Lord Mahavir has given four principles to explain the law of karma. He divided the principle of karma in four lines to make it simple.
- I’m not the cause behind anyone’s happiness
- I’m not the cause behind anyone’s misery
- Nobody is the cause behind my happiness
- Nobody is the cause behind my misery
If we combine all the four lines into one then we’ll get this:
“I’m the sole cause behind my misery and happiness”
If any living being is happy or unhappy then it is because of itself. This principle cannot be understood from single aspect. If we believe that there is only one birth then it will create complexities. Our action by mind, speech and body accumulates karma particles (fine sub atomic particles) to us (sentient energy or soul) and whenever they depart they gives result, either good or bad depending on our intent at the time of accumulation. Now the fact is they depart the soul in a specific time and keeps the soul in the cycle of birth and death. It is possible that karma accumulated in this birth may give fruits after many births. That’s why we don’t understand why bad things are happening with us. That is happening with so many living beings, no matter how they are by nature in their present birth. Someone might be benevolent and compassionate person in present life yet he faces misery and sorrow in his life. If he doesn’t believe in reincarnation then he will think, “Why this happens to me? I haven’t hurt anyone; I wish the good for everyone then why I always face sorrow?”
In this way he will take God to be responsible behind his sorrow and will believe that his fortune is in God’s hand. But if he expands his thinking then perhaps he would realize that the root of misery is prepared in some of the previous births. That is reality. If there is no previous birth then everyone in this world would be in same status. We see in this world that someone is rich, someone is poor, someone is rich but isn’t well in study. Suppose there are two brothers, one does well in study and the other is dull. There are too many differences in this world, among people, animals, plants etc. All are alive, all possess souls. Some soul reincarnates as a flower, some reincarnates as human, some as four sensed insects or some as five sensed animals, all according to their own karma, the action done through mind, body and speech. Here, I have given two stories below to understand this more deeply.
(1) The first one is about Lord Mahavir. This was the 13th year of his spiritual pursuit and he hasn’t gained Omniscience yet. He was standing in Kayotsarg Meditation under a tree outside the village Grambhikgrama. It was evening time, then one cow herder passed by him who was returning home. Suddenly the cow herder remembered that he is missing something so he decided to go back. He was with his cattle so he thought he should keep the cattle here. He had not anything to tie the cattle. He saw a man (Lord Mahavir) standing in meditation. He didn’t know what that man was doing, he though he might be resting under a tree so he asked Lord Mahavir to look for the cattle and left that place without any answer from the Lord. The Lord was deeply engrossed in the highest form of meditation so he wasn’t aware of the outer world. Soon the cows also marched further and left the place. The cow herder returned after sometime and he didn’t find the cattle so he asked the Lord. The Lord didn’t reply. Upon enquiring for several times he became angry at Lord Mahavir. His anger was so high that he pierced sharp grass pegs in the Lord’s ears and pushed them with stone. The pain was very high but the Lord tolerated it silently.
Here we will become angry at the cow herder. The Lord, at first also thought that why this happened to him. What mistake he did in the past that he had to suffer this pain. Lord Mahavir was highly compassionate person from the time of his birth. He was born with three types of knowledge and he did never think bad for the others then why this happened to him? He wasn’t Omniscient at that time so his knowledge was limited but when he started to contemplate on this then he realized and recollected memories of his previous births.
He saw that few births before being born as Lord Mahavir, he had taken birth as Triprishtha Vasudev. He was a powerful king. One night he was listening music in his room. The sweet music was going on. Then Triprishtha ordered his door-keeper to stop the music when he falls asleep. Soon, King Triprishtha fell asleep but the door-keeper now absorbed in music forgot to follow his king’s order and the music was still going on. After sometime the King arose and found that the music was still going on. He became very angry because the door-keeper didn’t follow his order. So the king decided to punish him as his order was not taken seriously by him. The door-keeper begged to him for this minor fault but the king was very angry as he was in great pride for his power. He immediately ordered his men to pour hot melted liquid in the door-keeper’s ears. So this happened and the door-keeper died in agony because of the hot lead which was poured in his ears. At the time of death he decided to take revenge and developed rage for the King. The King reincarnated in the seventh hell (Pitch Dark Hued) after that life.
After taking several births the being of Triprishtha Vasudev took birth as Lord Mahavir. He purified his soul in the later births after life in a hell and destroyed much bad karma by strict austerities but still the karma of that birth (birth as Triprishtha) were still not destroyed and he had to suffer in the final birth. The cow herder was the being who was a door-keeper in that birth. He developed rage at Triprishtha Vasudev and took revenge by hammering grass sticks into Lord Mahavir’s ears. But in the final birth Lord Mahavir was awakened and tolerated this affliction silently and peacefully. He had realized that whatever happens is just because of our own actions. He gained Omniscience a couple of days after that event and became 24th Tirthankar of present age. If we see the whole matter then we realize that whatever happened was justice.
(2) Now the second story is about Monk Skandhaksuri. After becoming a monk he undertook strict austerities and meditation. He used to observe two days fast and would break it by accepting little food and again he would continue fasting. Thus he did since the day of renunciation. His body became very weak but his soul shone bright. He was rapidly removing karma and was feeling very happy in his inner world. He became very much conscious to his soul and least conscious to his body so he reached the higher stage of spiritual development.
One day he was meditating outside the town then two soldiers arrived. They were holding sharp axes in their hands. They told the monk, “As per our king’s order we are here to remove your skin”. The monk smiled at them and replied, “It’s your duty to follow your king’s order you may start removing my skin I’m staying here to make your task easier”.
Monk Skandhaksuri was highly developed soul who would see his body nothing more than clothes. The soldiers started to remove his entire skin but the monk even didn’t budge an inch. At that time he started to observe the pain and thought that this pain is not to me but it is to this external body. I’m not this body, not this pain but I am totally different substance, the soul. By contemplating this way he reached the highest form of spiritual meditation and gained the Absolute Knowledge, Omniscience. Soon after his Omniscience he left the body and attained Nirvana. But in his Omniscience, before attaining Nirvana he could see that why this happened to him. Just before starting his meditation he passed near the king’s palace. The queen was his sister. By seeing his brother wandering as an ascetic barefoot under scorching sunrays she became very upset and began to cry. Her husband, the King saw her crying and he saw the monk. He couldn’t identify the monk to be the queen’s brother. He thought in a different way and took the monk to be the queen’s lover. The king was in panic that he even didn’t ask anybody and just ordered the soldiers to remove monk Skandhaksuri’s skin. The monk, before he attaining Nirvana saw all this in his Omniscience and also extended this matter. He found the root of this and learned that in some of his previous births he had taken birth as a man. One day he was cutting a musk-melon. He had such a trick of cutting the fruits that he could cut the whole skin of a fruit at once. He cut the whole rind of the melon at once using a knife, but this time he felt proud of himself and said to his friends, “did you see that? How clever is my trick? How nicely I have removed the entire rind of this melon? Can you do like this?”
At that time he forgot that even a fruit is alive and posses a soul. It is one-sensed living being and feels pain whenever we remove its rind (skin or outer layer). If we feel sorry for that and be compassionate then we don’t bind strong karma. But if we feel proud and don’t repent for that then we bind strong karma (nikachit) and we have to pay for that in some of the future births. In that birth the being of Monk Skandhaksuri didn’t repent for that but he felt proud about his trick instead so he bound strong karma which came into action in his present birth. The soul that resided in the musk-melon reincarnated as a king after many births and so he killed the monk by removing the entire skin of his body. But the monk, now in the stage of higher spiritual meditation didn’t become angry but gained the Absolute Knowledge (Omniscience) and attained Nirvana. After his Nirvana, the king realized his mistake and he along with the queen renounced the world and became Omniscient in the end.
From the above two stories we can understand the law of karma. We can realize that whatever happens to us, either good or bad, is because of our own fault. In this case we should not become angry or happy at the cause because they’re just efficient causes, the root and the real cause behind that is ourselves. If we believe this and develop faith in this then we can attain perfect equanimity and liberation.