In the year 1972, a woman called Linda Darby successfully pulled through an escape from the Indiana State women’s prison. Linda had been sentenced to 30 years in prison for killing her second husband and setting their house on fire to cover up the crime. The escape was bloody in nature, in which she got hurt. She was on the run for more than 35 years. In that time, she managed to create an entirely new life for herself. In order to avoid being captured, she abandoned the family and the town she knew. She went to Pulaski in Tennessee and started her life all over again. She wondered how she managed to keep such a huge secret for over 30 years. Furthermore, she got married for the third time, had two children and eight grandchildren during the over three decades of life on the run. All she did after escaping from prison was to change her last name to McElroy and one digit of her social security number, apart from burying the truth. Her life as Linda McElroy went well and no one including her family members or neighbours ever got to know anything about her past. However, after she was arrested again, she said that the fear of being identified and caught had always troubled her.
On that fateful day in October 2007, she fixed the dinner and sat at the kitchen table. The doorbell rang. Her daughter went to answer the door. It was police officer Joe Robertson, whom they knew for over 30 years. The cop entered and showed Linda a picture and asked her if she knew the person in it. Linda held the picture in her hand and took a look at it. She realised that her time was up and said that it was her in the picture. At first, Joe could not believe what she said because he had known her for so long, but Linda said that she could sit there and lie the whole day, but eventually she would be identified simply because the fingerprints she left on the photograph would not lie. She admitted before her children that, back in 1970, she was accused and convicted of murdering her second husband.
Just as she could not escape the long arm of the law of the land, people who try to avoid settling their past Karma need to know that such an escape or waiver of Karmic settlement is not possible. Going to temples, praying, feeding crows on Saturdays or donating black bedsheets to poor people on Tuesdays do not and will not help settle past Karma, of which, the only way of clearing is by settling it. Just as the police officer Joe Robertson rang Linda’s doorbell that day, Karmic settlement too can happen to anyone any time, unannounced or without any prior intimation.
People who face sudden changes in their life that throw them into challenging situations need to comprehend that it is Karma catching up with them – it could be past Karma from the same Janma or from a former one. Karma is simply the principle of cause and effect and not of reward or punishment as taught in organised religions. This is because if it were rewards and punishments, there would have to be someone or some entity carrying out the actions of rewarding and punishing. As per Advaita Vedanta, there is no separate being that does anything, but it is an entire system personified as Brahman or Krishna that automatically runs based on natural laws of which that of Cause and Effect is one.
The Shloka 18:66 of the Srimad Bhagavad Gita is one in which Krishna asks Arjuna to give up all his ideas of righteousness and religion and to completely take refuge in Him, by doing which, he would be liberated from all his sins. In the case of Linda, how much ever she would have implored and pleaded before the law of the land, she would not have been allowed to go scot-free without serving her sentence. However, according to the law of Karma and as said in Shloka SBG 18:66, there is a possibility to erase all past Karma simply through Sharanaagati or total surrender before Krishna. So, what happens when a person offers Sharanaagati? Does he or she straightaway come out of the mess they are in? The answer is a strong NO. What happens is that when a person gives up their ego and their feeling of entitlement, and follows Dharma, the process of ‘deleting old unwanted or corrupt files’ from their subconscious mind begins. Remember, in Shloka 15:08, Bhagavan Krishna says that when the Atman leaves a body, it takes along with it, the mind and the five senses. There lies the answer. The past Karma of a person is recorded in one’s own mind and not in some ‘heavenly server’. Therefore, if we were to look at it logically, we could say that when we change our mind, we change our Karma. Isn’t such a thought far better than the idiotic and fatalistic ideas taught in organised theistic religions?
In an earlier post of mine on this site, I had written about His Holiness Shankaracharya Shri Chandrashekharendra Saraswati. When his followers who faced challenges in life asked him for help and guidance, he would tell them to pray and ask for more troubles in life! This would initially shock his followers but when they deeply thought over the advice, they would comprehend that their objective should not be to escape Karma but to settle it and to be done with it as quickly as possible, and that was the reason behind the sage’s advice to his devotees to literally ask for more troubles in life. Doing so alters the entire concept of prayer. Think about it. Many people sit down at the dining table and, just before beginning to eat, thank God for the food. What do they mean? Are they thanking God for the food they have been blessed with while millions of innocent children are starving to death? Or take the case of people who face legal troubles due to tax or other financial matters – do they ask God to let them off the hook? There is an old saying in Tamil, which, when translated, means,” The one who has eaten salt (in excess) must drink water (to clear the salt).” Similarly, people who face challenges need to understand that they are not being punished by anyone but are only experiencing Karmic reactions of their own actions and also that they need to learn from those challenges and set things right apart from creating better future Karma.
Chanting Mantras and going to temples do help in calming one’s own mind and shedding ego. Doing so helps them develop a nature of being modest, generous, kind, compassionate, loving, forgiving and empathetic to the challenges faced by others. This leads to sharing with others and tending to be altruistic. We were born with absolutely nothing and when we leave, we will take nothing with us. Whoever or whatever we have or do not have, are merely those we worked for or did not work for in the past. When people, properties, wealth, power and position leave you, bear in mind that they never belonged to you and when their time is over, they leave. It is a natural law. However, until they were with you, they certainly made your life richer with experience. One’s life as an individual is merely a short journey that the perishable body occupied by the Self takes for a fixed duration of time. The destination of the body is usually a hole in the ground or a hot pyre, however rich, powerful, good-looking, smart, educated or intelligent the person may be. Treating challenges as experiences that enrich life, changes everything. They are pages in one’s own book.
When faced with challenges, instead of praying to be spared from trouble, it would make more sense to be thankful for the Karma-balancing opportunities and to remember to wish and pray for being shown ways to clear past Karma as quickly as possible. Do not forget to record what you learned. Learning from challenges and refining oneself ensure that the challenges one has faced do not happen again. Learn from your experiences and share with others what you have learned. Knowledge and love, when shared, never reduce but undergo exponential growth.
Therefore, when faced with challenges in life, simply turn that switch in your mind to stop saying “Why me?” but start looking at challenges as great Karma-settling as well as wonderful learning opportunities which facilitate progress in one’s process of Karmic evolution by settling past Karma and building new positive Karma.
Jai Shri Krishna