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April 17

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Karma – or how to shape your own destiny

What's in it for you: Lots of good karma  - by Jaggi Vasudev

Imagine you're applying for an exciting job. You'd really like the job, so you spruce up your CV a bit. You feel guilty about it, but it works: You actually get hired. Everything goes pretty well for the first few months. But one day your boss calls you into his office to tell you that you are being dismissed. Because of "restructuring" and "budget cuts". At first you are shocked, maybe even angry, but you can't really be mad. After all, you know where it comes from: apparently your bad karma has struck back.

Or the other way round: Imagine you're strolling out of the health food shop in a good mood and you throw all your change into a homeless man's cup. Just like that. Because you just feel like it. And on the same day, the person you've had your eye on for a while invites you to dinner. Sure: the reward for your good karma.

That's how most people imagine the principle of karma. Unfortunately, they are quite wrong. Because karma is not a balancing justice, and there is also no divine authority that credits you with a bonus on your karma account somewhere. In reality, there is something quite different behind it. And that's what these blinks are about.

These artikle revolves around the true nature of - well: - karma. Together we see that karma doesn't have to be a punishing fate, but quite the opposite: a path to hope, self-determination and happiness. But before we get to how you can harness karma, let's take a look at what exactly is behind it. 

Karma is not a destiny

Let's start our yogic crash course right away with what karma is not. Karma is not retributive justice. It does not mean that you are punished or rewarded for past deeds. There is no supernatural authority that keeps track of who has been good and who has been bad and sends some to heaven and others to hell.

So what does karma really mean? The word itself comes from Sanskrit. Translated, it means something like "action" or "deed". And in essence it means no more and no less than the principle of cause and effect: every action, whether physical or mental, has a consequence.

Karma encompasses the effect of everything you think or do. Thus it also encompasses the cycle of all forces that influence your thoughts and actions. It is like this: You react to environmental stimuli throughout your life; mentally, emotionally and biochemically. Over time, fixed patterns emerge. You simply get used to reacting in a certain way to certain stimuli. And these patterns form what you call your personality, your way of interacting with the world.

The problem is that you are not aware of these processes. You don't realise how these patterns become inscribed in your perception like a filter. And at some point your thinking and acting has become so automated that in certain situations you reel off the same programme over and over again.

You have long since lost sight of the causal connections in your life. Everything feels somehow fated - as if your life is actually guided by a higher power. There's nothing you can do about it, you think to yourself, it's all fate - or rather, karma: Karma.

But that's not how it works. It's not karma that has control over your life, it's you. You can rewrite the patterns and programmes in you. You alone are responsible for how you experience the world. Over your karma. And when you realise that, anything is possible. That's what these blinks are all about. So how about it? Are you ready to take control?

Karma means not only action, but also intention

Here is a somewhat macabre thought experiment: You are standing in the kitchen cutting vegetables. Your partner says something that upsets you. You turn around, lose control and ram the knife into his flank. Does that give you bad karma? Oh, yeah, absolutely. And a hefty lawsuit to boot.

Same scene, different backstory. Imagine it's been simmering inside you for a while. The anger has been building up for months into violent fantasies. Until this moment in the kitchen. Your partner comes up to you, gets you in a rage and you swing the knife. In this second case, you have even more bad karma because you have nurtured the violence for months with hateful thoughts. This is also self-explanatory.

But here's the thing: You may also collect bad karma if you don't use violence.

Because karma is not only about your external actions, but also about the thoughts that are connected to them.

So let's stay with the last example and assume that you do indeed put a good face on things for months. You make your partner believe in an ideal world, but secretly wish the plague on him. But it never escalates: you never reach for the knife and never attack him violently. But you imagine it countless times a day. What happens? You poison yourself from the inside. Agonisingly slowly. And that's what gives you the most bad karma.

Sounds funny? Well, then realise once again what karma is not. Karma is not a corrective force, but the all-encompassing principle of cause and effect. This also means that the more emotions you carry around with you, the greater your karmic burden. In the last of our somewhat drastic examples, you carry around heavy and dark emotions. And you feel correspondingly bad.

This may sound a bit gloomy, but in fact it is a great opportunity. Because it also means that your karma is not beyond your control. Karma is not a fateful energy that determines our suffering and happiness. Once again, realise that you are in control of your karma. This is what distinguishes you from an animal: you are not a prisoner of your instincts and fears. You yourself decide what you think and do.

Remember this: karma means that every action has an effect. And this also applies to situations that we like to think of as fated, i.e. unchangeable.

But karma also means the freedom to decide for oneself how to deal with a situation. Imagine someone suffering from a painful illness and lamenting his "fate". But in reality, nothing and no one tells him how to deal with his situation. The illness and the pain may be unavoidable, but self-pity is a self-chosen choice without much benefit.

You alone are master or mistress of your karmic burden. You alone decide what intentions and feelings you carry around with you.

Karma outlasts time like memories

We beam back to 2013, to a research lab in the USA. White coats, bubbling test tubes and - unfortunately yes - cages full of laboratory animals. Here, at Emory University in Atlanta, a research team is blowing cherry blossom scent into mouse cages. At the same time, the rodents receive weak but painful electric shocks. Over the course of the next days and weeks, the team repeats this process again and again.

You can guess what's coming now: the mice are being conditioned. They begin to associate the scent of the cherry blossoms with the electric shocks. And eventually the smell is enough to make them panic.

Nothing new so far. But now things are getting really interesting: because the lab mice are having offspring. And although the baby mice have never received electric shocks, they too are terrified of the scent of cherry blossoms. And not only that: this fear can also be observed in the next, i.e. the third generation!

It is similar with karma. Just as the fear of the scent of the cherry blossom moves from one generation of mice to the next, we can also understand karma as a kind of memory. However, it does not only outlast three mice's lives, but millions of years.

Millions of years, you say now - how is that supposed to work? For that, we have to backtrack a little. The yogic tradition distinguishes eight different dimensions of memory. The first four relate to all of our collective karma, that is, how we humans are shaped by the elements of nature and the genetic make-up of our species. These are elemental, atomic, evolutionary and genetic memory. The remaining four dimensions of memory are those where our personal intentions come into play: karmic, sensory, articulate and inarticulate memory.

In plain language, this means that karma outlasts time - and in many different ways.

As a reminder, karma essentially describes the cause-effect relationship. All actions, mental or physical, have an effect at some point. But sometimes there is not just a moment or a day in between, but a whole lifetime, several generations or even millions of years. Until then, all the karma that you accumulate in the cycle of rebirths is in a kind of storehouse. This is called Sanchita Karma. This Sanchita Karma is the place where the karma is stored until it manifests.

You can think of it as a cloud where you store gigantic amounts of data. Because your own hard drive doesn't have enough space for all these memories. Sanchita Karma is the limitless cloud that stores all the memories that you could theoretically retrieve.

But in fact no one has access to all their karmic memories in the course of a single lifetime. We retrieve only a part of the Sanchita karma during our lifetime, the so-called Parabhda karma, in German as much as the "started" karma. To stay in the picture, this is the part of the karma in your cloud that you download and store on your hard drive for acute access.

And you know what you do with that part of your karma during your life? You get rid of it. You free yourself from it. You download the karmic data and then delete it from your hard drive - and thus from the cloud.

Why you accumulate karma

Every culture has its own myths of origin. In the yogic tradition, everything began with an absolute, formless and all-pervading energy: pure consciousness. And the highest goal of every human being is to become one with this consciousness again.

So what is stopping us? In short: nothing more and nothing less than human nature.

Because while we are trying to somehow merge with the Absolute, we are at the same time constantly trying to get along in life. We get caught up in fights and discussions and worry about our careers, our relationships or doing the dishes. And that brings us back to karma. Because everything we do and think leads to karmic burden.

Because - you remember - every action, every feeling and every thought creates new karma. This form of karma is called agami karma. And the more you get caught up in thoughts and actions in the here and now, the more of this agami karma you will accumulate.

But wait, wasn't the goal earlier to get rid of this karma? Exactly. Again, the total amount of your karma, this huge pool of memories and experiences, is in your karmic cloud, the Sanchita Karma. During your life you have access to a part of it, the Parabdha Karma - and this is exactly the karmic burden from which you free yourself in the best case during your life. Your own personal contingent that you have to work off.

The problem is: At some point, the agami karma, that is, the karma that you accumulate in everyday life, also moves into the cloud and becomes sanchita karma. And at some point - whether in this life or in a later one - you reap it as parabdha karma and have to laboriously free yourself from it again.

This means that the less you take care of your karma in the present life, the more you will have to do in the future. But as you may know from everyday life, it is usually easier to keep things in order directly than to clean up afterwards.

How do you do that? More on that later. For now, the advice is to distance yourself from life a bit. That doesn't mean that you should stop talking to your fellow human beings. But you should not lose yourself too much in thoughts and feelings.
You can't choose your karma, but you can decide what to do with it.

A young and motivated yogi sits for hours meditating under a tree. After all, he wants to get closer to enlightenment and pure consciousness. But at some point, his growling stomach drives him home. The next day, the yogi returns to his tree, determined to last longer this time.

He is about to start meditating again when he notices a crippled fox next to him. He asks himself: How could this pitiful animal survive out here in the wilderness? In fact, the mystery is solved just a few hours later. Suddenly, a stately lion enters the clearing. The yogi is petrified with fear, but the lion walks over to the fox and throws a piece of meat in front of his paws.

"Aha," thinks the yogi, "this must be a divine message: I just have to have faith. Then God will help me."

A few days later, a wise guru comes along the path and finds the completely emaciated yogi. He asks him why he is starving out there. The yogi tells the story of the fox and the lion and the guru replies, "You have indeed received a divine message. But why did you choose to be a crippled fox instead of a brave and generous lion?"

The punchline is: if we understand karma as destiny, we behave in the same way. We put ourselves in the passive role of supplicant instead of taking life into our own hands.

Yes, you collect and shoulder karmic burden. But you can choose not to let this burden crush you. How do you do that? By focusing on the here and now and acting from a pure heart.

The key is self-forgetfulness. Whatever you're tackling - a job, an important gig or a simple errand - do it with complete abandon. With joy and pure love for the cause. Without opportunistic thoughts.

You remember: It's not only your actions that count, but also the intentions behind them. For example, if you donate to a good cause, but actually only want to polish up your image, then you are not dissolving karma. On the contrary, if you only act out of self-interest, vanity or a sense of duty, you even accumulate additional karma.

But if you succeed in being in the here and now and act selflessly, you free yourself from karmic burden. Then you place yourself above the eternal chain of cause and effect. Then you live happiness in the here and now instead of mentally chasing after it.

You have to discharge your karma on three levels: physically, mentally and energetically

So, now you have a good overview of what karma is like in your life. Now we are left with a very practical question: How do you discharge your karmic load?

Sadhguru says: The whole thing can work on three levels: physical, mental and energetic.

Let us start with the first, the physical, that is, the bodily level.

Any physical touch can create karmic energy, which then leaves karmic charge in you - even small gestures like a casual handshake. This is precisely why yoga masters like Sadhguru prefer to greet others with a heartfelt "Namaste" and a gesture of folding the hands as if in prayer. The desire to protect oneself from karmic charge also explains why some people have only one romantic partner or why they politely decline drinks or food when visiting strangers.

Okay, so you avoid karmic energy. But how do you get rid of the ones you've already accumulated? For example, the stretching exercises and other movements in yoga can help. Physical exercise is a good way to get rid of karmic energy.

Then there are also certain places that have a cleansing effect on karma: These can be places of power such as certain water sources, trees or mountains. Or spiritual places where great mystics spent a lot of time.

Now to the second level, the spiritual.

Here, the main thing is to live in the moment. You can't be aware of this often enough: The past is memory - of beautiful experiences, great journeys or happy childhood experiences. The future is projection - the idea of a dream job or a relaxing holiday. But in the end, both past and future are mental constructs. They only take place in your upper mind. The only true reality is the present. The here and now. That's where you should focus your attention. Allow yourself to live in the moment. Then you are in harmony with yourself and everything that surrounds you.

However, it is perfectly okay to indulge in memories or dreams from time to time. Both can give you strength. It only becomes difficult when they lead to powerlessness or passivity; to you seeing yourself as a victim of your fate.

Why it is better to take care of your energetic karma sooner rather than later.

Last, but not least: the energetic level. This is where it gets a little tricky. But here too there is a little anecdote.

Once Sadhguru visited a monastery of Jainism, a religion that originated in India at about the same time as Buddhism. Jain monks had hewn this holy place out of the rock 1900 years ago. Sadhguru spent the whole day strenuously cleaning and at some point he sat down to catch his breath on a rock bench where a Jain monk had lain almost two millennia before.

He immediately felt strong vibrations. The ancient monk had left behind so much karmic energy that Sadhguru could see the outline of the vibrational field in front of him. He could even see that the monk's left leg had been amputated. From the knee down.

This is strong stuff, of course. The Jaina had been dead for almost 2000 years. But the karma that had outlasted his lifetime was still pulsating in place.

Earlier, there was talk of karma in the body and mind. Both pass away when a person's life expires. But the energetic body lives on - and with it all the accumulated karma. Whatever karmic energy you accumulate remains in the energy sheath of your body.

Energy outlasts everything. We also know this from physics: energy is never created out of nothing or extinguished. And experienced mystics like that Jain monk from 2000 years ago can drain the karma of their energetic body through practices like yoga or meditation. The truly enlightened among them completely rid their energetic body of all its karma. Ideally, they even discharge the last bit of karma at the very moment they die. For then they merge with the divine. With the original power: pure consciousness.

Imagine a calm, graceful body of water; like a shoreless lake. You take a bucket and fill it with water. And then another. There is no difference between the contents of the two buckets. Just water from the big, clear lake. It's the same with us: there is no substantial difference between you and any other person in the world. We all come from the same lake. We are all water. The outer shell of the bucket is only an illusion. And a mystic who conducts all his karma from his energy body is like the water in one of those buckets returning to the infinity of the lake.

Such enlightened mystics feel at one with their environment while they are still alive. They think no artificial separation between themselves and the rest of the world. And at their death, they manage to slip out of the material shell of their body and escape the eternal cycle of life, death and rebirth.

The question remains, what happens if you are not an experienced mystic, guru or enlightened being - that is, if you do not manage to delete the "started" parabhda karma from your hard drive during your lifetime? Well, then you become disembodied with your physical death: an intense energy body without a material shell or, in other words, what we like to call "spirit". This makes it even harder to erase the remaining karma because it vibrates even more extremely in this disembodied state. Therefore, ideally, you take care of your karma earlier while you are still in your physical body.


Tags

karma, meditation, patanjali, yoga


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