Karma – Part A
The concept of karma is a fundamental aspect at the foundation the Eastern world view. But even in the West the word has now surfaced so often into popular culture that most everyone has now heard it …
This concept is so integral to the proper understanding and practise of yoga, and is such a primary point of exploration within the study of yoga, that some basic introduction to it is essential for the beginner.
What is Karma?
When many people refer to karma, it is usually in reference to having done something ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’, and as a result, some negative repercussions will result in the future.
I often hear people whimsically blaming karma for the bad things that are happening to them or to others. These people will say something like, “You must have done something terrible in a past life”
… Of course, not in this life, right?
Cultural, religious and social attitudes have greatly shaped the notion of of this concept in the modern mind, and hence, the preconceptions (and misconceptions) around it are unfortunately abundant.
The Law of Nature
Karma itself is simply the fundamental law that every action necessitates a reaction. Simply put, any and all activity produces a result, whether seen or unseen. Activity may be physical or mental, conscious or unconscious, but none the less it is bound by this natural law.
Karma exists without judgement on the merits or the unfavourable results of the action. Good, bad, indifferent — everything that we do, think, or influence in anyway sets into motion a course of action, and through the fundamental principle of ‘cause and effect’, the inherent results will occur. For instance, if you water a house plant, it will grow — if you don’t, it will die. If I drive my car incredibly fast, I may crash and suffer injury, or even seriously injure someone else — or I may simply arrive at my destination remarkably quickly! Result itself, whatever it may be, is unavoidable.
The 18th century poet Alexander Pope wrote in his poem, Essay on Man: “Whatever is, is Right”. Yet this attitude has erroneously been taken to imply that everything one may choose to do is equally ‘good’ because “there is no such thing as right or wrong”, which is certainly a shortsighted conclusion.
What Pope more profoundly revealed in his statement is the distinct law of karma, the basic ‘universal order’ — that whatever ‘is’ is the ‘right result’ according to the law of cause and effect, even though that ‘result’ may not necessarily be favorable to the human sensibilities.
This ‘universal order’, the law of cause and effect, exists for the evolutionary sake of life itself. Karma is the propelling force, the teaching tool which prods us, often against our will, towards our ever-advancing personal growth and transformation.
As humans in possession of manas (conscious mind) we have within us a faculty unavailable to lower forms of life. We can not only react to life, but we can begin to learn ‘how to live’. We have the potential to see the ‘cause and effect relationships’, and through our faculties of intelligence and learning, mitigate and ultimately transcend them.
Initially we may learn through the clumsy lessons of physical existence, but gradually, through countless sufferings and enjoyments, sowing and reaping, through the ‘school of hard-knocks’, we ‘learn to live’.
“Be ye not deceived! As ye sow, so shall ye reap!”
But for the average person, that ‘learning to live’ still only revolves around pleasure and pain. At this level of mind, one still has not formed a conscious connection to the laws of cause and effect.
The law of karma is not always, and in fact, rarely is obvious to the mind which exists primarily within the field of the gross senses.
Therefore, karmic results may not always be immediately apparent, which often tempts us into the illusion that we exist independent of our actions, and by and large keeps the average person from investigating the matter any further.
The word itself comes from the roots kar, which is associated with ‘action’, and ma, which means ‘me’, in the possessive sense. So the truth behind this concept is very profoundly represented in the word itself, which means quite literally ‘my action’…
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