Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Karma - Part 2

Picture of Plato, courtesy of Wikimedia

The Myth of Er from Plato's Republic seems to be the Western equivalent to working off karmic debt. First is pulbished the myth, then the explanation follows below.


Plato's Republic

Book X, end: The Myth of Er


Well, I said, I will tell you a tale; not one of the tales which Odysseus tells to the hero Alcinous, yet this too is a tale of a hero, Er the son of Armenius, a Pamphylian by birth.

He was slain in battle, and ten days afterwards, when the bodies of the dead were taken up already in a state of corruption, his body was found unaffected by decay, and carried away home to be buried. And on the twelfth day, as he was lying on the funeral pile, he returned to life and told them what he had seen in the other world.

He said that when his soul left the body he went on a journey with a great company, and that they came to a mysterious place at which there were two openings in the earth; they were near together, and over against them were two other openings in the heaven above. In the intermediate space there were judges seated, who commanded the just, after they had given judgment on them and had bound their sentences in front of them, to ascend by the heavenly way on the right hand; and in like manner the unjust were bidden by them to descend by the lower way on the left hand; these also bore the symbols of their deeds, but fastened on their backs.

He drew near, and they told him that he was to be the messenger who would carry the report of the other world to men, and they bade him hear and see all that was to be heard and seen in that place.

Then he beheld and saw on one side the souls departing at either opening of heaven and earth when sentence had been given on them; and at the two other openings other souls, some ascending out of the earth dusty and worn with travel, some descending out of heaven clean and bright.

And arriving ever and anon they seemed to have come from a long journey, and they went forth with gladness into the meadow, where they encamped as at a festival; and those who knew one another embraced and conversed, the souls which came from earth curiously enquiring about the things above, and the souls which came from heaven about the things beneath. And they told one another of what had happened by the way, those from below weeping and sorrowing at the remembrance of the things which they had endured and seen in their journey beneath the earth (now the journey lasted a thousand years), while those from above were describing heavenly delights and visions of inconceivable beauty.

The Story, Glaucon, would take too long to tell; but the sum was this: --He said that for every wrong which they had done to any one they suffered tenfold; or once in a hundred years --such being reckoned to be the length of man's life, and the penalty being thus paid ten times in a thousand years. If, for example, there were any who had been the cause of many deaths, or had betrayed or enslaved cities or armies, or been guilty of any other evil behaviour, for each and all of their offences they received punishment ten times over, and the rewards of beneficence and justice and holiness were in the same proportion.

I need hardly repeat what he said concerning young children dying almost as soon as they were born. Of piety and impiety to gods and parents, and of murderers, there were retributions other and greater far which he described. He mentioned that he was present when one of the spirits asked another, 'Where is Ardiaeus the Great?' (Now this Ardiaeus lived a thousand years before the time of Er: he had been the tyrant of some city of Pamphylia, and had murdered his aged father and his elder brother, and was said to have committed many other abominable crimes.) The answer of the other spirit was: 'He comes not hither and will never come. And this,' said he, 'was one of the dreadful sights which we ourselves witnessed. We were at the mouth of the cavern, and, having completed all our experiences, were about to reascend, when of a sudden Ardiaeus appeared and several others, most of whom were tyrants; and there were also besides the tyrants private individuals who had been great criminals: they were just, as they fancied, about to return into the upper world, but the mouth, instead of admitting them, gave a roar, whenever any of these incurable sinners or some one who had not been sufficiently punished tried to ascend; and then wild men of fiery aspect, who were standing by and heard the sound, seized and carried them off; and Ardiaeus and others they bound head and foot and hand, and threw them down and flayed them with scourges, and dragged them along the road at the side, carding them on thorns like wool, and declaring to the passers-by what were their crimes, and that they were being taken away to be cast into hell.' And of all the many terrors which they had endured, he said that there was none like the terror which each of them felt at that moment, lest they should hear the voice; and when there was silence, one by one they ascended with exceeding joy. These, said Er, were the penalties and retributions, and there were blessings as great.

Now when the spirits which were in the meadow had tarried seven days, on the eighth they were obliged to proceed on their journey, and, on the fourth day after, he said that they came to a place where they could see from above a line of light, straight as a column, extending right through the whole heaven and through the earth, in colour resembling the rainbow, only brighter and purer; another day's journey brought them to the place, and there, in the midst of the light, they saw the ends of the chains of heaven let down from above: for this light is the belt of heaven, and holds together the circle of the universe, like the under-girders of a trireme.

From these ends is extended the spindle of Necessity, on which all the revolutions turn. The shaft and hook of this spindle are made of steel, and the whorl is made partly of steel and also partly of other materials. Now the whorl is in form like the whorl used on earth; and the description of it implied that there is one large hollow whorl which is quite scooped out, and into this is fitted another lesser one, and another, and another, and four others, making eight in all, like vessels which fit into one another; the whorls show their edges on the upper side, and on their lower side all together form one continuous whorl. This is pierced by the spindle, which is driven home through the centre of the eighth. The first and outermost whorl has the rim broadest, and the seven inner whorls are narrower, in the following proportions --the sixth is next to the first in size, the fourth next to the sixth; then comes the eighth; the seventh is fifth, the fifth is sixth, the third is seventh, last and eighth comes the second. The largest (of fixed stars) is spangled, and the seventh (or sun) is brightest; the eighth (or moon) coloured by the reflected light of the seventh; the second and fifth (Saturn and Mercury) are in colour like one another, and yellower than the preceding; the third (Venus) has the whitest light; the fourth (Mars) is reddish; the sixth (Jupiter) is in whiteness second.

Now the whole spindle has the same motion; but, as the whole revolves in one direction, the seven inner circles move slowly in the other, and of these the swiftest is the eighth; next in swiftness are the seventh, sixth, and fifth, which move together; third in swiftness appeared to move according to the law of this reversed motion the fourth; the third appeared fourth and the second fifth. The spindle turns on the knees of Necessity; and on the upper surface of each circle is a siren, who goes round with them, hymning a single tone or note. The eight together form one harmony; and round about, at equal intervals, there is another band, three in number, each sitting upon her throne: these are the Fates, daughters of Necessity, who are clothed in white robes and have chaplets upon their heads, Lachesis and Clotho and Atropos, who accompany with their voices the harmony of the sirens --Lachesis singing of the past, Clotho of the present, Atropos of the future; Clotho from time to time assisting with a touch of her right hand the revolution of the outer circle of the whorl or spindle, and Atropos with her left hand touching and guiding the inner ones, and Lachesis laying hold of either in turn, first with one hand and then with the other.

When Er and the spirits arrived, their duty was to go at once to Lachesis; but first of all there came a prophet who arranged them in order; then he took from the knees of Lachesis lots and samples of lives, and having mounted a high pulpit, spoke as follows: 'Hear the word of Lachesis, the daughter of Necessity. Mortal souls, behold a new cycle of life and mortality. Your genius will not be allotted to you, but you choose your genius; and let him who draws the first lot have the first choice, and the life which he chooses shall be his destiny. Virtue is free, and as a man honours or dishonours her he will have more or less of her; the responsibility is with the chooser --God is justified.'

When the Interpreter had thus spoken he scattered lots indifferently among them all, and each of them took up the lot which fell near him, all but Er himself (he was not allowed), and each as he took his lot perceived the number which he had obtained. Then the Interpreter placed on the ground before them the samples of lives; and there were many more lives than the souls present, and they were of all sorts.

There were lives of every animal and of man in every condition. And there were tyrannies among them, some lasting out the tyrant's life, others which broke off in the middle and came to an end in poverty and exile and beggary; and there were lives of famous men, some who were famous for their form and beauty as well as for their strength and success in games, or, again, for their birth and the qualities of their ancestors; and some who were the reverse of famous for the opposite qualities.

And of women likewise; there was not, however, any definite character them, because the soul, when choosing a new life, must of necessity become different. But there was every other quality, and the all mingled with one another, and also with elements of wealth and poverty, and disease and health; and there were mean states also.

And here, my dear Glaucon, is the supreme peril of our human state; and therefore the utmost care should be taken. Let each one of us leave every other kind of knowledge and seek and follow one thing only, if peradventure he may be able to learn and may find some one who will make him able to learn and discern between good and evil, and so to choose always and everywhere the better life as he has opportunity. He should consider the bearing of all these things which have been mentioned severally and collectively upon virtue; he should know what the effect of beauty is when combined with poverty or wealth in a particular soul, and what are the good and evil consequences of noble and humble birth, of private and public station, of strength and weakness, of cleverness and dullness, and of all the soul, and the operation of them when conjoined; he will then look at the nature of the soul, and from the consideration of all these qualities he will be able to determine which is the better and which is the worse; and so he will choose, giving the name of evil to the life which will make his soul more unjust, and good to the life which will make his soul more just; all else he will disregard. For we have seen and know that this is the best choice both in life and after death.

A man must take with him into the world below an adamantine faith in truth and right, that there too he may be undazzled by the desire of wealth or the other allurements of evil, lest, coming upon tyrannies and similar villainies, he do irremediable wrongs to others and suffer yet worse himself; but let him know how to choose the mean and avoid the extremes on either side, as far as possible, not only in this life but in all that which is to come. For this is the way of happiness.

And according to the report of the messenger from the other world this was what the prophet said at the time: 'Even for the last comer, if he chooses wisely and will live diligently, there is appointed a happy and not undesirable existence. Let not him who chooses first be careless, and let not the last despair.' And when he had spoken, he who had the first choice came forward and in a moment chose the greatest tyranny; his mind having been darkened by folly and sensuality, he had not thought out the whole matter before he chose, and did not at first sight perceive that he was fated, among other evils, to devour his own children. But when he had time to reflect, and saw what was in the lot, he began to beat his breast and lament over his choice, forgetting the proclamation of the prophet; for, instead of throwing the blame of his misfortune on himself, he accused chance and the gods, and everything rather than himself. Now he was one of those who came from heaven, and in a former life had dwelt in a well-ordered State, but his virtue was a matter of habit only, and he had no philosophy.

And it was true of others who were similarly overtaken, that the greater number of them came from heaven and therefore they had never been schooled by trial, whereas the pilgrims who came from earth, having themselves suffered and seen others suffer, were not in a hurry to choose. And owing to this inexperience of theirs, and also because the lot was a chance, many of the souls exchanged a good destiny for an evil or an evil for a good. For if a man had always on his arrival in this world dedicated himself from the first to sound philosophy, and had been moderately fortunate in the number of the lot, he might, as the messenger reported, be happy here, and also his journey to another life and return to this, instead of being rough and underground, would be smooth and heavenly.

Most curious, he said, was the spectacle --sad and laughable and strange; for the choice of the souls was in most cases based on their experience of a previous life. There he saw the soul which had once been Orpheus choosing the life of a swan out of enmity to the race of women, hating to be born of a woman because they had been his murderers; he beheld also the soul of Thamyras choosing the life of a nightingale; birds, on the other hand, like the swan and other musicians, wanting to be men. The soul which obtained the twentieth lot chose the life of a lion, and this was the soul of Ajax the son of Telamon, who would not be a man, remembering the injustice which was done him the judgment about the arms. The next was Agamemnon, who took the life of an eagle, because, like Ajax, he hated human nature by reason of his sufferings.

About the middle came the lot of Atalanta; she, seeing the great fame of an athlete, was unable to resist the temptation: and after her there followed the soul of Epeus the son of Panopeus passing into the nature of a woman cunning in the arts; and far away among the last who chose, the soul of the jester Thersites was putting on the form of a monkey.

There came also the soul of Odysseus having yet to make a choice, and his lot happened to be the last of them all. Now the recollection of former tolls had disenchanted him of ambition, and he went about for a considerable time in search of the life of a private man who had no cares; he had some difficulty in finding this, which was lying about and had been neglected by everybody else; and when he saw it, he said that he would have done the had his lot been first instead of last, and that he was delighted to have it.

And not only did men pass into animals, but I must also mention that there were animals tame and wild who changed into one another and into corresponding human natures --the good into the gentle and the evil into the savage, in all sorts of combinations.

All the souls had now chosen their lives, and they went in the order of their choice to Lachesis, who sent with them the genius whom they had severally chosen, to be the guardian of their lives and the fulfiller of the choice: this genius led the souls first to Clotho, and drew them within the revolution of the spindle impelled by her hand, thus ratifying the destiny of each; and then, when they were fastened to this, carried them to Atropos, who spun the threads and made them irreversible, whence without turning round they passed beneath the throne of Necessity; and when they had all passed, they marched on in a scorching heat to the plain of Forgetfulness, which was a barren waste destitute of trees and verdure; and then towards evening they encamped by the river of Unmindfulness, whose water no vessel can hold; of this they were all obliged to drink a certain quantity, and those who were not saved by wisdom drank more than was necessary; and each one as he drank forgot all things.

Now after they had gone to rest, about the middle of the night there was a thunderstorm and earthquake, and then in an instant they were driven upwards in all manner of ways to their birth, like stars shooting.

He [Er] himself was hindered from drinking the water. But in what manner or by what means he returned to the body he could not say; only, in the morning, awaking suddenly, he found himself lying on the pyre.

And thus, Glaucon, the tale has been saved and has not perished, and will save us if we are obedient to the word spoken; and we shall pass safely over the river of Forgetfulness and our soul will not be defiled. Wherefore my counsel is that we hold fast ever to the heavenly way and follow after justice and virtue always, considering that the soul is immortal and able to endure every sort of good and every sort of evil. Thus shall we live dear to one another and to the gods, both while remaining here and when, like conquerors in the games who go round to gather gifts, we receive our reward. And it shall be well with us both in this life and in the pilgrimage of a thousand years which we have been describing.


The myth explained:

Here's what the Myth of Er said to me:

Of Er himself, this is absolutely a hero's tale as described by Joseph Campbell. (I am always delighted to find these.) In short, Er is a pretty normal guy who has an extraordinary experience from which he brings an extraordinary message to his society. (This is why Er didn't drink the water - he couldn't be allowed to forget the extraordinary message.)

The story itself...this is just amazingly fascinating. Yes, in Western philosophy, reincarnation does exist. However, working off karmic (cause and effect) debts is not something you do in subsequent lifetimes. You are judged upon death, and then are assigned to heaven or hell to rejoice or suffer for ten times the number of good/bad deeds you did in your life...so, you pay off any bad karma or enjoy any good karma you accrued in a lifetime as soon as you die.

This story doesn't describe what we assume was hell (notice they don't give it a name), but the people coming from there were "dusty and worn with travel," and "weeping and sorrowing at the remembrance of the things which they had endured and seen in their journey beneath the earth..." Obviously this is meant to intimidate you into living a good life and not harm others while the description of heaven as a place of happiness and delight is to encourage you to do the same.

Why 100 years for each incident? It says 100 years was "reckoned to be the length of man's life" but that seems quite high for ancient Greece. It could be just because 10 is the first of the double-digit numbers, and any number times itself was thought to have special power (like the number seven...and the "seventh son of a seventh son" was supposed to be a very powerful and magical person). Or, it could be because the numbers 0 through 9 = 45, the numbers 1 through 10 = 55, and 45 + 55 = 100...some sort of combination of two numbering systems to make sure that whatever number system you lived by, you were included.

Why did they meet in a meadow? It is there they are exposed to the sun, the Light of God. Back then, the major god of most spiritual traditions was a light, the figure of knowledge. Here are all those people, exposed to light - enlightenment - and what happens? They drink the water...but more on that later.

I'm going to avoid the whole spindle and whorl thing except to make a correction: someone reversed Venus and Jupiter. I don't know if the myth was written that way so only those initiated into the astronomical arts would know the mistake for what it was, or if the mistake was made later. Mercury's place in the sequence is in error, too, but there may have been a reason for that which has to do with the orbits of Mercury and Venus. Anyway, the paragraph about the planets and the one following it are just instruction in the working of the solar system.

Here...here....is the main point of the Myth of Er: "And here, my dear Glaucon, is the supreme peril of our human state; and therefore the utmost care should be taken. Let each one of us leave every other kind of knowledge and seek and follow one thing only, if peradventure [by chance] he may be able to learn and may find someone who will make him able to learn and discern between good and evil, and so to choose always and everywhere the better life as he has opportunity." And, "A man must take with him into the world below an adamantine faith in truth and right, that there too he may be undazzled by the desire of wealth or the other allurements of evil, lest, coming upon tyrannies and similar villanies, he do irremediable wrongs to others and suffer yet worse himself; but let him know how to choose the mean and avoid the extremes on either side, as far as possible, not only in this life but in all that which is to come. For this is the way of happiness."

The moral of the story: tread a middle path. Know the extremes, but avoid becoming trapped by them.

So, what did every person do? Every single one chose a new life that was completely opposite from the last one he had lived. "Most curious, he said, was the spectacle--sad and laughable and strange; for the choice of the souls was in most cases based on their experience of a previous life." Instead of thinking and considering the choices - and there were enough choices so that every person, "if he chooses wisely and will live diligently, there is appointed a happy and not undesirable existence" - they took their last experience, and went to the opposite extreme. This is tantamount to a sort of "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence" thoughtless assumption.

Since Er was not allowed to choose a new personality, he was saved from making the mistake all the others made. If Er had been allowed to choose a new persona, he would have had to drink the waters of forgetfulness, too, and our hero wouldn't be Our Hero any longer.

As for the others, there they were, in the meadow of Enlightenment, and they blew it. Er, of course, is enlightened by this experience.

So, off they go to the next location, and there are the waters. There is a long-standing tradition in many cultures that if you eat or drink anything while in the Otherworld, it will affect you in one bad way or another. Persephone ate a seed and had to spend part of the year underground ever after, in Celtic myth, people have been known to drink a cup of ale and return home 100 years after they left. I think the waters of forgetfulness are something along this line....partly "anything you eat/drink in the Otherworld will irrevocably change you," and partly a punishment for making a poor choice. It makes me think of the phrase "those who don't remember the past are condemned to repeat it." I think the people who chose new personas which were in the extreme to their past persona and therefore had to drink the waters are being condemned to repeat their past mistakes.

Since Er didn't change - he remained himself - he didn't have to drink the waters. He was supposed to remember it all, and come back to tell us about it. Choose a middle path, don't get caught up in the drama of extremes, etc.

The thunder and earthquake is, of course, Mother Earth giving birth to them.

I have to wonder if there is another version in which Er chose to keep his present persona. Supposedly, Er died, but you’ll notice he wasn't judged. The story says he wasn't allowed to choose, but I wonder if that which makes him Our Hero is that he chose to remain himself....sort of a "being true to oneself" concept.

That's my take on it. I don't see anything there that tells me we make a sacred contract (as proposed by Caroline Myss) to learn particular lessons during any given lifetime. It tells me that the one lesson we are supposed to learn, but we keep getting wrong, is the one of following the middle path.

It would have been interesting to see what happened had the story continued. Joseph Campbell's Heroes usually return with their message but are not believed by society. Had the story ended that way, with Er telling of his experience and people spurning his knowledge, it would have followed to completion the usual Hero scenario.

The number 12....12 is the god number for Westerners for reasons that have to do with the orbit of Jupiter. I found about a dozen (no pun intended) instances of 12s from Jesus and the 12 apostles to King Arthur and the 12 Knights; 12 Tribes of Israel; 12 months of a year; 12 zodiac signs, and on and on. However...closer to our story...

12 days is the approximate number of days between the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year and a metaphor for death, and the annual perihelion where the earth comes closest to the sun (god knowledge) in its yearly orbit. The first day of the 12 is our darkest day - death - and the twelfth is the day we are closest to god-knowledge - enlightenment.


To see the first part of the Karma discussion, see "Karma - it may not be what you think"

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Karma - it may not be what you think

Karma isn't mentioned in the oldest Hindu book, the Rig Veda, which was written before 1000 BCE; some say as early as 1400 BCE, others a more conservative 1200 BCE. (Please note that all dates are approximate.) Since it is not mentioned there, the idea of karma and its effect on recurring lifetimes is probably a later development.

Karma is first mentioned in the Upanishads, though I suppose it's impossible to tell which Upanishad came first. As a group, they were written between 800 and 500 BCE.

The Bhagavad-Gita follows the Upanishads and was written between 500 and 200 BCE.

As far as I have found in the books, the idea that everything you do earns karma, good or bad, or that karma is the reason you have multiple lifetimes, or that karma follows you from one lifetime to another, is not a universal idea.

Too many people today use the concept of karma as a warning: if you eat meat, if you kill a bug, if you shoplift, if you do something bad, they will tell you, "it's your karma," warning you of dire the consequences of your actions.

Karma was never meant to predict your fate, rather it was an explanation for the action/reaction cycle that determines a future. It wasn't a look at the future, it was an explanation of the past.

Karma is, basically, a way to look at cause and effect of your actions. A bad action accumulates bad karma; a good action accumulates good karma. Apparently, according to modern thought, you must accumulate more good karma than bad, and that will somehow release you from the birth-death-rebirth cycle.

That is not the way the books describe it!

Instead, it is a "doing," but release comes only when your actions are completely selfless.

All actions done with purpose, either good or bad, accumulate karma, they "bind the soul" to the cycle of death-rebirth. As it says in the Isa Upanishad, "Only actions done in God bind not the soul of man." (1) In other words, actions performed in selfless service do not accumulate karma.

Performing acts for good are still acts done with a self-centered purpose…..to do good! They accumulate karma just as harmful acts do.

The Isa Upanishad goes on to say, "He who knows both knowledge and action, with action overcomes death, and with knowledge reaches immortality." (1) (Knowledge and action are two types of Yoga (Union with the Divine), Jnana (Knowledge) and Karma (Action). The other types are Hatha (physical), Bhakti (Love), and Rajah (Mystical Experience).)

According to Soumen De in his essay on "The Historical Context of the Bhagavad-Gita and Its Relation to Indian Religious Doctrines," Karma is "The law of universal causality, which connects man with the cosmos and condemns him to transmigrate -- to move from one body to another after death -- indefinitely. In the Gita, Krishna makes an allusion to the eternal soul that moves from body to body as it ascends or descends the ladder of a given hierarchy, conditioned on the nature of one's own karma -- work of life or life deeds." (2)

Also in the Gita is the information needed to overcome this cycle of transmigration.

Aarjuna, the compassionate warrior in the Gita who doesn’t want to go to war, is told: 2.03 "Do not become a coward, O Arjuna, because it does not befit you. Shake off this weakness of your heart and get up (for the battle), O Arjuna." (3) (Chapter 2 line 3.)

Arjuna doesn’t know what to do. He doesn't want to accumulate bad karma, and usually killing would do that, but here is Krishna telling him to go to battle. In modern terms, "this does not compute!"

He is assured that a body is supposed to be born, live, and die. He is doing nothing more than fulfilling a natural cycle by going to war and killing his enemy.

He is assured that if he is performing this action in the name of Deity, no bad karma will be accumulated: "2.40 In Karma-yoga no effort is ever lost, and there is no harm. Even a little practice of this discipline protects one from great fear (of birth and death).

"Translator's note: Karma-yoga is also referred to as Nishkaama Karma-yoga, Seva, selfless service, Buddhi yoga, yoga of work, science of proper action, and yoga of equanimity. A Karma-yogi works for the Lord as a matter of duty without a selfish desire for the fruits of work, or any attachment to results. The word Karma also means duty, action, deeds, work, or the results of past deeds." (3) (Chapter 2 line 40.)

Arjuna is further assured:

"2.49 Work done with selfish motives is inferior by far to the selfless service or Karma-yoga. Therefore be a Karma-yogi, O Arjuna. Those who seek (to enjoy) the fruits of their work are verily unhappy (because one has no control over the results).

"2.50 A Karma-yogi gets freedom from both vice and virtue in this life itself. Therefore, strive for Karma-yoga. Working to the best of one's abilities without getting attached to the fruits of work is called (Nishkaama) Karma-yoga.

"2.51 Wise Karma-yogis, possessed with mental poise by renouncing the attachment to the fruits of work, are indeed freed from the bondage of rebirth and attain the blissful divine state." (3)

The interrelationship and the exemption from rebirth due to the combination of knowledge (janan) and work (karma) is explained in chapter 3, lines 2 through 9:

"3.02 [Arjuna] You seem to confuse my mind by apparently conflicting words. Tell me, decisively, one thing by which I may attain the Supreme.

"3.03 The Supreme Lord said: In this world, O Arjuna, a twofold path of Sadhana (or the spiritual practice) has been stated by Me in the past. The path of Self-knowledge (or Jnana-yoga) for the contemplative, and the path of unselfish work (or Karma-yoga) for the active.

Translator's note: Jnana-yoga is also called Saamkhya-yoga, Samnyasa-yoga, and yoga of knowledge. A Jnana-yogi does not consider oneself the doer of any action, but only an instrument in the hands of divine for His use. The word Jnana means metaphysical or transcendental knowledge.

"3.04 One does not attain freedom from the bondage of Karma by merely abstaining from work. No one attains perfection by merely giving up work.

"3.05 Because no one can remain actionless even for a moment. Everyone is driven to action, helplessly indeed, by the Gunas of nature.

"3.06 The deluded ones, who restrain their organs of action but mentally dwell upon the sense enjoyment, are called hypocrites.

"3.07 The one who controls the senses by the (trained and purified) mind and intellect, and engages the organs of action to Nishkaama Karma-yoga, is superior, O Arjuna.

"3.08 Perform your obligatory duty, because action is indeed better than inaction. Even the maintenance of your body would not be possible by inaction.

"3.09 Human beings are bound by Karma (or works) other than those done as Yajna. Therefore, O Arjuna, do your duty efficiently as a service or Seva to Me, free from attachment to the fruits of work.

Translator's note: Yajna means sacrifice, selfless service, unselfish work, Seva, meritorious deeds, giving away something to others, and a religious rite in which oblation is offered to gods through the mouth of fire." (3)

And, finally, this:

"3.19 Therefore, always perform your duty efficiently and without attachment to the results, because by doing work without attachment one attains the Supreme."

There it is, in a nutshell: "doing work without attachment one attains the Supreme"

Karma is not accumulated without attachment to the outcome.

The way to accumulate karma is to remain attached to the outcome; good or bad, attachment accumulates karmic debt.

To be free of karma, to escape the death-rebirth cycle, is to act selflessly, only in the name of Service, only in the name of God, Creator, Spirit, or any other name you wish to apply.

(1) Mascaro, Juan translator, The Upanishads, Penguin Classics, New York, 1965

(2) De, Soumen: The Historical Context of The Bhagavad Gita and Its Relation to Indian Religious Doctrines; Exploring Ancient World Cultures http://eawc.evansville.edu/essays/de.htm

(3) Prasad, Ramanand translator, The Bhagavad Gita, Realization.org



To see the Western take on Karma, check out "Karma - Part 2"