Many people consider the concept of ‘karma’ to be some form of moral retributive factor that brings back to an individual the ‘fruits’ of his actions. Thus, they believe, if a man does something considered wrong, dishonest, underhanded, the universal law of karma will eventually right the score. In the Christian religion this takes the form of belief that those who are oppressed and treated badly here on earth will eventually go to heaven and enjoy eternal life, while those who do the oppression will suffer endless torture in hell. We always look for some direct line of ’cause and effect’. We also tend to treat the individual as the driver of the action rather than as a nexus for the expression of universal forces that are actually the ‘actors’.

We can observe that some individuals go through life and seemingly flaunt their aggressive and acquisitive impulses and enrich themselves through creation of suffering of others. And we observe others who are peaceful, kind, generous, compassionate who are subjected to pressures and tortures in their lives. We try to explain this by relying on some past life that is now being ‘paid for’ in the karmic bank account. We do not generally appreciate that each individual is responding to a line of energy that will bring commensurate results for its own focus, but not others. The individual who focuses on compassion and goodwill may not necessarily have the drive to create and enjoy great wealth, although it is possible for an individual to embody multiple lines of force through different aspects of his being, and thus, you could see a man succeed in being both wealthy and compassionate if he is so moved.

Yet, while we can conclude that the law of karma is a reality, we can also determine that there is no specific straight-line result, as karma is actually not a moral force, but rather, the movement of energy and its interaction with other forces in the world. The individual is a nexus for certain release of energy into the universal play, and thus, to the extent that he remains within a particular line of force, he can be expected to bear the consequences of that vibrational pattern that he received, transmitted, and even helped to create, perpetuate or accentuate. The vibrational pattern, set in motion, collides with or enhances the effect of other forces that together create the reality that we accept as the framework for our lives.

It is thus that we can see the result of a particular line of action redound upon a future generation, or on a society or the world as a whole, depending on the strength and intensity of the vibrational pattern that is established and its ability to assert itself in the larger play of forces over time.. We can recognise that the cumulative impact of numerous individuals acting, knowingly or unknowingly, is to create patterns of energy that have their inevitable consequences unless and until the force of that energy is dissipated or modified through the natural interaction with other forces and energies in the field of the universal creation.

It is thus possible to modify the karmic consequence for an individual. For example, a man who has murdered awakens to the sense that his action was wrong and undertakes a new line of effort to dissipate that energy and make recompense for it, inwardly or outwardly. We can see this in the line of action undertaken by Milarepa, the great Tibetan yogi, who dedicated himself to achieving liberation from the bondage of his past actions in one lifetime through tremendous focus and efforts filled with hardship and privation. In deference to the law of karma, when it came time for him to die, he knowingly accepted poison surreptitiously secreted in an offering of curds, and thus, allowed the murder he had committed as a youth to be balanced by his own death through murder. Yet he broke that line of karma by his compassionate concern for the would-be murderer, who was converted at that moment. We can infer from the story that the perpetrator of Milarepa’s poisoning did not have to suffer the fate of himself being murdered!

Sri Aurobindo observes: “All energies put into activity — thought, speech, feeling, act — go to constitute Karma. These things help to develop the nature in one direction or another, and the nature and its actions and reactions produce their consequences inward and outward: they also act on others and create movements in the general sum of forces which can return upon oneself sooner or later. Thoughts unexpressed can also go out as forces and produce their effects. It is a mistake to think that a thought or will can have effect only when it is expressed in speech or act: the unspoken thought, the unexpressed will are also active energies and can produce their own vibrations, effects or reactions.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, The Hidden Forces of Life, Ch. 1 Life Through the Eyes of the Yogin, pp. 9-10

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at and podcast at He is author of 20 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.
More information about Sri Aurobindo can be found at
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