The Cause – Apparent vs Actual

The Cause – Apparent vs Actual

Recently, I listened to a talk on jyotish (Vedic astrology). They spoke of the way Jain’s view karma. Jainism is an Indian faith based on non-violence and transmigration of souls in an eternal universe.

While their philosophy of karma is very like the Vedic view, there are a few variations in emphasis worth noting. This exploration is my perspective on the points rather than a Jain view.

Firstly, they describe the apparent vs actual cause of circumstances.

Nimitta Karan is the apparent external cause of circumstances.

When events arise in our life, the mind doesn’t just note what happened. It complicates it with a commentary or story to explain the why, typically using superficial, external appearances.

This is most obvious with a negative experience. Someone unexpectedly lashes out at us. We will of course blame them for the experience. And, seeing them as the cause, we may feel justified in responding by lashing back.

However, this response not only amplifies the conflict but has the effect of keeping the karma going. It takes two to tango.

Inversely, with a good experience like winning the lottery, we’ll be inclined to make a story of luck and deserving. But not recognizing the actual cause, we’ll tend to dissipate our good fortune. Most lottery winners have spent it all within the year.

Jain’s call an incoming karmic impression (the energy of an unresolved experience) an Asrava. (similar to a Vasana) This is stored in our energy body as past impressions which colour our experience of life. And then when its time comes, those impressions rise as experiences. This is the release or shedding called Nirjara.

When it arises, the experience has the same qualities or energetic flavour as the original impression. Not the same circumstances, just the same quality (grief, anger, etc.). But it can also be mixed with other impressions so it’s really not useful to try to figure it out.

Further, figuring out is the mind. The mind will not help you resolve it. Nor will blame help.

The real cause is called Upadan Karan, nirjara karma arising in (to) the recipient creating flavours of experience.

If we instead recognize that circumstances in our life are often* the result of past actions, then we have a choice. Rather than resisting or reacting or blaming or telling stories, we can see it for what it is, allow the energy to complete and let it go. Then it’s done.

Otherwise we just cycle it back again. If we get into a big reaction and thrash around, we can amplify it.

It does not help to see ourselves as victims or trapped by fate.

This is also a learning process so it’s useful to go easy on ourselves when we realize we’ve fallen into reacting again. As the Bhagavad Gita outlines, at first we realize after the fact. Then we start to notice during, in the middle of the drama. And finally, we notice as the impulse to react first arises – then we can choose. And of course, some areas of life are more conscious than others.

What helps is simple acceptance and allowing the quality to wash over us and be resolved. Then the energy completes and the impression is gone. There may also be circumstantial bits to the experience like fixing the flat tire. But a little practical activity without drama will finish things. Then the shadow is gone and the load lifted.

Sometimes, the big stuff has more shadow or challenge. That’s when healing techniques or help can be very useful. Our past does not have to be a burden.

The world media is full of stories of what’s wrong and who’s to blame. But none of that fixes anything. Seen more deeply, the world is working to come back into balance and heal. If we cooperate, we can be part of that process rather than an unwitting participant in a drama.

Acceptance comes from equanimity and taking responsibility. (not blame) When we do the work of self-knowing and healing we can make giant strides on our path.

Over time, our life will get less coloured by our eventful past. We can be more present to what is here. More at peace. And so much happier.

In the talk, the jyotishi said that Vedic astrology is nothing but the practical application of the theory of karma. Our chart is the schedule of karma in this lifetime.

But again, this doesn’t mean fate but what we’ve chosen to work on. Free will comes from how we choose to respond to the consequences of our past choices.

*not always. In the field of action, action predominates. But this is taking place within a larger process of growth and evolution driven by the divine. So there are undercurrents not driven by karmic interplay.

Last Updated on June 16, 2016 by

Average rating 5 / 5. Vote count: 2

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.


  1. amaryllis

    Thanks David; really enjoyed this reminder that, as a human, for a while there is the inevitability of getting drawn into reaction, “And finally, we notice as the impulse to react first arises – then we can choose.”

    Things look so obvious when written clearly, as you have done here, but I am reminded that ‘obvious’ is not necessarily ‘easy’. It seems to me that to truly practice ahimsa, the noticing and lessening of reaction must happen naturally, with the only effort coming with the intention to notice and release, but no more forcefulness than that … or do you think I have missed something?

    These inner movements towards opening to truth really are so subtle and delicate …

    1. Hi Amaryllis
      There is also a 4th step in there I didn’t mention. When the reaction no longer arises. Then no choice is necessary. Equanimity is simply there, even in the midst of drama.

      And yes, not so easy. There can be a real momentum to habit. Life will also tend to bring us circumstances to help resolve things, bringing a flow of new things we can react to. (laughs)

      And yes, Ahimsa (non-violence) can be cultured with awareness but ultimately is an effect of inner drama-lessness. And yes, no force as that too is himsa, violence. Ahimsa is inherently without force.

      And yes, it gets increasingly subtle and delicate, yet fuller and more solid.

  2. Jesper

    I really appreciate this article. It is quite comforting to me. I really helps me to let go of anger and blame.

    Can you please elaborate this last sentence “*not always. In the field of action, action predominates. But this is taking place within a larger process of growth and evolution driven by the divine. So there are undercurrents not driven by karmic interplay.”

    Maybe give an example of it. Thanks.

    1. Hi Jesper
      You’re welcome.
      Sure. The field of action is a play of action and reaction. Energy moving, going out of balance then moving back into balance again. But there’s nothing evolutionary in that.

      We could say that under the field of action is the field of dharma – that which sustains. That which keeps things going for life to unfold in. And under that is the divine flow which is always moving towards more. More knowledge, more growth, more opening, more feelings, etc.

      So the impulse to evolve isn’t karmic. The sense of seeking or to do a spiritual practice. The impulse to change or grow. Intuitions of best choice. Understanding. Synthesis.

      But this often affects things in the field of action, causing change and then a movement back into balance. So they’re intertwined but driven by different things.

      Make sense?

      We could say energy reacts, dharma sustains, the divine flows.

  3. Jesper

    Thanks. Yes, I think I got it. So to make it concrete, could a circumstance that is not create from our past actions, but the evolutionary force, manifest as a sickness, loss, abuse, in order to more toward more growth? Meaning that some “negative” events in our lifes are the result of the evolutionary force and not necessarily from our own past actions? And how do we recognize the difference? If that is at all relevant to us to know.

    Is it or connected to what some people refer to as prarabdha karma?

  4. It can happen that difficult experiences arise due to the force of growth but that would only be if there is resistance to change. Whatever is blocking it has to be broken down.

    It can also be the experience that what was working for us before stops working and creates problems. This can be a bit confusing at first until we clue in.

    The main way you tell the difference is feel. Karma has the feel of the past, of resistance, of the unresolved. If handled well, it arises, is resolved and clears. A burden is lifted. Evolution has the feel of moving forward, of growth and stretching boundaries, of newness. We feel expanded and renewed.

    However, karma also can come with a shadow which makes it harder to see & feel. The solution as always is to allow things to progress until our approach becomes clear.

    prarabdha karma is the “sprouted seeds” that are active in this life. That continues to unfold but spiritual development can change our relationship with it. We can even come to a place of resolving a lot of it energetically. Then it doesn’t have to be lived out.

    I wrote more on this here:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest