Comprehending Karma

By Ketut Suardana

Exclusively for The Bali Times

UBUD ~ Karma is determined by our thoughts, words and deeds in past and present lives. All our thoughts, words and actions create reactions from life around us. Therefore, it is essential to lead a good life. 

Before we talk about karma, let us observe from our belief as to how the micro cosmos and macro cosmos have been created. Brahmanda Purana, one of the Hindu Holy Books, tells us how God, Perama Shiva/Nirguna Brahman was initially in a state of passivity prior to creating the Universe. From this passive state he transformed himself to become Sada Shiva/Sadguna Brahman (Shiva in an active form). It is then that he created from nothingness the Universe: stars, planets, sun, moon, animals and people. We believe that God first shaped the Purusa (intangible) and then Prakerti (tangible). The Purusa being the soul of the Panca Maha Buta, which is the five elements of the Prakerti that make up the universe. The Five Elements being Earth, Fire, Air, Water and Ether.

The Purusa and Prakerti are two parts of a whole. They cannot be separated. Their beginning and end is unfathomable. Prakerti has Tri Guna (three characters): Satwam, Rajas, Tamas.

Satwam is when you are calm, wise, honest, brave, truthful and devoted.

Rajas is when you are dynamic, competitive, progressive.

Tamas is when you are lazy, greedy, selfish, pessimistic, apathetic, no desire, weak and stupid.

The interrelation of Tri Guna is to be balanced and harmonious.

Firstly, Satwam must dominate Rajas and Tamas to create Chitta (the state of a great soul).

Secondly, from Chitta you must create Buddhi (wisdom).

Thirdly, from Manah we achieve Viveka (maturity in differentiating between right and wrong).

Fourthly, from Ahamkara we attain the element of the Ego. This, in conjunction with aesthetics and creativity, you can achieve Panca Tan Matra (five senses – touch, see, speak, hear and smell).

From Panch Tan Matra the Panca Maha Buta is born.

On this planet we exist as a creation of God. We cannot escape the Law of Nature. There are two things we do: Subha Karma (good) and Asubha Karma (bad).

Subha Karma (good) is the manner in which we live our lives for the good of mankind. With it brings peace of mind, body and soul. It is a condition of Satwam.

Asubha Karma (Bad) is the manner in which we live our lives in anger, hate, greed, selfishness and disregarding the good of mankind. It is a condition Tamas.

So how do you find the pathway to heaven?

There are four ways (Chatur Marga) to achieve this.

Bhakti Marga – the devotion to God through prayer and offering whatever you have to God.

Karma Marga – when you conscientiously work with passion and honesty.

Janana Marga – devoting your life to attaining knowledge and imparting it. Using the knowledge to become one with God.

 Raja Marga Yoga – devoting your life to God through the process of yoga, meditation, penance and obedience.

There are three kinds of karma.

Sanchita Karma – the completion of unfinished work from your past lives into your present life.

Parabda Karma – This is known as Instant Karma, where you receive, in a very short time during your present life, the reaction of external forces to your actions.

3. Kriya Mana – Your life actions and reactions, good or bad are irrevocable. They cannot be taken back or changed in the present life. It is only in the next life that you have the opportunity to rectify wrongs or to complete unfinished business.

Karma in Bali is known as Karma Pahala, the result of your actions. For example, if you plant a mango tree, you will get mangoes and nothing else. So the consequences you face in Bali are the direct result of what you do on this isle. No more. No less.




To understand how the Balinese view karma, here is a story that may help you comprehend this concept.

Lubdaka was a hunter who had been senselessly killing many animals until one day he went into the forest but could not find any. Night arrived and with it fear of the animals hunting the hunter, Lubdaka. He climbed a tree called Bila, as he feared the animals would attack him during the night. However, he was afraid to fall asleep in case he fell out of the tree. To keep awake, he started plucking the leaves off the tree and throwing them down. He was unaware that below the tree in a pond was a submerged Shiva Lingam. When night became morning, he went home without killing any animals.

At home, he suddenly became ill, and died. His spirit was tried by Yama the God of Death. He was convicted of the slaughter of innocent creatures and was condemned to Hell. However, Shiva intervened and granted him clemency because even though Lubdaka had unconscientiously been picking and throwing the leaves below, the leaves fell onto a Lingam all night. It seemed that the hunter was paying homage to Shiva even though he didn’t realise it. And coincidently, that night was Shivaratri – the night of Shiva. This appeared to be a night of confession for the hunter Lubdaka. Now Hindus in Bali and Lombok celebrate Shivaratri, which is the night of confession, through prayers and religious ceremonies.

This is a classic example of Karma Pahala, where you may not be aware of your deeds and only after death do you realise the consequences of your actions.

Have you ever wondered why Balinese have elaborate cremations?

Cremation is one of the Panca Yednya (Five Holy Sacrifices – Dewa, Rishi, Pitra, Manusha, Bhuta Yednya). Cremation is Pitra Yednya. It is the duty of every child to perform the last rites and to cremate members of their family. This is, in a manner of speaking, returning to the elders what they have done for you since your birth. It is good for your karma.

“Not by abstention from work does a man attain freedom from action; nor by mere renunciation does he attain to his perfection.” – Bhagawad Gita


Semoga damai di bumi, damai di hati, damai di langit

Peace on earth, peace in your heart, peace in the sky

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