Law of Karma


Hi, I have read that the effect of action cannot be cancelled. Can you explain the below teaching? Sri Ramakrishna: "A man was born blind of an eye. This was his punishment for a certain misdeed he had committed in his past birth, and the punishment was to remain with him for six more births. He, however, took a bath in the Ganges, which saved him from his future births by power of God."

—Mathew, India


Dear Matthew,

I wouldn’t wish to counter anything that Sri Ramakrishna actually said but either the full context of his statement is lacking or some deeper explanation is needed.

Yes, it is true that all action (karma) has consequences and that the law of karma is precise and exacting but action is the result of intention and motion. Just as the legal consequences of causing an accidental death are not as strict as the consequences of premeditated murder, so we cannot wholly separate the intention from the action itself.

Merely bathing in the Ganges cannot possibly cancel the effects of anything but the slightest karma. Indeed it has been wisely said that while bathing in the Ganges might temporarily “erase” one’s sins, they lie in wait in the trees on the shore and jump back onto you when you come back out!

Therefore, there must be more to this story, assuming it is a true story. This man must have developed such love for God that the energy he put out in his devotions and good actions after the time of his misdeed must have earned for him the grace to be healed. Our 100% effort attracts the grace of God and the grace of God through the vehicle of the guru such that in the big picture of our spiritual growth it is 50% the grace of God and 25% our effort, and 25% the effort of the guru on our behalf. Indeed, I cannot help but wonder if the story relates to a disciple of Sri Ramakrishna by whose grace surely such a story could have its proper context.

The Bible says, “Be not deceived for God is not mocked. Whatsoever a man sows, so shall he reap.”(Galatians 6:7-9). Swami Kriyananda once asked Paramhansa Yogananda whether even the desire for an ice cream cone would have to be fulfilled (in some way) and Yogananda replied, “Yes.” The law of karma is exacting but as I have written in another question to this website, there are several ways by which karma can be mitigated by the output of one’s energy and good karma, attracting as stated above, the grace of God and guru.

Be reassured that the law of karma is not whimsical.

Nayaswami Hriman
Seattle WA USA