All Indian philosophies have a theoretical aspect as well as a practical aspect. In ancient India, a philosophy without practical application is considered ‘useless’ and not accepted as true philosophy. The practical aspect of Indian Philosophy is called “Sadhana”. All Indian philosophies, indeed,  have a sadhana  (tools or daily practices)  component. All knowledge should be applied for a purpose.  We cannot carry out any activity effectively without an appropriate tool for that specific activity. Indian Philosophies are replete with sadhanas. Indian Philosophies are, therefore, truly pragmatic in their orientation.  Practicality is the crown jewel of all  Indian philosophies. 

Philosophical knowledge is used for taking humans from their present state of existence of pain and suffering to the next higher state of existence by liberating humans to a  state free of pain and suffering. The knowledge that philosophy gives is to be translated into actionable practical plans so that by applying that knowledge we can move forward in our evolutionary pathways and release ourselves from the clutches of pain and suffering. It is how important philosophical knowledge and practical sadhanas are in our life. Ethics is an important part of this technology.  The role and significance of Ethics in human life can only be truly appreciated from this evolutionary standpoint.

To set the background for the study of ethics in Indian philosophies, it helps if one starts with a certain foundational, precursor understanding of the fundamentals of our life and existence. It consists of an understanding of the purpose of life and the true nature of our existence. These topics are discussed in Indian philosophies in great detail. A full discussion of the essential nature of human existence is outside the scope of this article. However, to put our present topic in context, suffice to state that the ultimate teaching of India Philosophies is that we are not this body, nor are we this mind. We are “consciousness” using a body and mind for our functioning in this phenomenal world. The true nature of “consciousness” is existence, knowledge, and bliss. However, in the embodied state of “consciousness,” we are severely limited in our existence, our knowledge, and our joyfulness. It is only through the gradual building of knowledge and expansion of the “consciousness” that we are, that we can transcend our present limitations and attain an existence free of pain and suffering. 

The Purpose of Life

According to Indian philosophies, humans on earth are complex psychophysical and spiritual beings with an evolutionary trajectory in front. It has been at least 4 million years (some estimates are 8 million years) since homo sapiens- the human species- started walking our planet earth. We can observe that no Darwinian type of physical evolution has taken place to homo sapiens at all since then. Whatever evolution that has happened to homo sapiens over the last 4 or 8 million years is not external or physical; it is internal – the evolution of their mind and intellect. Mind and Intellect are, however,  mere reflections of an extraordinary phenomenon called “Consciousness” that is ‘present’ in the human species according to Indian Philosophies. Prajnanam is the Sanskrit word used in Indian Philosophical thoughts for Consciousness.  One’s intelligence, awareness, knowledge, ability to comprehend etcetera are all reflections of the current state of expansion of Consciousness in that person. Consciousness is the fundamental reality. It is the core of all existences throughout the universe, according to Indian philosophies. Consciousness is not a ‘thing’. It is a ‘quality’ like ‘light’.  Consciousness is present not only in human beings but also in every object in the universe from a tiny spec of sand grain to gigantic galaxies, according to Indian Philosophies.  But consciousness is present in varying degrees of intensity in them. Everything from minerals to plants and animals is “conscious” to the degree they express life and activities. That is the only difference from one form of existence to another. The ultimate understanding of Indian Philosophies (in Vedanta) is, Consciousness is all that there is. Everything is consciousness.  Everything exists in consciousness and everything collapses back into Consciousness. Consciousness gives rise to energy and energy gives rise to matter. The same consciousness imparts sentience, and awareness to matter in varying degrees so that this universe is made possible as we see it today. We are not body-mind organisms, holding consciousness;  we are consciousness holding a body and mind as our tools. The more conscious  the body-mind organism becomes by expanding it, the freer and less bonded its existence becomes. The plant kingdom is more conscious than the mineral kingdom. The animal kingdom is more conscious than the plant kingdom. Humans are the most conscious beings in the animal kingdom. Amongst the human species itself, people are at different levels of consciousness, and each one is in the process of expansion of his/her consciousness and advancing in their continuum of evolution.  The entire life on planet earth is designed to facilitate the expansion of “our” consciousness. Strictly speaking, it is incorrect to say ‘our’ consciousness; because ‘consciousness’ is not something that we possess. We ARE consciousness – our body and mind are the tools that we- the consciousness- possess. This IS the highest understanding that Indian Philosophies offer. The purpose of human life is to expand the CONSCIOUSNESS THAT WE ARE and get ourselves liberated from bondage and suffering. That is the purpose and direction of human life; an embodied life with a body and mind is the only opportunity to accomplish that – it is how important life is. Observance of Ethics in life is to be viewed from this evolutionary standpoint. 

Indian Philosophies –  NOT “religion” but “User Manuals”

Compared to other forms of life, in humans, Consciousness is in a relatively advanced state of intensity and expansion, making humans totally different from other forms of existence, namely, minerals, plants or animals. It is not that Consciousness is merely there in humans; it is also in an expansion mode, poised to give rise to more and more awareness, and more and more intelligence to humans in an evolutionary manner. Science and technology available on planet earth in the twenty-first century are the result of this expanding mode of consciousness in the twenty-first century. It is noteworthy that the expansion of Consciousness in humans has contributed to a spectacular rise in their living standards in leaps and bounds in the last two hundred years. Expansion of Consciousness is the primary purpose of our life, according to Indian philosophies. All experiences in one’s life are exercises provided for that purpose. Human life is an evolutionary journey from a lower level of consciousness to a higher level of consciousness. Just as any journey needs roadmaps, tools, knowledge of the vehicle, knowledge about the destination so on and so forth,  this journey of human evolution also needs all of them for successful completion of the evolutionary journey. 

The six Great Indian Philosophies are like the latest versions of  ‘user manuals that come with new automobiles. The earlier versions of the ‘user manuals for the human species were handed out to them at the early stages of their evolution, in the form of Vedas. Vedas are not religious texts, as widely misunderstood. They are various versions of the user manual for the human species to guide and assist them in their journey from the lower level of consciousness to a higher level of consciousness. 

Expansion of human consciousness is an evolutionary process that begins once the  Darwinian theories of physical evolution have stopped with the arrival of the human species on planet earth. Our individual evolutionary journey is to be accomplished here and now while we are going through various life processes such as interpersonal interactions, interactions with the environment, engaging in various activities, etc.  Early parts of Vedas (Aranyaka) are entry-level versions of the user manuals. Later parts of Veda (Upanishads) are more advanced levels of user manuals for those who have sufficiently moved ahead to use them.   Updated versions of these entry-level ‘user manuals’ were distributed sequentially in the form of Upanishads and Shad Darshanas in tandem with our evolving capacity to understand the complex mechanisms of life and existence.  Philosophies are comparable to  Science.  Sadhanas are comparable to technology-applied science. There is nothing ‘religious’ about these user manuals. They are the recommended ways of life for the whole of humanity. For those who are leading a life based on these User Manuals, it is a way of life and NOT a religion. That is the reason why Sanatana Dharma (wrongly called “Hinduism” today, which is a misnomer) is a way of life. It is not a religion. 

Humanity is now composed of some 8 billion individuals.  These eight billion people are just one energetically interconnected aspect of the entire universe. We are as much energetically connected with the rest of the universe as our hand is physically connected with our body. The only difference is that these connections are invisible.  Our past, present, and future are all energetically connected, no matter what our present understanding is today. We are, therefore,  connected with one another and with everything else around us – energetically. This truth is one of the final teachings that the Indian Philosophies give. Advaita Vedanta is the pinnacle of human understanding. 

Viewed from this perspective,  we are not stand-alone separate entities, regardless of how differently we feel right now with our compromised state of ‘consciousness’. We are an integral part of this universe – not physically, but energetically. Energy is the invisible scaffolding upon which physicality exists. To exist and function successfully in such an invisibly interconnected environment without making mistakes and to evolve from a lower level of consciousness to a higher level of consciousness, we need dexterity, agility, knowledge, tools, willpower and training. In short, we need to conduct our everyday lives ‘consciously’.  Indian Philosophies provide the toolbox that gives that much-needed assistance. 

Imagine a young adult without a driving license or enough training trying to drive a sophisticated automobile on a busy street. Pain and suffering will be the result of such an attempt. Likewise, we humans are comparable to this young driver, with no understanding of our role, purpose, and mechanism of life, trying to operate our sophisticated human system in an energetically interconnected world. Pain, disease, and suffering will be the result. Indian philosophies, founded on Vedic knowledge, give the essential knowledge, training, tools, and a roadmap to living and interacting successfully in this interconnected world. This has nothing to do with any religion – This knowledge is a gift to the entire humanity.

Modern-day “Quantum Mechanics” is not revealing anything different either. “Theory of Everything”   is also the beginning of the conceptualization of a sound framework of physics that links together all physical aspects of the universe. String theory had already provided a theoretical framework for all particles, from photons to quarks, stating that particles are in fact one-dimensional strings and not zero-dimensional points. The science on earth is beginning to understand what the Indian Philosophies were talking about for millennia. 

Religion and  Philosophy

Religions are God-centric. All organized religions are about worshiping God, appeasing God, fearing God, asking for favors in return from God for offerings given, asking for deliverance from suffering  – Religions are the storehouse of the art and science of God-worshiping. This is clearly a dualistic approach where there is a God different from us. We are different and separate from God. Hence there is a God somewhere who is all powerful and  can release ‘me’ from my pain and suffering; there is a separate “I” who is wanting and waiting for that freedom. There is a subject and object – this is ‘duality’. 
Indian philosophies have  a different take on the concept of God. At the entry and intermediate level of the learning process (Nyaya, Vaiseshika, Samkhya and in the early parts of Mimamsa), the concept of God is based on  a dualistic approach. This is because a huge majority of humanity has not yet expanded their consciousness enough to graduate themselves to an advanced non-dual understanding. Hence deep-rooted devotion to God or Goddess (multiples of them) is extremely important in their Sadhaanas, which give rise to a way of life for them in line with their level of understanding. However, when their understanding and knowledge evolve enough, in Vedanta, the concept of non-duality is introduced. Devotion is still required, but this devotion is embedded in love and not in fear or favour driven mind.
This is a gradual unfolding process of teaching and learning from entry-level to advanced level. In nonduality (Advaita Vedanta) all that there is Brahman (Consciousness or Prajnana). There is nothing that is different from Brahman or Consciousness. Everything in life is Brahman or Consciousness disguised and underpowered as something differently enabled. When this understanding is there, who can pray to whom? One Brahman praying to another Brahman? Is that not absurd?  That does not mean that there is no Devotion to Brahman or Consciousness  (read “God”) in Vedanta. There is Devotion to Brahaman. Why is that required? That is because the statement that everything is Brahman is true only from the perspective of Brahman. Even though we are a disguised and underpowered version of the same Brahaman, for now, we are still not that all-knowing, ever-present, joyful Brahman. The reality of non-duality does not contradict the experience of duality. Even after understanding the non-duality we still engage in dualistic practices like taking care of the body, going to the office, still eating and drinking and so on and so forth.  We, therefore, need to lead a life of duality knowing fully well that we are not dual. Devotion is still needed very much. A lower version of Brahman is active in daily praying to the highest version of absolute, non-dual Brahman.  It is like a king acting in a drama on the stage as a  beggar. Even when acting as a beggar on the stage, the king knows that he is not a beggar. But that does not alter his acting. Likewise, even with the highest nondual understanding, one needs to be absolutely rooted in devotion, according to Indian thoughts.

It must be noted that the concept of multiple Gods, Goddesses etcetera are all concepts for the benefit of the entry-level humanity, who are not yet ready for advanced understanding.  Without realizing the underlying principles behind the concept of multiple Gods at entry level, the anthropomorphic representation  of God and Goddess will make very little sense.  Just as modern scientists have developed mathematical equations and scientific notations to explain the order and lawfulness of the universe, supremely conscious and evolved Vedic sages with immense intuitive powers  developed form-equations and sound patterns to express the order, harmony, lawfulness, energy  structures and dynamics of the universe. The form equations are deities and sound patterns are mantras. These are various cosmic forces that provide for and maintain the universe and we in it. To use an analogy, it is like the equation “E=MC2”    is meaningful for some but total gibberish for others.  For those who have not yet evolved to a level of consciousness of those sages, these heavyweight abstracts were given as symbolic shapes and images – much like the A,C,D picture cubes given to kindergarten children. All that will make sense as we advance in our state of consciousness.

Conscious Living 

With this much background information, let us now  move on to Ethics and its imperativeness in “Conscious Living”. Hereafter, a way of life firmly rooted on this evolutionary path with the purpose and intent of expansion of consciousness will be expressed by the term “Conscious living”. There will be, accordingly,  two purposes in our life. One is an outer one and the other is an inner one. Outer one is material welfare and the inner one is expanding one’s consciousness. Both should be mutually complementary, which is possible only by “Conscious Living”. Conscious Living is the Golden Key that will open the doors to our further evolution, ending all suffering, which is the prime objective of all Indian philosophies.  Conscious living is not possible without practicing ethics in all walks of our life. Life will give opportunities galore to prove how ethical we have or have not become.

Definition of Ethics

All Indian Philosophies share a common ground when it comes to the concept of  Ethics in life.  Broadly speaking,   all Indian philosophies were codified in the period  between the 5th century BC and 5th century AD.    Ethics is, therefore,  a very ancient subject in India. Consequently, various elements of ethics got well established in the Indian psyche directly or indirectly. The rules of conduct prescribed in Yoga Shastra are practically followed by all serious  Yoga disciples for thousands of years.  

However, in the whole body of Indian  Philosophies one will not  find the word “Ethics”. The Sanskrit word “Dharma” is not equivalent to the English word  “Ethics”.  The word ‘Dharma’ has several contextual meanings ranging from personal duties to a social order  to eternal truth. In the vast volumes of Indian philosophical literature, several words such as”seva” (service), “dana” (giving), “sattva” (purity in attitude and tendencies), “jnana” (knowledge), “samgraha” (comprehensive grasp), “samyama” (self-control), “puniya” (auspiciousness), “karuna” (compassion), “sat” (righteousness), “satya” (truth) etcetera are used to convey the aggregate of the idea contained in the English word “Ethics”. This is because the idea contained in the word “ethics” is  not a separate subject in the Indian spiritual context. It is an  inseparable  integral part of “Conscious Living”, discussed earlier. Ethical behaviour is a natural outcome of Conscious Living. A fully conscious life is the key in overcoming suffering in life.

In the light of the teachings of Indian Philosophies,  the definition of Ethics is fairly simple and straightforward. Any activity by means of our thoughts, words  or deeds that helps in expanding the consciousness of ours or others is an Ethical action. Any activity by means of our thoughts, words or deeds    that stops the expansion of consciousness  in ours or others is unethical. It is through expansion of consciousness or awareness that one can overcome pain and suffering in life, according to Indian Philosophies. Any activity, therefore,  by means of our thoughts, words  or deeds that helps in mitigating the suffering  of ours or others is an Ethical action. Any activity by means of our thoughts, words or deeds    that increases the suffering  in ours or others is an unethical action.  Observance of ethics in life, therefore, is of paramount importance in the Indian social context.

Ethics in Indian Philosophies

Indian ethics is founded on a strong and deep metaphysical foundation. Ethics  is essentially spiritual in nature in Indian philosophies. We have seen that the goal of life is to transcend pain and suffering  and move from duality to non-duality and experience the oneness of everything in existence. It is a quantum shift in our level of awareness. The resultant  state of existence is technically called “Kaivalya” in Sanskrit in Indian Philosophies.  The Kaivalya state is  attainable only through  spiritual discipline, according to Indian philosophies. Ethics is one of the primary pre-requisites of this spiritual discipline. 

In Indian Ethics, understanding the nature of our existence and our role in it as well as understanding  and practicing moralism are the two wings of the spiritual flight leading to this Kaivalya state – the state of liberation from pain and suffering. The former is all about our inner life and the later is all about our  outer life.  Indian ethics seeks a balance between one’s inner and outer life. Moral laws or code of conduct are prescribed in the Sadhana components of all  Indian Philosophies in such a way that it results in individual progress and social welfare at the same time. Due to the holistic non-dual world view of Indian Philosophies, the  ultimate goal of ethics and morality is the wellbeing of humanity and not just individual welfare alone. This well being is not limited just for the human kind either. It includes every living being, plants, birds, and animals, every visible and invisible form of life. Such is the foundational concept of Ethics in Indian philosophies.

Ethics in Indian Philosophies has two aspects. One is the  metaphysical aspect and the other is the physical or personal aspect. The metaphysical aspect of Ethics is concerned about  leading a life in full understanding and compliance to the principles of Karma – the science of cause and effect. All six Indian Philosophiesaccept the existence and operation of the Law of Karma in one voice.   The second aspect of Ethics is concerned about  leading a personal life in full compliance to the Yama and Niyama principles prescribed in the Ashtanga Yoga. Yama is a set of five rules  for our  restraints or self-control.   Niyama are  a set of another five rules for us to observe in our lives at all times. 

Metaphysical Aspect of Ethics – The Law of Karma

All Indian Philosophies accept the immutable Law of Karma.   Law of Karma is the general moral law which silently governs the life of  the  individuals. Law of Karma is the law of the conservation of moral values.  All Indian schools, with the exception of  Charvakas, accept the Law of Karma. (Charvaka thoughts – also known as ‘Lokayata’  is  essentially a materialistic worldview prevailed in  ancient India. It is an anti-Vedic philosophy. Towards the twelfth century AD, Charvaka philosophy disappeared without leaving a trace of it behind.)

Essentially, the Law of Karma states that for every effect there is a cause and for every action there is a reaction. A man performs an action, and he gets the remuneration for it, which is the reaction.  If he gets attached to the remuneration part of the action-reaction cycle, he falls victim to his own Karma, because he becomes attached to the result of his action, where it is his attachment to the reactions that is going to motivate his further actions. At times, the remuneration for the action may be pleasant and desirable;   at other times it may be unpleasant and undesirable. Consequently, man either loves the results of his actions or hates it.  Regardless of whether the experience of the result of the action  is positive or negative in nature, the love or hatred  generated out of the action is an emotional ‘glue’  that gives rise to emotional “attachment”.  This attachment to the results of an action creates bondage and suffering, according to all Indian philosophies. 

Cause and Effect Relationship

Indian philosophies discuss ‘cause and effect’ in great depths. The law of causation   is similar to Newton’s Third law of motion in the physical world. Without a cause, there can be no effect. The effect will hold all the characteristics of the cause. This is the foundation of the laws of Karma. Essentially the consensus amongst all six philosophies  is that an effect is contained in the cause itself, no matter how different they may appear to be. For example, wood and chair are two different materials. However, the wood is there in the chair and the chair is potentially present in  the wood.  Now, in another example,  let us  consider a dam getting filled up with  each spell of rain. Finally, the dam is absolutely full and it will break if one more drop falls in it. That final drop is, however,  not responsible for the breaking of the dam.  There was a whole chain of cause-effect preceding the breaking of the dam, which one is not usually aware of.  Likewise, every event that unfolds in our life  has a long chain of cause and effect domino traction  preceding it, the details of which are  not known to us nor would we ever know it either. The effect of flooding  is present in the cause of rains and the effect itself is another  budding cause, with kaleidoscopic potentiality for further continued domino effects. 

In the individual contexts in life, it is the individual’s emotional attachment to the effect (a result)   of a cause (an action)  that acts as a ‘glue’ for triggering further domino effects. Hence, the primary remedy in removing the suffering in life  lies in removing the bonding  glue and snapping the domino effect of the cause-effect chain  by emotionally disengaging oneself  with all effects  that one’s actions trigger. The secondary remedy lies in doing the right actions (causes) to create the right results (effects). These right actions are ethical actions. The common sayings  such as, “what you sow, you reap”, “what goes out comes around” etcetera  embody this understanding of Karma insticinctly passed on from generations to generation.  Ethics is all about right thoughts and right actions.  Observance of Ethics and emotional disengagement from the results of any action  in life eventually  liberates us from suffering. It readies us to evolve into the next level of our evolution. That is the significance of ethics in life.

All Indian Philosophies agree in unison  that the Law of Karma  is the only satisfactory and logical explanation for the existence of suffering in life. Karma is a hugely significant matter and the full impact of which will only be comprehended when we view it in the context of our essential nature discussed earlier. It is through realizing our real nature,  understanding the law of Karma, and ethically re-modulating our  life in conformity with the laws of Karma that we can stop suffering.  It is how important Ethics is  in our everyday life.

More on Karma
If we pay enough attention to our own lives and the lives of others around us, we may come across certain facts that are seemingly contradicting. Many people suffer in life, in a variety of ways such as illness, poverty, violence, strife, broken relationships etcetera. Many others can be seen going through life more or less effortlessly. Many who live as offenders and delinquents are found to be living in material prosperity while many other hardworking, honest, and righteous people often fail in life to make both ends meet. Haven’t we often wondered, “Why do I suffer like this?” Haven’t we read that even many great people who have grown  much spiritually and even healed others have themselves become terminally sick? These observations cannot be easily explained away.  

There is an important aspect that we need to understand about the Law of Karma. Shastra says that the life experience of each of us is shaped by the laws of individual Karma and the laws of collective social Karma. That is, the laws of Karma operate not only at personal levels but also collectively at the family, community, nation, and global levels too. It, therefore, means that the shackles of collective Karma gathered collectively will affect each individual of that group. Proper understanding of what the Laws of Karma are and how they work is essential to reduce the severity of our life experiences and to prevent fresh violations of the Laws of Karma occurring in our lives.

The Sanskrit word “Karma” means “action” or “deed”. All our actions, except what we are doing right now, fall within the definition of “Karma”. The work that is being done right now is “Kriya”. It is not “Karma”. The seeds of Karma are contained in Kriya, just as the ‘effect’ is contained in the ‘cause’. Because when our “Kriyas” are done, they immediately become “Karma”. When the deed is done, there is no longer any external gross form for the work there. The result of the “Kriya” done (i.e. the action completed) will appear immediately or much later – it will appear for certain. That is natural law.

Karma is the information held in the subtle records called Karmic memories. We, as an entity,  are a bundle of various kinds of memories such as Evolutionary memory, Genetic memory, Karmic memory, Unconscious memory, Subconscious memory, and Conscious memory etcetera. Memories are data stored.  To use a metaphor from the modern world, it’s like saving data on a computer’s cloud-disk. Just as the information about a giant peepal tree is stored inside its tiny seed, Karma and its consequences follow us in the form of the memories stored in the astral body. Astral bodies are non-physical components of our existence.   The seed holds all the information about how the forthcoming tree will be. When a hen lays an egg, only another hen will come out of it. The information on the colour, the shape, the form, the sound of that chicken is stored inside that egg.  Likewise, through nature’s own information technology management system, our Karma is recorded and the Karmic effects follow us birth after birth unfailingly. It is, therefore,  extremely important for us to understand what Karma is, what Karmic laws are and how they operate so that we can conduct our lives in such a way that we can mitigate the effects of activated Karmas and also we can totally prevent fresh Karmas from being formed.

Published in 2008 “The Biology of Belief” is a book written by Dr. Bruce Lipton. This book describes in detail how cells in our body receive and process information. The implications of Dr Lipton’s research is that it radically changes our general perception of life;  Dr Bruce Lipton shows that genes and DNA do not regulate our biology; Instead, he proves that DNA is controlled by signals received from outside the cell, including positive messages emanating from our positive and negative thoughts. For decades, the scientific community believed that our genes are fixed, unchanging, and beyond our conscious control. However, Dr. Lipton posits that all that the DNA does is to switch on or off depending on the command-signals received.  Many disease conditions are, in fact, Karmic in origin. Dr Bruce Lipton’s book gives ample evidence to debate that Karmic energies are indeed part of the environment that he talks of as triggering the DNA to on or off.  

Karma can be both positive and negative for us. That is, certain deeds may bring prosperity and happiness. Certain other deeds can bring forth depression and pain. The most important law of Karma is, “You reap what you sow.” We can see that a similar concept exists in all countries and populations around the world. Almost everyone in the world believes that good deeds have good results and bad deeds have bad results. The general belief universally is that good deeds purify the soul and bad deeds pollute the soul. This universal understanding too is a tacit validity for the laws of Karma.

Let us see how Karma is formed. Whatever we do – whether it is with our thoughts, our body, or using words – it makes a very fine impression on the surface of our mind. In Advaita, the storehouse of memory is called the “Chitta” and in Western Psychology, it is called the “Subconscious Mind”. When we repeat the same actions over and over again, these impressions become stronger than ever. When you write the same letters over and over again on white paper, those letters become more and more pronounced. This auto-recording of our repeated actions is one of the inevitable laws of Karma. 

These impressions become more and more powerful with each repetition.  The dynamics of these energetic impressions bring us to a state where we are compelled to do the same actions without the consent or even knowledge of our conscious mind. These imprints are called “Samskaras” in Sanskrit. In other words,  Samskara imprints are created by our repeated passionate actions, and then, these subtle Karmic imprints compel us for these actions. This is a vicious circle. Repeated actions create imprints again, and imprints result in more actions again. Another important law of Karma is the inevitability of this vicious circle.

There are many examples of such automated compelling actions in our everyday life. Think of compulsive actions like alcoholism, smoking, habitual lying, late sleeping, waking up late, argumentativeness, sexual misconduct, short-temperedness, etc. One becomes completely addicted to repeated actions. These addictions can be seen to take place not only in the case of negative activities but also in the case of positive actions too.  Examples are punctuality, friendly disposition, the habit of account keeping, physical mannerisms, strict adherence to certain types of diet, etc. It is because of these repeated actions and the resultant encoding of memories/data in the astral body that good habits, as well as bad habits, are formed.  

According to Indian philosophies, it is the intensity of our Karmic baggage that decides our birth, parentage, family, work, living conditions, life experiences, health status, and even the way we die. Accordingly, the intensity of those experiences increases or decreases depending on the Karma we get activated. The more we understand these inevitable aspects of our life, the more we realize that life is far too significant and purposeful than it seems from the surface. 

Each of us has been born, gone through varied life experiences, and died hundreds of times before, according to Indian philosophies. In every birth, we have created “Karma” by our thoughts, words, and deeds, all of which operate unfailingly in line with the laws of Karma, whether we know it or not, whether we accept it or not, or understand it or not.  Those Karmas put us in the incessant wheel of birth, experiences, and death.  This is, in short, how the Law of Karma operates.

There are three types of Karmas. The First type is Sanjitha Karma or  Accumulated Karma: Accumulated Karma is the seeds of Karma that we have created and stored for birth after birth. They are seeds that have not yet germinated and are waiting to germinate in the future. In Shastras, the Sanjitha Karmas are often compared to arrows held in the sheath. The second type is Prarabdha Karma:  Prarabdha Karma is the experience of being born, undergoing experiences and then dying. These are Karmas that have been activated. The seeds of Karma have germinated. The Karmic arrows are shot. The arrow is already in the flight. It can no longer be taken back. It must end with an experience. That is the Prarabdha Karma. The third type of Karma is called Kriyamana Karma.  Kriyamana Karma is the thoughts, words, and deeds that have every possibility of becoming a fresh new Karmic data. That is, that one action (Kriya) which has not yet become a seed. If the deed is not done carefully, it will be the seed of another new Karma. Using the metaphor in  Shastra, we have not yet manufactured a new Karmic arrow, but all the raw materials required for making the arrow are ready. A new Karmic arrow may or may not be manufactured. That is if we learn how new Karmas are created and if we learn to deal with our life-experiences with dexterity in such a way that the new Karmas are not created in the process of doing a new Kriya, then Kriyamana Karmas will not be formed. If we live and carry out actions unconsciously without much attention and care, then every action of ours will become a new Karma. In other words, it becomes a new arrow and goes into the sheath and becomes another  Sanjitha Karma.

“Prakriti” is a Sanskrit word that means the totality of the manifested visible universe. There is another world that is not visible; Our visible physical body has an invisible astral body upon which the physical body exists. Likewise, there is a subtle invisible world that cannot be seen with our eyes, that acts as the scaffolding for the visible world. The subject matter of our science on earth is concerned only with the laws of the physical matter of this visible macrocosmic world, that we can see, touch or feel. Similarly, there are laws that operate in the invisible microcosmic world. The laws of Karma are one of them. To understand the difference between the laws of the micro and macro worlds, all that we need to do is to study the difference between the laws of Newtonian physics and the laws of Quantum physics.
Ignorance of the law is not accepted as an excuse in any laws in our phenomenal world and so is with the laws of Nature too. That means you can’t say, “I didn’t know the Laws of Karma, so I’m sorry!” That is, we must undergo and exhaust the already activated Prarabdha Karmas. Prarabdha Karma is not our fault, but it is our responsibility to correct that flaw in our system. When we go through life, we must undergo all the experiences given by the already activated Karmas,  without creating any fresh Karmas to sprout. That is our responsibility. In other words, if we want to expand our consciousness, we should take care not to fall into the abyss of new Karma. In order to do this, we need to have knowledge of the Laws of Karma, then we need to have the willpower to conduct a conscious life, and then we should go through the life processes strictly in accordance with the laws. Until we do this totally at all times while living here, we will have to return to life on earth, again and again, experience the Karmic baggage of pain and suffering, and then die. Things can get even worse if ignorance persists with each arrival. Things can get better when we start living with wisdom, willpower, and the ability to live and act ‘consciously’. It’s like playing the “snake and ladder” game. We can fall back into the numero uno at any time and then start the game all over again from the start. Knowledge, attention, devotion, and consistent ethical actions are necessary for the successful completion of our earthly assignment. Come to think of it, life is a fun game. But we just have to have that great insight to play consciously and ethically, all the time.

Ethics in Personal Life – The Yama and Niyama Principles 

While the Law of Karma is the general ground rule for the grand play of life on earth, individuals have ten personal behavioral laws, which are the cornerstones of ethics in Indian philosophies. These ten laws are divided into two groups, namely, Yama and Niyama, which are clearly laid out in the Ashtanga Yoga of  Sage Patanjali. Yama precepts are restraining in nature, generally defining the boundaries of our relationship with everything outside of us. Niyama precepts are for self-observance, generally defining the nature of our attitude with ourselves. Yama and Niyama are the ethical foundation upon which the whole edifice of Ashtanga Yoga is built. 

In fact, observance of  Yama and Niyama precepts is the first and foremost requirement prior to starting the Yoga Asana (Yoga Postures) in Ashtanga Yoga. This is hardly being followed in the popular versions of Yoga Asanas today. This is because Yoga Asanas are mostly practiced today for the limited purpose of physical well-being and not for its highest purpose of expansion of consciousness and emancipation from pain and suffering, as envisaged and designed by Sage Patanjali. The topic of Yama and Niyama is not even introduced to beginners today in most Yoga classes. This should ideally change.  Notwithstanding a practitioner’s end purpose, observance of Yama and Niyama must be made to practice diligently by all Yoga Asana students of Yoga Asanas. This will go a long way in establishing an ethical society in the long run.

Reaching the highest state of consciousness requires a single-pointed and well-regulated mind that is free from all worldly desires. The necessary conditions for this include willpower, discrimination, full control of the mind, conscious direction of one’s potential towards the desired end, determination to obliterate ego, control over all inharmonious tendencies, and constant awareness of the ultimate goal. Observance of  Yama and Niyama is the tool for preparing such a state of mind. 

  1. Yama: They are the five restraints one should impose on oneself in one’s relationships with others. They replace the imperfections in us with virtues.  They also form a code of moral and social laws that regulate one’s interactions with others.
  1. Ahimsa (Non-violence):  The literal meaning of the word Ahimsa is ‘non-injury’ or ‘non-violence’. In the context of Yoga, the word means not causing any injury to other beings not only just physically, but also means not causing injury to other beings either in words or in thoughts. It also means flowering of spontaneous love and cares for all other beings. The practice of Ahimsa expands one’s personality and gives the stability of mind.
  2. Sathyam (Truthfulness): Truthfulness is essentially non-lying either in thoughts, words, or action.   Truthfulness has far-reaching connotations. One needs to practice truthfulness at a personal level, family level, social level, national level, global level, and universal level too. This is an absolute morality. People often lie without knowing the fact or for fun or for gossip. When this action is repeated it becomes a  habit. Indian philosophies inform us that when one becomes absolutely truthful, he gains inner strength, and all insecurities of life vanish. 
  3. Astheyam (Non-stealing): Absolute morality is practicing non-stealing of anything either in thoughts, words or deeds.  It is a way to develop non-attachment and non-possessiveness in life. One should be content and be able to live with whatever one has, without going after desires and its fulfillment by stealing from others. Non-stealing is essential for social stability and security as well as for one’s own development.   
  4. Brahmacharyam (Sensory Control): The literary meaning of the word “Brahmachary” is one who lives in Brahma Consciousness (The absolute, non dual Consciousness from which everything originates) all the time. However, generally this tenet is widely explained as abstinence from sexual engangements.  On the other hand, Sage Patanjali used this word in a very broad sense to imply self control in every respect – control of one’s all the five senses, not just sexual impulses alone. Absolute morality of Brahmacharyam is  using all resources only for its intended purposes. For example, food should not be eaten for pleasure, sex should not be  indulged for pleasure, money should not be spent for pleasure etcetera. This is absolute morality.  For expansion of one’s consciousness, one has to withdraw all his energy from petty temptations and direct the same to the higher consciousness.  Thus, for a stable and safe society as well as for the evolutionary progress for individuals Brahmacharyam is essential. 
  5. Aparigraham (Non-possessiveness): Aparigraham is non-hoarding of possessions and nurturing an attitude of detachment to possessions and becoming free  of selfishness. True non-possessiveness is non-attachment to what one possesses. It does not mean that one should not plan for the future.  It means all possessions should be need based and without any emotional attachment linked to it. There will be no desire to gain anything nor would there be any desire  to avoid losing anything. “Let it come, whatever comes; let it go, whatever goes” will be the mindset of a person practicing Aparigraham
  1. Niyama: They are the five key codes of self-observance critical for developing and establishing certain habits and an ideal personality. Observance of Niyamas makes one physically, mentally and spiritually strong. 
  1. Saucha (Purity): Purity of  both body and mind is highly focussed in Yoga. While the purity of the body gives a healthy body, purity of the mind preserves the energy from dissipating, which is required for the expansion of consciousness.  We all bathe our bodies every day; but do we bathe our minds to remove the after-effects of the various emotional dramas that we play out in life? Lack of mental purity gives rise to psychosomatic diseases and mental disturbances.  The purity of body and mind should become a part of one’s personality.
  1. Santhosha (Contentment): Contentment gives rise to joyfulness. Contentment is a state of mental tranquility, no matter what the outer circumstances are.  Contentment does not mean inactivity; even when one is fully engaged in activities, inner tranquility and joyfulness can be retained, which enhances the quality of the activity one is engaged in. Every moment of one’s life is what it is at that given moment – it can never be in any other way at that specific moment.  It is far more effective to handle that moment with a tranquil mind and Santhosha than handling it with complaints, irritation and the like. Contentment and joyfulness should become a part of one’s personality.
  2. Tapas (Zeal): The word ‘Tapas’ is often mistaken for the absuement of the body. It is not so. Any activity can be a ‘Tapas’ when it is done with zeal, piety, seriousness, warmth, commitment, intense focus with a pure and balanced mind, with the highest good of mankind held in view. An attitude of Tapas  in activities strengthens the willpower. 
  1. Swadhyaya (Self-study): Swadhyaya is a focused lifelong self-studying of scriptures with the intention of understanding life and our role in it. Learning does not end with the termination of studies at school or college. Learning is a lifelong process – but that needs to be done with extreme discretion. Too much trust and too much mistrust in the material of studies are both detrimental to one’s growth. The knowledge we gain through Swadhyaya shall be applied in our own lives to experience and self-validate them. We ourselves need to become the proof or validity of the knowledge we gained.
  1. Iswara Pranidhaana (Surrender to the Ultimate Reality): The word Iswara denotes the Ultimate Reality that generates and sustains this phenomenal world that we live in. It does not necessarily indicate the concept of God as religions commonly use it, although it may also include it depending on the level of understanding of a person involved. Iswara Pranidhaana is the act of constantly recognising the presence of the Ultimate Reality in everything and everywhere around us. As discussed earlier, the ultimate Vedantic understanding is that “All that there is, is Consciousness”. Everything originates, exists and collapses back into Consciousness. It is the ultimate, indivisible, indestructible, eternal, all-knowing, all-pervasive, nondual, reality.   This is the final understanding of Vedanta philosophy. For some, Iswara Pranidhaana is feeling and recognizing the presence of this Supreme Consciousness everywhere and everything. For some others, it could be the presence of their personal God. Words do not matter. Regardless of the words used to refer to it, they all are one single Ultimate Reality. It is much like the one single person who can be a father to some, but a brother to some others, a husband to his wife, uncle to some others depending on the relationship they share between them.  When this Ultimate Reality’s presence is  realized, one’s ego is dropped and a surrender happens.This surrender is a surrender in love and not in fear. It is the blossoming of a selfless love relationship with this Ultimate Reality, in which we exist, in which every other thing exists. One becomes like a child clutching the finger of its mother and going everywhere in absolute trust and unhesitant love. With such a worldview firmly entrenched in one’s everyday life , there is no more a separate ‘you’ and a separate ‘me’. All are one single consciousness expressed through different forms and names.  This is Iswara Pranidhaana. 

In addition to the Law of Karma, Yama and Niyama are the unshakable foundation upon which the entire body of ethics is structured in Indian philosophies. Yama and Niyama are simple in articulation; but they are far too difficult in practice. Even a small degree of success  in this direction will pay rich dividends in reducing one’s suffering in life, Samkhya says.  One has to develop the willpower to start inculcating the Yama Niyama practice  in one’s life. To develop willpower one has to have the right knowledge in the first place to recognise the need for it. To have the right knowledge, one has to have the desire for the right knowledge to begin with.  For this reason, proper upbringing with the inclusion of Yama and Niyama  from childhood is immensely helpful in establishing a society based on ethical behaviour. 

Consequences of Being Unethical 

Essentially, the Law of Karma states that there is a consequence for every action we do – be it a positive action or a negative action or a non-action which is also a type of action. If one understands the exact mechanism of how the consequence of an action is brought forth, using that knowledge one can skillfully perform in this world without attracting the consequences. Ethical instructions are the rules handed out for the purpose of not getting caught in the quagmire of action-reaction consequences.  Ethical instructions are comparable to a traffic light on a pedestrian crossing. Red light at a pedestrian crossing is a warning to stop and avoid the consequences of crossing the redlight and knocking off a pedestrian. It is upto the driver to accept the warning and stop the vehicle or ignore the warning and cross the red light attracting a myriad of possible consequences. If a driver is aware of the various possibilities of various consequences of crossing the red light at a pedestrian crossing, he will surely slow down to stop as he approaches the pedestrian crossing, even without a red signal being there. A driver who is not aware of such possibilities of consequence can stop the vehicle after seeing the red signal at a pedestrian crossing. That is the role of ethical instructions in social life.  

Samkhya philosophy gives graphic details of the consequences of being unethical.  As we all know that all of us have a certain level of automatic inner knowing of what is ethically correct or incorrect to do in a given situation. We refer to this inner awareness as our voice of “conscience”. It is our inner faculty of the discretion of our intellect. We may or may not act as our discreting intellect tells us. The more we listen and act according to the inner voice of “conscience”, the stronger our voice of ‘conscience’ becomes. The more we ignore the inner voice of “conscience”, the weaker it becomes and eventually, it becomes so feeble that we can hardly ‘hear’ it or even know its existence.

Samkhya philosophy states that when we live fully aligned with our inner conscience, perfect health results. We can also get rid of other unhealthy realities that we have foolishly created ourselves, through carefully listening to the inner power of our discreting intellect. The life of the Buddha is an example for  this. When we act against our conscience, our conscience is disturbed.  These disturbances in our conscience result in  triggering 28 types of injuries to ourselves, according to Samkhya.

The first 11 types of Injuries are the ones that  affect our mind, our five senses of action (Verbalization, Grasping, Locomotion, Generation, Elimination) and our five senses of cognition (Hearing, Touching, Seeing, Tasting, Smelling). When we act against our conscience, we are actually planting a seed in our own mind. Consequently, the mind becomes restless, depressed, and inattentive. The resultant mind would lack self-confidence and would indulge in self-hatred. As a result, one would become fearful of themselves and  would soon start spreading that fear to others. This is the beginning of self-deception. This is how the mind becomes fragmented when one starts functioning actively against one’s conscience, according to Samkhya

As a result of this fragmentation of our mind, our power of discretion is severely compromised.   Our intellect is damaged! Our damaged intellect will begin to create barriers to our direct vision and hearing. Our words and actions toward others would unknowingly become inferior in quality.

The next 8 injuries are the ones that affect our special abilities that humans alone possess. They are  summarized below.

  1. The ability to guess, and the ability for developing self-knowledge perishes. (Self-knowledge is the knowledge about the core of our existence that we intuitively  acquire which is routinely beyond our  sense perceptions)
  2. The ability to comprehend the purpose behind a speech and gesture is destroyed.
  3. The ability to learn, think or interpret communication is impaired.
  4. The desire and ability to overcome the pain and suffering will disappear.
  5. The ability to give and share with others is destroyed.  
  6. The ability to develop and maintain good friendships with others will be lost. It is also the ability to respect others and to recognize their core values and goodness in them. It is the ability to break down the walls of time and connect with other lives.

According to Samkhya, the final 9 types of injuries affect 9 types of “satisfaction” we derive in life. The Yoga Sutra (the authoritative text on Yoga, written by Sage Patanjali)  states that satisfaction resides in the realm of joyfulness. (Chapter 2, Forty-Second Sutra.) It is the antidote to the mind which is restless, depressed, and inattentive. Yoga Sutra describes these 9 types of “satisfaction” (verse 50) that get affected. These affect our character, time and destiny.

The most important point to note here is that we are hurting ourselves by not being Ethical. Yoga Sutra also suggests ways to avoid hurting oneself. Yoga Sutra advises practicing non-violence. It specifically says not to create internal conflicts by hurting one’s own conscience. That is why Ashtanga Yoga  teaches the rules of Yama in the very beginning itself.

Why do we hurt ourselves? This is because of our own Karmic tendencies that are deeply ingrained in us. They are the remnants of our old experiences or life lessons that are deeply imprinted in our subconscious minds. They often force us to act against our conscience.

Consequentialism Is there true freedom of choice?

The Law of Karma is the  Law of Consequentialism. What we sow, we harvest! What goes around comes around! So, do we  have true freedom of choice for our actions in life?  The answer is both YES and NO. Yes, we have the freedom of choice for actions as long as they are ethical actions. No, we do not have the freedom of choice for unethical actions, as they are a ‘banded-offer’ coming with pain and suffering through the karmic processes; eventually, such actions will lead us to self-destruction. 

It is a purposeful universe that we live in. Creation is not an accidental occurrence. Life is not a punishment. Human life is an opportunity and a tool. Life is not merely for enjoying and embracing experiences that come our way, one after the other; it is a great opportunity for recognizing what is valuable and what is not. It is an opportunity to start living consciously and ethically. Life is about realizing what is truly good and desirable in the long run and what is not truly good and undesirable in the long run. In the final understanding, all experiences in life are always of the same nature, taking us to a rollercoaster ride of happiness and unhappiness alternatively ad infinitum. This understanding should   help us to overcome these futile cycles and come to a state where we do not need another experience to know this.  It is just that our paths should be chosen according to the pattern of our individual character at the current level of awareness. The goal of life is to be joyous always, away from pain and suffering – to be joyous without relying on any one object or on  any one person. Indian philosophies state  aloud and clear  that it is possible to do so, here and now, in this life itself.