice that we take responsibility for what fate might deal us and then take necessary action after thinking about all consequences.
It is to be noted that Karma is not simply outward action; thought, inner speech also constitutes Karma. This is because recurrent thoughts give way to habit patterns, which become outward actions. And the best of intentions does not absolve us of the consequences of ill thought of actions.
Karma is not a fatalistic mechanism, instead it a clear and unbiased method that demands awareness on the part of the individual. Reincarnation is not continual turns on the merry go round till one finally gains eternal bliss, instead the knowledge of reincarnation and Karma implores people to act today. Now.In this moment. To seek eternal bliss in this life.
For each action carries its consequence, if we require a good consequence it behoves us to consider consequences of actions before acting. A person might then retort that resorting to the life of a hermit is the best action and it carries little responsibility. This is not so, acts such as sleeping, doing nothing, thinking or laying, are acts nevertheless, even though it looks like nothing is being done, there is still a result to such acts. Even in inaction there is action. Since, every action will have an impact, and then it is in our favor to take noble actions that serve a good purpose.It is because of that, it has been advised to work in accordance with our Dharma, with complete consciousness, devoid of reflexive mental conditioning, to do actions that sustain us.
In Bhagavad -Gita, Krishna very clearly states that fate or destiny of individuals is determined as per their own Karma in the past. Destiny or fate is therefore called Prarabdha Karma (accumulated Karma). If you've done something good; a good is surely on the way back to you; and vice versa. Since we aren't sure of our deeds in our past as well as past lives -it's best to perform Nishkaama Karma or acts without attachments and find pleasure in doing our work -work for work's sake that is to become a Yogi, and the process of becoming one is Yoga. Therefore, be assured for all that is good, middling or bad, you've but yourself to blame - stop seeking solutions in Temples, charts or Sooth sayers. These -like opium - can only offer you temporary relief. The eternal relief is in finding peace after doing your work bereft of lust, anger, greed, infatuation, ego and envy.