Karma and animals

Our Answer:
Animals don't suffer karma, at least not karma generated in their animal life; they're experiencing the karmic reactions generated in their previous human life. Only in human life—with its higher reasoning power and ability to make choices between Krishna and maya—is there karma. Animals act on instinct and only kill to eat or defend, in most cases.

What role does karma play in devotional service?

Full questions:

Is good karma required for someone to come in contact with or to follow Krishna consciousness? What role does karma play in devotional service?

Good karma can surely help us get in contact with Krishna consciousness. If we're karmically in the mode of goodness or already on a spiritual path it will be more likely that we will come in contact with Krishna's devotees in this life.

There are other factors and opportunities as well. Sometimes, just by the mercy of the devotees, one gets a chance to eat prasadam, or hear the Holy Name, or hear someone speak about Krishna, or get a book like the Bhagavad-gita. Any of these things can act as starting points for our spiritual progress, and may inspire us to take up the practice of Krishna consciousness. There are many stories of this happening.

Once when I was with Srila Prabhupada in the early 1970s, one devotee asked Srila Prabhupada: "Srila Prabhupada, does the fact that I am practicing Krishna consciousness now mean that I was a yogi in my last life or I was practicing Krishna consciousness in my last life?"

Srila Prabhupada replied: "Well, some people come by mistake!" Of course, Srila Prabhupada was joking but the "mistake" is actually the mercy of the devotees and the Lord and should not be underestimated. It is ultimately by guru and Krishna's mercy that we advance in spiritual life. Narada Muni is famous for offering spiritual opportunities to hunters and other very fallen persons.

Your second question:

Karma can either have many "roles" in devotional service, or it may have none. Generally, karma determines what modes we are attracted to, what propensities we have, and what kind of family, wealth, beauty etc. we inherit in this body. These things can either be helpful or hinder our spiritual progress. Wealth may allow us free time in which to read transcendental literature, or give us the ability make donations to the temple, etc., or it may distract us with material things and bring us into contact with materialistic people so that we become distracted from spiritual practice. Poverty can either make us simple and grateful to God for whatever we have, or it can make us envious and anxious to acquire things—thinking that those things will make us happy.

If we're situated in the mode of goodness, it's more likely that we'll behave nonviolently with others and try to live a pure life, but there's also a danger of becoming complacent and proud. In general the mode of goodness is helpful if one wants to stay on the spiritual path.

The laws of karma are very complicated and also can change at any moment—by taking prasadam, seeing a Rathayatra cart, hearing the Holy name, etc.—so there's really no need to concern ourselves with karmic eligibility for Krishna's service.

If somehow you have come in contact with devotees—which you obviously have because you're on Krishna.com—then the more you dive into the process the less your karma will impede your spiritual progress. We have free will at every moment, so whatever our karma we can decide to conquer over it by serving Krishna just like someone who is inclined to be a drunkard can decide to change their life around and give up drinking and bad association.

Of course you always have to consider that there is some good karma in your life because you have a human body, and you have come in contact with Krishna's devotees! If you are of Indian descent, you have the added bonus of being able to hear about Lord Krishna and Lord Rama since childhood. The human form of life is relatively rare and the only real body from which one can practice Krishna Consciousness. So count your blessings in the form of your good karma and take advantage of your present situation. Become Krishna Conscious and good back to Godhead!
Hope this is helpful.
Laxmimoni dasi

Can Krishna devotees be organ donors?

Our Answer:
Karma is complex and we don't know how long someone is destined to live. Ultimately, death will come no matter what we do to avert it. That being said, there is no specific prohibition to organ donation. Devotees have donated organs and blood to other devotees in need. So if a devotee's life can be prolonged by an organ donation, and you are able to assist, there is no problem.

Generally we prefer to donate our organs to devotees because otherwise there may be some karmic exchange. If we offer parts to someone who will then stay alive to do sinful things, we may share some of their bad karma for that. That's certainly possible since even wearing someone else's shoes or eating food cooked by sinful people offers us karmic reaction.

Krishna encourages charity in the Bhagavad-gita, but only to a proper recipient at a proper time and place. So to sum up, there's no objection to organ donation but organs should be donated to other devotees, or those people who will serve Krishna somehow with the assistance of a donated organ.

What does scripture say about regret and repentance?

Since this is such a popular topic, here's some additional encouragement from scripture on how to remain positive and determined on the path of Krishna consciousness even if we sometimes fall short of the highest standards of devotional service:

  • Srimad-Bhagavatam, 1.2.17:

    "Sri Krishna, the Personality of Godhead, who is the Paramatma [Supersoul] in everyone's heart and the benefactor of the truthful devotee, cleanses desire for material enjoyment from the heart of the devotee who relishes His messages, which are in themselves virtuous when properly heard and chanted."

  • Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Introduction:

    "If one reads Bhagavad-gita very sincerely and with all seriousness, then by the grace of the Lord the reactions of his past misdeeds will not act upon him." (Gita-mahatmya 2)

  • Srimad-Bhagavatam, 6.2.7, Purport:

    ". . . Simply by chanting one holy name of Hari, a sinful man can counteract the reactions to more sins than he is able to commit." (Brihad-vishnu Purana)

    "If one chants the holy name of the Lord, even in a helpless condition or without desiring to do so, all the reactions of his sinful life depart, just as when a lion roars, all the small animals flee in fear." (Garuda Purana)

    "By once chanting the holy name of the Lord, which consists of the two syllables ha-ri, one guarantees his path to liberation." (Skanda Purana)

  • Srimad-Bhagavatam, 10.14.8, Purport:

    ". . . a devotee earnestly awaits the mercy of the Supreme Lord even while suffering the painful effects of previous sinful activities. Lord Krishna explains in the Bhagavad-gita that a devotee who fully surrenders unto Him is no longer liable to suffer the reactions of his previous karma. However, because in his mind a devotee may still maintain the remnants of his previous sinful mentality, the Lord removes the last vestiges of the enjoying spirit by giving His devotee punishments that may sometimes resemble sinful reactions.

    "The purpose of the entire creation of God is to rectify the living entity's tendency to enjoy without the Lord, and therefore the particular punishment given for a sinful activity is specifically designed to curtail the mentality that produced the activity. Although a devotee has surrendered to the Lord's devotional service, until he is completely perfect in Krishna consciousness he may maintain a slight inclination to enjoy the false happiness of this world. The Lord therefore creates a particular situation to eradicate this remaining enjoying spirit. This unhappiness suffered by a sincere devotee is not technically a karmic reaction; it is rather the Lord's special mercy for inducing His devotee to completely let go of the material world and return home, back to Godhead . . ."

  • Srimad-Bhagavatam, 4.29.29, Purport:

    " . . . In full Krishna consciousness, he [the devotee] regrets his past experiences in material existence. This regret is very beneficial because it purifies the living entity of material, conditional life. He then prays to the Lord to engage in His service, and at that time, Krishna grants liberation from the clutches of maya."

  • Bhagavad-gita As It Is, 1.43, Purport:

    "There is a system in the varnashrama institution by which before death one has to undergo the process of atonement for his sinful activities. One who is always engaged in sinful activities must utilize the process of atonement called the prayascitta. Without doing so, one surely will be transferred to hellish planets to undergo miserable lives as the result of sinful activities."

  • Srimad-Bhagavatam, 6.1.15, Purport:

    "As for atonement, if one has caught even a slight glimpse of devotional service, all needs to undergo prayaschitta, atonement, are superseded. Therefore atonement is certainly unnecessary when one has achieved spontaneous love . . ."

  • Srimad-Bhagavatam, 1.3.34, Purport:

    "He [Krishna] can turn the external energy into internal by His will. Therefore by His grace the external energy, which is employed in illusioning those living beings who want to have it, subsides by the will of the Lord in terms of repentance and penance for the conditioned soul. And the very same energy then acts to help the purified living being make progress on the path of self-realization."

  • Srimad-Bhagavatam, 4.26.21, Purport:

    ". . .the devotee accepts a reversal of his position in life as a benediction by the Lord and consequently offers the Lord more obeisances and prayers, thinking that the punishment is due to his past misdeeds and that the Lord is punishing him very mildly. The punishment awarded by the state or by God for one's own faults is actually for one's benefit . . . If one accepts punishment as a reward dealt by the master, he becomes intelligent enough not to commit the same mistake again."

  • Srimad-Bhagavatam, 1.8.26, Purport:

    "It is said in the shastras that by once uttering the holy name of the Lord, the sinner gets rid of a quantity of sins that he is unable to commit. Such is the power of uttering the holy name of the Lord. There is not the least exaggeration in this statement. Actually the Lord's holy name has such powerful potency."

  • Srimad-Bhagavatam, 11.20.26:

    "It is firmly declared that the steady adherence of transcendentalists to their respective spiritual positions constitutes real piety and that sin occurs when a transcendentalist neglects his prescribed duty. One who adopts this standard of piety and sin, sincerely desiring to give up all past association with sense gratification, is able to subdue materialistic activities, which are by nature impure."

  • Srimad-Bhagavatam, 11.20.26, Purport:

    " . . . Those persons directly engaged in self-realization . . . need not give up their regular duties and perform special penances to atone for an accidental falldown. . . To purify an accidental falldown, one who is engaged in transcendental realization need not adopt any procedure beyond his own spiritual practice . . . one should not practice Krishna consciousness or self-realization superficially or casually; rather, one should sincerely and earnestly desire freedom from one's past sinful life . . . one must constantly practice Krishna consciousness. Thus, essential piety is to give up material sense gratification and engage in the loving service of the Lord. One who engages his senses, mind and intelligence twenty-four hours a day in the Lord's service is the most pious person, and the Lord personally protects such a surrendered soul."

  • Srimad-Bhagavatam, 11.20.27-28

    "Having awakened faith in the narrations of My glories, being disgusted with all material activities, knowing that all sense gratification leads to misery, but still being unable to renounce all sense enjoyment, My devotee should remain happy and worship Me with great faith and conviction. Even though he is sometimes engaged in sense enjoyment, My devotee knows that all sense gratification leads to a miserable result, and he sincerely repents such activities."

  • Srimad-Bhagavatam, 11.20.27-28, Purport:

    "Therefore, although sincerely lamenting occasional lapses into sense enjoyment, he [a devotee] never gives up his enthusiasm to serve Lord Krishna. If a devotee becomes too morose or discouraged in devotional service, he may drift into an impersonal consciousness or give up his devotional service to the Lord. Therefore, the Lord here advises that although one should sincerely repent, he should not become chronically depressed. One should understand that because of his past sins he must occasionally suffer disturbances from the material mind and senses, but one should not therefore become a devotee of detachment, as do the speculative philosophers."

  • Srimad-Bhagavatam, 11.5.42:

    "One who has thus given up all other engagements and has taken full shelter at the lotus feet of Hari, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is very dear to the Lord. Indeed, if such a surrendered soul accidentally commits some sinful activity, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is seated within everyone's heart, immediately takes away the reaction to such sin."

  • Srimad-Bhagavatam, 11.5.42, Purport:

    "Since devotional service is itself the most purifying process, a sincere devotee who has accidentally stumbled on the path should immediately resume his pure devotional service at the lotus feet of the Lord. And thus the Lord will protect him, as stated in Bhagavad-gita ( 9.30)"

  • Bhagavad-gita As It Is, 9.30, Purport:

    ". . .it may be seen that a person in Krishna consciousness commits some act which may be taken as most abominable socially or politically. But such a temporary falldown does not disqualify him. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam it is stated that if a person falls down but is wholeheartedly engaged in the transcendental service of the Supreme Lord, the Lord, being situated within his heart, purifies him and excuses him from that abomination. The material contamination is so strong that even a yogi fully engaged in the service of the Lord sometimes becomes ensnared; but Krishna consciousness is so strong that such an occasional falldown is at once rectified. Therefore the process of devotional service is always a success."

  • Srimad-Bhagavatam, 6.2.27, Purport:

    "When one is elevated to the platform of devotional service by the grace of the Lord and the spiritual master, one first regrets his past sinful activities. This helps one advance in spiritual life. . . the duty of a pure devotee is to regret his past sinful activities in illicit sex, intoxication, meat-eating and gambling. Not only should one give up his past bad habits, but he must always regret his past sinful acts. This is the standard of pure devotion."

  • Srimad-Bhagavatam, 6.2.34, Purport:

    "We must be conscious of the difference between our present and past conditions and should always be very careful not to fall from the most exalted life."