Question: If a man steals, is he creating new karma, or is he suffering some karma from the past?A ction and reaction are one and the same. You can’t separate the action from the reaction.
If, as I’m walking along the street, I see a person lying injured, I can’t say, “Oh, it’s his karma. Let him die there. He is suffering because he did some wrong karma in the past,” and then walk by. His karma may be bad; he is suffering for that. But I also have a duty: to help. As a human being, love and compassion are inherent in me. He may die. I may not be able to save him. But I must try.
Example of suffering dog
As an example, there is an artist from Bulgaria living near the Yoga Camp. I used to take people there sometimes to see his paintings. One day I went there and he said, “Swamiji, our dog is missing. If you ever see him anywhere nearby, please report it to me.” The next day I was driving to Montreal alone and I saw a dog just like his lying on the road. It was partially paralyzed from being hit by a car. I thought that it must be his missing dog, so I put it in my station wagon and directly brought it to the artist. He took one look and said, “Swamiji, it’s not my dog.”
So now what shall I do? Shall I throw the dog back on the road? No. I am stuck with a paralyzed dog. I must do whatever I can. So I brought it to a veterinarian. He found that the pelvis and legs were broken, that it would never be able to walk again. The animal was in such tremendous pain from internal injuries that he had to be put it to sleep.
It was very hard for me to do that, but I brought the dog to the ASPCA and told them the situation. They said, “Okay, we know what to do.” I was asked to bring the dog over to be put inside a window. Do you know what was behind that window? The gas chamber. But what could I do? I couldn’t keep it since it was in such pain with no way to be cured. That was the only thing I could do.
So, with my own hands, I put a live dog into a gas chamber. Do I get bad karma for that? If I do, I don’t mind at all, because I couldn’t bear to see the suffering of that dog. That was my entire intention—to end his suffering.
So, it is not the action but the intention. My intention was not to bring any suffering to the dog. I would have done anything if I could have saved that dog and given him help. But the dog’s karma was that he had to die, and at the last moment I must carry him to the death chamber. That’s my karma. Somehow some past relationship existed. But I did not do my part with malice or anger; I was helpless.
Swamiji’s pilgrimage example
I’ll give another example of how karma works. I was on a pilgrimage as a swami. The custom is that we wander penniless, begging food when hungry. I wanted to go to the Himalayas at about 15,000 or 16,000 feet, then Badrinath, with only one small blanket. I had never seen snow before in my life. I was barefoot and had no money because I had decided to go by begging, even though it is very difficult to get any food in those places.
Many pilgrims carried their own food. In those days there was no bus or anything, just a small, tiny path. Each day you walked about 15 or 20 miles and then rested and cooked a little food before continuing to walk until evening. But, as I didn’t have any food or money, I had to rely solely on begging in order to survive.
After walking a few days, hunger came more and more. One morning, when people started cooking their food, I climbed up to the nearby village to beg some food, but there were only very poor people so I came down without getting anything. I was lying under a tree. I had only my cloth and a blanket and a vessel. I was really hungry and tired. It was evening and I had to walk again without food. I was only 18 or 19 then.
As I was thinking that I must get up, an old pilgrim walked by. He saw a swami lying under a tree and he asked me, “Are you hungry? Do you want something?” “Yes, I am hungry. I want something.” Pilgrims usually carried only enough food for 30 days. He carried some dried beet fried in ghee and with sugar on it. He had just a certain amount, enough so that he can reach his destination and then come back, because there’s nothing to get on the route.
But from this small ration, he took some, carefully, and gave it to me. I put out my cloth and he put the food in there. I was so happy—something to eat and it smelled so wonderful, too.
Then I thought, “The sun is hot. Let me take a bath in the Ganges. Afterwards I can really enjoy the food.” So I left the food there on the shore in my cloth and jumped into the Ganges. After one dip I came out shivering. As I picked up my cloth, all the food fell out into the water.
Do you understand the suffering I went through? Food came to my hand, almost to my mouth. But my karma was that I could not eat. The pilgrim’s karma was to give me from his own rations. It doesn’t matter whether I am going to eat or not. That’s not his problem. He has to share his food with another hungry person. And he did this with all his heart. But my karma was there—I could not eat.
My karma was that I must have taken some food from someone’s mouth before, perhaps in a previous life. So I had to undergo the same suffering as I had created for another person. I did not share, so I suffered.
That evening I walked under painful conditions. I reached the next place where we were going to camp for the night. An old swami came and looked at me. He asked me, “Where do you come from?” “I come from Sivananda Ashram. I am going on a pilgrimage.” He took me by the hand as if he know me and led me to a small hut. There a sumptuous meal was waiting. After we ate, he said, “You cannot go alone; I will take you.” From then onwards, he fed me. So I must have also earned some good karma.
Our duty is to love and serve
Actually, you do not know whether you are undergoing the present karma or the past karma, but you must know ethics and morals: every action has a reaction. Keep that in mind. Then you don’t have to worry. You do whatever you can.
Karma has brought me so many things. I’ve got ashrams in various places. I’ve got Paradise Island which has a private beach, and I’ve got yachts and boats and so forth. But none of them do I keep for my sake or in my name. I don’t have a penny. I will not keep any money in the bank in my name, nor will I keep a house or anything. If I did that while all these people are working without getting a penny, my karma would be so painful, like the lowest animal eating human flesh.
So your karma will work out. Your duty is only to love and serve. Don’t worry about good karma or bad karma. We don’t know whether we are making fresh karma or enjoying old karma. We don’t know. Then peace of mind will come.