Unless we are highly evolved, enlightened beings, Karma affects our lives in every way, in fact, our lives are the constant unfolding of Karma!
The Karmic Software
Karma means action. Physics tells us that for every action there must be an equal and opposite reaction. Karma or action is energy, which in itself is neither good nor bad, these are just the labels or evaluations we choose to attach to it. The energy created by an action has to be returned, “as yea sow so shall yea reap”, it cannot be avoided.
When we perform an action, it creates a memory, which in turn generates a desire, which leads us to perform another action. For example; I take my first yoga class (action), now I know what happens in a yoga class (memory), if I enjoyed the class I decide to go back the following week (desire), next week I turn up again with my mat (action). Karma creates memories and desires and basically, our memories and desires are what determine how we live. We could say that our actions, memories and desires are the Karmic software or program, which runs our lives.
The subtle energy created by our actions is stored within our memories and desires to be triggered or activated sometimes immediately but more often at some future time. To use the earlier example, I took the yoga class and then forgot about it until months later when I’m walking through town and notice a yoga studio. I remember my past experience, which triggers the desire to go in and take another class.
The Vedantic View
It’s not necessary to believe in reincarnation to understand Karma but, from the Vedantic perspective, we have lived for many previous lives and the situations and circumstances of our current life is the result of the actions performed during them. Believing in Karma and reincarnation does make it easier to understand why “bad things happen to good people” or why a young innocent child develops a life-threatening illness. Vedanta would say that these and everything else in our lives are the results of the energy created by actions in previous births. Every situation that happens to us and everyone we meet has a Karmic significance. Everything happens for a reason.
Whatever our beliefs, Karma implies that we have created and continue to create our lives. So the question arises, “Do we have free will?” Unfortunately, many people have very little. Many people allow themselves to remain imprisoned in that Karmic software, conditioned by their memories and desires, performing the same habits over and over and wondering why their lives aren’t taking them anywhere. Many people are like the hamster, running on its treadwheel, thinking it’s getting somewhere while in fact it’s just going round and round!
However, as we grow and evolve spiritually, we begin to break out of those cycles and are able to consciously choose the lives we want to lead. The Karmic curse, is that we have forgotten who we really are so our spiritual path is to cleanse or release all the Karma, which is clouding our awareness, allowing us to re-discover or remember who we really are. Of course releasing
Karma doesn’t mean we loose all our memories and desires, it means we loose our attachment to them and are no longer held under their influence. As the great seer Adi Shankara said, “I use memories but I don’t allow them to use me”.
Gathering and Storing Karma
The effects of Karma are too complicated for us to understand. Karma is constantly functioning on many levels and everything has its Karma. As well as the Karma created from our own actions, we are also subjected to the Karmic influences of our family, religion, race, nationality, etc. Every situation we encounter in life is the result of some Karma. We are constantly creating Karma from our actions, thoughts, words, from the actions of others under our control, from our attitudes, expectations and lifestyle. We create Karma from the intended actions we perform consciously and also from actions done unconsciously from ignorance. It is also possible to take on someone else’s Karma, which generally isn’t a good idea as we have enough of our own. This can happen from stealing another’s belongings, gossip or fantasizing. It also happens in intimate relationships but as long as the relationship is based in love, this is an acceptable part of a bonding exchange. Remember, the relationship itself is the result of Karma and Vedanta says, “the purpose of every relationship should be enlightenment”.
Vedanta tells us that all our Karma is stored in the Jiva, the individual soul or the aspect of the soul conditioned by Karma. It describes three types of Karma; that which we have chosen to process during this particular birth; that which is still stored for later births and the new Karma we are generating every moment of our existence. The Karma for this lifetime is stored in the chakras. Chakras are our subtle energy centers, through which consciousness transforms into matter. The Karma distorts that flow of consciousness causing us to experience a false sense of reality and the creation of an illusory world. Clearing Karma helps us to step out of the illusion.
Living Our Karma
Karma cannot be avoided. For most people the Karmic energy is returned with the same intensity with which it was generated. Depending on our previous actions this could create happiness or suffering. Whatever happens, is the result of Karma being released, which no matter how we view the situation, is a good thing and an opportunity for future growth. Vedanta say, “Nothing happens to you, it happens for you!”
Are we then doomed to a life of paying for past mistakes, interspersed by a few moments of pleasure? Not necessarily. By the quality of our current actions, Karma can be transformed or transmuted into a different form or transcended completely. Let’s look at the steps we can take:
1. Conscious Choice – making the choices we make influence our Karma in two ways. The quality of the life we are leading due to the choices we are making can “soften” the intensity or magnitude of situations resulting from returning Karma. The energy of the Karma has to be returned but it can be transmuted so for example; instead of falling down and breaking my leg, maybe I just stub my toe. The Karma was returned but the quality of my life lessened its effect.
Also, the choices we make every moment of our lives, determine the quality of new Karma being created and stored to be released as future events in our life.
It’s important therefore to be conscious of the choices you are making and ask yourself, do these choices serve me and those who may be effected by them? Ask yourself if the decisions you are making are coming from your heart and higher self or your ego?
2. Forgiveness – this an important aspect of our spiritual growth. First accept that what has happened, has happened. Then see if you can, without judgment or evaluation, understand why it happened. Finally try to forgive whoever you feel may have harmed you, it’s always possible to forgive the person even if you cannot forgive the act. From the Vedantic perspective, every hurt we encounter is the return of some Karma and therefore we can never know when someone is just making the delivery for us. If the postman fills your mailbox with bills, you don’t spend the whole day hating the postman. Forgive and move forward!
3. Gratitude – forgiveness is often hard enough for most people but now you’re being asked to be grateful. However, if we believe that everything that happens to us is some past Karma being released, then that Karma is now gone. Isn’t that cause for celebration? Try to be grateful for everything in your life.
4. Opportunities – any situation gives us two choices. We can either see the situation as a problem and waste our life complaining about it or we can recognize that it happened and now ask, “What is the opportunity here, how can I learn and grow from this?” The situation was the release of Karma. That Karma has now gone. However, if we see it as a problem, we get drawn into lower energy which causes the recreation the same Karmic energy. The bottom line is that we have made no progress. Looking for opportunities allows us to release the Karma and remain free to move ahead on our spiritual journey.
5. Astrology – an astrological chart gives a picture of your Karmic probabilities. A competent astrologer can interpret your chart and give you advice concerning the possible effects Karma will play in different areas and at different times of your life. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, my first spiritual teacher, used to say, “Everything is set but everything can be changed”. Astrology gives you the insight to make the necessary changes. As the Yoga Sutras tell us, “Avert the danger which has not yet come.”
6. Enlightened teachers – if you are fortunate (or your Karma dictates) to meet an Enlightened teacher, he or she may be able to “see” your Karmic patterns and advise you accordingly. An Enlightened person could also take on some of our Karma themselves but this would be a special relationship developed over several years.
7. Dharma – Vedanta says that if you understand Dharma and Karma, you will know everything. Dharma is usually defined as purpose or Truth. When we find our true purpose in life and live in total alignment with that, our actions will become spontaneously correct and we will never create Karma.
8. Meditation – the most powerful tool we have on our spiritual path is meditation and especially practices which use mantras. Meditation is a journey from activity into silence. In Primordial Sound Meditation, taught by the Chopra Center, we use mantras or sounds with no particular meaning. The meaning of a thought holds the memory and desire and thus the Karma. A mantra with no meaning has no Karma. When we repeat our mantra in meditation, we are taken beyond the range of Karma, we transcend all memories and desires and slip into the field of Infinite Possibilities. With regular practice, we begin to live from that level of Infinite Possibilities instead of the limited possibilities created by Karma.
Meditation realigns us with our true Self, leads us back to our true purpose (Dharma) and allows us to “wash” away Karma on all levels.
Commitment to our spiritual path is the key to escaping from the Karmic prison we have created for ourselves and to enjoy unbounded freedom in every moment.