Is Living a Virtuous Life Enough?


If I simply lead a good life where I help others (help myself too sometimes :)) and don’t bother about life after death and soul and meditation etc. then will I be fine or I may rot in some hell or reincarnate as some animal or insect? :D

—Purnendu, India


Dear Purnendu,

Living a virtuous life will bring to you good, not bad, karma. You need not be concerned about reincarnating into a lower life form, not, at least, as a result of helping others.

But good karma, like money in the bank, will eventually get used up in the inevitable and inexorable flow of the ups and downs of life: the irrepressible forces of duality. Duality exists because God’s creation is the consequence of an illusion; a trick of the mind of God! For outside of God, nothing exists and for the illusion to appear compelling to us, God had to resort to this appearance of reality using the principle of the opposites.

Like pushing down on the calm ocean surface to create a wave with both a trough and a peak, your good actions performed with a sense of “I am the doer” means that the inevitable push back of the wave of duality will return to you. Your good karma will eventually be offset by its opposite.

It is not that you are rewarded by your good action with undesirable consequences. Your reward, however, is in the expansion of your consciousness. This you get to keep and this will aid you in coping with life’s ups and downs. Think of the four seasons; night and day; sunny weather and violent storms; birth, life, and death. No man is free from the three evils of illness, old age and death. An emperor, a dynasty, a president may bask in glory for a time but inevitably their downfall approaches.

There is an exit, however, from the wheel of samsara; the wheel of duality. That exit is precisely what you have thus far decided to ignore: God. Your own true Self. Krishna says that right action (the kind that frees you from the wheel) is that which is performed dutifully as an act of devotion and non-attachment for the consequences.

Such action, termed in the Gita as “nishkam karma,” is not lacking in vitality and joy. It is not indifferent. Only a sense of inner freedom can bestow true enthusiasm and joy. Actions taken with attachment produce tension and uncertainty because conditioned upon future results, desires, fears and expectations.

In the West it is said: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” This means that good intentions and actions are, simply, not enough to liberate the soul from its captivity in the ego (and body).

But your own intuitive sense of what is right for you will, like an angel, a deva, or guru, call to you to the inner path of moksha: liberation from all karma. Until then, you can only do the best you can. Your good actions will certainly mitigate past, bad karma and build for you a bank of good karma and awakening intuition. Fear not, God is not vengeful. God is good; God is life itself.

But if any shred of devotion or self-offering (tapasya, yagya) exists in your consciousness, feed that impulse. Meditate even just a little bit (“Even a little practice of this inward religion will save you from dire fears and colossal sufferings.” Krishna/Gita). If there are mantras or chants that you are attracted to, use these with faith and sincerity. In the meantime, do good works.

Blessings and joy to you,
Nayaswami Hriman
Seattle WA USA