The topic of today is a complex topic, we will try our best to talk about how to bring meaning to our lives no matter what circumstances we found ourselves in. The two words of Karma and Dharma are charged with meaning. Considering we do not know if everyone in the audience has the same understanding about this, we will go a little bit in details, about karma and dharma to describe the cause of our existence – according to ancient Yogic philosophy- and what we are supposed to do to make the best out of our life. We need to see “the big picture” to become wise resulting from this expanded vision.
During the threat of a pandemic Covid 19 upsetting life all round us, during this crisis situation, where we have to fall back to survival mode, it seems futile to ask such question. Yet it is precisely during these times, that we need to focus on finding new grounds, new ways and to realign ourselves differently and discover new territories and possibilities about ourselves and our potentials.
What is karma and How karma works?
Karma comes from Desires.
Karma means Action and the results of action. Thinking is action.
Any thought will bring about a reaction.
You experience the present life as a result of the past coming into the present. Karma is law of cause and effect. Some karmas (or karmic situations) seem to be good and some are appearing to be negative. The theory on Karma, explains that “We reap the fruits of the seeds we grow. Good actions bring its own results and bad actions bring its own consequences. There is no accident or haphazard things in this world.” I know this seems cruel and some of you might rise objections as to why some people would have to die from Corona virus now, alone in hospital grasping for air, some people would have to perish while helping others on the front line, some people have no shelter to shelter under and some others can afford have all the medical care to fight off the disease.
The Root Causes of Life’s Struggles
Life doesn’t end with death, according to Yogic philosophy. We need to look deeper into the cause of our struggles or luck which might come from beyond this life. The law of cause and effect, when applied can be very simple: If we enjoy peace and health now, it is because we have contributed to peace and health of someone sometime.
If we suffer from loneliness, it is we have created isolation in somebody. If we face a situation that seems like a choice between being selfish and survive or being compassionate and humble and risking our lives, it is because in the past when confronted with these situations we have always chosen the former. We are being given this same choice again in order to choose differently. Similarly, if we feel that lying or manipulating a situation will be to our advantage, we need to choose honesty and straightforwardness and find strength in having good character, of doing the ethical thing. Genuinely helping another person to attain more material comforts in their life will manifest in yours as a boon of good fortune.
Take Responsibility of your life and choices.
Karma does not work differently at work, in private life. There is also a group collective karma. You are born in a certain era, certain society, certain level of technological development. Everything is interrelated. By improving your character at work you improve your happiness at home. By improving your relationships at home you improve your business as your energy will flow better.
Cultivating contentment with what you have already been given releases you from the karma of constant restlessness of desiring more. Giving freely and charitably results in greater wealth coming your way. Stinginess, in the contrary, brings with it a sense of lack, of never having enough. Maintaining pure intentions, which come from your heart, brings lasting peace of mind; whereas, sometimes following the head and other times the heart brings confusion, fragmentation, and problems in the future. Seeking inspiration from the wise people while avoiding back-biting and gossiping attracts supportive people that will be key to your success. In the same manner, negativity, divisiveness, and bringing your competitors or coworkers down will return to you in the form of stress and fear. Inflexibility and desire for control bring you more situations that you can never control. But, letting go of the need for control and realizing that you may not be aware of subtler forces at work gives insight into the interconnectivity and self-regulating nature of creation. Everything is, in fact, perfect; we just often fail to see it. Cultivating belief in this truth brings great peace and relaxation.
The twelve areas of Karma in this life.
The more you identify with your karma, the more your karma becomes real. To be free from it you have to know it, so you don’t identify with it. These are 12 areas of karma, intertwined with each other.
- The body:
The body is said to be a battlefield where the karmic lessons are learnt. From the seed of karma, sprout out the body and mind.
With the body you inherit certain psychology pertaining to the gender.
When you are born you are born in a body belonging to a certain race and culture. The collective karma will come with it. You are born white, yellow or black. The karmic condition comes with it, depending on the era you are born in.
You also inherit from the moment you are born a certain amount of life force. Some are born healthy with lots of life force.
Some are born weak, not so healthy. Some are born with fire element constitution, prone to action. Some are born with water element, prone to emotions. The karma with the body is already there, male, female, strong, weak.
- The family, relatives and resources.
Then you have the karma of the family, the relatives, people that you live with in your early life. You might be supported or not supported. You have karma of having money or not having money no matter what you do.
- Your karma relating to your abilities in communication and your self will or not. Your relationship with siblings.
- Relationship karma with your emotional heart and happiness, your mother, and your home, house and property.
- Then you have the karma with your children, your physical children or your creativity, which is your children in an abstract manner.
- This is the karma about your health and diseases and challenges.
- You have karma with your partner either easy or difficult.
- You also have difficult invisible karmas, hidden. This relates to the energy within the psyche, the area of spiritual insight or death.
- You have karma with your Guru, your spiritual teacher, your father and also your dharma, your faith.
- Your karma with work, career, your name and fame, place in society, in some cases frustrating, some cases fulfilling.
- You also have karma with your friends, your community, your gains
- And losses.
In these different karmas, you would have to detach and find yourself.
In relationships and in work, in gains, or losses, at home or in society, in your creative intelligence or in your emotions, you would have to observe the plays of karmas and find your Atman Self through it.
You would have to find Your Self in Others in these different areas of your life.
Karma, Destiny and Self effort
In life, we always have free choice even though these choices are limited. It is said that the present life and its circumstances is the result of past lives thoughts and actions. What happens today is already predetermined even though we do not know from when and and how things will manifest. However, this is not a fatalistic view. In the contrary, we remember that challenges in this life are opportunities for growth and for success in the future.
We might have freedom will but we need to think well about our choices so that what we do leads us to peace and happiness and not to suffering. When we are acting out of past habits and are powerless to change our character and attitudes, we are actually bound and not free. Yoga teaches us Self effort to control the mind and realize the True Self and be conscious and wise about our choices, thus eventually free us from the tendency to produce the same mistakes.
Managing karma implies that:
1. We care about our present duty,
2. We keep our eyes on our total and ultimate self-development,
3. We accept all tests and challenges in life as only temporary.
There is no Good karma and bad karma. Try to be free from all karma
Life is not only challenges but there will be some good things happening and some bad. Life is a combination of both good and bad karma. That means certain conditions that we are born in are easy, things that we didn’t have to do anything and yet they came to you.
There will be favorable conditions according to what we wish and desire and there will be the unfavorable conditions that we have to struggle with.
Keep even mind in all conditions, in fact, good or bad karma is just karma. In reality there is no good or bad. There is no good life, no bad life, no superior life, no lucky life, no unlucky life. It is just specifically your life and then you have to learn from it in order for you to be free from all karmas.
Increasing karmic credits, diminishing karmic debits.
Life is a series of pluses and minuses. You have to see the condition from the inside, to understand the plus and minus in the karmic bank balance of your life, not from the outside. From the inside means from your level of consciousness. Your journey is the journey of Self Realization, towards absolute consciousness of Oneness.
In this journey, you can record your debts as the things that you yet have to learn, and credits as the things you have learned.
Credit giving (+) Selfless actions, study, introspection, meditation. Anything that helps us bring awareness will give us credit; Follow dharmic rules of conduct is accumulating credits. Any action that will make us wake up is credit.
Debits adding (-) : anything the makes us become more ignorant will give us debt. Any action that will make us become thicker in our ego separation and illusion is debt.
The balance of pluses and minuses shows your progress and the accumulation of pluses can bring about a total payment of all debts i.e. liberation from karma.
What means working out karma and paying karmic debts?
It means experiencing the difficulties and slowly learning who the Self is and who it is not. For example, regarding relationship karma, you have to go through the different flavors or aspects of these relationships in order for you to learn the real lesson of Pure Unconditional Love that is your Self. You would be selfless. You would learn Self Love that also includes the other.
Suffering means learning.
Is suffering a must when you are learning from karmas? Suffering is subjective and is related to your reaction towards your karmas, therefore it will be there as an incentive for you to learn.
Sometimes you want to escape from suffering and not learn, for example you would escape in addiction, in disease, in self pity and in blaming. Then you are not learning your karmic lessons and you are diving deeper in the same way of seeing yourself and others. However, life is a school and there is some kind of progress even though different situations seem to be very different, but there is progress.
Paying debt, alleviation of karma is gradual:
Karmas are being understood slowly. You change roles so you will learn. You suffer, so you will learn.
Alleviation of karma means that you will refine your ideas about how you think about things. You will become selfless and detached, and you would turn karma to dharma. You would take a distance and will not to take yourself too seriously, be detached and remember that the True Self is the Self and nothing can touch it, hurt it or taking anything away from it. You will keep your peace of mind. You will forgive and offer everything up in karma Yoga.
Your life is a result of karmas from past but you have choices in the present.
In the present time, when you are aware, you can do something about alleviating your karma. You would have the choice, either reproduce the same situation as the one you inherit from past karma, or become wise about karma and not reproduce again another karmic situation in the future.
Sometimes the lessons are intense and lots of issues come up at the same time. The intense purification the world is going through during the corona virus pandemic is an example when the karma is accelerating and we have no choice but to face it. Try to see all these challenging situations under the view of karma and try to be more aware of the consequences of our actions and rise to the task.
You learn something but you create new debts.
The process of paying up your karmic debts goes very deep. It takes a long term training to control the mind and to stop reacting to the karmas, and create new karmas. For example, you are locked up and you do not understand why you can not move about and do what you desire. You fail to understand the universe’s lesson to you and others to turn inwards and to change consciousness. You got depressed or upset and do wrong actions.
Life is like a circle, the wheel of karma, you learn something but you create new debts. It just goes on and on and on. You learn something. You don’t learn something. You learn something. You don’t learn something. You just go on and on and on, classroom to classroom, from lifetime to lifetime learning.
What is Karma Yoga?
Karma Yoga is the way to work through karma by changing your sense of your self and the identification with your actions.
In Karma Yoga your motivation needs to be pure. Motivation stems from the heart, the true inner feeling.
- Develop the attitude of being an instrument only, be detached.
- Offer the results: In praises or censures, in success or failures, keep the mind even. It’s not about me, it’s not about them. It’s not about whether I like them or they like me, it has nothing to do with this. You offer the results of your action, that means you offer this karma up in order for you to continue to progress.
- Do the best you can: Make effort but learn to let go.
- Do your duty and persevere, this too shall pass. Your karma dictates to you your specific duty. There is no accident, no duty is an accident. If you follow your duty you learn even though it is difficult. At every station in life, you have specific duty. Follow the discipline of your duty and you will be learning greatly. Many doctors and nurses actually now are going through intense karma doing their duty, even risking their lives to save others. They are on the front line, like in a war.
This reminds us of the sublime teaching long ago of Arjuna, the warrior-disciple in conflict who receives on the battle field the revelation about the immortality of the soul, the teaching on karma yoga and duty and the self knowledge in action.
Every karma is unique
You can only understand your own karma; you cannot understand another person’s karma. You can look at someone else’ s life so that you can learn from them. The scriptures say it is much better that you focus on your own karma and not someone else’ s, even though it is easier for you.
Let’s say you have a situation that is really difficult for you to deal with, but a friend will look at you and say,” I don’t know why you have such big problem about this. If I am you, I’ll do this, I’ll do that.” In karmic difficulty, it is as if you are blind while another person can see your problem easily. It is said that you can take people’s advice, you can hear other people, but you yourself have to deal with it. So don’t compare, it is not necessary to compare.
Turning karma to Karma yoga and find your life mission:
- Dharma is right living, right action.
- Karma Yoga attitude helps you to turn your karma to Dharma.
You can turn your karma to karma yoga by being selfless and dedicating your service without expectation. Your selfless service is unique to you. For you, it turns your whole attitude around and touches your soul. It opens your life up to new horizons.
- Then, you turn your selfless service into your life mission when you understand that this sublime attitude has to be kept throughout life.
You cannot solve the problem on the same level of consciousness that created the problem at the first place, so your life mission is to go back to this place of selflessness that will set you free.
- A homeless abandoned woman opens shelter for homeless women and teach the women self esteem and self confidence.
- A grieving wife due to lost of beloved husband to disease, speaks out about the virtue of love beyond death, and becomes selfless worker to help people with disease.
- A person becoming jobless and bankrupt due to economy crisis turns into a founder of a company helping people to express creativity and improve earning through wise capital ventures.
- A scientist who lost family due to virus now dedicates life work to study viruses and to find cures and vaccines
- A political critical activist wanting always things to change now dedicating oneself to nourish and care for ecology, relying on the grace of the Mother Nature.
Take care of your duty in the present and the future will be taken care of:
Dharma is duty. It is transforming your karma into an unselfish duty. It means putting the ego at the service of others and the greater good. Not thinking of ourselves first and only, but sharing in everyone’s happiness, being an honorable contributor to the betterment of society, and opening oneself to the whole of creation will turn karma into dharma. It will improve life in all aspects. The result is not necessarily immediate, however; patience and knowledge of how karma works will see you through to the benefits.
Yoga teaching says try to be good and to do good all of the time no matter what the situation is.
Karma can be understood and released. Growing spiritually requires that we turn our karma into dharma.
Dharmic Life Brings Happiness
Happiness comes from Peace of mind and unhappiness comes from a restless mind.
Yoga teaches the practice of restraint of thought waves to find contentment and break through the karmic accumulation.
In the pursuit of happiness, we made many mistakes, and created endless karmas. In our feverish world of competition, where everybody is looking for answers outside, we believe that our happiness is in material possessions and sensual comforts. We think that our happiness has to be at the expense of someone else happiness so we compete and make sure we get the best place, the best part of the cake. We fear that someone else happiness is at our expense, and become jealous and envious. We do not see the intangible, the spiritual, the sublime and divine. We believe in external success and not in internal peace as success, thus we are being pulled in all directions by our ambitions and desires and the disappointments, angers that follow desires.
Yogis affirm that in order to find happiness, we need to achieve peace of mind first. This means that we need to eventually recognize that there is no end to desires, that the objects desired in fact are our own projections of our own illusions externally. We eventually learn to turn within, avoid the love and hate, the ups and downs, the dual tendency of attraction and repulsion, always running towards something and running away from something.
This is when Yoga and meditation come in our life, as we catch the taste of peace and understand finally that it comes from within, and decide to consciously make an effort to be calm and focused within.
How Yoga helps?
Classical yoga attributes equal value to self-effort and relaxation. In Sivananda Yoga class, students learn to come into a posture with control, hold it while breathing into any discomfort or tension, and slowly come out of a posture with control. There is relaxation and breathing in between the postures and accent on self-awareness throughout. Postures lead to Meditation. So, practicing these teachings regularly will help to slow down and realize that seeking happiness outside of ourselves leads us nowhere. Yoga shows us a way out. By practicing regularly, your life mission will be revealed to you.
OM TAT SAT.
Swami Sitaramananda, Acharya ISYVC