Karma and Sufferings

(An ordinary Hindu point of view)

Actions have roots in each word, thought and moment. When an act – a karma externalizes its shape at the earthly level, it causes disturbance, good or bad, detrimental or valuable to man and society. Nature and gunas – qualities of word, thought and moment determine the impact of acts or karmas on the outside world having effect on the doer including surroundings. It is essential to understand the influence of one’s karmas born of the baffling play of three gunas of nature – prakriti, before one comprehends the impact of karmas and the cause of joys and sufferings in human life. Karmas encourage and motivate the inner and outer man to activity and non-activity after he attains a certain level of attachment or indifference to allurement and rewards, acts and thoughts.

Attachment to karmas and fruit thereof, causes sufferings, distress and pain – physical and psychological. In other words, it can be inferred that poor understanding of one’s acts leads to sorrows. Thus, the degree of ignorance needs minimizing in a gradual manner in order to lessen sufferings. When a man understands the interplay of cause and effect, one knows the consequence. These are integral to each other and thus, a collective view helps in understanding the nature of sufferings due to the clash or conciliation of cause and effect. When one relates these to nature and three gunas – qualities, one comes very close to its true meaning.

Nature of sufferings makes legitimate efforts to avoid, as far as possible the assault of negative gunas. From a Hindu point of view, ancient holy scriptures categorize sufferings as adhibhautika, adhidaivika and adhyatmika. Sufferings and anguish relating to physical or worldly life are termed as adhibhautika. Aadhidaivika symbolizes agonies arising out of the fury and wrath of nature whereas distress, torture and anguish relating to the inner world or spiritual aspects of man are considered aadhyatmika sufferings.

Adhibhuatika sufferings originate from and caused by men, animals, birds and various creatures. Relationship of different nature a man has with various living beings causes wretchedness and misery. Drought, unwanted heavy rains, snowfall or storms, earthquakes or cloudbursts, lightning or famine or tsunami like catastrophic incidents bringing miseries to men and other living beings, fall in the class of agonies called adhidaivika. Sufferings relating to self - inner man are adhyatmika, for these relate to the inner world of man.

Intellect, ego, mind and senses cause non-fulfillment of spiritual hunger when these create disturbance in the mind and heart of man. Questions of life and existence assail a man who desires something else than the worldly pleasures, and as such, these sufferings relate to physical and intellectual aspects. A sick body brings weakness whereas strong and healthy physique is a source of contentment, self-reliance and optimism. Jealousy, hunger, thirst, passion, craving and envy cause mental distress and anguish.

Purity of mind and physique, positive frame of mind, peace, knowledge and a renunciation of material gains and power give mental peace and tranquility. Injuries caused by snakebites, violent beasts and other poisonous beings relate to adhibhautika agonies, and comforts that one gets out of material and worldly power are classified as adhibhautika delight and pleasures. One aspires for pleasures and wants freedom from sufferings originating out of materialistic considerations. When a discerning man learns that ignorance is the cause of suffering and therefore, makes efforts to get rid of ignorance, it is beginning of a virtuous journey to emancipation. A man suffers from improper knowledge and therefore, suffers without relief, confronts questions relating to joys and the causes of sufferings and strives for freedom from sufferings and therefore, deliberates on the mystery of life, death and salvation.

Despite attachment to worldly joys and pleasures, a man in solitude, thinks of freedom and release from earthly ensnares. The thirst for deliverance needles him to think about an enigmatic life. A self-centered, egoist and selfish man, is tied up with earthly pleasures of senses and varied comforts. Psychological and physical bondages originate from the nature of karmas and so a man wants freedom. If he is pure in mind and heart, believes in the reality and righteousness, and loves humanity, he secures serenity of mind and now, the inner journey to spiritual delight begins. If karmas lead to hopes of a better future, these also drive a man to miseries and death. Virtuous karmas purify life and lead a man to light and spiritual bliss.

Karmas – good or bad, cause sufferings, miseries and invariably arise out of three wings of nature –sattva, rajas and tamas. A man may think of a selfless life. Nowhere is he capable of perceiving a correct understanding that could make human beings good, bad or selfless. He knows he understands but even then, he is unable to restrain ugliness of karmas but the quest continues and this forces a man to explore deeply the world within and perhaps at that stage, a few revelations could resolve intricate puzzles of the nature of karmas. A man living a realistic life cannot entirely run away from the enjoyment and sufferings born of karmas. To comprehend the ultimate truth of a detached and disinterested life is the real objective of life and therefore, a man requires liberation from human bondages and he ought to make earnest efforts, and this is achievable if he understands the nature and essence of karma.


Karmas – good or bad have origin in the nature of man. Karmas truly determine the intellect and psychological frame of a man. If karmas are righteous and help man and society, these are good and raise the stature of man in the eyes of society. It is impossible to probe into the mind and heart of a man. However, actions and words of a man give inkling of the nature and character. For virtuous acts constitute the essence of life. For many upright, compassionate and noble men karma is dharma if it is righteous, and it is termed as adharma if it smacks of dishonesty and untruth. An enquiry into the dimensions of karmas would throw light on their characteristics. To arrive at the correct and logical conclusion regarding the impact and effect of karmas, one should understand the visible and the invisible influence karmas exercise on life in totality.

Nature has two components - prakriti and purusa. A cautious analytical study reveals that the world manifests two inseparable, effective and unmistakably defined categories - the noumenon - purusa and the phenomenon or the primordial matter – prakriti. If prakriti guides and overwhelms a man, he is weak, wavering, uncertain, and incapable of holding a definite opinion. Constantly invaded by foreign elements, he is easily ensnared. If he gets out, it is a temporary relief. If a man is strong, courageous and determined, it indicates the dominance of noumenon – purusa as the signs of power, stability and equanimity identify such a man. At this stage, one begins to realize the self – the inner-man.

This leads one to the conclusion that honest conduct emerges out of strength and straightforward attitude. A life of dharma –truth and righteousness is essential for reinforcing inner discipline. A man should take care of the nature of his karmas, if he wishes to get rid of sufferings born of karmas having negative propensities. Righteous karmas lead to fulfillment and joy eternal, a man ought to know particularly in the modern context. Karmas, in other words, constitute dharma of a man, to be simple and this is sufficient for an ordinary man to know. Dharma or dharma as right karmas helps eliminating sufferings from life. It is worthwhile to understand the psyche of modern times where man is too much with the world, and far away from the inner world that speaks truth, if one cares to listen to the inner voice.

Dr Radhakrishnan observes pithily in slightly different words:

Dharma gives coherence and direction to the different activities of life. It is not a religious creed or cult imposing an ethical or social rule. It is the complete rule of life, the harmony of the whole man who finds a right and just law of his living. Each man and group, each activity of soul, mind, life and body, has it dharma. While man is justified in satisfying his desires, which is essential for the expression of his being. He will not get the best out of them if he does not conform to the dharma or the rule of right practice. …Dharma tells us that while our life is in the first instance for our own satisfaction, it is more essentially for the community and must of all for that universal self which is in each of us and all beings. Ethical life is the means to spiritual freedom, as well as its expression on earth. (Basic Writings of S. Radhakrishnan 191)

If one notices, the words ‘conform to the dharma or the rule of right practice’ speak eloquently of the significance of karmas and dharma as karmas. Inherent is the rule that if karmas are not right these drive men to sufferings unmitigated and thus, the very purpose of human birth is lost.

Even acts of uprightness and truth cause sufferings to individuals, for they have to fight against forces of wickedness and impiety. Dharma, karma and the ensuing sufferings, in reality and truth, have roots in the mysterious role, the three attributes of nature (gunas) play in life. Dharma means truth, compassion, tranquility and non-violence. These elements are obvious when one scrutinizes temporarily the meanings of three qualities –gunas born of prakriti. A man must live life with honesty and dignity so that he leaves an imprint on man and society, and ensures that he causes no harm, injury or loss to fellowmen.

This is true humanism and universality in attitude that direct a man to the principles of dharma. Vagueness or confusion would not arise if karmas or actions inspire love, peace and compassion. Born of the union of prakriti and purusa, the three gunas constitute complete nature and behavior of a man. The sacrificial nature of karma purifies a man’s mind and heart and at this moment, karmas of sacrifice constitute the true, benign and munificent character of a Hindu. It is high time one examines how karmas and sufferings arising out of karmas influence the living of an ordinary man.

An ordinary man is susceptible. He is dependent and looks up for help. He sells his skills and labor to earn living. He improves economic conditions and cares for his family and relations. Instructions, philosophic and sympathizing words and preaching of wise men, religious men, babas and sadhus and those who govern including sophisticated intellectuals come to him aplenty. Truth, honesty and sincerity are cardinal principles of life. A life of dharma (a religious life), pure karma (act or deed) and truthful words make life beautiful. One should earn livelihood by honest means. One should work for the wellbeing of man and society only then one goes to heaven –a land of joys and bliss. He hears these words in religious congregations, in the religious places where he worships and offers prayers or oblations.

Such principles and laws of life stun him. Wise words of these men who control the society and the system pour in and he stands appalled. One can presume the psychological condition of such a man. These are simple and plain words. No philosophy appears here, for it is a lesson to live life as it comes –whether there is joy or suffering. He must work and work in whatever situation or location he is. He must carry the load of society because wise, rich, powerful and rulers promise a better living. He is imparted an exhaustible wisdom of life where truth and righteousness are essential and therefore, a life of virtues ennobles and beautifies life. This background becomes necessary in contemporary times.

An ordinary man must understand the frailty of his life and existence, for he is dependent and economically not very sound whether he moves collectively or individually. A minority group of shrewd, clever and wealthy people becomes the arbiter of destiny of this class of ordinary men who claim wisdom to guide and determine destiny of an ordinary man. This has been continuing for ages. Earlier laws and principles of life governed the psyche of the religious men, the rulers, the wealthy and the learned men who worked for the general weal and whatever money the rulers collected or realized was in the form of taxes, used for the wellbeing of the people. It was never appropriated for person benefit. Today, religious men occupy seats of opulence and amass wealth pouring in as donation from the worshippers. However, this money is not correctly used for the welfare of the public.

The rulers no longer really serve but they work for self-promotion, and corrupt practices are just normal in politics. There is nothing called ethical in the system. Immorality and greed, aggrandizement and prejudices, jealousy and passions work in all wings of life. Corruption in personal and public life is a natural phenomenon now one is constrained to observe. Still, hopes are alive. An ordinary man lives on hopes and promises and he knows, those offering bunches of optimism and guarantee of a life of peace and prosperity, are insincere and corrupt but still he looks beyond the horizon and expects some great man of virtues to arrive. That is the zeitgeist of life and existence. At another level, one can understand that good deeds definitely give peace and joy internal and bad or vicious acts lead to seeming joys but undoubtedly, these deeds drive man to anguish and sufferings.

Sufferings, agonies and transitory joys arise out of the influence of karmas on life. Karma has a reaction good or bad and that determines the nature of sufferings. Ancient scriptures categorize sufferings as adhibhautika, adhidaivika and adhyatmika. Sufferings and anguish relating to physical or worldly life are termed as adhibhautika. Ferocity and anger of nature bring destruction to life and property and this anguish is termed as Aadhidaivika. On the other hand, sorrows, afflictions and grief relating to the inner world or spiritual hunger of man are appropriately called aadhyatmika sufferings about which a reference has already been made.

Image (c) Gettyimages.com


More by :  P C K Prem

Top | Hinduism

Views: 3415      Comments: 3

Thank you very much for the encouraging remarks

pck prem

06-Nov-2013 22:44 PM

Comment Thank you for your expressions. Yes, infinity - will - expression (degree) - experience (unbiased thoughts & expressions during our existence period) & nirgunathva (nullifying the cause & effect dimension) are the stepping stones towards realizing our objective. Great expressions & projections.
[Indian Journalists Group - Linkedin]

Vasan KSS
05-Oct-2013 16:31 PM

Comment But the disc of Karma contains some allowance or an empty area to enable man to get over his bad sectors of Karma which might render him to suffering. That I believe.
[Spirtuality and Consciousness Group - Linkedin]

Abdo Salem
05-Oct-2013 11:10 AM

Name *

Email ID

Comment *
Verification Code*

Can't read? Reload

Please fill the above code for verification.