In general, Westerners are intellectually oriented. Some of us wonder whether the doctrine of reincarnation, which Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) upholds, is true.
Our past is not confined to just what took place before this point in our lives; it includes our past lives also. Just as waves in the sea assume various shapes and characteristics, a jiva (individual soul) assumes different bodies, both in the past and future, according to its accumulated vasanas (latent mental tendencies). This understanding leads us to the doctrine of karma (action). We can see how some unrighteous people prosper and enjoy happy lives. Conversely, we can also see someone who has done many good deeds in this life experiencing sorrows for no apparent reason. If we take only the present life into account, the doctrine of karma might seem totally invalid. To understand the subtle nexus between cause and effect, we should approach the doctrine of karma with more subtle insight.
A jiva takes on different bodies as a result of actions performed in the past. Every individual experiences happiness and sorrow according to actions done in previous lives. As the wheel of life turns, past actions start bearing fruit. One cannot say exactly when or how they will bear fruit, or what it will be. That is a secret known only to God. Children, whether or not you believe this, the rules of karma will continue to operate. Only actions performed with a sense of doer-ship will bear fruit later. Actually, only actions done egoistically can be considered karma.
Although it is difficult to trace the origins of karma, it has an end. Karma ceases to be when the ego dies and one realises his true nature—the Self. However, it is not easy to get rid of the feeling, “I am doing.” It is possible only after one has crossed many lives and become detached from happiness and sorrow. God is moulding us through happiness and sorrow. This is a very slow and gradual process. Much sculpting, polishing and demolishing work is involved. Even so, it is not possible to understand fully the divine power at work behind this mysterious process; one must just believe. When our mind becomes pure and subtle through spiritual disciplines, we will be able to remember our own previous lives.
There is no point grieving over our past actions. It is a closed chapter. What is done is done. Let it be. What is important is the present moment, because our whole future depends on what we do today. At every moment, we should manifest the light of divine presence through our life. If we can do so, nothing will be able to bind us. Live in the present moment, in God, in one’s true nature. Doing so will eliminate the influence that the wheel of life has on us. It will destroy the fear of death. Nothing in this universe is accidental, not even creation. If it were, the whole universe would be chaotic. But the inherent order in nature and its extraordinary beauty indicate that behind the workings of the universe are an expansive heart and an intellectual power that the human mind can never fathom.
The very moment we realise God, we transcend the laws of karma. Even when experiencing intense pain caused by illness, mahatmas gave up their bodies with a smile on their faces. They embraced life with a beaming smile. Whether happiness or sorrow, they accepted everything in creation equally. That is why they were able to welcome even death with a smile. One who receives whatever comes his way with gratitude greets even death in the same way, for death is not the end of anything. Death is not an enemy of our Self. It is just the beginning of a new life.