A Practical Understanding of Karma

From our e-book “We are Here to Celebrate”

Karma is defined as cause and effect. Personally, I like to define it as habitual tendencies as this definition makes it more practical. One way of seeing the workings of karma is to observe, through awareness, our negative emotions that arise from external events or stimulation.

Negative emotions are not by themselves bad. When they arise, they provide us with the opportunity to practice what we have learnt from spiritual masters and develop wisdom. Whenever negative emotions are present, we are presented with a choice; to react to the negative emotions and even harm others or, we use our awareness to understand ourselves and our wisdom to end the habitual/karmic tendencies for good. There is no point in reading tons of spiritual books if we do not practice the lessons that are taught in them.

Negative emotions such as jealousy, anger and craving arise because we have that karmic seed within us. When they arise, we can choose to strengthen them or burn them. We strengthen them by reacting negatively when the emotions arise such as wishing ill will for the person behind that negative emotion. However, we can burn that Karma by not reacting to it and being aware when the emotion arises.

We use our wisdom to diffuse that emotion so that we do not react to it. We look at the thoughts that caused the negative emotions to arise. In the future, whenever those thoughts arise again, they will no longer have such a strong hold on us. Eventually, we will have freedom because we are no longer controlled by our emotions. Writing in a spiritual diary is an effective way of doing so.

Patanjali defines Yoga as the cessation of identification with the fluctuations in consciousness. The goal is not to stop the fluctuations in consciousness or to block them in any way. It is nature; no one can change that; just like no one can stop the wind from blowing. The goal is to stop identifying with these fluctuations; to stop being absorbed in
these fluctuations. The fluctuations that arise represent our karma; the seed lying dormant until the necessary conditions for the seed to sprout arises. Then we have a choice, whether to burn that karmic tendency (for example habitual pattern to be angry) completely by choosing to act wisely or to strengthen that karmic tendency further by reacting based on that negative emotion. If we are able to remain calm by watching our breath and recognizing the negative effects of anger, then gradually, that habitual pattern or karma will disappear. Negative emotions are like layers and layers of dust which covers our true identity. When the dusts are sufficiently reduced, our true nature, which is love, reveals itself.

The problem is, whenever we clear a layer of dust, we place new layers to replace them. Here is a simple example. Some time ago, I watched a horror movie ‘The Legend’ which Will Smith was the main actor. Recently, I drove pass a billboard with Will Smith’s face and instantly, my memory of the movie was triggered and my mood was affect by the violent scenes played in my head. I observed that this is how Karma works. By watching the violent movie, I planted a seed. When the right condition arises (Will Smith’s picture), the seed sprouts and manifest as negative emotions. The problem is; the seed can sprout a few times until I get used to it. Awareness is the broom to sweep it away.

green leafy plant starting to grow on beige racks

There is two points to make from this story. Firstly, whatever action we choose, we need to be aware of the consequences. We choose the future consequences when we make the current choice. Secondly, a karmic seed can manifest itself over and over again until we make the conscious choice to burn it with wisdom and awareness.

When we perform Karma Yoga, we should not think of it as service but rather, as a means of removing our selfish desires; at least for the period of the activity. According to MG Satchidananda, this provides an opportunity for the divine to manifest. The best time to overcome the ego is when it is at the strongest, that is, when the body is tired, weak and hungry. That time, the ego will yell and shout and lash at anybody near and also lash at oneself, raising the toxin levels in the body and sapping the body of all its energy. When this happens, accept the yelling and screaming ego. Give it love and attention. Give it full awareness. Know that it is the conditioning from many lifetimes. Let go and surrender to the Divine.

When we serve others, we maintain the frame of mind that we are rendering service to Babaji or the Divine in others. We do not expect any return and we dedicate the fruits of our work to the Divine. That is the real meaning when we offer fruits to an image of the divine. We are not offering the physical fruits but rather, the fruits of our service to the Divine. Expectations of any reward will only disturb our peace of mind. Confusion is what we get when we chase after the ‘fruits’ of our labour. Serve and expect no returns. That is the source of peace in serving Babaji.

Virtue is something we struggle with. Our mind is often in a conflict when we think we should be more compassionate, more loving, more charitable and so on. This is unnecessary. When we live in the present and live consciously, we will not react according to our Karma. Virtue will arise on its own. Virtue is meant to be natural, not something we struggle with; just like love, which arises naturally. You do not have to think about it.

A  common belief is that our experiences are the result of our karma. The masters also teach that we create our reality. These two points seem contradictory and yet they are not. Karma is basically our reactive habit or conditioning we have grown up with. Our choices are based on our habitual patterns and conditioning. For example, if one has a bad temper, it is not difficult to predict how he will react if someone insults him. However, if we are free from our habitual patterns and conditioning, we are then free from that aspect of karma. In this example, if the person is able to transcend his habit of getting angry, then he can choose his response based on wisdom and create new realities for himself.

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