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6. 3. 2011

Punya karma  Meritorious Action

Man's future life is determined according to his activities.  The person who performs punya karma or pious activities in society attains a heavenly  abode after death, and the person who performs sinful activities suffers in hell.  Activities which lead to heavenly enjoyment are called punya (piety) and activities which lead to hellish suffering are called papa (sin).  The rules for accruing punya and the rules for eradicating papa together make up the rules for determining after-life. In all the punyas and varnasrama activities there is the factor of faith of the practitioner, which may be tamasika, rajasika or sattvika. That faith may be inclined either toward enjoyment of the world or towards renunciation of the world.  Those on the lowest stage are inclined to worldly  enjoyment.  Those slightly more advanced are inclined both ways.   Those most advanced dedicate themselves to renunciation of the world.1 Though there are  provisions for worshipping numerous devatas, the sattvika person worships only Bhagavan. As the vaisnava has no motive for sense gratification, he accepts only those actions which lead to the spiritual goal. 2  In the Gita, Krsna has said that the wise man should accept only those actions favorable to devotion and reject those which are unfavorable to devotion.3

In attempting to give a brief description and analysis of punya and papa is extremely difficult to classify them methodically. Some sages  have classified papa and punya according to bodily, mental, social and spiritual emphasis.  Others have classified them according to  bodily,  verbal and mental involvement. Others have classified them as bodily, sensual and mental. However all these classifications are less than perfect.  Here they will simply be divided into two groups:  constitutional  punyas (pertaining to the real nature of the jiva) and  conditioned punyas (relating to a relative bodily state).

Righteousness, truth, purity, friendship, honesty and affection are punyas of the first category, as they are found in the jiva's real nature; they are the eternal ornaments of the jiva.   In  conditioned state  of the jiva, as they become more gross in nature, these natural qualities of the soul are called punya.  The rest of the punyas are called conditioned, because they arise only because of the conditioned state of the jiva.  In the liberated state these punyas are not necessary  to perform. 

Sin is not a constitutional factor of the jiva, but rather takes shelter of the jiva in the conditioned state.   Some actions or states  are contradictory to the natural qualities (punyas) of the jiva: hatred, lying, cruelty, lust, envy, injustice.   All other sins are those contrary to the relative punyas.  As the discussion of papa and punya will be very brief, the constitutional and conditioned divisions have not been indicated. The papa and punyas have simply been enumerated with a little discussion.  But having been given the guidelines above, the reader can easily make the proper distinctions.

There are ten kinds of punyas:

assistance to others
service to elders
serving guests
cultivation of cleanliness
celebration of festivals
performance of vows
protection of animals
increase of population
proper conduct

Assistance to others is of two kinds: relieving others of distress and helping  others make progress. should help others as much as possible without distinguishing whether they are relatives or not. The same distress that befalls ourselves also comes to  others.  When a person is in difficulty, he thinks  that others should give him relief.  Thus one should try to relieve distress as if it were ones own. A person must attempt to relieve distress by putting aside ones own self interest, which may prevent one from acting.  One should try to remove other peoples' bodily, mental, social and spiritual difficulties.  Examples of bodily distress are sickness and hunger.  Examples of mental distress are anxiety, envy, lamentation, and fear.  Examples of social distress are inability to support the family, inability to give education to ones children,  inability to get them married, and lack of resources for cremation.  Examples of spiritual distress are lack of faith, atheism, and desire for sinful acts.  Just as one must relieve a person of distress, one should also try to elevate him.  One should help people progress physically, mentally socially and spiritually by offering monetary, physical,  and  verbal assistance, and by engaging that  person's relatives as well.

There are three types of service to elders: protection of parents, protection of teachers, and protection of other elders.  One must  follow the instructions of parents and serve them as much as is possible.  A person should serve those who have protected him as a helpless child; he should also service those who have given knowledge, especially those who have given spiritual knowledge and mantra.4 Those are considered  superior  who are bigger in body, greater in age or more experienced in knowledge.  One must respect and serve them all. One cannot follow incorrect orders of a superior but one should not show hostility towards him, using  disrespectful or harsh words. One should put a stop to their improper behavior or instructions  by using sweet words, humility, and  gentle reasoning  at the proper time.

Charity (dana) refers to giving money or materials to a suitable person.  Giving to an undeserving person is a worthless expense, and is considered a sin.   There are twelve varieties of charity: making water bodies or wells, planting trees to give shade and air, supplying lights, dispensing medicines, giving education, giving food, building roads, building ghatas, building houses, giving materials, giving the first portion of a meal, giving a daughter in marriage.5

One should give water to those who are thirsty.  If a thirsty person comes to ones house, one is obliged to give him drinking water.  Digging wells  and ponds for drinking water, after selecting a suitable place,  is  also an act of  punya.6  Wherever water is necessary, for instance at tirthas  where there is no river or water body,   wells should be dug.   One should plant huge trees such as asvattha on the sides of the road or river or at places of relaxation.  One should also plant tulasi and other holy trees in ones own house and at pure places.  These trees assist in bodily and spiritual health.   Lights should be installed at ghatas, on roads and narrow paths to assist night travelers when there is no moonlight.   By giving light in charity  a person earns heaps of  punya.  Raising lights during Kartika month is for beauty but does not aid the traveler, as they are too high to light the path.

In giving medical relief,  a person can go to the house and distribute medicine, or can have the sick persons come to a designated shop and receive free medicine.  A person should perform this punya with sincerity.  Students may be given education at ones expense.  Educating children  is a very important service.    Food distribution may be done at ones home or at designated place for the public.    Roads should be constructed  to places difficult to approach or to places which are inaccessible. Ghatas should be constructed on river banks or the banks of other water bodies for use by the general public. If a person also constructs  resting place at the ghata, or plants gardens, roof coverings or  temples, he gains addition merit.  Building a house for  a person who has no money  and nowhere to live  is a punya karma.  Giving materials should be done to qualified or deserving persons.  Before taking ones own food in the  house one should offer the first portion to another  person.  One should give ones daughter along with ornaments to a suitable person of the same varna.   

A person should show hospitality towards his guests and society as a whole.  The householder should take care to serve guests when they arrive at his house. In the scriptures it is directed that after preparing food the householder should go to his door and call out three times for persons who have not eaten. If anyone appears, he should feed tha person first, and  later eat along with his family.  There is a rule that one should call out  about an hour after noon, but in modern times it is difficult to remain without food till then.  Therefore whenever the food is ready, the householder should call out for hungry persons. This does not refer to feeding professional beggars. Social hospitality is performed by acts beneficial to society in general.

Purity refers to  cleaning the body, roads, ghatas, shops, cowsheds, temples, ones house, forests, and going on pilgrimage.   Personal cleanliness is both internal and external. Internal cleanliness, purity of mind, is accomplished by sinless actions and punyas. One should also eat and drink in regulated amount  food which is sinless and easy to digest.   By eating or drinking food touched by alcoholics or other sinful people the mind becomes impure.  Amongst all the methods for creating purity of mind, the chief is remembrance of Visnu.   For purifying the sinful mind there is prescription of prayascitta or atonement.  By such atonements, however, only the sinful reaction leaves the person.  The root is sinful desire. If  a person performs atonement with genuine remorse, the sinful desire will be removed, but the seed of all sin--hostility to the Lord--can be removed only by remembrance of the Lord.7  Other books should be consulted for the many aspects of atonement.    The mind is also purified by bathing in sacred rivers such as the Ganga and by seeing the deity. 

External cleanliness refers to maintaining purity of ones body, clothing, and house.  This external cleanliness is maintained by bathing in fresh water, wearing clean cloth and eating sattvika food. If the body touches contaminated objects, one should wash that part of the body.

A person should not only clean his own house, ghata, road, cowshed temple and yard, but the public roads, ghatas, shops, and temples in the town. If the town is large, the citizens should together raise funds  and maintain the cleanliness.  These acts generate punya.  A person should keep his private gardens clean, and contribute the cleanliness of public forests by the above mentioned method.   By going on pilgrimage men gain enormous purity. Though association with saintly  people is the final goal of pilgrimage, by the act of pilgrimage sinful desire is greatly reduced, and people feel purified.  

Festivals are of three types: those centered on deity worship, those centered on family affairs and those for public rejoicing.   Deity festivals are often observed, and without doubt they generate punya, as they include  a great gathering of people, feasting, musical performances, shows, food distribution of the needy, and giving gifts to the learned. If a person is capable of holding such festivals but avoids to do so, he is an offender.  Especially when these festivals are permeated with devotion to the Lord, they  must not be avoided.      There are many family occasions for festivals, such birthdays, feeding grains, marriage, and sraddha rites with sacrifices. A person is obliged to celebrate these functions to the best of his ability. A person should also sponsor fairs where the populace can gather for enjoyment.  There are also many social festivals such harvest festivals, pisthakotsava, sitalotsava, bhratrpuja.

Vratas or vows are of three types: bodily, social and spiritual.  Early morning bath, parikrama, paying obeisances, which relate to exercising the body, are bodily vows.  When one element of the body becomes disturbed, a person falls ill.  To prevent this there are many vows such as fasting on the new and full moon day or on Mondays.  By fasting  and refraining from normal activities on the prescribed days and controlling the senses, a person is made to concentrate on the Lord.  When it is necessary to fast in this way, a person gains punya by following  the prescribed procedures. 

The samskara rites  may be considered social vows.  According to the varna, these rites are performed with modification.  Other rites are prescribed for all men.  Marriage rites, in which one man marries a girl of the same varna,  are prescribed for all varnas. The vow of taking only one wife is essential, for any other marriage is simply due to lust. This tendency is exhibited in persons of low nature.  In exceptional cases, where there are no offspring, a second wife is allowed.

The monthly vows mentioned in Mahabharata and other similar vows such as the twenty four ekadasi fasts and fasting on the six appearance days (jayanti) such  Janmastami  are spiritual vows.  The sole aim of these vratas is spiritual advancement.  These will be discussed along with the  topic of bhakti.  Hari bhakti Vilasa describes these vratas in detail.

A person should strive for the upliftment of animals.  Without the help of animals, human life cannot go on properly.  Care should be taken to improve the form, strength and nature of animals. By selective breeding this can be accomplished.  This particularly applies to the cow.  With their help agriculture  and transport develop. Therefore strong and well formed bull must be selected for mating; for this reasons, during the sraddha ceremony young bulls are let loose.  By freely roaming, they become strong and big, and are able to produce good offspring.  Being of such service to the  family,  cows should be protected and nourished with proper food and housing.  Cow protection and rearing is well know  in India as very pious activity.

As  far as increasing the population goes, this is a pious activity when the offspring arise from legal marriage, when the offspring are raised and protected responsibly , when the offspring are led into stable married life, and when they are given spiritual education. After marrying a suitable person at a suitable age, a person should affectionately raise a family, following the rules for maintaining proper health and mind.8  By providence, children are born;  the parents should raise them with care, giving training and education.  When the children are older, they are taught a means of livelihood, and when  they are of suitable age, they are married and take up family life.   According to age, the children  should be taught rules for  bodily maintenance and cleanliness, morality and spiritual truth.   The most important teaching  is detachment from material life. 9

The following are parts of righteous conduct: forgiveness, gratitude, truthfulness, honesty, not stealing, not accepting from others,  mercy, detachment, respect for the scriptures, travel to holy places, proper judgment, courtesy, worship of the Lord and being steadily situated in work according to ability.    Giving up the desire to punish a person for committing an offense is called forgiveness or tolerance.  It  is not wrong to punish the offenders but forgiveness is an even higher principle.  Prahlada and Haridasa Thakura forgave their enemies and are worshipped as great examples by all.

To recognize the help that another person has given is called gratitude.  The Aryan civilization has such gratitude that the children would serve the parents as long as they lived, and when they died, they would undergo periods of austere restriction (asauca), giving up sleeping and eating, and would observe the sraddha ceremonies by giving food to others.  To express their gratitude to their parents they would yearly offer sraddha and tarpana. To show gratitude to all people is also a punya karma.

Telling what one believes to be true is called truthfulness. Truthful people are respected by the whole world.  Having a direct, sincere nature is called honesty. The more honestly one lives his life, the more virtuous he is.  Taking illegally others' belongings is called theft.  A person has no right to objects which he has not earned through labor or as gift.  Those who are lame or blind have a right to beg, but others should receive goods only through honest work. Begging without right to do so is called parigraha.  It should be avoided.   One should show mercy to all living beings. Real mercy is shown to those who deserve.  The aspect of mercy which is displayed in raga bhakti will be dealt with elsewhere. The  idea that compassion should be shown to humans but not to animals is wrong.  One should try to relieve the suffering of others. 

Attachment to material objects is reduced by control of mind (sama), control of senses (dama), tolerance and abstinence.  The practice of resisting the temptation of  evil desires is called tolerance. Giving up the thirst for material objects in general is called abstinence. Detachment is a punya, for with detachment one is  free from sin.   Detachment must be cultivated gradually in the beginning stages, but on the path of raga, detachment is attained very easily.     This will be discussed elsewhere.  Practice of detachment is an act of punya.  By repeatedly  enduring the hardships of  caturmasya, fasting and staying awake on the new and full moons, one becomes accustomed to renunciation. By first gradually giving up the desire for enjoyment of sleeping and eating, one can eventually give up desire for all material enjoyments.  When one becomes perfect at accepting only what is necessary for maintaining life, one has attained detachment. Attaining detachment, a person is qualified for sannyasa.  

All people should respect the scriptures.  Scripture refers to those works which distinguish right from wrong, spirit from matter, truth from illusion.  Those who were properly qualified revealed genuine scriptures. Unqualified persons  who have compiled works  attempting to delineate the goal of life  and rules to follow, have given the world false scriptures which misguide the world.  Such atheistic works, which  have arisen from use of faulty logic,  should not be respected.  As one blind man leads another blind into the ditch, so such authors of faulty works lead themselves and their followers on the wrong path.   Genuine scripture means the Vedas and those works which agree with the Vedic conclusions.  To study those works and teach those works is a punya. 
By traveling to places of pilgrimage a person gains knowledge and purifies himself of sin.

A person should his power of discrimination properly.  The person who do not consider question such as "What is the world, who am I, who created he world, what is my duty in life, and what do I achieve?" is not to be considered a human being.  The difference between man and animal is that man can consider these questions whereas the animal cannot.  The result of this inquiry is self realization.

Courtesy  is another punya.  One should follow the conduct of the ancient sages and follow their instructions on the matter.10  In different ages sometimes the conduct changes.  for instance the animal sacrifices performed in Satya, Treta and Dvapara yugas are forbidden in Kali yuga.  After examining with  intelligence all the previous rules of conduct the proper mode of conduct should be framed.  Proper respect should be given, considering the person's status. This is called maryada.  Not giving proper respect is considered a great faulty.  One should give respect to all human beings, but should give more respect to a man with position. Most respect should be given to the devotee.  The following is the order:    respect to humans, respect to those who are civilized, respect to position (king), respect to the educated (pandita), respect to a person with good qualities (especially the brahmana, the sannyasi,  and the vaisnava),  respect according to varna (brahmana), respect according to asrama (sannyasa) and respect to devotion (devotee).

Worship of the Lord is considered a punya.  Among all rules, worship of the Lord is the most important. However, the form of the Lord which is worshipped will differ according to the level of consciousness of the individual. 

Performance of good acts is punya, and performance of unauthorized acts is sin.  There are three types of actions: karma, akarma and vikarma.  Those acts which are beneficial are called karma, failure to do those acts which should be done is called akarma.  Forbidden action is called vikarma. Punya karmas are o three types: daily (such as worship of the Lord), periodic ( such as tarpanas to pitrs) and impelled by personal desire.  Those impelled by personal desire should be avoided, but the other two should be performed.
1 According to the modes of nature acquired by the embodied soul, one's faith can be of three kinds--in goodness, in passion or in ignorance. According to one's existence under the various modes of nature, one evolves a particular kind of faith.  The living being is said to be of a particular faith according to the modes he has acquire. Men in the mode of goodness worship the demigods; those in the mode of passion worship the demons; and those in the mode of ignorance worship ghosts and spirits. B.G.17.2-4
One who is situated in his prescribed duty, free from sinful activities and cleansed of material contamination, in this very life obtains transcendental knowledge or, by fortune, devotional service to me.  S.B.11.20.11
2 Always remembering Me, one should perform all his duties for Me without becoming impetuous.  With mind and intelligence offered to Me, one should fix his mind in attraction to My devotional service. B.S.11.29.9
3 In intricacies of action are very hard to understand.  Therefore one should know properly what action is, what forbidden action is and what inaction is.  One who sees inaction in action and action in inaction is intelligent among men, and he is in the transcendental position, although engaged in all sorts of activities.  B.G.4.17-18
4 One must conquer the modes of passion and ignorance by developing the ,mode of goodness, and then one must become detached from the mode of goodness by promoting oneself to the platform  of suddha sattva.  All this can be automatically done if one engages in the service of the spiritual master with faith and devotion.  In this way one can conquer the influence of the modes of nature.  The spiritual master should be considered to be directly the Supreme Lord because he gives transcendental knowledge for enlightenment.  Consequently, for one who maintains the material conception that the spiritual master is an ordinary human being, everything is frustrated.  His enlightenment and his Vedic studies and knowledge are like the bathing of an elephant. S.B.7.15.25-26
5 Charity, prescribed duties, observance of major and minor regulative principles, hearing from scripture, pious works and purifying vows all have as their final aim the subduing of the mind.  Indeed, concentration of the mind on the Supreme is the highest yoga.  S.B.11.23.46
6 One who has executed sacrificial performances and pious works (beneficial for others) for my satisfaction, and who thus worships me with fixed attention, obtains unflinching devotional service unto Me.  By the excellent quality of his service such a worshiper obtains realized knowledge of Me.  S.B.11.11.47
7 Authorities who are learned scholars and sages have carefully ascertained that one should atone for the heaviest sins by undergoing a heavy process of atonement and one should atone for lighter sins by undergoing lighter atonement.  Although one may neutralize the reactions of sinful life through austerity, charity, vows and other such methods, these pious activities cannot uproot the material desires in one's heart.  However, if one serves the lotus feet of the Personality of Godhead, he is immediately freed from all such contaminations. S.B.6.2.16-17
8 One who desires to establish family life should marry a wife of his own caste, who is beyond reproach and younger in age....S.B.11.17.39
9 A householder should comfortably maintain his dependents either with money that comes of its own accord or with that gathered by honest execution of one's duties.  According to one's means, one should perform sacrifices and other religious ceremonies. A householder taking care of many dependent family members should not become materially attached to them, nor should he become mentally unbalanced, considering himself to be the lord.  An intelligent householder should see that all possible future happiness, just like that which he has already experienced, is temporary.  The association of children, wife, relatives and friends is just like the brief meeting of travelers.  With each change of body one is separated from all such associates, just as one loses the objects one possesses in a dream when the dream is over. Deeply considering the actual situation,  a liberated soul should live at home just like a guest, without any sense of proprietorship or false ego.  In this way he will not be bound or entangled by domestic affairs.  A householder devotee who Me by execution of his family duties may remain at home, go to a holy place, or, if he has a responsible son, take sannyasa. S.B.11.17.51-55
10 One who follows the principles and  instructions enjoined by the great sages of the past can utilize these instructions for practical purposes.  Such a person can very easily enjoy life and pleasures.  A foolish person who manufactures his own ways and means through mental speculation and does not recognize the authority of the sages who lay down unimpeachable directions is simply unsuccessful again and again in his attempts. S.B.4.18.4-5