Karma and Karma Yoga

Author: Jacqueline Herbst
Ref: Karma & Karma Yoga - Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati (Yoga Publications Trust, Munger, Bihar, India) Karma Sannyasa – Swami Satyasangananda Saraswati

Jacqueline Herbst

The word ‘karma’ is derived from the Sanskrit root ‘krit’, which means ‘performance of an action’, and in this case, an action, which is preceded by a definite cause – every cause results in an action.  There is no such thing as chance or luck in life, except only the result of our own previous actions.  Karma is not just action and reaction; it is also expressions, experiences or conditions of life.

Everything in this creation is subject to the law of karma.  There is nothing free of karma.  The difference is that a human being knows they are performing karma due to their level of intelligence, while other creatures don’t.

Karmas are acquired from the past and also created by our actions in this lifetime.  Eastern systems believe in rebirth – if what we accumulate in this life is not worked through and released in this life, it is carried forward to the next.  We take birth again and again to experience and exhaust karma.

There are five types of karma:

• SAKAMA (selfish) and NISHKAMA (selfless) KARMAS – selfish karma is performed to satisfy our own needs and ambitions, helping us attain a goal.  Selfless karma is performed to help another e.g. to help someone out of the misery they may be experiencing in life at a particular time.

• PAROPKARA (social) KARMA – to work for the welfare of others, not on a one-to-one basis, but to encompass society at large.

• PRARABDHA (destined) KARMA – to live life according to the laws of nature – birth, sickness, decay and death.  Despite every effort, the body is going to deteriorate day by day.

• SANCHITA (accumulated) KARMA – actions done in previous lives, which are embedded in the subconscious mind.

• DAIVA (cosmic) KARMA – the desire to attain harmony, peace and purity in life and the right, appropriate effort you make towards this aim.

Sakama, nishkama and paropkara are the three areas of human interaction and all work with our ego.  For sanchita karma, whilst we cannot change the experiences or impressions, we do have free will and can change our future by right thinking and action.  In prarabdha karma the body just lives it out and no ego is involved, as we don’t know how to manage and control it.  Daiva karma can only be performed when we have totally surrendered to the higher cause, not before and not as long as we are working with our ego, then God takes over and uses us for his higher purpose.  There is no ego involved here, as we are no longer the doer.  Therefore, our involvement in karma and the area of focus is limited to the ego – selfish, selfless and social karma.  If we focus on these three karmas, we can become a karma yogi.

So how can we work on these areas?  By performing karma yoga, which can either is a physical or mental action.  We only aspire for good, but don’t know how to be good.  For us ‘being good’ means doing the right thing externally, but in yoga being good means doing the right thing in the mind.  If the mind is doing the right thing, then the external performance will also be right.

Emotional, mental and sensory responses have to be managed to convert karma to yoga.  If you perform negative karma, you get a negative response and if you perform positive karma, you get a positive response.

It is the ego that ties us down to karma as it is from here that karma manifests.  As a spiritual aspirant, it is the ego that we have to work with.  Our responses to life situations are guided by the ego.  Anything that affects the ego in a negative way creates a karma, which is binding, and anything that affects the ego in a constructive, positive way is a karma that frees the ego from bondage.  Humility is what quietens the ego, so we need to try adopting it in all our actions and in our lives.  Until the ego is tackled, we will continue to be bound by karma.

All negative manifestations arise due to the internal conflict.  We usually associate with others, but that is only what appears.  The fault does not lie within the other person, it lies in our own mind, and so we need to handle our minds carefully.  We must try to practice restraint in our thoughts, actions and behaviors and instead of blaming others, look towards ourselves first.  Until we can come to an agreement with our mind, there will always be conflict.

We associate joy with success and sorrow with failure.  Every individual’s main struggle in life is to be free from suffering and discover happiness.  Joy can make us weak and those who run after happiness only, remain weak, whilst those who endure suffering acquire strength of mind.  Suffering can also help bring us closer to Go, as it is when we suffer that we usually go to God for help.  We should experience joy and happiness, but we must not forget our aim – to free ourselves from bondages so we can experience total freedom.  Sometimes suffering is required to attain this.  Finding the balance between the two is yoga.

We need to be grateful for all we have in our lives.  If we are aware of the absences in life, our glass will always be half empty, but if we are aware of the gains in life, it will always be half full.

We should try practice non-attachment, pruning our desires that are beneficial for life and maintaining those, but getting rid of the rest.  This is how our minds have to be redirected from selfishness and selflessness.  We should also practice acceptance – being happy with or without what we desire.

On the physical side, karma yoga says that when we complete and action, each action should be a creative one, done with perfection and there should be no expectation of result.  The reality of life is that not many people are evolved enough to deny the results.  In normal human state, every individual expects results.  It is not wrong to expect results, the only thing wrong is hankering for and being obsesses with result.

When we add the word ‘yoga’ to karma, it means acquiring the ability to observe, understand and flow with ease and grace through life.  Trying to make our actions positive, liberating, constructive and perfect.  This is the whole process of karma yoga.

Although we cannot exist without karmas, as they are guiding principles of life, their direction can be changed and that is the effort a spiritual aspirant makes.  It is possible to become totally free from karmas, but not for the average human in this lifetime.  Total freedom from karma can only be attained by those who have renounced or developed detachment from everything around them.  As long as we are outside in the world with duties, responsibilities and attachment (e.g. family and material possessions), we are considered as social people (grihastas) and our aim would be to become better social people (sadgrihastas).  It would be incorrect and inappropriate to presume grihastas can become like a samyasin, as our paths are very different in this lifetime.  We can not be in a hurry and must be patient – we wouldn’t expect to have a transcendental experience in only one week of meditation, but if we planted the seed of meditation, nurtured and nourished it, we would receive the fruits of meditation ten years down the line, the same needs to go for trying to be free from karma, only it will take a lot longer.

I feel blessed to have the opportunities to experience all I have in my lifetime and even though I will make mistakes along the way, as long as I am learning from them, they will only help increase my knowledge and understanding and even though I wont attain what I need to in this lifetime, I look forward to the many chances and lifetimes to come and know it is up to me on how long it will take to get there.

“The views above are solely those of the author. may or may not agree with all statements."

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