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Karma, The Law of Action followed by Reaction

by Dinu Roman

"KARMA" means "action." Every action or thought determines a reaction. In the physical world, the weight of a body creates an opposite force in the ground. At the emotional level, our attitude toward someone (or something) is, consciously or not, reflected back, the other person having the tendency to behave exactly according to our feeling towards him/her. At the mental level this is the well known dynamic interaction between the commanding conscious mind and the executing subconscious mind.

In YOGA Tradition, KARMA has a much deeper meaning, which, to a certain extent only, is related to the western idea of Destiny or Fate. In this vision, KARMA is the accumulation of our past actions. These past actions (triggering actions) are causes which determine other actions (triggered reactions) in exact accordance with the charge of the corresponding past actions.

The secret oral teachings of TANTRISM say that every action, either physical, emotional or mental, every movement occurring either on the plane of gross matter or on the subtler planes, causes an emission of energy (SHAKTI), in other words, it produces a "seed".

Being a seed, KARMA does not sprout immediately after it is sown. It requires the fertile soil of self-arrogation (when a person arrogates to himself/herself the action done in a state of spiritual ignorance) and the manure of similar actions to help its growth and fruition. The absence of self-arrogation keeps the person unaffected by the actions done in that state of consciousness. Self-arrogation is thus the soil without which the seed of KARMA cannot grow.

The innumerable seeds launched into the Universe by desire, aversion, love, hatred, etc., and the actions caused by these feelings, in the same way as all material seeds, tend -- given favorable conditions -- to produce energetic entities of the same species as that of the parents who have transmitted the seed.

In order that the seed should be sown, it is in no way necessary that our feelings, intentions or thoughts should be materialized in actions. All our subconscious activity is a powerful source from which are thrown out these seeds. Therefore, it matters not only what you DO, but alsso what you ARE.

There is not a blade of grass, not a grain of sand which is not a sower of KARMIC seeds by the activity of its physical and psychic life, peculiar to its species, which we must in no way imagine as similar to our own.

Each of our physical, emotional or mental movements is the fruit of causes coming from the whole Universe and has its repercussions in the whole Universe.

For instance, if you do a bad or good action toward someone, this triggers a reaction which will be equally bad or good, and which will be directed toward yourself. In this way, you experience the happiness or suffering that you have produced to other living beings. The paramount value of this subtle mechanism is that we learn and accumulate a certain ineffable wisdom that pushes us toward becoming good and perfect. Of course, this is a very simple and mechanical explanation; what really happens has a complexity and profoundness that overcomes even the most imaginative mind.

KARMA is the storage of our actions, recorded with exactitude in a special memory. These recordings are like time bombs that will explode in the future. The sight of an object, the thinking of a thought, the performance of an act, even though very transitory, leave a complex trace in the Cosmic Memory (AKASHA), which lasts beyond time, and leaves also an imprint in the subconscious mind. This subconscious imprint is called SAMSKARA (dynamic impulse). The character of a man, his moral or mental status, his "talents", his "likes" and "dislikes", all are determined by his SAMSKARAS, which are the product of his KARMA (past actions). The SAMSKARAS transmigrate from incarnation to incarnation, being never lost. They act like seeds that will develop according to a specific pattern, which characterize each of them and which is closely related to the charge of the action that produced them.

For instance, the pattern of development of a kidney-bean seed is to give birth to a plant having all the characteristics of the kidney-bean plant. This is the KARMA of the kidney-bean seed. From this simple example you can understand how the KARMIC seeds from our subconscious (SAMSKARAS) give birth to circumstances identically similar to those which generated them. In other words, you do good, you will find good, and vice-versa.

KARMA has three levels. The first level is the level of the past actions that are waiting to produce a reaction. This is called SANCHITA KARMA, the latent KARMA.

The second level is the level of the past actions whose reactions are fully manifesting, being responsible for our present life and creating its circumstances. This is called PRARABDHA KARMA, active or mature KARMA.

The third level is the level of the actions which will be triggered in the future by our present actions. This is called future KARMA.

Another important aspect is that the sequence of the triggered reactions is not necessarily the same as the sequence of the triggering actions. Some KARMAS (actions) trigger a very quick reaction, others need a long or very long time to trigger a reaction. The time of "ripening" of the fruit of an action has nothing to do with the time when that action was done, but with its nature only.

Every action, besides triggering a reaction, has also an echo i.e., has the tendency to repeat cyclically. The echo appears after complete cycles of time (24 hours, 3 days, 7 days, one month, etc.). Usually, the echo is multiple i.e., there is an echo after 24 hours (the strongest), another one after three days, still another one after seven days, etc. These multiple echoes are less and less powerful, consuming themselves in time.

The Law of Echoes is valid both for triggering actions and for triggered reactions. We can say that the echo is like a multiple reflection of an action. The echoes also trigger reactions.

Considering the temporal sequence of actions, each action has a feedback effect (going backward in time and therefore affecting all the latent KARMIC seeds that lay in wait) and a direct effect (going forward in time).

The result of an action is greatly influenced by associated ideas. When, for instance, a person practices certain austerities and desires that their fruit should go to the other person for whom he performs them, it is the other that gets the fruit, and not the performer.

If you understand the Law of KARMA, you will realize that there is no destiny besides the human will. Everybody gets exactly what he/she deserves. This is a Cosmic and Inflexible Law. There is a perfect justice, even when our limited human understanding "sees" an "injustice". The human beings build their own destiny through their actions, thoughts and intentions. If these have a positive charge, the destiny will be positive. If the actions, thoughts or intentions have a predominantly negative charge, the destiny will be negative. Notice that you do not necessarily have to do bad things to others for having a bad destiny: people usually do bad things to themselves, and this is enough for creating a negative KARMA. An important thing here is the intention. Remember, God or other Superior Cosmic Entities never punish a creature for being "bad" and never reward it for being "good".

In the light of this Law, man sows seeds (actions) that will sprout later. But the ignorant man continuously sows seeds and pays no attention to their grow. He does not even know what he is doing. He does not even know that what he is doing will have a repercussion. Nevertheless, this does not make the seeds of his actions sterile, on the contrary: they sprout and ripen, and then each must eat of the sweet or sour fruits of his own field. Not only our actions, but also our omissions become our destiny. Even the things that we have failed to accomplish trigger reactions that may develop into events of grave concern. Our fate deposits itself insidiously in our lives through our innumerable tiny movements, thoughts, intentions, habits, the scarcely conscious actions and neglects of everyday life. Then, through our unconscious choices and rejections, it gradually thickens until the solution reaches a saturation point and is ripe for crystallization. A slight turbulence is then enough, and what has long been forming as a cloudily liquid, something indefinite, merely holding itself in readiness, is instantaneously precipitated as destiny, bursts open crystal-clear and hard, and reveals to our astonished eye its internal store. Then we are thunderstruck. Then we ask ourselves: "What have I done to deserve this? Why me?" What for a long time has been build within in secrecy, unpredictably unloads itself with great power into the outer world and carries us with it: the machinery of KARMA starts its inexorable work into the scenery that we ourselves, most of the time unconsciously, have minutely prepared. We suddenly discover that we are trapped in an inescapable net, woven and tailored by ourselves, into which we have thoughtlessly delivered ourselves, and which leads us to phenomena of unknown and often uncontrollable proportions. And the tragic beauty of this is that everything seems as if it would come from outside, as if we would have no choice, as if we would be the victims of an unfair judgement, as if the whole world would turn against us in a sudden outburst of capriciousness.

We live in a mysterious world, in which we, with our conscious and subconscious mind and belief system, are permanently creating the "reality" in which we live, manifesting that enigmatic power called MAYA SHAKTI, through which we see the world not the way it is, but the way we want it, consciously or not, to be. This is the same power that the Supreme Being uses to create and manifest the worlds, and to hide Itself from them. You have to see and understand deeply this fundamental truth before attempting to understand the law of KARMA.

It is important to know that besides the KARMIC debts, the human being has FREE WILL. Free Will permits intelligent choices. Even if you have to suffer the reactions of a "bad" KARMA, these choices can make a big difference as to HOW these reactions will manifest, and even IF they will manifest at all. Free will is not the same for everybody (it depends on KARMA), but even an extraordinarily "bad" KARMA gives possibilities to exert free will at certain crucial points in life.

Counter-acting latent KARMAS

Now, we come to the idea of "changing the destiny". Generally speaking, the ordinary human being supports passively and unconsciously the consequences of his KARMAS (actions). In this state of consciousness, he/she unconsciously generates other KARMAS (actions), which trigger correspondent reactions, and so on. Apparently, this vicious circle has no end.

The YOGA Tradition puts forth clearly that the human being has the power and the right to change his destiny and find an exit from this vicious circle. This is called "escaping the wheel of reincarnations". KARMA itself is called "The Wheel of Eternal Returning".

We have seen that the state of KARMA, when it is asserting itself or is about to assert itself, is called mature KARMA. Once this state is reached, nothing and nobody can stop it from running its course, nothing can impede its fruition.

As opposed to this, there is the other state in which, the circumstances being extremely unfavorable for its growth, a KARMA remains dormant (latent KARMA). The fruition of such a KARMA only can be destroyed by a counter-action such as charity, spiritual practice, etc. The preventive measures against the fruition of latent KARMA are like inoculation to safeguard a person against the attack of a certain disease. And just as inoculation, though effective if it be done long before the attack, is yet useless when the attack has come, i.e., when the KARMA has attained maturity. The mature KARMA is like a boulder slipped from the top of a mountain, which knows no obstruction and must have its course till it reaches the flat land.

The destruction, or burning, of KARMA is one of the most essential antecedent conditions of enlightenment. But this is neither the only condition, nor is this in itself enlightenment.

The main purpose of the Law of KARMA is learning. If, through understanding and consciously changing your life, you learn a lesson, the KARMA that was supposed to teach you that particular lesson through suffering, is automatically burned.

Remember that KARMA is the main cause of our existence in this world. An individual is not only affected by his own KARMA, but also by that of the community or race to which he belongs (collective KARMA). A good or bad KARMA is equally undesirable for he who yearns to liberation, because it enchains the human being on the Wheel of Eternal Returning. In YOGA vision, KARMA is "good" when it permits the human being to realize the spiritual evolution, and it is "bad" when the opposite is the case. "Bad" KARMA means that a lot of lessons have to be learned; "good" KARMA means enough lessons were learned, so the human being can start the conscious work of inner growth. The advanced YOGIN yearns to eliminate any kind of KARMA. Only in this way will he be totally free of any links with the inferior levels of consciousness, being able to merge continuously into the Eternal Bliss of the Supreme Consciousness. From then on, all his Actions will be free of any KARMIC charge. These actions can trigger reactions, but only if the YOGIN desires so. An enlightened master has complete control over the fruition of his KARMAS (actions).

The Christian ideal of "forgiving the sins" is in fact another way of expressing the idea of burning or compensating the latent KARMA. JESUS referred to the same idea of changing the destiny when He said: "Verily I say unto you, the Son of Man has the power to forgive sins." In YOGA vision, "sin" is any action which is not in accordance with the superior Cosmic Harmony, in other words that which is not in accordance with YAMA and NIYAMA.

YOGA Science provides the necessary methodology of learning through understanding and conscious becoming, therefore of changing the Destiny and experiencing the remaining fruits of our KARMA in an intelligent and superior way. In this respect, YOGA SUTRA, the famous treatise on YOGA written by the Sage PATANJALI, says: "The future suffering can and must be avoided." The Science through which this is possible is called YOGA.

A general methodology through which the human being can avoid the wheel of KARMA is called NISKAMA KARMA i. e., action (KARMA) without (NIS) attachment (KAMA), i.e., spontaneous action that comes smoothly, as if by itself, without being "pushed". The TAOIST Master LAO-TZE explained this using the term "Non-Ado":

"Practice Non-Ado, and everything will be in order."

"TAO never makes any Ado, And yet it does everything, nothing is left undone."

"Do the Non-Ado, strive for the effortless. . ."

This idea was also expressed by the term "non-action", but this term was greatly misunderstood: it has nothing to do with laziness or inactivity, on the contrary, it stipulates intelligent action done in a special state of consciousness: to let oneself go, yielding trustingly to the Cosmic Laws, to fall in with the vast rhythm of the Universe and to move with Its harmony. This is the meaning of the chinese term WU-WEI (non-action): the avoidance of resistance and self-assertion, the non-interference, the harmonization with the Laws of Heaven and Earth.

Again, YOGA puts forth that the actual action does not create any KARMA, but the ATTITUDE with which that action is done (the arrogation to himself of the authorship of one's actions) links the human being into the painful chain of suffering. In order to avoid this, realize all your actions consecrating, through ardent yearning, their fruit to the Supreme Being, not expecting any reward or result from them and considering them as a duty that has to be done (DHARMA). In this way you open yourself toward the cosmic harmony and allow the Current of the Eternal Consciousness to perform these actions through you, while you assume the role of a relay which is conveying the corresponding action. Of a great help here is the continuous concentration upon SAHASRARA, the center above the head.

The term "non-attachment" (VAIRAGYA) best describes the spiritual condition of acting without lust of result. It is very difficult for the ordinary human being to decide on something and then to do it purely for its own sake. Yet it is precisely this attitude which is required from a YOGIN or a YOGINI.

In this respect, there is a Cosmic Law that says:

"Whatever you identify yourself with, controls you; you control whatever you dis-identify yourself with."
Here, "identification" has to be understood as ego-involvement; therefore, the lower the level of ego-involvement, the higher the level of satisfaction.

NISKAMA KARMA doesn't mean to be indifferent toward the action that you perform. On the contrary, it requires maximum attention and total responsibility. Do not be afraid to perform any action when the time is ripe for it, and do not expect any results (i.e., act for the sake of the action, and not for what you may get from that action). The correct understanding of this idea is very difficult and comes in time. It is said man has the duty to act, but the result of his actions are in God's hands.

Practical Elements In Karma Yoga

KARMA YOGA is one of the four types of classical YOGAS. The other three are:
  • JNANA YOGA - the YOGA of intellectual knowledge
  • BHAKTI YOGA - the YOGA of devotion to the Supreme Consciousness
  • RAJA YOGA - the YOGA of mind control and meditation
KARMA YOGA is the YOGA of spontaneous and complete communion with the Supreme Divine Consciousness through detached action.

DETACHMENT means non-ego involvement (freedom from the bonds of desire). Therefore KARMA YOGA requires non-ego involvement neither in action nor in detachment. In this way everything we do becomes a meditation and attunement to the Cosmic Harmony.

The ageless teachings of the KARMA YOGA system are the following:

(1) Not even for a moment can a human being be without action. Therefore inaction or refraining from action must NOT be the aim of a yogi. Detached and consecrated action is much superior than inaction.

(2) Certain actions are mandatory and therefore have to be done but in a state of perfect detachment and consecrating their fruit to the Supreme Consciousness (God).

(3) We must neither desire nor be afraid of the fruits (results) of our detached actions. We must consecrate these fruits to God. Consecration means offering the fruits of an action to God in a state of humbleness, it means acting for the love of God. This inner attitude of consecration implies a profound respect and attention for the action that is being performed, and a perfect detachment from its fruit. Consecration implies a higher responsibility, because now the quality of the action is a measure of the degree of love for God and of communion with the Cosmic Harmony. In the light of this teaching, no action is to be considered as being without importance, negligible or incompatible with the role we THINK (but don’t know through direct experimentation) we have to play in this life.

(4) We must never be attached to action itself.

(5) We must never consider ourselves as being the authors of our actions. We must keep in mind that God is the one who acts through us. Therefore, BEFORE starting an action (this detail is essential !!), invoke with fervor the presence of God and offer Him in a state of humbleness both that action and its fruits.

(6) Any action realized in the spirit of KARMA YOGA (i. e., respecting the above five precepts) does not create any KARMIC chains.

KARMA YOGA makes a clear distinction between:
(a) The INTENT of an action (the state of mind at the time of an action);
(b) The action itself;
(c) The fruits of the action;
Out of these three elements, only the intent creates new KARMA (enchains us to the Wheel of Birth and Death). To avoid this, the intent has to be detached and consecrated to God.

Consecration of actions

It is necessary to consecrate all major actions to God.

When you decide to offer an action and its fruits to God, it is of paramount importance that you do that BEFORE the action starts. Consecrate the fruits of the action to God in total sincerity, without holding back anything. When you offer the fruits to God, you agree that the results of the action, who were supposed to come to you, are offered to God and you willingli give them up. The moment of offering is immediately followed by an extraordinary state of communion, of openness, of charging with a divine flux of ecstatic energy, which always manifests in your being FROM TOP TO BOTTOM (from the center above the head down to the root center). You then feel this fluid entering the crown of the skull and penetrating your being, bathing you in a radiance of divine influence. This state is the sign that God has received your offer and that you can go ahead and start the action, being sure that now God is actiong through you, inspiring and guiding you all the way.

Therefore, in KARMA YOGA consecration has two parts:
1. Offering the fruits of an action to God BEFORE starting the action.
2. Perceiving, in a state of inner attention and receptiveness, the ANSWER that God sends us, and which means He has accepted our offer. This answer is a feeling, sometimes very soft and barely sensed, and sometimes an overwhelming state of expanded awareness, or any degree in between. The main thing here is to perceive a state of uplifting, a descent of grace from above the head up to the base of the spine. After a short time, this state fades away, but what is important is that it came upon you.

NOTE: It is impossible NOT to feel the answer, if God truly answers. if we are really sincere and open in our offering, God always has means to make us perceive His answer. You can for example, use the following formula BEFORE starting an action:

"I conceive in intent the following action (... you can state what it is) as an offering to the Supreme Consciousness. God, Supreme Father, I am offering you the fruits of this action, please make me understand and perceive if you want to receive my offering." Remain silent for a few minutes, in silent introspection for the answer.
WARNING! If after maximum five minutes the answer does not come, the action has not been correctly consecrated. In this case, do the consecration again, and wait for the answer. If the answer does not come even after a third consecration, that means God does not agree with that action, and you should NOT DO IT (or, if you go ahead and do it, be aware that God does not support it and it will create inescapable KARMIC links).

Helping others in the light of the KARMA YOGA teachings

KARMA YOGA introduces the formula "LEARNING THROUGH DETACHED HELP GIVEN TO OTHERS". Keep these ideas in mind:

- The only truly valuable help is that through which a human being receives the teaching of how to help himself / herself.

- For being able to really GIVE, you must first HAVE.

- When you help or teach others, consecrate your action to God, and let Him help that person through you. Be aware that you cannot help or teach anybody without a substantial help from God. Therefore in all humbleness (lack of arrogance) offer yourself as a relay through which God’s help can reach that person, and "get out of the way". If the consecration is correctly performed, and if you truly become a detached relay, the inner state of consciousness that appears then in your being is tremendously powerful. This state of consciousness changes you and the person you want to help, being in the same time a glorious proof of the existence of God and its ways. But do not be disappointed if sometimes the other person is dense or refractory to this help - this shows his / her incapacity to receive help.

- The difference between compassion and pity is this: Pity is a state of passive resonance with the suffering of other person. Through pity we take over our shoulders, partially or totally, the KARMA of suffering that belongs to other person. In other words, making other people’s problems our problems - without helping them in any way and sometimes even risking our inner development !! Through pity we are NOT integrated into the Cosmic Harmony.

Compassion can be defined as being the pity and the love of God. When we feel compassion, the predominant state is that of communion with the Cosmic Harmony while contemplating human suffering. When we feel compassion we are not taking over any KARMA. Compassion is a mobilizing, active attitude through which we find ways to help others in the light of the KARMA YOGA teachings. Compassion is purifying, therefore being great help in our inner evolution.

When we consecrate to God our pity, it is transformed into compassion.