First, let’s define what karma is. Karma is simply action and reaction, or you can say cause and effect. It is a basic scientific principle that states for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction.

There are reactions or consequences for every action that has effects. It’s quite natural. For example, if you take a stone and throw it into a pool of water, there would be a splash and ripples. On a midsummer day, nothing can really stop that from happening. The stone will splash into the water and cause ripples. You could say that’s karma, but really it’s just action and reaction because in Hindu philosophy, the two are seen as a whole. Both the action and reaction, or as they sometimes call it, the fruits of action.

Transcending Karma through Selfless Action

Now, karma, by and large, is action and reaction assigned to a specific being. That’s how it’s often taught. But funny enough, when you look at Karma Yoga and things like that, they talk about transcending karma. The way you do that in Karma Yoga is by acting in the world with all your actions as a form of devotion or service to the divine. You don’t do anything for your own sake; you’re doing it as an offering to God. There’s no “me” in it. It’s for God. Furthermore, all the fruits of action are also left to God. So, you would act but expect nothing in return. You would have no expectations of any personal gain.

For example, let’s say you were doing some work for charity or service as an offering to the divine, and you get 90% of the way there, but due to circumstances, you have to give it up. Then someone else sees this and picks up the mantle at the last bit and finishes the final 10% and gets the credit for the entirety. If you have any issue with this, then you are attached to the fruits of action. You expected something from that. But in Karma Yoga, all the fruits of action are for God. This is how you transcend karma. What they’re talking about is that there’s no longer a karma for a “me” as a doer. The doer gets the karma. If God is the doer and you, as the agent, are acting for God, then God gets the karma, as they sometimes say.

Embracing Action and Reaction without Personal Identification

But you know what this transcendence of karma simply means? There’s no longer a “me” in it. So when you get into non-duality, you cannot deny that cause and effect happens. For example, if I’m cleaning out the ashes from a campfire and I throw a handful into the wind, and it blows back into my face and stings my eyes, throwing the ashes and the resulting action of it going into my face and stinging my eyes is the karma. Obviously, that’s still going to happen even when you transcend karma because these reactions are natural. That’s what happens. But you don’t assign a “me” to it. You don’t claim it as “my good karma” or “my bad karma.” It’s simply action and reaction in the world. It’s no longer a concern to me. It’s not identified with.

Transcending Identification with Results while Engaging in the World Game

In non-duality, you transcend karma. You don’t eliminate karma. It’s not like you eliminate cause and effect. The world game is still played. So, even though you transcend doership and identification with the results of action, if you’re still playing chutes and ladders and you hit a chute, you’re still going down the chute. If you hit a ladder, you’re still going up the ladder. Whether you claim it to be “my good fortune,” “my good karma.

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