What’s my Karma?

Wherever people don’t want to see what is really going on because it feels too painful or even shameful, they unconsciously barricade themselves behind a wall of denial so the truth of the situation can’t access the conscious mind.

Alas, the unconscious mind knows what is going on. This hidden mind – our automatic pilot, trained by early experiences – is very much what drives our behaviour, especially as long as we are unaware of our deeper fears and motivations. 

We always fully participate in our own life, even when it appears that we don’t. Hiding from life or refusing to choose is also a choice and therefore an action. By living this way we think others are responsible for the state of our life and we can escape our personal responsibility, but we are still creating new karma by these unhealthy and unconscious behaviours. 

All karma, whether it produces suffering or well-being, is temporal and therefore temporary. All actions take place in time and space, so they are subject to the laws of time and space. Anything that arises in the time-space dimension also must eventually disappear. This is why it is said that fully self-realised yogis have transcended karma, because they live in the ever-present now and are not subject to the rules of time and space or karma.

So what some people erroneously call “bad karma” is often a pattern of behaviour that is unconsciously driven by what we don’t want to see; it stems from our own actions, and is reflected in the way others seem to behave towards us.

“Bad karma” is simply stuff happening that we don’t like. In reality there is no “good” or “bad”, just things happening in response to an amalgamation of prior actions, some which we can see clearly, and others which we will never be aware of.

Here is an excerpt about Karma from my book, Teaching Yoga in an Upside-Down World:

“There are a lot of misconceptions around the concept of karma. Karma is a universal law, like dharma, and it applies regardless of to whom you might pray. Simply put, it is the result of our actions, which are a consequence of our choices. Karma has nothing to do with retribution or reward.

The literal meaning of the Sanskrit word karma is actions created from the mind. It stems from the Sanskrit root ‘kri’ which means “to do” or “to act and react,” and ‘ma’, meaning “that which creates,” which is also at the root of the word manas, meaning the mind. It is also the root of ‘amma,’ which means mother — literally the one who creates (ma) the individual self, called ‘ahamkara’. In simple terms, karma is something that is done — a deed or action.

The law of karma describes every event as both a CAUSE and an EFFECT; everything that happens can be traced to one or many past actions, or, to put it another way, our deeds determine our destiny. Karma is an action that comes from our choices, our so-called free will.

The will is not free, it is a phenomenon bound by cause and effect;
but there is something behind the will which is free.

~ Swami Vivekananda

Some people have compared karma to Newtonian physics, but it’s not the same thing. Where Newton’s third law of motion says every action has an equal and opposite reaction, we can’t quantify the consequences of a karmic action, which might be quite subtle or take a long time to ripen, including long after we die.

With so much madness in our world it’s really hard to avoid being drawn into the dualistic thinking (good/bad, us/them…) that perpetuates it. We say we want peace but we attack others for their opinions, whether it be what food to eat (as in “go vegan to protect animals from violence, or else you’re a murderous, ignorant scumbag”) or which religion to follow (“mine is the best”–including the religion of no religion). While we (usually) censor ourselves outwardly for social acceptability, our thoughts can harbor judgements and hatreds that stretch back generations, as well as resentments and jealousies that spring from recent experience.

You are what your deep, driving desire is
As your desire is, so is your will
As your will is, so is your deed
As your deed is, so is your destiny

~ Brihadaranyaka Upaniṣad, 4.4.5

In the true nature of karma, our thoughts are as important as our actions, because thoughts turn into deeds in the endless cycle of human creation — for good or bad. Ultimately, there is no such thing as a secret or private thought, as our minds (inseparable from the body) are fields of energy which can be felt by others, including plants and animals! Just spend some time with a silent, angry person to test this notion, or notice how children and animals respond differently to different people.

All of our deeds stem from the initial thoughts in our conscious or subconscious awareness, which act as an impulse to outwardly express the thought in some way or another–whether through speech or physical actions.

It takes an intricate series of ostensibly unrelated thoughts and actions over time for any single event to occur, and any event can only arise when all of the necessary conditions are met. Any thought or act — whether loving or hateful — involves a considerable number of prior factors and inputs, including people, ideas and environments.

When something tragic happens, often the immediate response is to point the finger of blame in one direction only — that of the perpetrator on the ground. If only life were that simple! There’s an old saying that when you point the finger of blame, you have three fingers pointing right back at you. This is one way of illustrating the complex, interwoven nature of karma.

Today’s pop-cultural way of understanding karma is as a sort of retribution or punishment for wrongdoing. This comes from the mistaken blending of Judeo-Christian notion of a wrathful God who punishes sins with the otherwise judgement-neutral law of karma – every action has a consequence.

In the same vein, from the smug and self-satisfied perspective of the ego, it’s easy to think that others who we perceive to have harmed us “unjustly” will have to pay a heavy price for this infraction at some point to redress the balance. It’s a lot harder to see (or admit!) that we can also be on the receiving end of the karma we — individually or collectively — have created in the past!”

At this halfway point in a momentous year of change and adaptation, it’s worth exploring how what we think we don’t want in our lives is actually the result of our own choices and behaviour. The way to change our experiences in life is to change our emotional relationship to them as a priority. Once we have done that, making the right decisions comes more effortlessly and our lives become much more graceful.

With much love and light,

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