Is Karma like a snake and ladder game?

Saint Gnyaneshwar

In the 13th century CE, there lived a Saint called Gnyaaneshwar (also written as Jnaneshwar), in the region of Aurangabad in present day Maharashtra. He and his siblings were learned people at a very young age. He wrote a commentary on the Srimad Bhagavad Gita in the Marathi language. His work was called Gnyaaneshwari. He is also known for another wonderful work in Marathi called Amrutaanubhav. The great Saint gave up his life at a tender age of 21 years through Jeevan Samaadhi.

Apart from all his writings, teachings and miracles, the blessed Sant Gnyaneshwar is also credited for creating the popular Snake and Ladders game. The game was called ‘Mokshapath’ which means the path to ‘Moksha’. Through this game he taught people that achieving Moksha or liberation can be achieved through right action. The ladders in the game signify going upwards in the process of Karmic evolution  through good virtues and deeds towards Moksha or liberation, while the snakes signify dark Karmic abysses that people fall into due to wrong deeds, words and thoughts.

However, the truth is that Karma is not completely like the snake and ladder game. A person who has risen to a higher position in the process of Karmic evolution, does not necessarily fall down again for committing a wrong deed unless it is a very serious one. It can be gleaned from the Bhagavad Gita, that people who have evolved spiritually, Karmically and intellectually, are relatively enlightened. They usually don’t commit sins that are grave enough to send them into a dark abyss to the bottom most levels of Karmic evolution which forces them to start all over again.

There are many common questions about Karma that people have which Arjuna too had. He was indeed blessed to have all his questions answered by Bhagavan Krishna Himself but we too are extremely fortunate because we have the possibility to learn through the Srimad Bhagavad Gita, the great divine knowledge that Bhagavan Kishna imparted to Arjuna. 

Many people, who are around thirty, forty or even fifty years of age are so deeply engrossed in impermanent worldly matters that they are hardly interested in spirituality. However, all of a sudden they find themselves in new situations or come into contact with people who show them the path to spirituality. This is certainly the result of the past Karmic level where they had stopped advancing in the previous Janma. Once the Atman finds its spiritual bearings again, the learning continues and the journey towards the Supreme Goal progresses.

Q . Why don’t people remember all that they learned in the previous Janma and why do they have to go through the entire learning process all over again?

Q. What happens to a person who has fallen from righteousness in one Janma? Does the person have to undergo all the pains and sufferings again?

A. Spiritual learnings are never forgotten because that is Knowledge for the Atman and it causes The Atman to evolve. What the Atman learns, raises it towards the Supreme Goal. On the other hand, all the languages, sciences and the abilities that people learn are what the physical brain learns and it is destroyed at the end of one Janma. However, whatever knowledge one acquires with extremely deep dedication and devotion, gets fused with the Atman. This is probably the case with child prodigies in music, art or in math, who, in spite of not having had any formal training, excel adults with years of education and training.

The question Arjuna asked Bhagavan Krishna and the answer the Bhagavan gave him can be found in the sixth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita. The part of the conversation between Bhagavan Krishna and Arjuna on this matter is given below.

SBG 6:37 Arjuna said : He who is unable to control himself although he has the faith, and whose mind wanders away from Yoga, what end does he meet, having failed to attain perfection in Yoga, O Krishna?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASBG 6:38 Fallen from Yoga and Meditation, does he not perish like a detached cloud without any support, being deluded on the path of the Ultimate Truth, O Krishna?

SBG 6:39 Please remove this doubt of mine completely, O Krishna, There is no one else who can remove it but You.

SBG 6:40 Bhagavan Krishna said: O Arjuna, neither in this world, nor in the next world is there destruction for him; because the one who does good, O My dear, never comes to evil.

SBG 6:41 After having attained the worlds of the righteous and after having dwelt there for many years, he who fell from Yoga, is reborn in the house of the pure and the prosperous.

SBG 6:42 Or he is born in a family of even the wise Yogis. Which is a kind of birth that is very difficult to obtain in this world.

SBG 6:43 There his previous divine consciousness is revived and he comes in contact with the knowledge acquired in his former body. He then works even harder in order to achieve perfection, O Arjuna.

SBG 6:44 With the divine consciousness from the previous birth, a person gets attracted to Yogic principles as they will come to him even if he does not go behind them. Such a person strives for yoga and is steadfast in Yogic principles.
Note : A person who has fallen from Yoga or the path of Self Realisation, is taken with the help of Yoga, towards his goal which he left incomplete in his previous birth. However, some past negative Karma may hold the person back from fully adopting Yogic principles.

SBG 6:45 But, the Yogi who strives sincerely, is purified of all sins and he is gradually perfected through many births and finally, he reaches the Supreme goal.

SBG 6:46 The Yogi is thought to be superior to the ascetics and even superior to men who have obtained knowledge by studying scriptures. He is also superior to men who are devoted to work. Therefore, be a Yogi, O Arjuna!

SBG 6:47 Among all Yogis, he who engages himself sincerely and with total faith in Me, worships me, will be purified of all sins and he will attain the Supreme Goal.

There are two wonderful verses from the second chapter of the Srimad Bhagavad GitaBhagavan Krishna which immensely help devotees in understanding the importance of maintaining a steady mind whatever be the situation. Bhagavan Krishna taught this to Arjuna even before going deep into explaining things to him.

SBG 2:55 Shree Bhagavan Krishna said:
One who gives up all desires of the mind, O Arjuna, and when one has a purified mind and is in a pure state of the soul, he is called a man of steady consciousness.

SBG 2:56 He who is not agitated or disturbed despite the threefold miseries (anger, fear and lust) or is also not euphoric when he has comforts, and he is free from attachment, fear and anger is a sage with a steady mind.

Karma is true. Past Karma cannot be erased but negative past Karma can be easily outdone by adding positive Karma.

ॐ सह नाववतु । सह नौ भुनक्तु ।
सह वीर्यं करवावहै । तेजस्वि नावधीतमस्तु मा विद्विषावहै ।
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥
Om saha nau-avatu | Saha nau bhunaktu |
Saha veeryam karavaavahai | Tejasvi naavadheetamastu maa vidvishaavahai |
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||
Om, may we all be protected | May we all be nourished
May we all work together with energy | May we all be enlightened and rise to a higher degree of intellect and may there be no hostility
Om, Peace, Peace, Peace.

ॐ सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः सर्वे सन्तु निरामयाः ।
सर्वे भद्राणि पश्यन्तु मा कश्चिद्दुःखभाग्भवेत् ।
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥
Om sarve bhavantu sukhinah | Sarve santu niraamayaah |
Sarve bhadraanni pashyantu | Maa kashcidduhkha-bhaag-bhavet |
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||
May all be prosperous and be happy | May all be free from illness.
May all experience upliftment | May no one Suffer.
Om Peace, Peace, Peace.

Jai Shri Krishna.