The Aurobindonian model of Karma

The conventional view of Karma is that of a rigid, ethical, mechanical and almost revengeful law of Nature which brings rewards for good deeds and punishment for evil actions.  We are told that the individual who commits evil today will suffer in some future life while the good person is suffering right now because of some evil act done in a past life.  This definition seems unconvincing at times because it does not explain the many anomalies seen in real life.  In his works, Sri Aurobindo presented a more flexible and panoptic model of Karma.  He observed that Nature is not rigid or revengeful but subtle and liberal in her application of law, working through multi-faceted principles to achieve her aims.  This article is a distillation of his thoughts[1]

For the rest of this article, the word ‘Nature’ should be read in the occult sense (Sanskrit:Prakriti) rather than the ecological sense.


The goal of the Divine working through Nature is evolution – individual as well as collective.  The Divine has plunged itself into Creation for self-delight and self-finding through the play of multiplicity.  The goal of evolution is advanced through the law of Karma, which binds the soul to the community of other souls as well as to Nature as a whole.  Karma records the actions of individuals, communities and nations and then provides feedback in the form of  obstacles and opportunities which further the developmental process.  When the soul outgrows the physical form, it incarnates in another body, another family and milieu, even another race or nation to continue its psychic growth.   By virtue of rebirth, the soul also acquiesces to the hereditary Karmic constraints of it’s new parents in the form of inherited diseases, predilections, etc. (see Subconscient inherited from parents).  As the individual develops spiritually, he/she is able to choose the conditions of its next birth with sound wisdom and prudence.   Commenting on the past Karma that we inherit and bring into play, the Mother Mirra Alfassa observed, “Outer circumstances are merely the reflection of who we inwardly are“.

Man may be born encumbered by the Karma of his past lives (weaknesses as well as strengths) but Nature has also endowed him with Free-will which he can use to choose wisely and overcome the shackles of past encumbrances.  Free-will, as commonly understood, is a myth as explained in an earlier post(Illusion of Free will) because ninety percent of our actions are predetermined by our fixed personality as well as being secretly influenced by the Forces of Nature which whirl  behind our thoughts and impulses.  True Free-will matures when we evolve the power of self-awareness through Yoga or companion techniques, when we stand back  from the chaotic habits of the personality to exercise consent with reserve, grace and full comprehension.   We can change our reactions to difficult circumstances; we can turn the constraints of Karma to our advantage by accomplishing strenous tasks under demanding circumstances. In this way, we cultivate the qualities of equanimity and fortitude which define our soul and stay with us in future lives.  The apex of Free-will is attained in the self-realized individual who acts in harmony with Nature, adapting to Her ways and acting through Her as a willing instrument of the Divine.

How does Karma really work? What are the hidden levers of its influence? As discussed in the page on human constitution, Man has, besides the physical sheath, four other subtle sheaths and it is through these sheaths that he remains in communication with Universal Nature on the inner planes of the Vital, Mind and higher occult worlds.  Our thoughts and actions get  recorded and broadcast in these inner worlds and that is why, unknown to us, we always attract the consequences of our works.   The qualities and deficiences of our soul are chronicled in our psychic being which carries them across lifetimes.  This recording of Karma continues until self-realization at which point one begins to spontaneously radiate the true power of Divine Love which inundates the hearts of others and sweeps away antagonisms.   It is in relation to this power of the self-realized soul that Patanjali said : “Ahimsa Pratisthayam Tat Sannidhau Vaira Tyagah“ (The person who dwells in Ahimsa (non-violence) is protected by Nature itself.)  (Yoga Sutras 2.35).

Layers of individual determinisms

There are three layers of the being – mind, vital(prana/energy) and physical and each of these is characterized by its own laws.   On each of these three planes, three evolutionary modalities of operation can be discerned.  First, Man is forced to submit to the law of each plane, then he evolves to coexist consciously and finally, he acquires the means to surpass the law of that plane.

Physical Plane: Man first tussles against the laws of the physical plane before consciously employing them to his advantage through good diet and physical exercise.  On the physical plane, Nature functions mechanically; it exhibits no tendency of revolt against unethical use, the cruelties of science, or wickedness.

Vital Plane: Man must first strive to exist by effective utilization of energy, then he must check his desire for expansion and possession through self-control and finally gain transcendence over the vital laws by judicious application of mental powers.

Mental Plane: One can discern three ascending movements of mental energy in earthly life.

  1. The mind remains submerged in life, mired in the cycle of vital happiness and suffering.
  2. The mind becomes the ruler of life and adopts the principles of living using ethics, righteousness, or the dream of some heaven thereafter.
  3. The soul rises out of mind, turning away from the practical pursuit of earthly life to the greater pursuit of ideals.  It begins to follow good not for the reward but for sake of good itself  and it does so without fear of punishment.  Only a few high-born souls live such a life guided by inner law or intrinsic Dharma.

All these different energies in Man struggle with each other and their complex combination is expressed through our will and brings about involved consequences.   As Satprem explained, “good health and a given life-span in a person can be modified by the vital determinism of his passions or various psychological disorders, which in turn can be modified by the mental determinism of his willpower and his ideal, which can then be modified by the greater law of the psychic, and so on” [2]. (For more, see Karma can be changed)

The highest mental development noted above also marks the beginning of the spiritual path.  The soul discovers that sometimes it may elicit an immediate response as it grows closer to God.  One may even feel a pain in the heart when one is about to undertake an action which is antithetical to the Divine within.  Dreams can provide an indication that something is afoot, that some external power seeks to expand its dominion to the latent soul which sleeps within.

Action of the Cosmic Powers

But many-visaged is the cosmic Soul;
A touch can alter the fixed front of Fate.
A sudden turn can come, a road appear.
A greater Mind may see a greater Truth,
Or we may find when all the rest has failed
Hid in ourselves the key of perfect change.

Sri Aurobindo, Savitri – I: The Kingdoms and Godheads of the Little Mind

Sri Aurobindo observed that Nature keeps us guessing for a reason.  She administers a seemingly inconsistent and variable law lest we master Her workings and discover the code of her operation prematurely, exploiting this knowledge to avoid pain and suffering thereby defeating the central purpose of evolution itself!  The code of her operation remains concealed until one has discovered one’s true Self.  He discerned the following modes of operation in the Forces of Nature.

Nature counteracts the egoistic excess in Man: In life, one often sees the tyrannical man, a patriarch or a dictator, mercilessly subjugating his fellow men,  seemingly unstoppable in his march, ultimately becoming secure and overconfident in his limitless power.  Nature lies fallow and unresponsive until the time comes when it arranges the Forces that exploit his weaknesses to bring him down swiftly.  This aspect of Nature was personified in the Greek Goddess Nemesis who  was tasked with exacting Divine Retribution for hubris.  Sri Aurobindo expatiated that this is, in reality, the resistance of the Infinite against the claim of the imperfect ego of man who seeks to possess Nature without a commensurate expansion of consciousness.  When the vital force in man is over-extended without any corresponding psychic expansion, when man lacks compassion for his fellow man, then such an individual may succeed temporarily but Nature brings about his downfall eventually.  Nature works towards an all-encompassing harmony but as part of the evolutionary movement, it also allows deviations for long periods of Time.

Law of the Talion (boomerang, eye for an eye): There are times when the stone we throwis flung back at us as if by some hidden force of Nature.  (He that uses the sword shall perish by the sword. – Mathew 26:52).  This law, conventionally assumed to constitute the entirety of Karma, does exist in Nature but it is not a regular feature of life otherwise men would knowingly avoid certain actions out of fear, thereby inadvertently stunting their own evolutionary development!   No exact penal code exists as can be adduced from the cases where the  monarch who commits excesses dies without suffering while the country he ruled unfortunately bears the burden of his excesses for decades to come.  The Divine wants us to choose wisely out of love rather than out of fear of punishment.

Like creates Like (good creates more good and evil creates more evil): If we are merciful to others, the collective movement may grow and create an atmosphere of peace.  If we preach hatred, then the social environment may get polluted and spawn enmity, rancor and self-destruction.  Fortunately, as Sri Aurobindo explains, this rule also breaks down beyond a point otherwise men would become morally perfect but end up remaining spiritually imperfect!  The primary factor behind the breakdown is man’s egoism itself which disrupts any chance of accomplishing a superficial social peace.   Furthermore, there are situations where even the reverse occurs; we see situations where evil comes out of good and good comes out of evil.  For instance, excessive good can awaken a hostile reaction in an unrefined populace while the memory of excessive evil can ennoble the national consciousness and lead to an extended era of amity (e.g. Germany after Hitler).  In conclusion, all that can be said is that good acts increase the total power of good while evil acts increase the total power of evil but it is difficult to unravel an exact correspondence.

Direct action of the Supreme itself: The three methods above were the indirect actions of the Divine through the medium of Nature.  We  may also encounter the direct action of the Divine acting through the nets of Karma to spur man upward and inward.  This is illustrated in Leo Tolstoy‘s short story ‘What men live by’ in which the poor shoemaker Simon and his wife’s lives are saved because of their compassion towards the angel Michael who in disguise has sought refuge in their home.

At times, the Divine acts more directly, individually and irresistibly in the form of Grace, which may come in the form of an afflatus which suddenly  seizes the individual and changes the course of his/her life irreversibly.  We find innumerable such occurences in the lives of saints.  The Swiss philosopher and poet Jean Gebser had such an experience, which he characterized as satori, in Sarnath in 1961.  The Divine Grace can also channel itself through the Guru, who can exalt the disciples by annuling the seeds of their past Karma. (See How does a Guru act?)

Explaining Life using Karma

God guides best when He tempts worst,
loves entirely when He punishes cruelly,
helps perfectly when violently He opposes.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays Divine and Human: Karma

As discussed above, different energies in man tussle with each other and their resultant expressed through our will brings about complex returns.   Nature, on its part, tolerates our imperfections, acting deftly through varied principles to provide multiple opportunities so we may develop every side of the personality in the right proportion.  Suffering should not be viewed as the consequence of evil actions in some past life, but rather as a  prod to progress, a reward for virtue, and a reminder that we are not yet reached the goal. Who can say what the trigger for the next phase of growth will be?  The path of life gets steeper as we become more mature and come closer to the pinnacle of self-perfection.  Karma cannot be judged by superficial reasoning because people are in different stages of evolution, subject to a multitude of inner and outer forces.  With that caveat in mind, these are a few thoughts on how one may interpret the common situations in life using Karma.

  • When a man nurses a hidden hatred, the day comes when the hatred boils over, the person suddenly loses his temper and commits an explosive act of violence that puts him in prison.   The power of his thoughts have created the circumstances of his downfall.
  • Innocent victims of mass disaster: One often wonders why innocent people have to perish in mass disasters.   The answer has nothing to do with innocence per se but rather with unconsciousness.   Those who have a well-developed psyche are kept away from the catastrophe by their awakened intuition.

Question: “The time and the way of death, are these not always chosen by the soul? In the great destructions of mankind by bombing, flood, earthquake, have all the souls chosen to die together at that moment?”

Mother Mirra Alfassa: The immense majority of men have a collective destiny. For them the question does not arise at all. One who has an individualised psychic being can survive even in the midst of collective catastrophes, if that is his soul’s choice. [Mother’s Agenda: March 7, 1967]

  • A good but weak person: Such a person may suffer at the hands of others.  He has to develop the power to resist and fight for the Truth.
  • Disabilities: The individual with disabilities can transcend his/her deficits by developing the power of mind over body, the power to endure bodily pain and the subtle powers of the mind.  Such powers are very valuable capabilities that even so-called normal individuals often lack.
  • Born with a silver spoon; a Rothschild: Some people have chosen to be born in a wealthy family where their capability of enterprise and business can be developed.  Then again, there are also cases where some dull, lazy person is born rich and lives an easy life that he doesn’t seem to deserve.   How to explain such cases?  I don’t know!  (Update : see the comment below on this topic)
  • Sensual excesses: Those who live a life of unchecked sensual indulgence have to endure pain after death because the vital sheath may not dissolve easily.  This  continues to torment the psychic being which needs to dissociate from the vital in order to rest.  Their vital sheath may even dissociate and merge into some animal to exhaust the sensual urges.

Sri Aurobindo: There may be what seems to be retrograde movements (in reincarnation) but these are only like zigzag movements, not a real falling back, but a return on something not worked out so as to go on better afterwards. The soul does not go back to the animal condition; but a part of the vital personality may disjoin itself and join an animal birth to work out its animal propensities there.  There is no truth in the popular belief about the avaricious man becoming a serpent. These are popular romantic superstitions. [Letters on Yoga – I: Rebirth]

  • Loss of family: Sometimes a person may lose his entire family in some disaster.  One has to learn the transience of life, and foster a greater and more mature love for the Divine itself.
  • Loss of wealth: Those who cannot organize themselves often fail in life despite talent.  One has to develop perseverance and shun emotional excesses.
  • Poverty: Some are born poor so as to rise above the sense pleasures, while others squander away any opportunity that comes their way due to lack of consciousness.  When there is paucity of resources, sometimes ingenuity can flower as illustrated by the case of William Kamkwamba of Malawi, Africa, who built a wind-mill from scratch.
  • Infamy, Dishonesty and Betrayal:  The individual must learn to perceive the crookedness of the world and begin to rely solely to the Divine.
  • War: The individual has to gain the ability to sustain conflict without being traumatized and to fight without bearing hatred or cruelty.  Incidentally, this is also one of the core messages of the Bhagavad Gita.
  • Bad luck: Why do some people always attract bad luck and disasters ?

Mother Mirra Alfassa: how it was that people (who consciously, outwardly, would rather have pleasant things and favorable events) are constantly attracting and attracting unpleasant things, even terrible catastrophes. That’s what Sri Aurobindo explained so well: all those parts of the being are terribly tamasic (i.e. stupefied and slothful) and it is the violence of the shock that awakens something in them; and that is why they attract those things as though instinctively [Mother’s Agenda: July 24, 1965]


There is a purpose in each stumble and fall;
Nature’s most careless lolling is a pose
Preparing some forward step, some deep result.
Ingenious notes plugged into a motived score,
These million discords dot the harmonious theme
Of the evolution’s huge orchestral dance.

Sri Aurobindo, Savitri – II: The Dream Twilight of the Earthly Real

See Also

  1. Why bad things happen to good people?
  2. Are earthquakes due to Divine retribution?
  3. Karma can be changed. Your destiny is in your hands
  4. Gita Chapter 18, Verse 60-61: The illusion of free-will
  5. How to rise above the ordinary life?
  6. Sri Aurobindo and the Mother on Astrology 
  7. The occult spirits which influence our actions
  8. How to make the right choice when faced with a serious decision
  9. Jnana Yoga : the ego blocks that have to be dissolved
  10. Is fear and awe of God necessary?


  1. Sri Aurobindo.  SABCL vol 16.   The Supramental Manifestation.   (Most of this article is drawn from the section entitled The Problem of Rebirth.)
  2. SatpremSri Aurobindo or the Adventure of Consciousness.  Sleep and Death, p 122. (amazon)

51 thoughts on “The Aurobindonian model of Karma

      1. pradeep

        I would be grateful if you can answer my question or point me to some on-line material where I can get the answer.
        As I understand, pain and suffering are two different things. Pain is inevitable, but suffering depends on the individual consciousness. People endure pain and suffer because of the effect of Karma. Spiritual personalities who have attained self-realization, are beyond the effects of karma.

        My question is, why do great spiritual personalities such as Ramakrishna paramahansa, Swami Vivekananda or for that matter Sri Aurobindo etc. had to endure physical pain and discomfort during the last days of their life?


      2. Lars

        One explanation is that these masters were not suffering their own karma, but rather the karma of their disciples or even of the world. With SA it seems likely that because he was working to radically transform his physical body down to the very cellular level there was bound to be resistance in his physical form to such a powerful transformation. It is also likely that because he did a lot of work against the evils that were terrorizing the world (such as Hitler) that he was also bound to suffer a certain amount of world karma in order to transmute it. In the case of other enlightened Yogis, like Ramana Maharshi, you’ll find that, if you read enough about his death, that his cancer was clearly the result of his suffering the karma of his disciples. Traditionally a master will do this in order to burn off his disciple’s karma so that he can help speed up the process (for lack of a better term) of self realization.

      3. Sandeep Post author

        To add to what Lars already explained, there is a book by T. Kodandarama Rao called “At the Feet of the Master” published by SABDA in Pondicherry. In this book, Rao describes a dream he had just before Sri Aurobindo passed away. In this dream, he saw a great being of Light going away and as he goes away, he washes away the darkness in the beings around him. Sorry don’t remember the exact words.

        Great spiritual personalities are like “oceans of light”. The disciple becomes part of the Guru’s consciousness after “diksha” (initiation) and the Guru as an act of Grace can take on the Karma of the disciple. The Mother used to call this Guru-disciple bond as the “golden chain”.

        “Whoever gets my touch, whoever has a second of true aspiration, true love for me, he is finished for life, for all lives – he is bound to me. I have put a golden chain round his neck, his heart is bound eternally to me.” — Mother

        Amal told me that the Mother said if someone came to her even once she did two things: She linked their outer being to their psychic being and the other was that she put out an emanation of Herself to go with that person for all of their lifetime. That emanation would go out in accordance with the spiritual needs of the sadhak.

        second quote from

      4. amsha

        He accepted suffering to transform suffering into the joy of union with the Supreme.
        A Talk By The Mother On Savitri

      5. mw

        “Whoever gets my touch, whoever has a second of true aspiration, true love for me, he is finished for life, for all lives – he is bound to me. I have put a golden chain round his neck, his heart is bound eternally to me.” — Mother

        Is this still in effect now (after both their departures – SA & M) ?

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  3. Sandeep Post author

    Some verses from Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri on Karma

    Nothing we think or do is void or vain;
    Each is an energy loosed and holds its course.
    The shadowy keepers of our deathless past
    Have made our fate the child of our own acts,
    And from the furrows laboured by our will
    We reap the fruit of our forgotten deeds.
    But since unseen the tree that bore this fruit
    And we live in a present born from an unknown past,
    They seem but parts of a mechanic Force
    To a mechanic mind tied by earth’s laws;
    Yet are they instruments of a Will supreme,
    Watched by a still all-seeing Eye above.
    A prescient architect of Fate and Chance
    Who builds our lives on a foreseen design
    The meaning knows and consequence of each step
    And watches the inferior stumbling powers.

    (Savitri, Book IV, Canto IV)

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  6. Sandeep Post author

    If we go by the conventional view of Karma, one would think that when someone’s body has been deformed, it must be due to some crime in a past life? The Mother rejects this simplistic model, which she says is erroneously derived from human models of justice.

    Question: … when the body has been deformed by illness?

    Mother: That may be an accident, you know. Accidents are due to many things; in fact they are the result of a conflict of the forces in Nature, a conflict between the forces of growth and progress and the forces of destruction. When there is an accident, an accident that has lasting results, it is always the result of a more or less partial victory of the adverse forces, that is, of the forces of disintegration, disorganisation. It depends.

    There are teachings, like that of theosophy for instance, which take Karma in an altogether superficial and human sense and tell you: “Oh! You have met with this accident because in a former life you did something bad, so that comes back upon you in the form of an accident.” This is not true, not at all true. This is but human justice, it is neither the justice of Nature nor the justice of the Divine.

    (Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 6, pp 1-2)

  7. Sandeep Post author

    Born with a silver spoon; a Rothschild: Some people have chosen to be born in a wealthy family where their capability of enterprise and business can be developed. Then again, there are also cases where some dull, lazy person is born rich and lives an easy life that he doesn’t seem to deserve. How to explain such cases? I don’t know!

    The situation that I raised above has been answered by the Mother. She says people exchange one possibility for another – you go farther from the truth.

    Question: Mother, why do these people receive the force, since the Divine knows that they are not sincere?

    Mother: Listen, my child, the Divine never goes by human notions in His ways of acting. You must get that well into your head, once and for all. He probably does things without what we call reasons. But anyway, if He has reasons they are not the same as human reasons, and certainly He does not have the sense of justice as it is understood by men.

    For example, you imagine very easily that a man who is craving for wealth and tries to deceive people in order to get money… According to your idea of justice, this man ought to be deprived of all his wealth and reduced to poverty. We find that usually just the opposite happens. But that, of course, is only a matter of appearances. Behind the appearances, there is something else…. He exchanges this for other possibilities. He may have money, but he no longer has a conscience. And, in fact, what almost always happens is that when he has the money he desired, he is not happy…. And the more he has, usually the less happy he is! He is tormented, you see, by the wealth he has gained.

    You must not judge things from an outer success or a semblance of defeat.We may say—and generally this is what almost always happens—we could say that the Divine gives what one desires, and of all lessons this is the best! For, if your desire is inconscient, obscure, egoistic, you increase the unconsciousness, the darkness and egoism within yourself; that is to say, this takes you farther and farther away from the truth, from consciousness and happiness. It takes you far away from the Divine. And for the Divine, naturally, only one thing is true—the divine Consciousness, the divine Union. And each time you put material things in front, you become more and more materialistic and go farther and farther away from full success.

    But for the Truth that other success is a terrible defeat…. You have exchanged truth for falsehood!

    To judge from appearances and apparent success is precisely an act of complete ignorance. Even for the most hardened man, for whom everything has apparently been successful, even for him there is always a counterpart. And this kind of hardening of the being which is produced, this veil which is formed, a thicker and thicker veil, between the outer consciousness and the inner truth, becomes, one day or another, altogether intolerable. It is usually paid for very dearly—outer success.

    (Mother’s voice becomes extremely deep.) One must be very great, very pure, have a very high and very disinterested spiritual consciousness in order to be successful without being affected by it. Nothing is more difficult than being successful. This, indeed, is the true test of life!

    When you do not succeed, quite naturally you turn back on yourself and within yourself, and you seek within yourself the consolation for your outer failure. And to those who have a flame within them—if the Divine really wants to help them, if they are mature enough to be helped, if they are ready to follow the path—blows will come one after another, because this helps! It is the most powerful, the most direct, most effective help. If you succeed, be on your guard, ask yourself: “At what price, what cost have I bought success? I hope it is not a step towards…”

    (Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 6, pp 238-239)

    1. mwb6119

      The above quotation from Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 6, pp 238-239 continues (briefly) onto page 240:

      “There are those who have gone beyond this, those who are
      conscious of their soul, those who have given themselves entirely,
      those who — as I said — are absolutely pure, disinterested, and
      can succeed without its affecting and touching them; here, then,
      it is different. But one must be very high to be able to bear
      success. And after all, it is perhaps the last test which the Divine
      gives to anyone: “Now that you are noble, you are disinterested,
      you have no egoism, you belong only to me, I am going to make
      you triumph. We are going to see if you will hold out.”

      *I thought it was significant to this discussion.

      1. gopal.M

        you are not just fighting pain and lack of success but also this constant necessity to arrive at the self dynamis in everything in every situation that Life throws up at you, and more than success it is this moment the self inside, waits for.. and to arrive at that in this spirit of the brahman the routes may be different but the destination is the same. an instance of this i found it in Mothers tales in words of Long ago – where she describes the story of Viswamitra the fiery sage and that of the vasishta the brahma Rishi.

  8. Sandeep Post author

    Justice in this world

    Disciple: Is there no justice for the misdeeds of people like S, V and N? Surely they will have to bear the consequences of their actions? And yet how is it these people succeed in life?

    Sri Aurobindo: Justice in this life? May not be. Most probably not. But justice is not what most people believe it to be. It is said that virtuous people will have happiness, prosperity etc. in another life while in this life they have the opposite effects. In that case, the people you speak of must have been virtuous in their previous life. There is justice in the sense that the virtuous and pious people advance towards Sattwic nature while the contrary one goes down the scale of humanity and become more and more Asuric. That is what I have said in the “Arya.”

    (At this moment Mother came in and asked what was the subject of talk.)

    Sri Aurobindo replied that X was asking about justice, –whether it exists. After some moments’ pause Mother said: “Of course, there is justice; these people suffer, they are tormented and not happy within. But that unhappiness does not seem to change them. They go from worse to worse; yes; but in some cases as the divine pressure goes on acting, at some time, especially during some impending catastrophe, suddenly some change takes place in these people. We saw a number of people like that. e.g. those who were trying to persecute Sri Aurobindo.

    Disciple: You have said in your Prayers that justice exists. One cannot avoid the law of Karma except by Divine Grace.

    Sri Aurobindo: N. may be a scoundrel but he has capacity and cleverness and so he will surely succeed. It is that capacity and cleverness that succeeds in life not virtues etc.

    Disciple: To cheat people and get money? Is it cleverness?

    Sri Aurobindo: Of course, it is cleverness or you may say, misuse of cleverness. But I don’t say that cleverness will not have its consequences, but at the same time it is these qualities that succeed in life.

    (A.B. Purani Evening Talks, 11 December, 1938)

  9. mike

    “When you do not succeed, quite naturally you turn back on yourself and within yourself, and you seek within yourself the consolation for your outer failure. And to those who have a flame within them—if the Divine really wants to help them, if they are mature enough to be helped, if they are ready to follow the path—blows will come one after another, because this helps! It is the most powerful, the most direct, most effective help. If you succeed, be on your guard, ask yourself: “At what price, what cost have I bought success? I hope it is not a step towards…”

    ln that case l’m glad l’ve never been successful at anything LOL.
    l seem to have been humiliated most of my life. lt’s like l get one nice experience and straight after l get a slap in the head [or vice versa] – as if to create a balance.
    l feel as if l’ve been tormented mentally and physically for years – it certainly like one blow after another, as the Mother says above. That might be my own fault of course, but if l’m on the path it could equally be the Divine Grace as well.

    1. Sandeep Post author

      If it is any consolation, this exchange might help:

      Nagin: I fail to understand how the ancient Yogis managed to spend their whole lives in only one pursuit — self-realisation? Is it really such a long process?

      Sri Aurobindo : It is not a long process? The whole life and several lives more are often not enough to achieve it. Ramakrishna’s guru took 30 years to arrive and even then he did not claim that he had realised it.

      (Nagin Doshi, Guidance from Sri Aurobindo, vol 2)

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  11. Kai

    //Mother: That may be an accident, you know. Accidents are due to many things; in fact they are the result of a conflict of the forces in Nature, a conflict between the forces of growth and progress and the forces of destruction. When there is an accident, an accident that has lasting results, it is always the result of a more or less partial victory of the adverse forces, that is, of the forces of disintegration, disorganisation. It depends.//

    At times accidents happen during the pilgrimage itself. Often we hear, read about accidents in which happen during a visit for a holy place/shrines. Am wondering why the Deities didn’t protect the victims who are on their way back/forward worshiping the Deity.

    If the Deities are powerless to protect their own devotees from fatal disasters then whats the
    point in worshiping THEM.

    Also we hear numerous stories in which people narrowly escape from fatal events and they believe that their beloved Deity saved them and it may be true.But why on some cases and not in others.Its all confusing.

    From the above quote from Mother, It seems like one is acted upon by numerous, conflicting positive and negative Forces.But not sure how the Deities Think or Act with respect to the Devotees and their Life.

    1. Sandeep Post author

      True. Its an intangible problem – determining if you were saved because of some Divine Intervention or not. At the instant when the putative miracle occurs, it does feel like a blessing but later you start having second thoughts. I guess its best to leave the matter open and wait for repeated demonstrations in order to determine if one is being protected or misled by chance events.

      I will say more in 2-3 days. Busy with something…

    2. Sandeep Post author

      Kai: But why (they help) on some cases and not in others.Its all confusing.

      No doubt they are capricious in their actions. One can’t reduce their actions to deterministic logical rules. They give opportunities from time to time to test if the human being is willing to take the plunge. Sometimes a link is established from our heart to the greater Power and one benefits their protection; at other times, the link seems severed.

      Kai: But not sure how the Deities Think or Act with respect to the Devotees and their Life.

      Its probably a lottery system. They watch patiently, giving opportunities to see when the individual is ready to give up his or her ego

      Kai: whats the point in worshiping THEM.

      Because it is useful in spiritual evolution. It serves as a path to the Divine. We all start off as insecure and selfish human beings struggling in the midst of life who seek the help of a greater power; when our wishes are granted by some Deity, we begin to feel closer to Divine. Then we start aspiring to be better people in order to please the Diety and this progresses until we suddenly find ourselves on the spiritual path, willing to give up everything for the Divine.

      The Divine has created a classic “Bait and Switch” plan, where you entice customers with a cheap product and then force them to buy a more expensive one.

      Sri Aurobindo has given a lucid explanation in the chapter on “The Godward Emotions” in the Synthesis of Yoga. Here it is:

      The efficacy of prayer is often doubted and prayer itself supposed to be a thing irrational and necessarily superfluous and ineffective. It is true that the universal will executes always its aim and cannot be deflected by egoistic propitiation and entreaty, it is true of the Transcendent who expresses himself in the universal order that, being omniscient, his larger knowledge must foresee the thing to be done and it does not need direction or stimulation by human thought and that the individual’s desires are not and cannot be in any world-order the true determining factor. But neither is that order or the execution of the universal will altogether effected by mechanical Law, but by powers and forces of which for human life at least, human will, aspiration and faith are not among the least important. Prayer is only a particular form given to that will, aspiration and faith. Its forms are very often crude and not only childlike, which is in itself no defect, but childish; but still it has a real power and significance. Its power and sense is to put the will, aspiration and faith of man into touch with the divine Will as that of a conscious Being with whom we can enter into conscious and living relations. For our will and aspiration can act either by our own strength and endeavour, which can no doubt be made a thing great and effective whether for lower or higher purposes, -and there are plenty of disciplines which put it forward as the one force to be used, — or it can act in dependence upon and with subordination to the divine or the universal Will. And this latter way, again, may either look upon that Will as responsive indeed to our aspiration, but almost mechanically, by a sort of law of energy, or at any rate quite impersonally, or else it may look upon it as responding consciously to the divine aspiration and faith of the human soul and consciously bringing to it the help, the guidance, the protection and fruition demanded, yogaksemam vahamyaham.

      Prayer helps to prepare this relation for us at first on the lower plane even while it is there consistent with much that is mere egoism and self-delusion; but afterwards we can draw towards the spiritual truth which is behind it. It is not then the giving of the thing asked for that matters, but the relation itself, the contact of man’s life with God, the conscious interchange. In spiritual matters and in the seeking of spiritual gains, this conscious relation is a great power; it is a much greater power than our own entirely self-reliant struggle and effort and it brings a fuller spiritual growth and experience. Necessarily, in the end prayer either ceases in the greater thing for which it prepared us, — in fact the form we call prayer is not itself essential so long as the faith, the will, the aspiration are there, — or remains only for the joy of the relation. Also its objects, the artha or interest it seeks to realise, become higher and higher until we reach the highest motiveless devotion, which is that of divine love pure and simple without any other demand or longing.


  12. Pingback: Rape victims and Karma | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  13. Sandeep Post author

    Every sage or school of philosophy (Jain, Buddhism, Advaita Vedanta) offers a slightly varying interpretation of Karma. Karl Potter has summarized the variations and sought to classify them in a paper How Many Karma Theories Are There? Journal of Indian Philosophy, Volume 29, Numbers 1-2, April 2001 , pp. 231-239(9). Also at

    Passage from the paper:

    The karmic situation we are dealing with involves a relation between four fundamental types of components. Let us call them A, B, C and D. As, known in Sanskrit as karman, consist of one or more actions. Bs, known in Sanskrit as karmaphala or karmavipaka, must have or involve affective value, be contrastable as pleasant or painful, satisfying or frustrating, etc. “C” will stand for the link between A and B, a causal relation which may or may not be incorporated into something more metaphysically specific like a substance, a disposition or whatever. Ds, finally, will stand for possible additional causal factors which combine with A and C to produce B. I take these specifications of the first three types of factors to be definitive of karma theories in the sense that the occurrence of events of these types constitutes a necessary condition for a karmic situation. Ds are by contrast an optional addition, but important in some accounts of karma.

  14. Sandeep Post author

    [Conversation dated 7 JANUARY 1941]

    DR. MANILAL : Does the killing of mosquitoes come in the way of spiritual attainment, Sir?

    SRI AUROBINDO: Whose attainment? Of the mosquitos? (Laughter)

    DR. MANILAL .; No, Sir, our attainment?

    SRI AUROBINDO: No, it may be for the mosquitoes because you kill them before they have exhausted their mosquito propensity. But why that question?

    NIRODBARAN: Gandhian ahimsa, perhaps, or Jain virtue and vice.

    SRI AUROBINDO : It may take away from ethical qualities but it has nothing to do with spiritual principles.

    DR. MANILAL: In medical practice we may sometimes be liable to kill patients because of our lack of knowledge, negligence, etc. Are we responsible for the deaths?

    SRI AUROBINDO: If they are due to negligence, yes, but not if they are due to lack of efficiency or knowledge. It is the spirit or intention that is more important than the act.

    NIRODBARAN: But is ignorance excusable?

    SRI AUROBINDO: If one is ignorant and goes on committing mistakes in his ignorance, then he can’t be excused. But if his intention is good, his lack of knowledge doesn’t make him responsible for his mistake. I am not speaking of those people who make experiments on patients.

    (Nirodbaran, Talks With Sri Aurobindo Vol 2, p 1013,)

  15. Sandeep Post author

    Disciple: As regards the theory of Karma, are all our sufferings determined by our past actions?

    Sri Aurobindo: What do you mean by your question? In a sense everything in our life is determined by our past.

    Disciple: I refer to the ordinary view of karmabhoga that if a man causes some suffering or loss to somebody, he will himself have to undergo similar suffering or loss.

    Sri Aurobindo: You have eaten many fishes — will you have to become a fish and be eaten by the fish you are?

    Disciple: The popular view is something like that.

    Sri Aurobindo: That is popular nonsense.

    (Some stories were told how persons are supposed to get reward and punishment appropriate to their past acts.)

    Sri Aurobindo: That is the Theosophist view. The idea of reward and punishment is human nonsense. What happens is that whenever any act is done, some energy is thrown out and there is a reaction on the doer. If a person does his works in the proper attitude —without attachment, as described in the Gita — allowing Nature to do her work without allowing oneself to be identified with that, then there is no reaction.

    It is the works done from the vital plane from desire which recoil on the doer. If one wants to develop his ethical being, he must follow the ethical laws and similarly with other beings. There is no question of reward and punishment. The soul gathers experience through all sorts of conditions of life. It is not only the “sinful” that suffer, but the fools also, however innocent, suffer. One must be able to take into account the forces that are at work and learn to shape his life accordingly. When he cannot adjust himself to these forces, he suffers and these sufferings constitute the experience of the soul in its upward path.

  16. Lars

    Thank you for this brief article. I will refer people to it as so many people I know don’t even have the slightest understanding of the philosophical concept we call Karma.

  17. Sandeep Post author

    If the satirical Onion magazine continues to produce such insightful and nuanced articles, it may render this blog irrelevant

    God Has Kind Of A Loose Outline For Us All

    There are times in life when we’re faced with challenges that seem insurmountable. We may feel lost and alone, abandoned in a world with no hope of relief and nowhere to turn. We may even feel as though life itself isn’t worth living. It’s important, at such times, to remember that God is always with us, and that He has sort of a loose outline in mind for each and every one of us.

    It may seem hard to believe, but from the moment you were born, God has had a few rough ideas sketched out just for you.

    People often have big aspirations about where they want to go in their lives or what they want to do, but life has a way of blowing us off course. So it’s easy to find yourself adrift in a sea of doubt, feeling rudderless or, even worse, struggling just to stay afloat. Well, whether you realize it or not, God has given a brief amount of thought to your life, and there’s an okay chance He knows where He’ll be taking you next. That’s because, somewhere in the back of His head, He’s already figured out the basic gist of what He has in store for you.

    Read more @

      1. Sandeep Post author

        I have a sneaking suspicion that the Onion article was inspired by this blog post 🙂

      2. Lars

        I suppose stranger things have happened… Aurobindo’s model of Karma gives me more confidence in how I approach astrology…. His perspective is always a breath of fresh air for me!

  18. mike

    ““Whoever gets my touch, whoever has a second of true aspiration, true love for me, he is finished for life, for all lives – he is bound to me. I have put a golden chain round his neck, his heart is bound eternally to me.” — Mother

    Is this still in effect now (after both their departures – SA & M) ?”

    Mark, l’m pretty sure this would apply whether SA and M are incarnate or not, otherwise very few would be accepted. l don’t believe the Divine Mother can be limited or confined to a physical dimension. l read somewhere that their Action or Work is even more powerful now..
    A few days ago l also read something interesting. She said in the Agenda about people doing Yoga [l assume She was referring to the lntegral Yoga, because it wouldn’t make sense otherwise – unless She means ppl who are commited practitioners]:

    “Satprem: It’s something that grows….

    M: It is the individual consciousness. Aspiration is almost always an expression of the psychic being – the part of us that’s organized around the divine center, the small divine flame deep within human beings.
    You see, this divine flame exists inside each human being, and little by little, through all the
    incarnations and karma and so on, a being takes shape around it, which Théon called the “psychic being.” And when the psychic being reaches its full development, it becomes a kind of bodily or at any rate individual raiment of the soul. The soul is a portion of the Supreme – the jiva is the Supreme in individual form. And since there is only one Supreme, there is only one jiva, but with millions of individual forms. This jiva begins as a divine spark – immutable, eternal and infinite too (infinite in possibility rather than dimension). And through all the incarnations, whatever has received and responded to the divine Influence progressively crystallizes around the jiva, which becomes more and more conscious as well as more and more organized. Ultimately it becomes a completely conscious individual being, master of itself and moved exclusively by the divine Will. That is to say, an individual expression of the Supreme. This is what we call the “psychic being.”
    Generally speaking, those who practice yoga have either a fully developed, independent psychic
    being which has taken birth again to do the Divine’s work, or else a psychic being in its last incarnation wanting to complete its development and realize itself.
    This is what aspires, this is what has the contact.
    So, when you’re told “become conscious of your psychic being,” it’s for the being formed by
    external Nature to contact the divine Presence through the psychic being. Then the psychic takes charge of the whole being; in fact, it is the inner Guide…. Well, when I was a little child, this “person” (which wasn’t a person, but an expression of a certain consciousness and will) was actually the psychic presence; there was something else behind, but that’s a rather special case. And what happened to me happens to everyone whose psychic being has deliberately incarnated: the psychic being guides your life, and if you let it act freely, it arranges ALL circumstances – it’s truly wonderful!… I have seen – not only for myself but for so many people who also had conscious psychic beings – that everything is arranged with a view to… not at all your personal egoistic satisfaction, but your ultimate progress and realization. And all circumstances of life, even those you call “disastrous,” are there to lead you where you have to go as swiftly as possible.
    Yours is more than a psychic being. As I have told you, your psychic being is accompanied by
    something which has come for a special purpose, with a particular intellectual power – a luminous, conscious power – which has come from regions higher than the mind, regions Sri Aurobindo calls the Overmind, to do a special work. It is here (gesture enveloping the chest and head) and, along with the psychic, it’s trying to organize everything. This, in your psychic, is what you are feeling. It must have great power…. Don’t you feel a kind of luminous force?”..

    1. mw

      Thank you Mike!

      “And what happened to me happens to everyone whose psychic being has deliberately incarnated: the psychic being guides your life, and if you let it act freely, it arranges ALL circumstances – it’s truly wonderful!… I have seen – not only for myself but for so many people who also had conscious psychic beings – that everything is arranged with a view to… not at all your personal egoistic satisfaction, but your ultimate progress and realization. And all circumstances of life, even those you call “disastrous,” are there to lead you where you have to go as swiftly as possible.” [There is a similar statement by the Mother that A.S. Dalal highlighted in several of his books.] “But it [the Psychic] will create for you all the circumstances necessary to awaken something in you so the need of union with the Divine may be born in your consciousness. At times you have made plans, and if they have succeeded, you would have been more and more encrusted in your outer ignorance, your stupid little ambition and aimless activity. Whilst if you receive a good shock, and the post you coveted is denied to you, the plan you made is shattered, and you find yourself completely thwarted, then, sometimes this opposition opens to you a door on something truer and deeper. And when you are a little awake and look back, if you are in the least sincere, you say: “Ah! it wasn’t I who was right — it was Nature or the divine grace or my psychic being who did it.” It is the psychic being which organised that.” CWM 5:394-95

      I believe I was abducted by this Yoga (I hope “abducted” is not too strong a term lol). It did not come to me by deliberate effort, i.e., I was not looking for it and I had no introduction to Yoga in any way. It was once introduced to me and then years later (after I had forgotten about it almost completely) I received a rather strong interior indication directing toward this Integral Yoga specifically. Now that the inner-being has established itself in the consciousness this is clearer to me, but before it was more or less “wishful thinking.”

  19. Sundar

    Great Blog! I had a doubt… From what I understand, Sri Aurobindo mentions those 3 modes (Chcking egoistic excess, Law of Talion, Like creates Like) modes as the sometimes operational transitional lines of Karma where there’s a correspondence between mental world which demands a just symmetric correlation expressed as moral or ethical principles and the vital domain which classifies pleasure and happiness as good and the opposite as bad… But he seems to imply these are not the major modes of Karma which seems to be dictated only by the need for each soul’s growth… Just thought it might have been good to point that in your post… But maybe I m wrong or mistaken or incomplete in my undrestanding… If that’s the case, I would be grateful if you could kindly elucidate more and even enlighten us about other modes of Karma than these 3 that Sri Aurobindo or Mother talk about anywhere else… Thank you!

    1. Sandeep Post author

      Some of the other modes are mentioned in the section “Explaining Life using Karma”. A complete answer would require combing through the works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.

      It is better not to offer ready-made answers to such deep questions. Better to let each soul discover the answer in the course of time through introspection and contemplation.

  20. Peter

    I was reading an ibook, “The Yoga of Sri Aurobindo” by Kanta Gupta Nolini.
    He states that Aurobindo has said “The karma of others may fall upon you, unless you have the inner knowledge, the vision and the necessary power”. I cant find in his actual writings where he deals with this specific issue. Sound familiar?

    1. Sandeep Post author

      The Guru can take on the Karma of others in order to cleanse them. The Mother mentioned that

      Intellectually, I don’t at all believe in taking others’ misfortunes upon oneself—that’s childish. But certain vibrations in the world must be accepted, exhausted and transformed.

      Can you post the complete passage ? I dont have the book so I cannot tell the context of this sentence

  21. Peter

    He (Nolini Gupta) was talking about how some people some to attract safety or harm. And then goes on:

    “If you look at the thing in an ordinary way, you do not notice it. You must be very careful about your associations. An unfortunate association may prove disastrous to you. Th karma of others may fall upon you, unless you have the inner knowledge, the vision and the necessary power. If you see a person with something like a dark whirl around avoid them a all costs. The moral of it all is that it is very useful to look not things a little more deeply than to observe the surface only.”

    I take this more to mean that we can be influenced by the vital of others, they are angry we become angry, they are pessimistic we become pessimistic. And then at a deeper level we begin to attract corresponding misfortunes.

  22. mike

    Yes exactly. These two letters point out the danger of wrong sympathy:


    “Yes, it is dangerous [to sympathise with anyone gone wrong], because it puts one in touch with the adverse Force that upset him and that Force at once tries to touch you and make its suggestions and contaminate by a sort of contagion or infection.


    By the sympathy you get into contact and receive what is in the other – or also you may give or let go or have drawn from you part of your force which goes to the other. It is the vital sympathy which has this effect; a calm spiritual or psychic goodwill does not bring these reactions.”

  23. Sandeep Post author

    So long as you have not learned the lesson the past had to teach you, it comes back on you. Notice carefully what kind of remembrances come, you will see that they are connected with some psychological movements in you that have to be got rid of. But you must be prepared to recognise all that was not right in you and is still not corrected, not allow any vanity or self-righteousness to cloud your vision.

    1. Sandeep Post author

      from same page

      It is not a question of pardon or punishment. The past can be effaced, but only if it is sincerely rejected from within and repaired and atoned for by a change which gets rid of the movements that caused it. A merely external submission, punishment or pardon are of no use. Otherwise the past prolongs itself into the present and the future. To get rid of the self-justifying mind and the mixture of motives in the vital is what would prevent that and give the psychic being a chance.

      You ask how you can repair the wrong you seem to have done. Admitting that it is as you say, it seems to me that the reparation lies precisely in this, in making yourself a vessel for the Divine Truth and the Divine Love. And the first steps towards that are a complete self-consecration and self-purification, a complete opening of oneself to the Divine, rejecting all in oneself that can stand in the way of the fulfilment. In the spiritual life there is no other reparation for any mistake, none that is wholly effective. At the beginning one should not ask for any other fruit or results than this internal growth and change—for otherwise one lays oneself open to severe disappointments. Only when one is free, can one free others and in Yoga it is out of the inner victory that there comes the outer conquest.


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