This is one of the most important topics which covers the whole scheme of creation. Every action that we perform has an equal and opposite reaction. There is nothing in this world which is not subject to this law. You sow a seed and you get a plant, which produces seeds again. However, let us talk about karma and reincarnation with respect to man rather than discussing the whole creation.
Every moment of our life we are creating samskaras or karma. What we are experiencing in the present moment is a result of our past experiences. If you think without any religious basis, then we can clearly understand that everything in our life has a relationship with the past and the past has a relationship with the present. The present therefore should definitely have a relationship with the future. What I am at present is a result of the past and what I shall be in the future will be a result of the present.
Whatever we experience in life is accumulated in the subtle body. The subtle body is the reservoir of the totality of our experiences in this life and also our past lives. It is like a seed which contains the potentiality of the whole tree, and you know that every seed has the capacity to produce a different tree. These experiences which are stored up in the consciousness are known as archetypes. Yoga calls them samskaras. Just as a tree produces a flower or a fruit and ultimately the seed, whatever we do ultimately changes into a potential form, which is known as samskara. These samskaras influence the present incarnation and also future incarnations.
When the body dies the karmas do not die, just as a tree is destroyed by fire or felling but the seeds that it has produced continue to produce other trees. In the same way, after death the causal body and the subtle body move out of the physical body into a different field of existence. When they move out of the physical body, the causal and subtle bodies are in search of a place where they can express the karma. This is precisely the reason why every individual is different.
Now, in order to improve the nature of karma, we have to perform karma yoga. Usually when you perform an action, it is with a selfish motive, you have some interest in it. The motivated action leads to reincarnation. However, when you perform an action without personal egoism or ahamkara, without attachment, with total selflessness, then that karma does not produce any further karma. This particular science is known as nishkama karma yoga.
One’s personality always evolves through each and every performance in life. Therefore, it is said that everybody should try to transform his life by performing actions in the spirit of karma yoga. Whether one is a householder or an ascetic, it makes no difference. If they practise karma yoga, they will be purified.
Apart from the inner joy that it gives, apart from the freedom that you feel in the practice of karma yoga, the most important thing is that karma yoga gives you an opportunity to express yourself without creating a result. In the greatest book of yoga, the Bhagavad Gita, there are beautiful statements on karma yoga. Just as the lotus lives in water, one should live one’s life in the same way.
The path of action and the path of renunciation appear to be two different paths, but in fact both of them lead to the same point in life. However, the condition is that you will have to fulfil them in an absolutely sincere spirit. Yogis perform action for self-purification and for the fulfilment of detachment. You can perform an action by the body, by the mind and by the senses as well, but the purpose should be a very clear purpose: purification of the self.
These statements have come out of the Bhagavad Gita. I would suggest not only the questioner but everyone to read the Bhagavad Gita and meditate on the truth pointed out in relation to karma yoga. One important thing that has influenced me, greatly impressed me and charted my life is a statement from the Gita, “The doer is someone else, you are only the instrument.”
For many years, I was very confused about action and reaction, my involvement and role, but when I read that particular passage in the Gita, everything became clear to me. In the scheme of great planning you are only the instrument, you are only the channel, you are only the agency, you are not the actor, you are not the karta, you are not the doer. Then why do you posit yourself? Why do you impose doership on yourself? The great Nature is fulfilling all the requirements necessary for the universal drama. Therefore, in order to become free from the link of this great chain it is necessary that you will have to transfer the idea of doership.
April 1981, Torino, Italy, published in Satyananda Yoga in Italy, Swami Satyananda Sarasawti, Volume 1