I decided on this month’s topic after our movie night, we watched ‘Enlighten Up’. The last guru interviewed, Gurusharanananda–a guru from Northern India where the yoga is devotional based (no asana), spoke about what matters most is what is on the inside, he gave a great analogy to help us understand based on cooking:
You can cook for yourself.
You can cook for someone you love.
You can be forced to cook for someone you dislike . . . you’ll cook . . .
But your feeling on the inside will be very different compared to how you felt when you were cooking for someone you love or even for yourself.
And as it is with our yoga–what you can’t see, the breathing and the bandhas is more important than the external exercise.
Which brings me to our topic, Karma; most everyone knows karma means ‘you get what you deserve’, ‘what goes around comes around’ . . . and fair enough. Karma (the Sanksrit word) means “to do” or to do something, an action. This action is double sided; we are where we are because of previous karmas and what we do now affects our future karmas . . .
HOWEVER, karma begins on the INSIDE, it is our thoughts that manifest into behaviors. A negative thought will only lead to negative behavior . . . which produces negative karma. As Krishna told Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, “Use all your strength Arjuna, to control your mind!”
And its tricky! if you do a good behavior because you want the good karma, that is a selfish desire, which produces negative karma–so be aware of your intensions! What’s on the inside is what counts.
Karma is sometimes considered a matter of getting one’s just desserts. This is accurate enough, but it is much more illuminating to consider karma an educative force whose purpose is to teach us to act in harmony with our dharma (law, duty) –not to pursue selfish interests at the expense of others. The ultimate goal is to have no karma, it is when all your karma is worked out that you stop samsara the endless cycle of birth and death and move onto the astral or causal plane (closer to God, or “heaven”). So even good karma can be a trap, because we seek it compulsively tying ourselves tighter and tighter to selfish desire and forgetting our spiritual dimension.
So how do we rid ourselves of karma? As the Gita teaches us, give up totally the fruits of your actions; good karma, bad karma. Perform all actions for the highest good of all affected–not just for personal gain. You need to develop an awareness of how your actions affect everyone around you, including nature and animals. What makes this difficult? The two biggest road blocks are selfish desire and anger.
Selfish desire is found in the senses and mind misleading us–our nature is such that we want to please our senses–many times at the sacrifice of others. Selfish desire is the root of negative karma!
Again as Krishna tells Arjuna in the Gita “Use your mighty arms to slay the fierce enemy that is selfish desire”. Bhagavad Gita 3:43 This means to raise your awareness of your actions, thoughts, and words.
Anger is its own karma. The Buddha says that we are not punished for our anger; we are punished by our anger. Anger brings with it an increase in blood pressure and heart rate; adrenaline and cortisol are pumped into the bloodstream, all leading to physiological stress. Left unchecked, it will become chronic and predispose you to heart disease, ulcers, and migraines, among other diseases. These are routes by which the karma of anger can be reaped.
The correct response instead of anger is to respond with love and understanding. CHALLENGING.
Karma Yoga is slightly different than the law of karma (cause and effect). Karma yoga is selfless service, serving others not expecting anything in return (not even “good” karma!)
The last line to our closing chant is: Lokah samasta sukhino bhavantu “May all beings everywhere be happy and prosperous.”
And I like to tag on at the end in my mind “And may my thoughts actions and words contribute to that happiness and freedom for all.”
In repeating the above mantra we are encouraging ourselves to perform actions that benefit all beings, human and non-human. When we are suffering from self-pity and loneliness a surefire cure is to care for others and the reduction of their suffering, so put simply, when we are in a “funky place” do something to make someone else feel better, and in turn we will feel better.
Below is a Hindu Story on Karma, of course this takes place in India.
Exploring Karma – Tales of a Universal Principle
High in the reaches of Mount Kailasha is the abode of Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction. One evening Vishnu, the god responsible for preserving the cosmic order, came to see Shiva. He left behind at the entrance Garuda, the half-man, half-eagle composite, who served as his vehicle.
Garuda sat alone, marveling at the natural splendor of the place. Suddenly his eyes fell on a beautiful creature, a little bird seated on the arch crowning the entrance to Shiva’s place. Garuda wondered aloud: “How marvelous is this creation! One who has created these lofty mountains has also made this tiny bird – and both seem equally wonderful.”
Just then Yama, the god of death who rides a buffalo, came passing by with the intention of meeting Shiva. As he crossed the arch, his eyes went over to the bird and he raised his brows in a quizzical expression. Then he took his eyes off the bird and disappeared inside.
Now, in the ancient thought of India, even a slight glance of Yama is said to be the harbinger of death. Garuda, who had observed Yama’s action, told himself, “Yama looking intently at the bird can mean only one thing – the bird’s time is up. Perhaps on his way back he will carry away the bird’s soul with him.” Garuda’s heart was filled with pity for the helpless creature. That it was oblivious of its own impending doom further agonized Garuda and he resolved to save the bird from the clutches of death. He swooped it up in his mighty talons, rushed to a forest thousands of miles away and left the bird on a rock beside a brook. Then he returned to Kailasha and regained his position at the entrance gate.
Soon after, Yama emerged from inside, and nodded to Garuda in recognition. Garuda greeted the god of death and said: “May I put a question to you? While going in, you saw a bird and for a moment you became pensive, why?”
Yama answered him thus: “Well, when my eyes fell on the little bird, I saw that it was to die in a few minutes, swallowed by a python, far away from here in a forest near a brook. I wondered how this tiny creature would traverse the thousand of miles separating it from its destiny in such a short time. Then I forgot. Surely it must have happened somehow.”
Saying this, Yama smiled and went away. Did he know about Garuda’s specific role in the matter? Nobody can know for sure. Garuda sat perplexed, mulling over the surprising turn events had taken.
Karma, and its Consequences:
The word karma is derived from the Sanskrit root ‘kri,’ meaning ‘to do,’ implying that all action is karma. Technically, the term incorporates both an action and its consequence. Thus Garuda’s karma consisted of the act of carrying away the bird and also its consequent snatching by the cruel hands of destiny. Hence, a deed, pure in its content, led to an apparently unfavorable outcome. Through this subtle tale, we are made to confront a dilemma which constantly recurs in our own lives, namely, the relative impurity and purity of an action. Is an action to be deemed positive or negative solely on the basis of the result it generates? Or, is there some other criterion? Indeed there is. What determines the nature of the karma is the will or intention behind an act. As is mentioned in the Buddhist text Anguttara Nikaya, published by the Pali Text Society, “It is will (chetana), that I call karma; having willed, one acts through body, speech or mind.”
Indeed, an action is right or wrong as the motive is right or wrong:
“One who acts with the best of intentions, does not get the sin of the outward consequence of his action.” (Yoga Sikha). For example, a doctor is not responsible for murder, if the operation per chance ends in the death of his patient. In the above tale, Garuda’s duty was not to protect the bird, but rather to try and protect it.
“Even if a man does not succeed, he gets all the merit of doing his duty, if he strives the utmost to his capacity.” (Mahabharata: Udyoga Parva 93.6)
“Some undertakings succeed and others fail. That is due to the divine order of things. If a man does his part of the work, no sin touches him.” (Mahabharata: Santi Parva 24.30)
This article by Nitin Kumar.