The dictionary defines character as the embodiment of mental, emotional and moral qualities distinctive to the individual. Our ancient philosophers defined it as karma — or, action, work, or deed. Character, in other words, is also the spiritual principle of cause and effect, where the intent, or action, of the individual (cause) impacts the prospects, or future, of that particular individual (effect). In the context of Eastern philosophy, karma is believed to pass on from one life to another through a chain of transmigrations that are also modified in each life. This life “drift” has got nothing to do with the confluence, or genetics, of pedigree, but by one’s own — or, specific individual — acts. 

The Indian philosopher Madhvacárya differed from the classical Eastern pedestal of karma. He articulated a postulate that mirrored the innate difference of one soul from the other. He proposed the existence of a grading of jivas (individual souls), based upon their distinctive structure of virtues (gunas) and faults (doshas). He observed that our souls have a plethora of innate characteristics and capacities; they were preordained to accomplish certain ends. This (r)evolutionary perspective puts Madhvacárya at variance with the traditional Indian view of the karma theory, all right — where differences (bheda) in social and religious status are determined by way of past moral or decadent acts. He argued, no less, that each of us possesses a characteristic moral proclivity and karma was, and is, merely the nature-propelled, or divine, instrument through which the given soul is prompted towards their “chartered” destiny. 

While certain Indian and Buddhist schools found a credible assertion of the modes of the universe, or the cosmos, to our life and existence, some Greek philosophers and other sages sculpted their own “take” on the characteristic of the soul, not to speak of the doctrine of transmigration, whatever its source. You’d think of a classical allegory for the former — the world is full of pain and sorrow, as also grief and evil that fall like raindrops upon both the “good” and the “bad” among us. What does this connote? That there are cogs in the never-ending fetters of natural causation through which our past, or present, and the future are inseparably connected — with no more injustice prevailing in one case than the other. You’d think of such “debts” as a sort of "dangling storm” — because, as we are all witness, a phase of heavenly delight could be the paradoxical precursor of adversity, agony, or struggle, in a repulsive world — the arrears being the unpleasant gifts of a distant ancestral blemish, or fault.  

Any which way you look at the whole spectrum, the doctrine of karma, just like our evolutionary theory corresponds to one eternal canon — that transmigration has its roots in a world of reality, as Madhvacárya articulated. What’s more, it may just as well derive its existential buttress as a powerful contention for analogy that is also endowed with the capacity of learning from everyday experience — if only one would want to.

All of us are, more or less, the mirror images of our ancestry, or inheritance, that is resident to our DNA from the beginning of evolution, or time. This is precisely what conforms to the sum and also total of our inborn and learned tendencies that operate in a certain predestined, or destined, mode. 

This is the essential description of character or, in other words, the moral and intellectual essence of our being — one that inescapably passes over from one soul to another. You’d call it the itinerant “echo” of one generation to the other with its own packaged format of potentialities too. 

(The writer is a wellness physician, independent researcher and author)

Columnist: 
Rajgopal Nidamboor