Karma and Dharma and Choice and Fate

  • Title: Contemplations, Karma and Dharma and Choice and Fate.
  • Author: Arvindus.
  • Publisher: Arvindus.
  • Copyright: Arvindus, 2016, all rights reserved.
  • Index: 201608291.
  • Edition: html, first edition.


In this contemplation we shall distinct between the Eastern concepts of karma and dharma and relate them to the more Western concepts of choice and fate (or destiny). To do this much work has already been completed in earlier contemplations. In 'An Interpretation of the Bhagavadgītā, Chapter IV, Śloka 18' was karma already mentioned as action and as the law of cause and effect.1, 2, 3 Karma as action was thematized as being constituted of wrong action and wrong unaction (for unaction was regarded as action too), which were divided into good action and bad action. These good and bad actions then were mentioned to result in pleasant or unpleasant reactions. In 'Choice and Karma' was karma equaled to choice.4 In this way karma and choice had to be understood in their wider connotation as being consistent of a subjective cause, an action, an objective cause, an objective effect, an experience, and a subjective effect. Let us tabulate our findings on karma in the aforementioned contemplations combined in figure 1.

Wrong (Un)Action
Good Subjective Cause Bad Subjective Cause
Good Action Bad Action
Good Objective Cause Bad Objective Cause
Pleasant Objective Effect Unpleasant Objective Effect
Pleasant Experience Unpleasant Experience
Pleasant Subjective Effect Unpleasant Subjective Effect
Wrong (Un)Experience

Figure 1.

In figure 1 we see how a good subjective cause through a good action and a good objective cause leads to a pleasant subjective effect through a pleasant objective effect and a pleasant experience, and how a bad subjective cause through a bad action and a bad objective cause leads to an unpleasant subjective effect through an unpleasant objective effect and an unpleasant experience. And all these fall under wrong (un)action and wrong (un)experience (the latter only in this contemplation added for completion).

Now besides wrong (un)action is also right (un)action possible. And this is how dharma was defined.5, 6 And this right action was considered as actually being inaction. And it may be added here that such an inaction must fall together with an inexperience. For dharma is of a completely different level than karma. We may complete the tabulation then as in figure 2.

Wrong (Un)Action Right (Un)Action
Good Subjective Cause Bad Subjective Cause No Subjective Cause
Good Action Bad Action Inaction
Good Objective Cause Bad Objective Cause No Objective Cause
Pleasant Objective Effect Unpleasant Objective Effect No Objective Effect
Pleasant Experience Unpleasant Experience Inexperience
Pleasant Subjective Effect Unpleasant Subjective Effect No Subjective Effect
Wrong (Un)Experience Right (Un)Experience

Figure 2.

In figure 2 we see that dharma with its right (un)action has no subjective cause, no action (in the sense of good or bad), no objective cause, leading thus to no objective effect, no experience (in the sense of pleasant or unpleasant), and no subjective effect, and that it does lead to a right (un)experience.

Now since karma was equaled to choice, since choice is one constituent of the threefold of accidence, choice and fate, and since dharma is of a different level than karma is it sensible to equal dharma to one of the mentioned Western concepts that is placed on a different level than choice. And fate (or destiny) fits that task well. For as choice consists of direction, beloving and purpose so does fate consist of destiny, belonging and being. That this threefold of fate fits with dharma shall be made clear. Dharma regards not only the action that is right but also the action that befits one.7 Like it is the dharma of fire to be hot there is also a certain dharma that befits an individual. For Arjuna at Kurukshetra it was for instance his dharma to engage in battle.8 And so do we all have our own particular dharma. To go astray from our dharma means to leave right action and inaction and to engage in wrong action, be it good or bad, and thus to generate karma. For there is a certain mode of action that befits us and that doesn't generate karma. Now to bring up the example again of the fire that befits it to be hot it can also be said that fire is destined to be hot, belongs to be hot, and that to be hot is engrained in its very being. And likewise is every individual destined to act along certain lines and in certain manners and do these certain lines of action belong to his very being. So what in previous contemplations has been called 'fate' (or 'destiny') with its threefold of destiny, belonging and being can be equaled to the term 'dharma'. As karma equals choice so does dharma equal fate.

When we take the above in consideration it must be remembered that some of the terminology that is applied to the concept of dharma is derived from the terminology that is applied to the concept of karma. Terms like 'inaction' and 'inexperience' that apply to the level of dharma are derived from the terms 'action' and 'experience' as they are understood on the level of karma. That the terms that are attached to dharma may be somewhat difficult to understand has to do with the given that our language is the medium of communication designed by and for those that are functioning on the level of karma, choice and the thereto related (self-)consciousness.9 Neologisms and sometimes even circular and paradoxal phrases then need to be utilized to express what normally cannot be expressed in our language.

Overlooking the above considerations the question may dawn which Eastern concept may be equalled to our Western concept of accidence. For in earlier contemplations the concepts of fate and choice were coupled with that of accidence. And with dharma equalled to fate and karma to choice a third Eastern concept may be expected. Such a concept however doesn't really exist. There is no term of equal importance as 'karma' and 'dharma' found in the East to indicate accidence. Of course some translations may be found, but not as pivotal concepts like dharma and karma. This has probably to do with the fact that Eastern philosophy is in general directed at the practical transcendence of human consciousness, making an elaboration of the sub-human accidence of less practical use.

Thus we will leave this contemplation with the conclusion that where karma equals choice, dharma equals fate (or destiny).