What Is Karma?

The mind is the only perception, and perception is movement in consciousness. The expression of this movement is action ( Karma ), followed by fruition (ਫਲ).

In other words, there is no division between the mind and action (Karma). Before it’s projected as action it arises in the mind. Hence, Karma is nothing but the movement of energy in consciousness and ultimately bears its own fruit (ਫਲ). Baabaa Nanak says:

  • ਨਾਨਕ ਮਨ ਕੇ ਕੰਮ ਫਿਟਿਆ ਗਣਤ ਨ ਆਵਹੀ ॥: O Nanak! Wicked are actions of the mind, (these actions of the mind) cannot be counted (sggs 789).
  • ਮਨੂਆ ਡੋਲੈ ਦੂਤ ਸੰਗਤਿ ਮਿਲਿ ਸੋ ਪਾਏ ਜੋ ਕਿਛੁ ਕੀਨਾ ਹੇ ॥੭॥: Keeping company with passions (lust, anger, greed, etc.), the mind wavers; and obtains (the fruit – ਫਲ) of its actions. ||7|| (sggs 1028).

Whatever the mind thinks of, the organs of action strive to materialize. Hence, again, the mind is Karma (action). When such action comes to an end, the mind also comes to an end.

When the mind ceases to be, there is no action! Such mind is called “conquered, annihilated, killed…” mind in the Gurbani. Conquering the mind or the world (Jagat or Sansaar) simply means to go beyond one’s own worldly consciousness or material nature (i.e., Manmukh-nature, Saakat-nature, Mayadhaaree-nature…). In other words, when the mind sees itself as Jot-Saroop, the material world (Jagg or Jagat) is said to have been conquered! This victory brings Eternal Bliss (Aanand), Peace, Happiness, release from the reactionary actions…

  • ਮਨੁ ਜੀਤੇ ਜਗੁ ਜੀਤਿਆ ਜਾਂ ਤੇ ਬਿਖਿਆ ਤੇ ਹੋਇ ਉਦਾਸੁ ॥੨॥: Conquering the mind is (as if) the world is conquered, (because, only by conquering the mind, one can remain) detached from Maya. (sggs 1103).
  • ਇਉ ਕਹੈ ਨਾਨਕੁ ਮਨ ਤੂੰ ਜੋਤਿ ਸਰੂਪੁ ਹੈ ਅਪਣਾ ਮੂਲੁ ਪਛਾਣੁ ॥੫॥: Iou kahe… (sggs 441).

But, what is mind? In deluded (agitated, restless) state, when the mind is veiled by doubt (Bharam), ignorance, etc., the same consciousness views diversity and identifies as such, it’s known as the mind. In nutshell, the mind is just thoughts-stuff (Phurne-ਫੁਰਨੇ). In other words, Karma is no other then one’s Soch (thinking).

When the mind is firmly established in the conviction of a certain perception it is known as intellect (Budhi).

  • ਮਨ ਕਾ ਕਹਿਆ ਮਨਸਾ ਕਰੈ ॥: Budhi follows the order of the mind (sggs 832).

Also, when the the mind ignorantly and foolishly identifies itself as existent separate individual, it is known as egotism (Haumai). When it abandons unbroken spiritual inquiry (Shabad-Vichaar…), allows itself to play with countless thoughts (Phurne) coming and going, it is known as individualized consciousness.

Thus, when Infinite Consciousness in a moment of self-forgetfulness viewed itself as the object of perception, countless concepts arise. Our lives are full of concepts. If we like particular concepts, we pass them on to others around us or ram them down their throat.

Our activities arising from the false concepts are also false. If the cause (i.e., false ego or Haumai) is wrong, then the effect must be automatically wrong as well.

Baabaa Nanak says this mind is not only “Karma” but also “Dharma”!

  • ਇਹੁ ਮਨੁ ਕਰਮਾ ਇਹੁ ਮਨੁ ਧਰਮਾ ॥: This mind is “Karma”, and this mind is “Dharma” (sggs 415).

Established in Aatam-Giaan (Wisdom, Virtues, Naam, Shabad, Hukam…), when the mind acts through the undivided consciousness (Jot Saroop, Mool, True Nature…), it’s “Dharma”. Such pure mind is free of the ignorance-born tendencies and therefore realizes Self-Knowledge (Aatam-Giaan, Brahm-Giaaan…).

To the contrary, when it acts in divided consciousness (independent doer or Haumai – ego), such action is known as “Karma”. This vision of division is the product of ignorance. With countless manifestations, such tainted mind punishes itself by its own tendencies and restlessly “wanders in the ten directions” (“ਧਾਇਓ ਰੇ ਮਨ ਦਹ ਦਿਸ ਧਾਇਓ ॥”).

To put it otherwise, when the mind is conscious of the truth (Sach-ਸਚ), it’s established in Wisdom (Aatam-Giaan, Dharma…). On the other hand, when it moves in the wrong direction towards greater forgetfulness (of its Mool) and deeper involvement in fancies, then becomes tainted or impure.

  • ਇਹੁ ਮਨੁ ਧੰਧੈ ਬਾਂਧਾ ਕਰਮ ਕਮਾਇ ॥: Entangled in worldly affairs (Maya), this mind creates Karma (sggs 1176).
  • ਮਨੁ ਭੂਲੋ ਬਹੁ ਚਿਤੈ ਵਿਕਾਰੁ ॥: Manu bhoolo bahu chitai vikaaru (sggs 222).

In other words, it’s the same mind that can take one to his Mool (Source, Jot…), and it’s the same mind that can take one away from his Mool too! Clearly, the mind is responsible for our material bondage, as well as our Liberation from it. Trapped in bondage (Maya, Bikaar…), we do not let go Haumai (false ego-sense) and its devastating faults ( lust, greed, anger, etc).

  • ਜਿਉ ਕਪਿ ਕੇ ਕਰ ਮੁਸਟਿ ਚਨਨ ਕੀ ਲੁਬਧਿ ਨ ਤਿਆਗੁ ਦਇਓ ॥ ਜੋ ਜੋ ਕਰਮ ਕੀਏ ਲਾਲਚ ਸਿਉ ਤੇ ਫਿਰਿ ਗਰਹਿ ਪਰਿਓ ॥੧॥: Like the monkey with a handful of grains (in the narrow-necked pot – ਦਾਣਿਆਂ ਦੀ ਭਰੀ ਹੋਈ ਮੁੱਠ) will not let go (grains) because of greed (even he knows he is trapped!) – (just so), all the deeds committed in greed ultimately become a noose around neck (more trapped in Maya). (sggs 336).

In nutshell, wicked mind = wicked Soch (thinking) = wicked Karma.
And, pious mind = pious Soch (thinking) = pious Karma.

So, Bhagat Kabeer Sahib reminds us that “Whatever is done, is done by the mind” (“ਜੋ ਕਿਛੁ ਕੀਆ ਸੋ ਮਨ ਕੀਆ”). For the entire universe is within the mind!

Thus, when the mind knowingly commits mistakes, then it reaps the fruit of its own Karma! Babaa Nanak reminds us:

  • ਜੇਹਾ ਬੀਜੈ ਸੋ ਲੁਣੈ ਕਰਮਾ ਸੰਦੜਾ ਖੇਤੁ ॥: (Body is the) field (of man’s Karma); whatever (he) sows so does (he) reap (sggs 134).
  • ਕਬੀਰ ਮਨੁ ਜਾਨੈ ਸਭ ਬਾਤ ਜਾਨਤ ਹੀ ਅਉਗਨੁ ਕਰੈ ॥: O Kabeer! The mind knows everything and knowingly it commits demerits (sggs 1376).

The ocean at depth is calm and quiet. However, violent waves arise at its surface due to disturbance created by the wind. Stronger the wind, stronger the disturbance and higher the waves at the surface. If there is no wind, there will be no waves. Similarly, mind is nothing but waves on the surface of the Ocean of Pure Awareness (Mool).

Disturbance or waves created by Maya (illusion) subside when there is no confusion between Reality and appearance!

What Is Karma? was last modified: May 3rd, 2016 by T. Singh
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T. Singh

T. Singh

T. Singh is not a "Giani", "Ragi", "Sant", "Baabaa", "Pujaaree", "Priest", "Granthee", "Parchaarak", "Bhai", "Swami", "Paathee", "Mahaatamaan", "Teacher", “scholar” (ਵਿੱਦਵਾਨ), "writer", etc. He was neither born in such a family, nor lived with any one of them, nor wants to be one of them. More about T. Singh

There are 33 comments

  1. Roop

    I love you T Singh Ji. love from love to love .

  2. chitranjan Dev

    Great Explanation…………….Our Thoughts Decide our Destiny or Karma………….Thanks Sir

  3. Kirpal Singh

    ਕਰਮ ਕਰਤ ਹੋਵੈ ਨਿਹਕਰਮ ॥ ਤਿਸੁ ਬੈਸਨੋ ਕਾ ਨਿਰਮਲ ਧਰਮ ॥ ਕਾਹੂ ਫਲ ਕੀ ਇਛਾ ਨਹੀ ਬਾਛੈ ॥ ਕੇਵਲ ਭਗਤਿ ਕੀਰਤਨ ਸੰਗਿ ਰਾਚੈ ॥ (Raag Gauri M. 5, GGS. 274-7): Performing good deeds, he does not seek rewards. Spotlessly pure is the religion of such a Vaishnaav; He has no desire for the fruits of his labors. He is absorbed in devotional worship and the singing of Kirtan, the songs of the Lord’s Glory.

    • Thanks Kirpal Singh Ji for taking the time to respond!

      • ਸਾਕਤੁ ਲੋਭੀ ਇਹੁ ਮਨੁ ਮੂੜਾ ॥ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਜਪੈ ਮਨੁ ਰੂੜਾ ॥੩॥: The mind of a greedy Saakat (one who is separated from his Mool) is foolish. The mind of (that person who) has become the Gurmukh understands the Naam (Shabad, Hukam, Wisdom, Virtues…) and thereby is Beautiful (i.e., linked its Mool…). (sggs 415).

  4. FD

    In this day, this is a most timely observation. Many many thanks T. Singh

    • Thanks FD Ji for taking the time to respond! Welcome to the Gurbani Blog!

      In this day, this is a most timely observation.

      The fact is that the Gurbani observed this truth centuries ago!! But unfortunately, the most of the people who run Gurdwaras, the priest-class, exponents, etc., are not interested in bringing out the truth of the Gurbani. For their main interest is making money (Golak)!

  5. Singh Maninder

    Thank you sir,
    keep posting I ma learning many things.

  6. Peter Jansen

    Dear T. Singh,

    Thank you for your post.
    I have a question: in the SGGS I read “All mortals act according to their per-ordained destiny”. Is this a reference to Karma?

    • Thanks Peter Jansen Ji for taking the time to respond!

      The SGGS also indicates that the One who ordains is also sitting within everyone!!
      So the Gurbani demands: Help yourself to realize the Ultimate Purpose of the human life.
      For example, if I am hungry, I have to eat food myself. I cannot ask someone else to eat food for me.
      Similarly, if I want to get married, I cannot substitute someone else to take the ” Phere” for me. I have to do it myself.
      Similarly, if one wants to realize his Mool (i.e., the purpose of life), one has to do it himself. Accordingly, the Gurbani Teaches us that one has to resolve his own affair of his own life himself, through his own efforts (Shabad-Vichaar to obtain the Amrit of the Divine Wisdom of the Gur-Shabad…). Thus the Gurbani’s Divine Wisdom (Brahm Giaan) not only makes man Hari-like but also avers that this great privilege has got its own severe responsibilities!
      • ਆਪਣ ਹਥੀ ਆਪਣਾ ਆਪੇ ਹੀ ਕਾਜੁ ਸਵਾਰੀਐ ॥੨੦॥: (So long there is breath — Praan) With own hands (with effort, ਉੱਦਮ ਕਰ ਕੇ: Shabad-Vichaar …), resolve your own affair yourself. ||20|| (sggs 474).
      • ਜੋ ਪ੍ਰਭੁ ਖੋਜਹਿ ਸੇਈ ਪਾਵਹਿ ਹੋਰਿ ਫੂਟਿ ਮੂਏ ਅਹੰਕਾਰੀ ॥੨੦॥: Those who seek Mool (within, only …), they obtain Him (within themselves); others die fragmented (i.e., without Uniting with their Mool) in their egotism. ||20|| (sggs 911).
      • ਆਪੈ ਜਪਹੁ ਆਪਨਾ ਜਾਪ ॥੫॥: Aapai japahu aapanaa jaap (sggs 343).
      • ਜਿਨੀ ਨਾਮੁ ਧਿਆਇਆ ਗਏ ਮਸਕਤਿ ਘਾਲਿ ॥: Jinee Naamu dhiaaiaa … (sggs 8).

      To this end, the SGGS urges everyone to “search” and “search” (Spiritual Inquiry via Shabad-Vichaar) “ownself”.
      • ਆਪੁ ਖੋਜਿ ਖੋਜਿ ਮਿਲੇ ਕਬੀਰਾ ॥੪॥੭॥: Searching, searching within the self, Kabeer has met the Lord. ||4||7|| (sggs 1155).

      In nutshell, the SGGS does not teach or encourage people turning to fatalistic behavior and beliefs.
      • ਏਕ ਨਦਰਿ ਕਰਿ ਵੇਖੈ ਸਭ ਊਪਰਿ ਜੇਹਾ ਭਾਉ ਤੇਹਾ ਫਲੁ ਪਾਈਐ ॥: (The Satguru lovingly) looks alike upon all, but we receive the fruits according to our own motives (ਭਾਵਨਾ, ਨੀਅਤ, etc.) (sggs 602).

      Renouncing fatalism is applying self-effort (Uddam, etc.) in Spiritual Unfoldment (Shabad-Vichaar…).
      • ਉਦਮੁ ਕੀਆ ਕਰਾਇਆ ਆਰੰਭੁ ਰਚਾਇਆ ॥: Inspired by (the Gur-Shabad, I) put in the effort (Shabad-Vichaar) and made a beginning (Naam Japa: understanding the Naam, Shabad, Hukam, Wisdom…). (sggs 399).

      • Peter Jansen

        Thank you for your extensive reply.
        The words from Kabeer Ji are very inspiring to me:
        Kabeer, go out to meet the holy man; do not take anyone else with you.
        Do not turn back – keep on going. Whatever will be, will be. (SGGS, 1370)

  7. Maninder

    SIr, is there any difference between ਹਉਮੈੈ (please explain this word for me) and ਹੰਕਾਰ ?

  8. Maninder

    guru ram das rakho sarnai…is on which ang of Shri Guru Granth Sahib ji….?

  9. Singh Maninder

    Ang 1402 line 9.(ਕਵਲ ਨੈਨ ਮਧੁਰ ਬੈਨ) … who is ਮਾ ਜਸੋਧਾ

    • First off, it’s NOT written as “ਮਾ ਜਸੋਧਾ” in the Gurbani.

      Instead, the correct wording is “ਮਾ ਜਸੋਦ”!

      My understanding is that the Gurbani speaks at the level of the mind. And, according to the Gurbani, our mind in its True Nature is “Joti Saroop-ਜੋਤਿ ਸਰੂਪੁ” — the true image or true state of the Divine prior to the movement of the false ego-sense (Haume).

      Having said that, the entire Gurbani Glorifies the Divine Glory (ਜਸ).

      This is “ਮਾ ਜਸੋਧ-Maa Jasod” ~ Divine Wisdom of the Gurbani, Giaan of the Gurbani, Bibek-Budh (discriminating intellect) of the Gurbani…

      This is what our mind/soul (Jeev) is supposed to take and eat from the Gurbani.

      This will become more clear by considering the words that follows “ਮਾ ਜਸੋਧ-Maa Jasod ” — “ਦਹੀ ਭਾਤੁ ਖਾਹਿ ਜੀਉ-Dahee bhaatu khaai jeeou”

      According to the Gurbani, what’s the “ਭੋਜਨ-Bhojan” (Food) of the Gurmukh, Brahm-Giaane? The Gurbani answers: his “ਭੋਜਨ-Bhojan” (Food) is Giaan, Divine Wisdom, Divine Knowledge.
      • ਬ੍ਰਹਮ ਗਿਆਨੀ ਕਾ ਭੋਜਨੁ ਗਿਆਨ ॥: Brahm Giaanee kaa bhojanu giaan (sggs 273).
      • ਗਿਆਨੀ ਗਿਆਨੁ ਕਮਾਵਹਿ ॥: Giaanee giaanu kamaavahi (sggs 71).
      • ਭੋਜਨ ਗਿਆਨੁ ਮਹਾ ਰਸੁ ਮੀਠਾ ॥: Bhojan Giaanu mahaa rasu meethaa (sggs 1032).

      And, again, according to the Gurbani, what are we supposed to do with this “ਭੋਜਨ-Bhojan” (Food), which is Niraakaare (formless)? The Gurbani’s answer is that our mind/soul is supposed to eat this Niraakaaree Food!!

      • ਜੇ ਕੋ ਖਾਵੈ ਜੇ ਕੋ ਭੁੰਚੈ ਤਿਸ ਕਾ ਹੋਇ ਉਧਾਰੋ ॥: Jae ko khaavai je ko bhunchai tis kaa hoi oudhaaro (sggs 1429).

      This is “ਦਹੀ ਭਾਤੁ ਖਾਹਿ ਜੀਉ-Dahee bhaatu khaai jeeou”!!

      Bhul Chuck Maaf Ji!

  10. Prakash S Bagga

    Nicely interpreted Veer T Singh ji

  11. PRINCE jit Singh

    Veerje, To put it otherwise, when the mind is conscious of the truth (Sach-ਸਚ), it’s established in Wisdom (Aatam-Giaan, Dharma…). On the other hand, when it moves in the wrong direction towards greater forgetfulness (of its Mool) and deeper involvement in fancies, then becomes tainted or impure…………is this direction of mind has any thing to do with, the vital breath (prana) ?

    • Thank you PRINCE jit Singh Ji for taking the time to respond!

      The SGGS (Sri Guru Granth Sahib) says that “We are human beings of one breath”. That is, our “ਮੁਹਲਤਿ” (ਮਿਆਦ or duration) is just one breath. In other words, the length of a human’s life can best be measured by the breath.
      • ਹਮ ਆਦਮੀ ਹਾਂ ਇਕ ਦਮੀ ਮੁਹਲਤਿ ਮੁਹਤੁ ਨ ਜਾਣਾ ॥: We are human beings of one breath and we do not know the duration (term, limit, etc., of our life) and the moment of our departure (i.e., death). (sggs 660).

      So without breadth human life ends:
      • ਸਾਸਿ ਗਇਐ ਕਾਇਆ ਢਲਿ ਪਾਇ ॥: When the breath is taken away, the body crumbles into dust (sggs 1256).

  12. Manjeet Sk

    You explanations are eye openers

  13. Prakash S Bagga

    The best KARMA as per Gurbani is given in a quote as
    ਹਰਿ ਕੀਰਤਿ ਸਾਧਸੰਗਤਿ ਹੈ ਸਿਰਿ ਕਰਮਨ ਕੈ ਕਰਮਾ ॥
    Hari Keerati Saadhhasangati Hai Sir Karaman Kai Karamaa ||
    ਕਹੁ ਨਾਨਕ ਤਿਸੁ ਭਇਓ ਪਰਾਪਤਿ ਜਿਸੁ ਪੁਰਬ ਲਿਖੇ ਕਾ ਲਹਨਾ ॥੮॥
    Kahu Naanak Tisu Bhaeiou Paraapati Jisu Purab Likhae Kaa Lehanaa ||8||
    SGGS ji pp642

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    • Thank you Veer Ji for taking the time to respond.

      • ਮਮਾ ਮਨ ਸਿਉ ਕਾਜੁ ਹੈ ਮਨ ਸਾਧੇ ਸਿਧਿ ਹੋਇ ॥: MAMMA: (The mortal’s real purpose or business of life) is with his own mind; (and that purpose or business) is to discipline or control his mind; by doing so, Spiritual Understanding (Soojh or Samajh of the Formless or Niraakaar…) is obtained (and thus life’s real purpose is realzed). (sggs 342).

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