Satsang on Karma

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

What is karma?

Literally, karma means action, but action by itself is nothing. Supposing I have to go to war, and I kill many people, that is my action, but it is not my karma. On the other hand, if I kill the people out of hatred, then it is karma, because it influences my mind and personality. Thus, as well as referring to action, karma also means the impression of an affair of life on the mind of an individual.

According to eastern philosophy, even if you do not work, cook, clean your room, or do anything at all, still you are doing karma. Even at night while in deep sleep, man is working on the deeper planes. Primarily man works in his unconscious, the conscious action is merely an expression of unconscious motivation. Also, the organs in the body can never remain inactive, as more than ten bodily systems are working all the time. As such, there is not a moment in life when a man can remain actionless.

Are there different types of karma?

Yes, there are various types of karma. Some we call daily karmas. They have practically no relevance to one's inner life; they are mechanical and routine. Perhaps the only influence they exert on you would be monotony and tiredness. Another form of karma is known as motivated karma. It is performed with a particular motive in mind, and it creates seeds. These seeds form mental impressions and they influence the whole personality, the mind, body and emotions. For example, let's suppose I start a business. If the business is successful, I am happy; if it is not, I am very unhappy. Therefore, my state of mind is not due to the outcome of the business, but to my motivation. In other words, according to the basis of our motivation, the consequences ensue.

If I am a judge and I sentence a man to death in order to protect the community from a dangerous criminal, then I am not making a karma that will rebound on me. But if my motive for having a man executed is personal or biased, then I will have to suffer the consequences of karma. This is a universal law.

Are there any techniques we can use for getting rid of, or controlling karma?

It is not easy to get rid of karma, and every man is subject to it. Each action has a reaction which is equal and opposite. This is the first law in science, the first law of Newton. The more you push a pendulum to the right, the more it will swing to the left, then again to the right - action and reaction. No action in life goes unpaid and you can't hide anything from yourself. You are your own witness and observer. You know what you think, feel and do and you know your real intentions. By observing yourself, you can control your karma.

To rid yourself of karma there are several ways. The shortest is through penance and austerity, but it is very difficult. Meditation is an easy method, or there is an easier way still. Seek an evolved guru and receive a mantra from him. Live with him for a considerable period of time and gradually the karmas will start to fall away.

What is the difference between your own choice and karma?

Choice is also karma. There are two forces in the universe, one is called karma- action and reaction, and the other is called free will. Free will is not karma; you will and it happens, the will is independent of karma. But the emergence of willpower takes time in spiritual life. As a human being evolves and becomes master of his own mind, he is able to exert his will.

When the mind becomes powerful, sometimes it is able to give shape to the events of your life, but that is also a part of the chain of karma. If you think strongly, 'I am going to do that' and it happens, this is not an outcome of will, but of a strong mental choice you have made. There is a big difference between willpower and mental choice. Willpower is a mighty force, and when you have developed it fully, you can transcend the gravity of karma. Then your evolution is complete and you become a co-creator, a junior god.

If one becomes liberated through the exhaustion of karma, must he restrict his actions to avoid creating more karma?

Liberation does not mean renunciation of action or karma. A liberated man continues to act on the physical, mental, intellectual, emotional and sensory planes. He may plough the land or perform any kind of work because it is not the actions which bind a man, it is the ego. When ego is involved in your actions, karma becomes your property and you have to accept the responsibility for it.

A liberated man has dissociated the ego from his actions, his karma. He works just like a servant or a shop assistant does. Although a shop assistant works with his mind, body and intellect, he does not hold any responsibility for what is happening in the shop. On the other hand the owner of the shop is not able to detach his ego from the shop, and therefore he is responsible for the good and bad karmas that accrue from the shop. Profit belongs to him and so does loss, because his personality and ego are involved. Where ego is involved, there is karma; where there is no ego involvement, there is no karma.

Is it possible to take on somebody else's karma?

If there is a deep communication or psychic link between two people, a transference of karma takes place. The depth of awareness is responsible for this. If you love someone greatly, whether friend, husband, wife, child or lover, it is an automatic process. You can even take on the karma of your enemy, if you are constantly aware of him.

In the guru/disciple relationship, if the two are unified in spirit and consciousness, all the karmas of the disciple are automatically transferred to guru and the knowledge of guru is also automatically transmitted to the chela. But if guru and disciple are not unified in consciousness, this does not happen.

Are we the victims of our parents' karma?

We inherit the karmas of our parents, whether they are good or bad. If they are good karmas, they make us progress in life; if they are bad, we are victimised. Therefore, every parent must be very careful, for each child has to fight to rid himself of the karmas the parents have created.

Why is it the karma of some people to be born mentally retarded or physically handicapped?

When you follow spiritual life you develop purity and clarity of mind and body, and then certain rules govern your psychological and biological processes. But if you follow a particular culture which is alienated to spiritual discipline and ideals, it will ignore all the systems and rules which control the psychological, biological and emotional processes that govern the whole life span. In such cultures, there is untold suffering, and in every generation children are born handicapped or with a lower mental capacity.

Are animals bound by karma in the same way as man?

Each and every being in this world, including those of the mineral and vegetable kingdom, is moving in accordance with the definite predetermined laws of nature. As long as man is incompetent and mentally and physically weak, he is also subject to the laws of destiny. But as he develops greater awareness, he gradually transcends the dictates of destiny and karma and is able to create a new law and order for himself. When a being incarnates as a human, he brings with him a higher form of awareness called gyanam, which no other being is endowed with. Gyanam is the awareness of one's own existence in relation to time and space. 'I know I am; I know that I know I am', this is gyanam.

If a man does something wrong, he will suffer because he knows he has done something wrong. If he kills someone, he is going to suffer, maybe not legally, but definitely mentally. If he steals or does something which he believes to be wrong, he will suffer mental agony. Why? Because of his awareness. On the other hand, a dog has no guilt. So, if he bites someone, he will not suffer or have any problem. Animals may bite you or serve you, but nature will not reward or punish them. Their actions do not bring about reactions.

During man's spiritual development, does he always go forward or does karma sometimes make him go back?

According to Hindu philosophy, evolution is progressing, but sometimes, on account of karma, you may have to go back. Supposing you are a spiritual person and you want to go high, but at a particular stage you realise you have passions, a desire for sense enjoyment or a revengeful ambition. What will you do? The same as you would do if you were on your way to the airport and you discovered you had left your passport behind. You would have to turn back, finish your business there and then move on again.

When you have to retreat in spiritual life, you don't become an animal in body, you are a human being. You may behave like a tiger, but your body hasn't changed, it is just an experience. When, on account of karma, you have to turn back, it is only temporary and it is not for the sake of suffering, but for experience.

Does destiny exist or do we control our own fate?

Destiny does exist. If you want to go back to Bombay, that is your destination; it is your destiny. Destiny is based on the law of action and reaction. Every action, every karma has a reaction. Just as you throw a pebble into a lake, and that creates ripples, in the same way, when you make karma, you are creating ripples in the cosmos.

Karma is not only action; a thought or feeling is also karma. Karma means movement. Wherever there is mobility, there is karma. Every karma causes ripples or vibrations and these keep on moving in a chain reaction. Each action creates a reaction; and the reaction makes another reaction. In the course of time, this chain reaction is multiplied into a million-fold reactionary forces in life, and that creates destiny. Destiny is a law of nature and you can't ignore it. All animals, in fact the entire universe, are under the law of destiny.

What is the necessity of karma yoga?

In my early days when I lived in Sivanandashram with my guru, I thought that when I left the ashram I would remain quiet and contemplate. However, in 1964, when I started the ashram in Monghyr, many people came to stay with me, but nobody remained for more than three or four months. This was because there was no work for them in the ashram. They just learned and practised a lot of asanas, pranayama, mantra, meditation, etc. But this did not create stability in them, because their minds were not purified.

After a few years, we started a little bit of work in the ashram - gardening, printing, editing, book work, typing or kitchen work - and since then the number of inmates has been growing every week. Now people are staying in the ashram for years together. Sometimes they remain for five, ten or twelve years, with all the difficulties of ashram life. On Sundays I often tell the swamis to close all the departments. Sometimes I don't allow them to work at all for three consecutive days, and they become so restless. Many of them keep coming to my room asking me to give them some work. So now the swamis and the guests realise that nature has created in man a desire and a compulsion to work. That is the positive role of desire in life.

If man did not have desires he would not be compelled to work, and if he did not work, his mind would not grow. For a person who has not evolved beyond tamo guna and rajo guna it is compulsory to work. Even if he has great wealth and all the necessities of life in abundance, he must still work. Only when you have reached the state of sattva, the highest point of balance and equanimity, may you remain without work, without karma. For the purification of mind karma is essential, and if you practise karma yoga you attain purity much more quickly.