How is it that this simple Sanskrit word holds the key to our entire existential reality? As we discussed in the first blog, we would not be here if it was not for Karma. It is the software that runs the hardware (body) we are given in this material incarnation and what dictates much of the experiences we call life. But, despite that, our ultimate goal is to get rid of all our Karma so we may once again find union with the cosmos or the Creator. This is a bit of a paradox but makes sense when viewed in the context of this statement; we are spiritual (energy) beings having a material experience. As I postulated before, this entire existence can be viewed upon as a lab where we have come to perform certain experiments so that we gain better understanding on how to find that ultimate union. We have willingly chosen these experiments, made arrangements with other spiritual beings to help run them, and come into a mortal form to get it done. Over many incarnations (human or otherwise) we have built up a warehouse full of Karma that binds us to the reincarnation wheel in perpetuity. But, at some point, realization of the futility of rebirth enters our consciousness and we begin the long process of getting rid of our Karma. The good news is that once the process begins, you start the next incarnation with the benefit of that awareness. This is why some are naturally born to be yogis or nearly enlightened beings, usually from an early age, while others spend the entirety of their lives deeply entangled with material life and accumulation of even more Karma. Again, it is important to note this is not some sort of race to see who can shed more Karma or anything like that. The spiritual journey Is completely individual so it’s best to focus on oneself and not be concerned with others’ journeys. While the first blog focused on the what of Karma, I will now attempt to address the how. Specifically, how do we begin the process of rewriting the installed Karmic software to move from the repetitive and fixed life narratives towards liberation and joy. These ideas and practices are collectively known as Karmic Yoga and generally strive towards the following three things; generating good Karma, distancing oneself from the oppressive load of inherited Karma, and a means of shedding Karma to achieve the ultimate escape from cyclical existence. Note that Yoga is too subtle and refined a system that one can learn its techniques from words alone. What I am attempting to do is to give you the lay of the land, but it is up to you to find a guide to teach you how to actually navigate through it. But I will present what has worked for me and you may choose to try it out for yourself to get started on the path to joy and freedom.
Types of Karma
One of the fundamental facts about Karma is that it is not inherently good or bad, positive or negative, at least not in regards to any sense of morality or religious tenets. Karma is completely individual (it’s YOUR software!) and so is it only good or bad solely in relevance to you. It is like apps running on your computer that can let you do amazing things or have an issue and bog down the system or cause the system to crash. As I said before, there is Karma that is in the warehouse, in the retail store (your present life), and what you are adding to both. Thoughts, actions, and words, along with the intent behind each generate Karma. Good Karma is generally what is generated when you do acts to help or benefit others with no regards to any sort of reward nor having an expectation of a particular outcome. It can also just come from acceptance of life circumstances such as if you don’t have much material wealth, have a terrible disease, or have experienced significant loss. If you can look at these and experience them without remorse or self-pity, then you accumulate good Karma. Selfless acts done to further the cause of others, humans of otherwise, yields good Karma. Since Karma is almost entirely dependent on volition or intent, the action is not as important as the reason for the act. This also applies to mental actions which also follow the same logic. Bad Karma, as you may expect, is the opposite of good. Actions performed with the intent to harm others, with the expectation of reward, or causing suffering all are examples of bad Karma. Being resentful or depressed towards life situations generates bad Karma. If you hate somebody or have anger towards them, even if you don’t show it externally, you will accumulate bad Karma. It is important to note that your actions do not only apply only to other humans, but all of creation. Anything done with intent to harm, deceive, or otherwise hurt others will generate bad Karma. Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of bad Karma is that your next incarnation will be spent trying to work it out through situations like being very poor or having a terrible disease versus starting out at a more enlightened point.
It is also important to remember that good Karma is still Karma, hence it accumulates and continues to bind you to the wheel of reincarnation. So, in a lifetime if you only accumulated good Karma, you would still have to come back and take care of it and empty it from the warehouse. But good Karma provides a far better platform to begin to shed Karma (the ultimate goal) than bad. This is the single reason to avoid accumulating bad Karma because it causes you to regress from the ultimate goal of shedding Karma. I firmly believe that those of us who have material abundance and good health in this lifetime do so because of good Karma accumulated in the past one. But this abundance should not be used to simply accrue more material things but rather to be used as a platform for significant spiritual growth. Because the basics necessities of food and shelter have been taken care of (and also most of your wants), use that platform to go higher and closer towards enlightenment. I am not saying to not enjoy material life but do not get entangled with it by desiring even more. Even past bad Karma can be burned away in this lifetime if you can empathize with those less fortunate and show compassion and kindness towards all beings. Say you were really cruel to a dog in a past life, that bad Karma can be neutralized by showing compassion and helping animals in a shelter, for example. Bad Karma has to be worked, typically by you experiencing being on the receiving end of the act. But you can transcend it by doing the equivalent good Karma and not have to go through the experience. This process is so much easier if you are not dealing with basic life’s necessities such as food, shelter, or good health.
Throughout my discussion on Karma, I kept saying that you would come back to this existence until all your Karma is gone. I should also mention that there are infinite existences, and earth is only ONE. As your Karmic debt changes and the mix fluctuates between good/bad, the incarnation you will take will significantly change as will the location. Ones that have shed a lot of Karma and have begun to transcend it, will incarnate in forms that are mostly energy and little or no physical form. Conversely, those that are significantly entangled with the material world and have generated a lot of bad Karma will incarnate in a very physical existence that provides the best opportunities to shed their Karma. Note that neither is a reward or punishment but rather the consequence of one’s Karmic accumulation in this lifetime. Somebody who is very entangled with doing harm onto others or grossly identified with their physical possessions, will have the best chance of getting rid of those entanglements only when that desire is fulfilled. From our perspective in this existence, this can be viewed as the very limiting concept of heaven or hell. What we don’t have is context to understand that neither exists but inside one’s Karmic journey. For example, some view hell as full of fire and hot. To a creature that lives in molten lava of volcanoes, such an environment would actually be heaven. To a polar bear, it truly would be hell. I realize this example is an oversimplification but I think it makes the point; Heaven and hell are completely inside us and that does not change after death of the body. If we are miserable and sad here so will be after death and vice versa. The Karmic journey is to get rid of these polarities of good/craving and bad/aversion and end the cycle of rebirth.
To learn to handle Karma, first one must realize that it exists and at least accept it on the intellectual and conceptual level. Most people who are successful and intelligent are just not aware and are thus becoming more and more entrapped in their own Karmic web and filling entire new warehouses with Karma. Beyond that, to learn to handle Karma is to undertake a journey that countless yogis and mystics have done throughout time. And that is a journey from unawareness to awareness, from compulsion to consciousness. The term given to this journey or practice is Karma Yoga and it is the process of using your Karma as a process to liberate yourself. The logic is very simple which just says that every activity we partake in can be used as a means of entanglement or as a process for liberation. If entanglement then it is Karma, if liberation then it is Karma Yoga. As I explained before, the only thing that matters about any activity is the why, your volition. For example, you may do a good deed in expectation of good Karma or a reward which means the opposite actually happens... you accumulate bad Karma. Karma Yoga has nothing to do with what action you perform but rather why you did it. Derek Rydall, author of ‘The Law of Emergence’ has a brilliant quote which sums this up… “The universe is blind to your actions but acutely aware of the thoughts behind them.” In that sense, it is not the content of your life that matters but rather the context. So, to practice Karma Yoga does not mean you have to give up anything you are doing or make radical changes to your life (the content). It just means you do it consciously and with focused intent to ensure wholehearted and joyful involvement. This is not as easy as it sounds since we have created a world full of rigid ideas of what is right and wrong, what you like and dislike, etc. With these biases as our tools, we have sliced and diced all of reality making it impossible to be involved in anything wholeheartedly.
The goal of Karma Yoga is to upgrade your software so that any action you perform does not generate Karma, is not entangling. There are two ways to do this and that is by acting with complete awareness or with total abandon. Awareness is the easier of the two to explain as it just means being conscious of your actions and doing it in a manner that does not create entanglement. Entanglement is just another word for attachment which is what leads to the cycle of craving and aversion. This can apply to all aspects of your life where you do something with complete involvement and attention but not get attached to it. While this sounds paradoxical, it is actually not. The problem is most people cannot do something without personally being invested in it. And do not mistake mental alertness for what is being discussed here. In this context, awareness is a deeper dimension and means being involved in a very inclusive manner. A good example here is a game that you thoroughly enjoy playing. I love playing poker with my friends and we do so over many hours which also includes drinks and conversation. The game is intense as I am playing an intellectual game with the cards on offer as well as a psychological one against my friends. While we play with modest amounts of money, winning the pot at the end of the evening is not the goal. It is the journey, the game with the intensity of seeing how the hand plays out that is the real attraction. I play the game with total passion and involvement with a goal to win but not affected in any way when I don’t because the journey throughout the evening was so wonderful. This is one way to explain what awareness means in this context and if you can engage life in this manner, it will unfold beautifully for all and result in almost no Karmic accumulation. After all, a game is won only when you play it well, not because you desire to win.
Abandon is nearly impossible to find as we live with such high levels of inhibition. Internet + mobile ensures that we are bombarded with news and information that fill us with fear, anxiety, regret, and tension and leads to inhibition. So, what does abandonment mean in this context? It means your involvement with something has become so intense that you are willing to abandon what you consider to be yourself. An example of this is people involved with intense states of activity such as running a marathon or even watching a movie. When you are completely immersed in an activity, there is a disconnect between your memory and you and the influence of Karma is suspended for a while. Many athletes and performers experience this state often but are unable to maintain it beyond the duration of their activity. As an aside, Yoga is the science of sustaining that state. So, whether you approach Karma Yoga through awareness or abandon, the point is to immerse yourself into the journey and not be concerned about the destination.
There is also a third way which is completely outside the scope of my experience and one that takes work at the energy level. This is a path for highly evolved (from a Karmic awareness standpoint) being that come into existence already aware of their Karma and the process needed to liberate themselves from it. Because of their high spiritual state, they are able to manifest the reality needed to dissolve a particular Karma and be done with it. An example from ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ is when his master, Babaji, manifests a grand palace so that Sri Yogananda could fulfill his desire (Karma) to enjoy the beauties of a palace. Since what we call reality is an amalgamation of vibrations anyway, it stands to reason that somebody who could manipulate vibrations could create any reality they want on demand. We have a lesser means of this already in what we call imagination, via the process of daydreaming. We can temporarily float away to other realities even though it does not really exist. Same with dreams where it feels real to us and we experience it as reality. In this manner, somebody who is acutely aware of the contents of their Karmic warehouse, can manifest realities to work out each without spending a lifetime doing so. Imagine if you have a desire to be a woman that becomes president and could manifest that reality, experience it, and dissolve it in a matter of minutes; Your Karmic warehouse would be emptied in no time. From a scientific standpoint, Zero-Point energy provides an answer of how this may be possible by using quantum fields that fluctuate in their lowest energy state. Since observation changes the behavior of these fields, they can be manipulated to create virtual realities using virtual particles. I will be writing a future, in-depth blog on Zero-Point energy as it is what I call the science of spirituality.
One final thing I will talk about here is something that is a bit of a mystery to me. Using the lab example from before, I think we have asked other spiritual beings to help us with Karmic shedding by doing acts to us that we want to experience. For example, if we want to experience going through a bad divorce, then your partner, a spiritual being as well, will oblige. But, a divorce is never pretty and there is a lot of negativity, anger, and hate generated on both sides. So if you have been asked to commit a bad act by the other spiritual being, that does mean you are absolved of all the negative Karma that arises from that act? How do we know what we are doing to somebody is driven completely of free will or by a pact made before this incarnation? Do we generate bad Karma if we don’t fulfill our obligation by committing that bad act towards the other being? I have discussed this with others and read blogs on it but nobody seems to be able to answer the question. Quantum mechanics may hold a clue where un-entanglement is a disruptive process but ultimately frees both. Maybe we do generate some bad Karma, but it is nullified once un-entanglement is complete.
My Path (so far)
It has taken me a good year to come to terms with understanding Karma and studying the different methods by which Karma Yoga can be realized. Just like Karma itself, the path towards shedding Karma is very individual but based on certain proven methods. For me, at least until further refinement and existential experience is gained, the conclusion I have reached is that there are only two main tools needed to begin to take control of your Karma and start the process to transcend it. The first of these is universal love which is the ability to love someone or something the same as you would your own child or dog. If you can treat all of creation with the same love, then you’ve already “won” the Karmic game. At that level of love, everything becomes an extension of yourself and thus the discriminatory nature is significantly diminished. This is a very difficult journey for most people as almost all of us have embraced and become used to some form of checklisted love over the course of our lives. Since we have carved up everything into likes and dislikes, positive and negative, it is initially difficult to get started down the path of universal love. But, tools like Vipassana or meditation which increase awareness help significantly in helping start the transformation from checklisted to universal. Once you experience life outside the confines of the intellect, there is a far more profound experience of love. It allows you to see the beauty and joy of everything in creation and marvel at life with childlike innocence. And as the awareness grows, you begin to realize that everything is connected to everything, and we are all unified in the very fabric of creation. Even starting with kindness and compassion will at least lead to the accumulation of good Karma and the dissolution of what is stored.
The other tool that is needed for Karmic yoga is equanimity. This is far more difficult to put in practice because of our attachments and, ironically, also because of love. Equanimity mandates that you treat the news of your son having cancer the same as you would upon finding out your daughter has been elected president. Having your dog die, having an amazing holiday, winning a million dollars, being abused by your spouse, walking in the forest, having the best glass of wine, all of it being treated the same. Because good and bad things will happen to you (or those you love) due to the very nature of this existence, equanimity allows you to accept without craving or aversion thus eliminating Karmic accumulation. Though this goes against the fundamental nature of the intellect and emotions, it is one of the first big (and most difficult) tests of Karmic Yoga. Even terrible issues with one’s own body need to be observed with equanimity and dealt with in a calm and collected manner. This goes back to the discussion on equanimity and the concept of the Equanimity Pre-Processor. If the mind works via the process of sensory input, recognition, sensation, and reaction, it is only over the last process that you have any control. Thus, by applying equanimity to your reaction to an input, you avoid the Karma from having a reaction based on craving or aversion. You stop avoiding an experience or pursuing it. You are open to all experiences without seeking one and avoiding the other. Once you can experience anything and accept it for whatever it is and not what you wish it to be, that is the end of the cyclical driver of accumulation.
Finally, I will mention one other quality that can help and that is of gratitude. This is especially true of those of you who have the fortune of material abundance in this lifetime. By this I do not mean the very rich but rather those whose life’s basic necessities (food, shelter, transportation, etc.) have been taken care of and then most of their reasonable wants met. If you can make living in gratitude just a normal part of your being, this can help significantly with shedding Karma. And given the state of billions of people who live in poverty, it should not be very difficult to achieve this. But, then again, so many want to keep up with the Joneses and hence commit themselves to a path filled with (mental) suffering anyway and collect additional warehouses of Karma along the way.
Both tools are difficult to fully attain in a given lifetime, but I think it is possible to get started on both via conscious and an aware existence. And both allow you to become involved with both awareness and abandon but not get entangled. This approach frees you from attachment to the fruit of your action, where you engage in action with involvement and intensity but don’t care at all about the ending. By performing actions consciously and with the right intent, we can begin to significantly slow the accumulation of Karma or make sure it is mostly of the good kind. And even if you don’t believe in Karma or anything I have stated that your intellect cannot accept, just being loving and equanimous will make you and everything around you a better experience of life. And you becoming a more joyful and loving expression of life has immense self-benefit in terms of physical and mental well-being.
As I stated at the very beginning, Karma is something that has been present in my life from the earliest days and it’s the thread that I see which permeates all that we call life. I know I have covered a lot of ground and much of it requires you to go beyond the intellect and your material existence. To be honest, while I have upgraded my own software to begin the process to reduce Karmic accumulation (or at least if I do, it is the good kind), the implication on my daily life is just now becoming clear. The key is to understand that Karma is of our own making and therefore ‘Our life is our Karma’. It is a pity that most religions state that God determines the course of our lives, thus condemning us to a sort of pathetic fatalism. But once you realize that you are 100% responsible for your life and actions, you will choose to act much more consciously than unconsciously. While an unconscious life driven by your Karmic patterns and compulsions seems easier, it will not unfold the way you would like it to. It is time to stop running the default operating system you came with and consciously upgrade it to make this life the best possible one for yourself. Karma is therefore a tremendous possibility and an invitation to look within, not upward. It’s time to stop outsourcing your life to God and bring it back home where it already exists anyway. The ultimate significance of this is that none of the identities you have created for yourself (from ideology, religion, money, etc.) are absolute; all of them are capable of constant and conscious evolution. By taking control of your Karma, it means you are capable of taking control of your ultimate well-being and connecting with the divine in this lifetime, right here, right now. Every one of us will get to the ultimate ending, if you can call it such, which is the complete destruction of all Karma leaving you as what you are to begin with…. pure consciousness and in perfect union with the cosmos. Sadhguru put this very eloquently when he said that “Karma is the wall of the bubble you have built around yourself…. when you finally prick and destroy this wall, you become part of the whole again.”