Karma Vs. Dharma

We were visiting Dizzy World to treat the kids during the long summer vacation. After a bout of several rides, right when the sun climbed high at noontime, my sister Lata decided to try the human maze – an amusement activity that miserably failed to amuse me. While she went ahead with several of the older kids, my friend Rekha and I brought in the rear with the tiny tots. Cramping our considerable form into narrow alleys and impossibly miniscule stairways we reached the center of the maze marked by a large courtyard. We could hear the other group almost near the exit. They laughingly chided that they would rest in the lawns outside till we found our way out. The little ones were equally un-amused by this maze and refused to walk another step. Carrying them and our considerable luggage of water bottles, snack bags and memorabilia collected, Rekha and I were fervently opening several doors to find our way out. After running around in circles for several hot minutes, to our utter delight, a security staff appeared in a tower inside the maze and began to guide us to the exit. Totally exhausted, we finally managed to open the last door that led us to the tree shaded lawns. We profusely thanked the security and gratefully sunk in near the other group. (And just for vanity I wish to state that they too had found their way out only by following another group!!) The rest of the day was a blur of activity, lots of fun, food and a great deal of friendly banter. On return home, as I was sharing my day’s events with my husband, the thought arose if that maze had no tower, how long would it have taken us to find our way out?

I stand at a junction. Intricate roads crisscross each other to form a township. As my vision expands, I find that the town is just a part of a city, a state, a nation, a continent, a planet, a solar system, a galaxy…

I stand at a junction. Five roads lead in five different directions. I peer into the first road and find that it leads to a wine shop and winds away beyond. As I peer closely, a well-intentioned passerby warns me Do not take this road, I have been there and thankfully turned back right in time. Otherwise I too might have ended up in the hospital like my friends for that is where this road further leads. I wonder if I should heed his advice. Several young people join the junction and start walking down the first lane. The wise passerby tries to warn them too. But none of them pay him too much attention. I decide I should know what my other choices are. I peer down the second lane to find to my utter shock a brothel house and smuggler’s den. I quickly turn to the next lane for I have no intention of using the second road. But before I can move away my eyes catch the flashing light from a distant vehicle. I realize that further down the second road lay a prison for the police jeep’s siren is wailing all the way from beyond the brothel and drug house. Quickly moving away I find that the third lane houses a temple. Though crowded in the beginning of the street, the lane beyond remains quiet free. I wonder where it leads. Just then the temple bells ring in unison and a brilliant sun rises beyond. I am tempted to walk down this road. But I still haven’t seen the other two streets…

From the fourth lane the sound of children reciting in unison reaches my ears even before I see a splendid school. O! They are not just children but men and women of every age pursuing the art of knowledge. The hall of fame shines like a beacon right beyond that lane. Now is it to be the third or fourth lane? Hey! What is in the fifth? I casually peer to find that the lane is filled with dirt and filth. O! There are also a lot of children but I can’t really tell them apart from the filth. What kind of a hellish lane is this? I am not even keen to see beyond. But just as I am about to turn I see an old withered woman draped in a white and blue saree with a smile of a thousand angels, bend down and pick up a battered baby. Wow! What a miracle! The baby’s face reflects the same brilliant smile. Despite its untidiness, something about this lane is drawing me to travel down its length. I no longer am curious where it might lead eventually for the smile in the baby’s face is destination enough for me! My decision is made!

I stand at a junction. The roads have not been designed by me. I would have ensured that every road leads only to happiness. But the maker conferred with me. I do not know how many lead to sorrow and how many to peace. Though the design isn’t mine, I seem to need to choose my path. The destination is unknown yet the choice is mine. The result is never assured yet the action is mine!

I stand at a junction. I don’t seem to remember what brought me here. How did I happen to come to this junction? I must have been lead to this spot by the road I had traveled in my past. My past has led me here. This is my Karma. I cannot go back in time to erase all the roads I have walked on. My past deeds have determined my present. I stand at this crossroads, not because it was ordained, not because I was favored or punished, not because I chose to be here consciously. I am here at this crossroad because the path I have walked in my past has led me here. This is my Karma – my fate!

I stand at a junction. I can choose where to go. Yet I see just a few yards beyond and wonder where the winding lanes will lead. I am a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a confidant, a student, a teacher, a dancer, a businesswoman. If only each junction had but two roads – one marked right and the other wrong – how easy it would be to choose virtue over vice. If only every junction had only two roads – one smothered in darkness and the other basked in light – how easy it would be to choose day over night.

I stand at a junction. My eyes see my brothers ready to battle me. My knees tremble, my gaze falters, my bow slips from my sweaty palms. Krishna! I cannot fight! Am I Arjuna – a Kshatria soldier or Arjuna the brother to my clan?

I stand at a junction. My nephews are all the same to me. One fights for justice, the other is blinded by jealousy. My heart is weak, my eyes tear, the great Pitama Bhishma is forced to take sides. Do I follow the path of justice or do I make good my promise to remain ever faithful to the royal Kuru crown? 

I stand at a junction. Did I hear right? Did the venerable Sage Vishwamitra insist that my 16-year-old son Rama has to accompany him to the forest to protect his yagna? What is my choice – to be a father and protect my young son or to be a king and satisfy the Guru’s demand for dakshina?

I stand at a junction. My husband leaves for fourteen years to the forest. Do I walk beside him or remain behind? I am no Sita, future queen of Ayodhya but merely Urmila, the wife of Lakshmana who travels to serve his brother in exile. Now am I to walk along as a wife or remain as a daughter behind?

I stand at a junction. Which is my chosen path? To be a King or a husband? To demand the exile of my precious wife Sita on the words of a washer man, or to repay all her youthful years of forbearance with my company for life?

I stand at a junction. It is my Karma that has brought me here. But what is my Dharma?  What is my choice that will determine my future Karma? What is the role I wish to play? Brother or warrior? Grandsire or Commander? Father or King? Wife or Daughter? Emperor or husband? If only each junction had but two roads marked right and wrong…

If only each junction had but two roads marked right and wrong, I wouldn’t need to choose for virtue would win hands down over vice – always! No! You are wrong! The choice would still be yours – to walk the path of right or to follow the path of wrong. That is your boon – the choice bestowed on mankind! That is your Dharmayuddha! The only problem is that life never was that simple a choice with marked lanes of universal right and universal wrong. The choice always remains individual. What is right for a soldier is not right for a terrorist. While the same road of battle will lead one to the hall of fame, it would push the other into the dungeon of prison.

If the laws of determinism are the architects of the roads we travel, the blessings of freewill are the wheels of our transportation that turn with time! If Karma is the child of deterministic laws, Dharma is the power of freewill. They are the two sides of a common balance. When your Dharma is not exercised, it becomes light weighting the pan of Karma down. You no longer seem to understand the boon of freewill. Karma seems to stifle you into situations that hardly display the freedom of choices. Yet every junction, even when marked right and wrong, is still just that – a pre-ordained town with a given structure of roads, which can be traveled only by exercising your freewill. When the power of Dharma is unleashed, it weights down the scale lifting the pan of Karma lightly into the air. Every choice exercised correctly helps to unburden the weight of Karma.

But what is the right choice? What is my Dharma?

I stand at a junction. My Karma has led me to this impossible situation. I don’t seem to have much choice about the situation for the roads are well laid. I wonder where the first path leads and where the second. I wonder if my dream destination lies beyond the third or fourth lane. Perhaps I once treaded this path for it attracts me more than the rest. Yet this time I need to exercise my choice anew. This junction seems to have more avenues than I am ready to handle. Do I blindly follow some unknown path? All paths are unknown! Do I use my intellect to choose a path? Do I follow the various suggestions and then decide on a path of maximum votes? Where am I? Where do I go? What am I doing here?

I stand at a junction. I am lost. I look all around me. A million paths seem to lead in various directions. I no longer have a dream destination. It doesn’t matter where I go. I don’t want to choose. Yet I know I must. Krishna! I cannot fight!

I stand at a junction. A tower soars high at every intersection. My limited vision and intellect can never understand what lies beyond every lane. Yet the tower’s height would make small play of the township’s design. I open doors and close them, walk around in circles in this maze called life. I need that light from the tower if I am to reach my destination by night.

I stand at a junction. All around are people walking around in circles. Am I the only one who sees the tower? Why aren’t they looking up into the sky? Why do they not tap the hidden message from above? Why do they not try to climb onto the tower of light?

I stand at a junction. I always will. It is my Karma – the way of life, always a junction with more than one road. I have to choose my path – I will always have to. The choice is not universal. What is right for Sita is not right for Urmila. What is right for Bheeshma is not right for Vibheeshana. What is right for me may not be right for you. Yet it is my Dharma that I choose the path that is right for me.

I stand at a junction that is filled with light. I search for that source. It shines from the skies! Nay! It shines from that tower that soars over the paths. My keeper smiles, I can see him bright, high above in that tower where he resides. My path of Dharma I no longer need search for He shall guide me from this maze called life!

“There is a power that will light your way to health, happiness, peace and success, if you will but turn towards that light!”

– Sri Paramahansa Yogananda


Written by Gita Krishna Raj

Opening Chapter of my book ‘Kaivalya – an inner call for Liberation’

First published as an article in the March 2006 issue of infinithoughts

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