Yesterday the book dropped a justice bomb that crime committed with full knowledge must incur less karma than a crime committed out of ignorance. This is not how modern justice works and is counterintuitive. Sāṅkhya’s explanation for this is easy – karma comes from acting in ignorance and is meant to complete our knowledge, so the more we know the less lessons we have to learn. This doesn’t explain our sense of justice, however, and in the rest of the chapter the author gives examples to show that our current understanding contradicts Vedic history.
He starts with Rāvana and Hiraṇyakaśipu, two demons with exceptional knowledge of dharma and how the world works, and yet they committed crimes like kidnapping, rape, or attempted murder of Hiraṇyakaśipu’s own son. In our justice they’d both get either life in prison or capital punishment (if they were in the US). In Vedic history they both were killed by the Lord Himself but they didn’t go to hell and achieved liberation instead. I’m not sure it’s a valid example because both these demons were “imported” directly from Vaikuṇṭha as Jaya and Vijaya for a preset number of appearances so they were going back regardless of what they did here.
Next the author gives an example of animals and our immediate reaction would be that animals don’t accumulate karma the way humans do – tigers are not punished for eating meat. On one hand it’s true, on the other hand it is also undeniable that animals have a very long road to full knowledge ahead of them and it’s this distance to perfection that is measured by karma, not the immediate punishment or even next life after the reincarnation.
Then we have an example of demigods who also make mistakes but there’s no question of them being sent to hell, which makes sense if we consider only the path from their level of ignorance when they commit mistakes to the full knowledge of God. It clearly does go through hell.
Other examples could include traditional systems of justice where person’s punishment depended not only on the nature of the crime but on his position. The higher it is, meaning signifying greater knowledge, the less punishment is there. I don’t think brahmanas were punished at all, except maybe for really heavy crimes.
From democracy point of view everybody must be seen as equal and different degrees of punishment for the same crime are seen as a form of abuse rather than actual justice. In democracy’s defense we can admit that in Kali yuga people get to occupy their position with little regard to their actual advancement so abuse is inevitable, but the principle still stands. Equality or not, but people of higher status will always get milder punishment, in part because we can’t inflict karma greater than they deserve and partly because even democratic justice system takes into account person’s previous acts. There’s a legal difference between a first time offender and a person with multiple convictions.
Another aspect is that crimes committed out of negligence should not be always ascribed to a single perpetrator. Let’s say you accidentally push someone into the street and he gets hit by a bus. You did not kill that person personally so if you get charged with manslaughter instead of murder it would not be due to your ignorance of that person’s presence but due to shared responsibility between you, the bus driver, the authorities responsible for the flow of traffic and adequate protection of the public in case of accidents. In short, it’s not as bad as outright murdering someone even if the outcome is the same.
The author traces this inverted assigning of punishment to Christianity. This means that, perhaps, JC was wrong or we misunderstood him – I don’t want to judge anyone here and don’t want to investigate this matter any further. Regardless of the source, this relaxed attitude affects science as well – since not knowing things is easily pardonable then science does not feel the urgency of discovering the truth. This manifests in a complete lack of moral responsibility for accepting a method that leads to perpetual ignorance – the acceptance that all our theories will always be incomplete.
Some of us hope that one day science will discover the theory of everything but that outcome looks impossible on philosophical grounds because our idea of what reality is and how it can be known rules out having complete knowledge as a principle. Without final goal in sight scientists aren’t in any hurry and they don’t realize that staying in ignorance is already punishable. To remedy this situation ignorance should be considered a crime.
The book then offers other arguments in support – people who repent and acknowledge their crime have their punishment shortened while those who still don’t realize their responsibility stay the full term. Modern legal systems contradict themselves here by seeking heavier punishment to those who are aware of their crimes before sentencing but then reducing sentences afterwards for gaining exact same knowledge. I guess they could say that repentance is not the same as awareness but we are talking about full knowledge, not just awareness. Complete knowledge should include not only awareness of the act itself but also of its effects and consequences for everyone involved. Stabbing with a knife leads not only to a loss of blood and victim’s death but also to a loss of a father, a husband etc. etc.
Karma should not be reduced to a mere punishment either – it isn’t a moral judgement on the part of God but an impartial measurement between person’s status and status of full knowledge. Karma is indifferent whether path to knowledge lies through hell or heaven. It’s us who value these paths differently, not karma. The author talks about karma as a gap between the reality and our perception of it. This gap is never infinite and, therefore, there cannot be eternal damnation. I don’t know where Christians got that idea either.
The law of karma is that this gap becomes new experiences in which our ignorance will be reduced. If we learn about God then we reduce this gap faster that if we learn some mundane lessons and so we “suffer” less. It’s like a school, the author says – people can learn faster or slower but upon graduation they all attain the same level of knowledge and “graduate” from material experiences. If we are too slow we have to repeat our classes and this repetition can be called transmigration of souls. That last step is a metaphor only, of course.
This completes the chapter on the theory of karma.