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Health and Prarabdha Karma
Michael: Greetings, Sundari, it’s so good to hear that Ramji is recuperating just fine. It’s obvious Isvara still needs a good and capable communicator. We need him too!
Sundari: Yes, I could not agree with you more! We are in Spain at the moment, gearing up for the forthcoming seminar/webinar which starts Saturday, March 3.
Michael: Ramji’s health issues are what prompted me to write this email to you. I’m 65 years old and have had diabetes for over twenty years. In that time I have had numerous medications to control my blood sugar, as well as being on insulin injections for several years. I am off insulin now and only take medication sporadically, choosing instead to control my blood sugar through diet… mostly vegan.
I have been trying to understand illness and well-being as it relates to dharma. It seems to me that for those of us like myself that have chronic, long-term diseases that carry serious complications, care of the body-mind assumes an overarching dharma to which all other dharmas must yield. I found this quote from an ancient Greek physician named Herophilus that seems to address this very thing: “When health is absent, wisdom cannot reveal itself, art cannot manifest, strength cannot fight, wealth becomes useless and intelligence cannot be applied.”
Sundari: Health or illness is a result of karma. If one superimposes what belongs to the Total, or Isvara, onto the individual, or jiva, then you are thinking as a person, not as awareness, which means that you think the karma comes to you and therefore that the suffering belongs to you – because you are identified with it. If you know that you are awareness you see the suffering taking place in the mind (subtle body) so you are free of the suffering.
The karma comes to the subtle body, which a jnani knows belongs to Isvara. The dharma field, or Total Mind (Isvara srsti), remains unchanged if one is “enlightened” or not, which means prarabdha karma will play out according to the laws of the dharma field. Prarabdha karma is the momentum of past actions that fructify as your life experiences.
Karma depends on who you think you are. There is no karma for an enlightened person (jnani). The individual, or jiva, identified as a jiva accumulates karma that seems to come to the body-mind-sense complex; when moksa happens the karma burns up. However, one has to look at what “burns up” actually means. Karma does not burn up for awareness as there is no karma for awareness because for it nothing ever happened. It is not a doer. Karma is not real.
Karma is just an idea in the subtle body that causes suffering. So “burning up” karma happens when the jiva is no longer identified with the subtle body and knows that it is awareness. This does not mean that the karma does not still play out for the jiva – remember the body belongs to Isvara, the Total. The momentum of past actions – prarabdha karma – which is Isvara delivering the fruits of jiva’s actions, plays out as long as the jiva is alive. When prarabdha karma is finished the body dies.
Karma “burns up” for the subtle body because it is only ever “in” the subtle body, not the physical body or the self. The body is just meat, it is inert – so there is no karma for it. It is a counter across which experience is transacted. It seems to take place in the physical body because the physical body is “attached” to the subtle body. From Isvara’s point of view (causal body) there is no karma. Isvara is called karma phala datta which means “the one who delivers the fruits of the action.”
Karma is just the impersonal playing out of the gunas, which do not condition the Total Mind/Isvara because Isvara is beyond the gunas. Isvara is pure awareness (paramatman) minus the gunas. Isvara plus the gunas assumes a role and “becomes” the Creator operating maya. There is no karma for animals, for instance, because they do not have intellects so they are neither ignorant nor do they have knowledge, they are a program run by Isvara. Therefore animals do not interpret their environment, they do not evaluate the things that happen to them, in them and around them. Animals do not think and they act purely on “instinct,” meaning according to Isvara. Karma itself is value-neutral. It is just action and its results. It only becomes meaningful when we evaluate it. We either like it or don’t like it or are indifferent to it. Only in the minds of human beings does action become “karma.”
Karma seems to be there for the jiva because jiva is ignorant of its nature as awareness and interprets what happens in its environment. Karma is a matter of identification or interpretation although the body-mind may still apparently experience pain. Like Ramji with a heart condition and you with diabetes. This is Isvara, nothing to be done about it. We know that it has nothing to do with us so we are always above it, observing it, free of it.
Karma is real if you think it is real; it is almost impossible to understand because the one trying to understand it is in the dharma/karma field and part of the field. It is like trying to understand the mind of Isvara; it cannot be done. Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita: “On the topic of karma, even sages are perplexed.” That being said, of course, it takes extreme dispassion to deal with chronic illness or any pain. Pain is born of rajas and its kissing cousin is tamas so it is very difficult to maintain sattva when they are both active in the body-mind. This is where dispassion and karma yoga is so important; it is the only way to deal with chronic pain (or anything else) from the jiva or jivanmukta level.
Michael: I realize that these things are of importance only in the maya world – as Ramji sometimes calls it – and cannot touch the self and that as the self I am free. But for the jiva or even the jivamukti questions of health and well-being should not just be blown off as maya or mithya and nothing more. Mithya, as I understand it, cannot be said to be real and yet cannot be said to be unreal hence Isvara has provided for us in the form of doctors and medications and surgeries when they are so indicated.
Sundari: Correct. Problems arise when the doer thinks it can make the body “whole” through its own actions – which one can to some degree. But there are many illnesses that are not a result of one’s state of mind and are not in the control of the person because the body belongs to Isvara. Take Ramana, for instance: he was a great saint who lived a pure, sattvic life and had a great state of mind yet he died of cancer.
One can work with Isvara regarding illness by one’s attitude to the thoughts that give rise to illness and to the thoughts which come as a result of illness. From Isvara’s, or awareness’s, point of view there is no illness, of course, while at the same time the gunas are what create the “imperfection” in the mind and therefore the illness. Remember that the mind and therefore the illness are both objects known to you, awareness. From the jiva’s, or doer’s, point of view there is appropriate action to be taken but that still does not guarantee any particular result. The results of any action depend on the nature of the action – NOT necessarily on the state of mind of the person taking the action; it is possible to get a negative result from a positive action and vice versa. Very importantly, the results of actions ALSO depend on the nature of the field – i.e. Isvara.
Michael: For me to ignore my disease and its ramifications would be to ignore an important dharma, not my svardharma but one that allows me to follow my svadharma. For lack of a specific name I call it an overarching dharma, an umbrella dharma – to use a different metaphor. Is there a name for this in Vedanta or is it covered in another Vedantic concept that I am unaware of? I would much appreciate some clarity here.
Love and health to you and Ramji.
Sundari: From a Vedantic point of view and as I stated above, this “dharma” you speak of is Isvara, prarabdha karma. You are right, chronic illness does form a kind of “overarching” dharma, as you put it, because it dictates what you can and can’t do as an individual/jiva. Assuming you are doing all you can in terms of lifestyle (meaning doing what is dharmic for you in the circumstances, such as eating the right food, exercise, taking the right medications, etc.), then apply karma yoga and take all results as prasad. You cannot fight Isvara, it is pointless.
Love and health to you from both of us, Michael.