THE TERM KARMA
Karma is a Sanskrit word with the syllable “kri” as a root, meaning “action”. Karma denotes the principle of cause and effect or the influence of certain actions on future events. The word karma has become a part of almost all world languages. But although the term is of Sanskrit origin, karmic law is not entirely an Indian discovery as it can be found under different names in the majority of holy books throughout the world. Other, less holy texts (such as this one) mention it as well, and if written by occidental authors they usually rely on the Bible and Christianity to transmit oriental ideas to westerners, so why shouldn’t I do the same. The Bible warns us: “Tit for tat”, or “For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap”, no doubt referring to the same principle. Along with its basic meaning, numerous interpretations and classifications of the karmic principle can be found in literature and on the Internet. For example, there is the karma of an individual, a family, a certain group or community, a town, a territory, a country, a continent or the whole planet. There is also active karma and invisible karma, the karma we can change and karma we cannot. The meaning of the term is rather extensive and is made up of many additional models, principles, and laws, all of which share a common denominator, which is the process of action and reaction.
Since karmic law represents the universal cosmic principle, an intelligent person will respect it. It is a shame that most people are not aware of this simple truth. If everyone understood that everything emitted to others, be it a thought, emotion or action, is received in the same way in return, many thoughtless acts would never have been done. That is why I think this principle should be introduced to as many people as possible, and at the earliest possible age. So, if we steal something, our belongings will be stolen too. If we abuse someone, we shall be abused one day too. If we lie, we will be lied to. If we hurt other people, we shall be hurt as well. If we kill somebody, we will be killed, and so on. On the other hand, the same happens with positive actions. If we give, we will gain. If we love, we will be loved. If we believe in ourselves, others will believe in us too. If we have respect for ourselves, others will respect us. But if we do not love ourselves, others will not love us either. Karmic law is, therefore, a two-way phenomenon. It is composed of the relation between an individual and his or her environment, and also of one’s relation to oneself. The latter part of the karmic principle is less known and has been discovered by modern psychology and the new-age systems of personal growth relatively recently.
THE ORIGIN OF KARMA
When is karma created and who decides what it is going to be? The answer is – karma defines itself. It is a universal principle and according to Hinduism nobody is exempt from it, not even God. Karma is being created incessantly, because everything we do will have consequences in the future, either good or bad, influencing not only other people but us as well. As we are creating our future this very moment, so has our present been created by our previous actions. Some of these creations we remember and know when and what we have done. But there are also actions we are not aware of and don’t remember because they occurred in a different time, place and form of existence. Memories of such actions are suppressed in subtle dimensions of our psyche, which are usually called the subconscious and the superconscious. The fact that we are not aware of them doesn’t mean that they have not happened and that we are not responsible for them. If we wish to know what we did, it is possible to awaken the memories of those actions and become fully aware of the karmic processes we have triggered. What this implies is the fact that the most important aspects of our present karma have been created in our previous existences, usually called the “past lives”.
REINCARNATION AND PAST LIVES
The term karma is closely connected with the term “reincarnation”, which says that humans do not exist only as physical beings, but also as spiritual beings, having a soul (self, atman or transpersonal center) which can travel from one body into another. The soul leaves the physical body at the moment of its death only to reappear in a new fetus. It reincarnates into a new physical form, in a new place, sometimes into different sex, with new goals, new characteristics, and talents. During the period between two incarnations, the soul is aware of its previous physical existence, as well as all the other past lives. It is aware of its actions and their consequences and wants to compensate for the negative karma in its future existence. By doing this the soul will gain the freedom to actualize its creative potential and realize the goals it feels attracted to at the moment. A plan for future life is a crucial moment in the process of a new embodiment.
Experience has proven that it is us (on the soul level) who make the plan for our future development before connecting with our new body. We ourselves choose the way to compensate for our past actions. We decide on our new body, parents and the place we are going to live in. Nobody punishes us, neither God nor any other authoritative spiritual entity. Nobody forces anything upon us – we choose everything ourselves, although the choice is limited by given possibilities, with freedoms and limitations defined by our karma. Sometimes our choices and decisions can be influenced by consultations with certain spiritual beings, usually our spiritual guides and patrons, but the final word is ours. Therefore when speaking about the principle of cause and effect it is important not to limit it in time, because many things that are happening to us right now could have their cause in our past lives. We are the ones who made them happen and we are also the ones who later on decided on the means of compensation.
The influence of past lives is most visible in therapeutic interventions, which include the work on the causes of human problems. Although we don’t have to believe in reincarnation theory, the fact remains that interventions over events that people spontaneously experience as past lives give outstanding results. It doesn’t matter at all whether these “past lives memories” are a reality or not. If someone cannot accept the concept of reincarnation, then the images, stories, and events described by a person undergoing regression therapy can be considered imagination. What matters is that such interventions inspire positive changes in our consciousness and behavior, enabling us to finally attain previously blocked goals. On the other hand, if we do accept reincarnation as real, then such interventions bring linear logic into our perception of the problem. They reveal a number of very important pieces of information because they directly connect the consequence with its cause; the present conditions and events with the events in past lives. We become aware of the reason why our life is what it is, we know what we have chosen and why, we realize what lessons we have to learn and what the meaning of our life is, either for that particular period or in general.
Westerners find it more difficult to accept these ideas because they don’t understand why people can’t remember their past lives if they exist at all. There are several reasons for this kind of memory loss. To begin with, western society does not believe in karmic law, reincarnation or past lives. Christianity doesn’t accept this doctrine and science has not proven its existence. Even I, as the author of this text, write about past lives as subjective experiences. To accept something one can’t see or touch, something that hasn’t been proven by any material evidence is not easy. The fact that it requires a considerable broadening of human consciousness or change of attitude makes it even more difficult, especially bearing in mind that this knowledge is not an essential part of our collective consciousness. When a civilization is governed by a certain collective attitude, people tend to accept it and live according to it. This is the reason why we, after having had a strange experience, tend to suppress it, fearing the reaction of our environment. There is an Irish proverb saying, “If you see a two-headed pig, keep your mouth shut”, perfectly expressing this kind of mentality.
However, the main reason for the memory loss has not so much to do with civilization, but with human psychological nature. These memories are buried in subtle dimensions of our psyche because people would adhere too much to the conditions of their past existences. Imagine that you have suddenly died and lost contact with your loved ones. Not knowing that you are not only a physical being but a soul traveling through different densities and realities in order to gain experience, you would probably try to contact them and stay attached to them. Most people on this planet do not accept themselves as free spiritual beings without a name, gender or form. They strongly identify themselves with the body they live in and the persona they play at the moment, as well as with the people they are close to and live with. But the reason for the existence of reincarnation is in the possibility for a complete change, for giving up old life forms and roles and taking on new ones. Strong identification with only one form would prevent the soul from having all those different experiences it wants to try out and live through. That's why death and reincarnation exist. They are, among other things, a means by which the soul can undergo a complete change. And that’s why we have to temporarily lose the memory of past existences. To concentrate completely on our new body and reality, new time and place, we mustn’t be burdened and distracted by old impressions, conditions or moods which don’t belong to our current form of existence and couldn’t influence our new life in a constructive and positive way. We have to live here and now, focusing on the present because it is the only way to fulfill our goals. However, it is sometimes necessary to contact the subtle dimensions of our mind to find the causes for certain karmic processes, or to make an intervention which would directly influence our present-day circumstances.
CHANGEABLE AND UNCHANGEABLE KARMA
It is impossible to change some aspects of karma, such as the body we possess, our parents, the country we were born in, our talents and potentials, our temper and numerous other frameworks we are given. They represent the karmic limitations which we can only accept and live within the best we can. It is also not possible to change our dharma, which is a Sanskrit word interpreted by Hinduism as “duty”, “obligation” or “our life’s mission”. We have chosen our dharma ourselves because we considered that such a particular mission would bring us fulfillment and consequently become the way to our creative self-realization. So, it would be absurd to change something having such a precise purpose. Sometimes it is possible to accomplish our dharma faster, thus gaining time and space for new experiences, but we can never change it completely.
On the other hand, the good news is that a major part of our karma can be changed. What part it is going to be, depends on the person, since karma is a very individual thing and cannot be defined as numbers or percents. The amount of changeable karma depends on our readiness to take responsibility for our lives, as well as accepting the necessary discipline needed for dissolving as many karmic patterns as we can. People who do not put any effort into changing their karma are not in the same position as those who work hard on their karmic purification. So let’s see what can be achieved with the active approach to karmic processes.
THE EXTERNAL AND INTERNAL DIMENSIONS OF KARMA
At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that karma has an external and internal dimension. The former has to do with the physical or material aspect of the karmic debt because negative karma is always created by some form of violence (physical, emotional, mental or spiritual), either against oneself or against others. Therefore the pay-off has to include a positive compensation for past actions because otherwise, we would get it in return directly, which could be very destructive to us. So, if we have ever physically abused anybody, according to the principle of action and reaction, we should now be abused in the same way. But the karmic law is basically not destructive. It is not created to react to violence with violence, only forming a vicious circle with no way out. People always have a chance to pay off their karmic debt constructively. For example, they can now help the victims of physical violence, which is exactly opposite to the violence they have done in the past. In this way, it is possible to avoid so-called “boomerang karma”, because hardly anyone would be able to endure it in a positive way. But if we are not willing to pay off the outer part of our karma constructively, then it will be very difficult to avoid the boomerang.
Positive actions such as a constructive karmic pay-off have to go along with the work on the internal dimension of karma. This is an extremely important part of the karmic process because experience has proven that the psychological element is a primary one in creating karma, whereas one's negative actions are secondary. The outer reality is influenced and created by our inner states of mind. Inner states motivate our actions and they later cause the corresponding reactions. Our thoughts and emotions create conditions for our life, directly determining our behavior and actions. Since we create our own reality, the causes of all our problems can be found within us. Actions are therefore a consequence, and inner states a cause.
For example, if we are angry and cannot control ourselves, we will probably become aggressive and do something destructive. According to karmic principle one day we will inevitably get this aggression back through someone's aggressiveness towards us, probably even without provoking it in any way. We will then ask ourselves what we have done to deserve this, not being able to connect our previous behavior with the present event. When we finally do connect the consequence with the cause, we shall have to make one more step further and find the reason for our former anger. There are different kinds of reasons for anger, but the most frequent one lies in some kind of negative attitude towards oneself. If we think that we are not good or capable enough, and allow somebody to oppress or humiliate us, it is absolutely certain that we shall accumulate discontent which will in time grow into anger. The anger will sooner or later find its vent in the form of aggressive or destructive behavior, but whatever we do to others will come back to us.
It is clear that destructive actions have their root in our negative inner states, which then create negative attitudes towards ourselves and others. It is also clear that negative actions are paid back according to the principle of action and reaction. Therefore the process of karmic transformation must include concrete counterbalance through opposite positive actions. In this way we pay off the outer dimension of our karma, avoiding the unnecessary suffering. At the same time, we gain more freedom because we are no longer limited by our debt. But the question remains – what are we going to do with negative inner states? If we don’t change them they will continue to smolder inside, threatening to create another negative action that will further burden our karma.
SPIRITUAL ASPECTS OF THE KARMIC PROCESS
Every karmic pattern has its meaning which stands outside the borders of the process itself, or the debt and its pay-off. Apart from solving a karmic problem technically, through purifying its inner and outer dimension, there is the third, most subtle aspect of the karmic process, which is its spiritual dimension. It deals with the spiritual lessons lying behind each karmic pattern, or with the quality of spiritual experiences and knowledge which will help us avoid other negative karmic processes. This dimension overcomes the principle of cause and effect and the duality of the manifested universe. It allows us to distance ourselves from the drama of human life and the games of suffering and happiness, success and failure, the confrontation of the positive and the negative, of action and inaction. It is about the level of consciousness towards which all karmic processes lead us, sometimes only through indications and at other times by force. Without the spiritual dimension, it is impossible to grasp the true meaning of karmic processes. So, to reveal the deepest significance of a karmic pattern and the lesson hidden behind it, we simply have to connect to the level of consciousness we usually call “spiritual”.
The first thing a person aspiring to dissolve a karmic pattern has to learn is that, according to universal spiritual science, the overall Reality consists of two main levels. On one hand, there is the manifested, visible universe, or in short the material world. And on the other hand, there is the non-manifested universe or the spiritual world. So, there is a manifested or active state of Reality and there is a non-manifested, subtle or passive state. A non-manifested Reality state is similar to the concept of potential energy in physics. It has potentials but is in a state of inaction, immobility or inactivity, a state characterized by the sense of overall Unity. A non-manifested Reality can express its potentials in the manifested universe; it can materialize ideas and crystallize its conscience. It can create a level of existence characterized by the principle of action and reaction, the universal principle of change or the constant mutation of material things from one form into another. The manifested universe is therefore dual; it is constantly moving, always changing. So if there is a level of existence which is undoubtedly real, then it is Reality in its non-manifested, original, or clear state. This means that the manifested universe is relative, that things and events happening in it do and do not exist. This eventually means that the manifested world is an illusion seeming real only if experienced through very limited perception.
Therefore the first aspect of spiritual consciousness we have to understand is that the nature of the manifested universe is illusory. Viewed from the spiritual level, all activities, life, and existence itself seem like an illusion, as something that does not exist. Buddhists say that the entire universe is an apparition or Samsara. Hindus talk about Maya, the cosmic hallucination, which is as unreal as Fata Morgana but powerful and irresistible to human senses. Even the Christian mystics, such as St. John of the Cross, claim that the only right way to reach God is through the realization of omnipresent nothingness. This state can be reached through continuous and strenuous cleansing of the mind and senses from being overly attached to form, followed by directing our yearnings towards the condition of inner independence from the outer world. The reason I am stressing this out is that many karmic processes exist and survive because of insufficient connection of our souls with the non-manifested aspects of Reality. Over-attachment to the transient manifestations of the phenomenal world, with the regular identity loss which follows this attachment, can be the very cause of many limiting karmic patterns.
The non-manifested reality is also characterized by omnipresent Unity. This means that nothing is disconnected from the whole. Knowing the principle of Unity, and even more important – being centered in Unity – brings us even more valuable gains. As a necessary tool in breaking a limiting and repetitive structure of a certain karmic pattern, Unity offers us the right perspective in perceiving the dual world because it enables answers to all questions or concerns which inevitably follow too strong an attachment to the objects of the manifested world. As long as we look at things through the dual vision of the world there will always be questions for which we won’t be able to find satisfying answers. It is impossible to grasp the true meaning of life viewing it from the level of duality, or using the cognitive means of the dual world, namely the senses and the intellect. The meaning can only be found inside the world of Unity, using direct perception and the neutralization of the opposites on which the dual world is built. Only then there is no confusion and everything becomes crystal clear. That is why being “enlightened” is so important because it brings us the ability to quickly and freely reconnect with the spirit and perceive things from the spirit as the reference point.
The other aspect of spiritual consciousness, important for the transformation of karmic patterns, refers to the comprehension of the phenomenal world and the most important aspect of its dynamics. The manifested world consists of opposites and the processes going on between them. Adapting to these processes and taking part in them in the correct way is a skill that has to be developed if we want to realize ourselves creatively and live a successful and fulfilled life. Since it is dual in nature and based on the process, the manifested universe is apt to change. One need not be a mystic to realize the inconstancy and tangibility of the world we live in. Since the existence of change is an obvious and omnipresent fact, some karmic processes aim at understanding and accepting the principle of change as a natural life process. This means that we must change in order to put an end to negative karma. We all know how difficult it is to accept even the slightest change, although it may be for the better. Nevertheless, only a change of mind, producing a change in our behavior and way of life, brings positive outer changes. There is no use resisting, ignoring or trying to bargain with something which forms the basic principle of the dual, manifested universe. Some karmic processes will, therefore, require flexibility and the ability to change and adapt quickly to a new situation, because otherwise, we will not be able to permanently solve our karmic problem.
Resistance to change is also the sole cause of another unnecessary constant in the manifested world, and that is suffering. The existence of suffering is a fact, but it only exists because people are not aware of the fact that our world is in a constant process of change. They tend to project their internal sources of fulfillment into creations of the material world and get attached to them. If we do not realize that true fulfillment is in our original nature, we will tend to project our true selves into other people, things or lifestyles which we think would fulfill us in a similar way. When outer circumstances change and we are denied the object of our fulfillment, we feel bad and we suffer. Life, therefore, can be suffering, and too much suffering may produce more negative action, causing more karmic debt.
But suffering exists only because we are strongly connected either to the products of the manifested universe or our worldview (thoughts and emotions) and not aware enough of the non-manifested, spiritual dimension of our being. Suffering is a fabrication of our ego, which is attached to the contents of our mind and the objects of the material world. People bond themselves to other people, to things they possess, to their characteristics (virtues or vices), their social status, beliefs, expectations, and wishes. Consequently, the loss of an object we are attached to will cause suffering. But if a change is the only constant, why resist it? A complete change demands complete abandonment of the old construction of our life and the building of a new one. This process can sometimes be painful and cause suffering. But still, suffering is mostly created by our resistance to let go of the old forms of life, not by the process itself. In order not to disturb the ongoing process of transformation, which is already a complex situation itself, we have no other constructive choice but to accept change with the least resistance. This, however, is often difficult to do, but the systems of karmic purification offer a whole range of methods which can help in leading a person harmoniously through the process of change.
As we have seen, the lessons hidden behind many karmic processes can have the purpose of teaching us non-attachment and letting go of some unnecessary wishes and desires. Buddhists even claim that the only way to overcome suffering is the absence of any wishes because they lead towards attachment to a goal and redirect our attention from the spiritual to the material world, therefore producing attachment and suffering. That’s why Buddhists encourage us not to aim towards either positive or negative experiences, to clear our minds from identification with creations of the manifested world and to try centering our attention on the ultimate reality. Most westerners find this doctrine impossible to carry out in practice because having goals and working on their realization forms the basis of our civilization. Nevertheless, whether we want it or not we shall sometimes find ourselves in situations that will simply push us towards this level of consciousness. Nothing else will save us from the vicious circle of new needs and wishes, attachment to people who have long abandoned us or failing to understand life as a whole because we continually refuse to accept its ever-changing nature.
There is another dimension of suffering which Buddhism and some other spiritual schools have not stressed enough, although it eventually may become the source of many karmic patterns. This kind of suffering is the result of resisting incarnation. It is the suffering caused by our resistance towards the tasks we have chosen for this life, towards fulfilling our karma and dharma. Many people resist their very incarnation and may live half of their life, or even their whole life, without living in the real sense of the word. They live without realizing their potential, making themselves and others suffer. Suffering, in this case, is not caused by attachment to a certain form of life, but by a lack of necessary focus to one's goals and tasks. It is about laziness, lack of concentration, procrastination, avoiding obligations, escapism and continuous existence in a state of absence or trance. Raising our consciousness to the spiritual dimension of our being is the only “escape” that could really help in such cases. It brings us peace and fulfillment that we cannot find being focused only on the creations of the material world. It can also give us information and motivation needed for the balanced partaking in our lives and the realization of our life mission.
Suffering caused either by over-attachment to the manifested world, or by escape from the burdens of our existence, is effectively solved first by the realization of the original spiritual essence of our being and then by the adequate therapeutic intervention over the corresponding karmic patterns. Suffering is, therefore, a consequence of the resistance to change, but also of the resistance to spiritual experience one has become ready for. It is at the same time a way for personal growth because it either softens or hardens us, preparing us for higher levels of consciousness and a better quality of life. The final aim of each karmic process is to end suffering through a change of our minds, behavior, and way of life. These attainments will consequently make possible the realization of our creative potentials, our personal self-realization. When we finally learn our karmic lesson, instead of unnecessarily suffering we may become able to develop an ability to live a creative and productive life, at the same time having a positive influence on our environment.
©Tomislav Budak, 1998.