Unless you are a highly evolved, enlightened being, Karma affects your life in every way; in fact, your life is the constant unfolding of Karma!
The Karmic Software
Karma means action. Physics shows that for every action, there must be an equal and opposite reaction. Karma is energy, which in itself is neither good nor bad; these are just the labels people choose to attach to it. The energy created by an action has to be returned: “As yea sow so shall yea reap.” It cannot be avoided.
When you perform an action, it creates a memory, which in turn generates a desire, which leads you to perform another action. For example: You take your first yoga class (action), then you know what happens in a yoga class (memory), and if you enjoyed the class, you decide to go back the following week (desire), and that following week you turn up again with your mat (action). Karma creates memories and desires, which then determine how you live. Actions, memories, and desires are the Karmic software that run your life.
The subtle energy created by your actions is stored within your memories and desires and is activated—sometimes immediately, but more often at some future time. To use the earlier example, you took the yoga class and then forgot about it until months later when you’re walking through town and notice a yoga studio. You remember your past experience, which triggers the desire to take another class.
The Vedantic View
It’s not necessary to believe in reincarnation to understand Karma but, from the Vedantic perspective, you have lived for many previous lives and the situations and circumstances of your current life are the result of the actions performed during all lives. Believing in Karma and reincarnation makes it easier to understand why bad things happen to good people or why a young innocent child develops a life-threatening illness. Vedanta would say that everything in your life is the result of the energy created by actions in previous births. Every situation that happens to you and everyone you meet has a Karmic significance. Everything happens for a reason.
Whatever your belief, Karma implies that you have created and continue to create your life. Do you have free will? Unfortunately, many people have very little. Many people allow themselves to remain imprisoned in that Karmic software, conditioned by their memories and desires, performing the same habits over and over and wondering why their lives aren’t taking them anywhere. Many are like the hamster, running on its treadwheel, thinking it’s getting somewhere while in fact it’s just going round and round!
However, as you grow and evolve spiritually, you can break out of those cycles and consciously choose the life you want to lead. The Karmic curse causes you to forget who you really are, so your spiritual path involves releasing the Karma that is clouding your awareness, allowing you to remember who you really are. Of course, releasing Karma doesn’t mean you lose all your memories and desires; it means you lose your attachment to them and are no longer held under their influence. As the great seer Adi Shankara said, “I use memories but I don’t allow them to use me.”
Gathering and Storing Karma
In addition to the Karma created from your own actions, you are subjected to the Karmic influences of your family, religion, race, nationality, and more. Every situation you encounter in life is the result of some Karma. You constantly create Karma from your actions, thoughts, words, from the actions of others under your control, from your attitudes, expectations, and lifestyle. You create Karma from the intended actions you perform consciously and also from actions done unconsciously from ignorance. It is also possible to take on someone else’s Karma, which generally isn’t a good idea, because you have enough of your own. This can happen from stealing another’s belongings, gossiping, or fantasizing. It also happens in intimate relationships, but as long as the relationship is based in love, this is an acceptable part of a bonding exchange. Remember, the relationship itself is the result of Karma, and Vedanta says the purpose of every relationship should be enlightenment.
Vedanta says that all your Karma is stored in the Jiva, the individual soul, or the aspect of the soul conditioned by Karma. Vedanta describes three types of Karma: that which you have chosen to process during this particular birth, that which is stored for later births, and the new Karma you generate every moment of your existence. Chakras store the Karma for this lifetime. Chakras are your subtle energy centers through which consciousness transforms into matter. Karma distorts that flow of consciousness, causing you to experience an illusory world. Clearing Karma helps you to step out of the illusion.
Releasing Your Karma
Karma cannot be avoided. For most people, Karmic energy is returned with the same intensity with which it was generated. Depending on your previous actions, this could create happiness or suffering. Whatever happens, is the result of Karma being released, which, no matter how you view the situation, is a good thing and an opportunity for future growth. Vedanta say, “Nothing happens to you, it happens for you!”
Are you then doomed to a life of paying for past mistakes, interspersed by a few moments of pleasure? Not necessarily. By the quality of your current actions, Karma can be transformed, transmuted into a different form, or transcended completely. Here are eight practices that can help you increase the quality of your actions.
1. Make Conscious Choices
The choices you make influence your Karma in two ways. Making quality choices can soften the intensity or magnitude of situations resulting from returning Karma. The energy of the Karma has to be returned, but it can be transmuted. For example, instead of falling down and breaking your leg, maybe you just stub a toe. The Karma was returned but the quality of your life choices lessened its effect.
Your choices also determine the quality of new Karma being created and stored to be released as future events in your life. It’s important, therefore, to be conscious of the choices you are making and ask yourself: Do these choices serve me and those who may be affected by them? Are my decisions coming from my heart and higher self or my ego?
This an important aspect of your spiritual growth. First, accept that what has happened has happened. Then, see if you can, without judgment or evaluation, understand why it happened. Finally, try to forgive whoever you feel may have harmed you; it’s always possible to forgive the person even if you cannot forgive the act. From the Vedantic perspective, every hurt you encounter is the return of some Karma. If the postman fills your mailbox with bills, don’t spend the whole day hating the postman. Forgive and move forward!
3. Cultivate Gratitude
Forgiveness is hard for most people, and gratitude can also be challenging. However, if you believe that everything that happens to you is past Karma being released, then each time you release Karma, it is gone. Isn’t that cause for celebration? Try to be grateful for everything in your life.
4. Look for Growth Opportunities
Any challenging situation gives you two choices. You can see the situation as a problem and waste your life complaining about it, or you can recognize that it happened and ask, “How can I learn and grow from this?”
If you see it as a problem, you can get drawn into lower energy, which recreates the same Karmic energy, and you make no progress. Looking for growth opportunities allows you to release the Karma and remain free to move ahead on your spiritual journey.
5. Learn from Astrology
An astrological chart gives a picture of your Karmic probabilities. A competent astrologer can interpret your chart and give you advice concerning the possible effects Karma will play in different areas and at different times of your life. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a spiritual teacher, used to say, “Everything is set but everything can be changed.” Astrology gives you the insight to make the necessary changes. As the Yoga Sutras say, “Avert the danger which has not yet come.”
6. Find an Enlightened Teacher
If you are fortunate (or your Karma dictates you) to meet an enlightened teacher, he or she may be able to “see” your Karmic patterns and advise you accordingly. An enlightened person could take on some of your Karma, but this would be with a special relationship developed over several years.
7. Discover Your Dharma
Vedanta says that if you understand Dharma and Karma, you will know everything. Dharma is usually defined as purpose or truth. When you find your true purpose in life and live in total alignment with that, your actions will become spontaneously correct and you will never create Karma.
The most powerful tool you have on your spiritual path is meditation, especially a practice that includes mantras. Meditation is a journey from activity into silence. In Primordial Sound Meditation, mantras or sounds are used with no particular meaning. The meaning of a thought holds the memory and desire and thus the Karma. A mantra with no meaning has no Karma. When you think your mantra in meditation, you are taken beyond the range of Karma; you transcend all memories and desires and slip into the field of infinite possibilities.
With regular practice, you begin to live from that level of infinite possibilities instead of the limited possibilities created by Karma. Meditation realigns you with your true self, leads you back to your true purpose (Dharma) and allows you to “wash” away Karma on all levels.
Commitment to your spiritual path is the key to escaping from the Karmic prison you have created for yourself—and to enjoy unbounded freedom in every moment.