With our deeper understanding of karma, we now realize that far from the mis-conception of reward and punishment, or a point system, karma is really the engine of creation. Karma means action, or in a deeper sense, dynamism. As we know from Physics, down to the smallest particle, everything is in a dynamic vibratory state and constantly changing. That is karma at the fundamental level – the potential action or seed, the action itself, and the impressions it leaves which in turn gives birth in seed potential. That is the cyclical nature of karma: Latent impressions in consciousness give rise to action. That action in turn creates further impressions.
In human beings, these impressions create the way we are in every way – physically, psychologically, and energetically. Through our unconscious and conscious actions, we are empowered to change these impressions and so we can change what manifests in the future. Negative impressions give rise to a landscape that causes suffering and positive impressions give rise to a joyful environment. Ultimately, the aim of a yogi is to become a totally empty vessel – not even the attachment to good karma should remain but for those of us who are still developing spiritually, at least the focus is to reduce the manifestations of previously gathered negative karma.
Now this distinction is important – our natural state is one of bliss. When residing in the pure Self, we are naturally joyful. That in itself is a yogi’s aspiration but the subtlety is that there is no attachment to it. Joyfulness is simply a state of being without any desire – as desire, or intent again feeds the karmic cycle. Nirvana is freeing oneself from all karmic impressions – positive as well as negative. Then as far as accumulated negative karma, the way we lighten that burden is by meditation, pranayama and breathing techniques as prescribed by a guru.
This notion of getting rid of even good karmic impressions is confusing for many people, most of us would gladly bank more and more good karma. However we need to recognize yogic wisdom which states that karma of any flavor limits our existence. As we’ve looked at karma more closely, again we see that karmic impressions create a sort of compulsive repetition or cycle. True freedom is experiencing the spontaneity of life moment to moment. So that is why even good karma limits the full experience with complete awareness – because karma of any kind is a lens through which we see and experience existence. The yogic aim is to become a perfect mirror onto creation in as much as possible.
As Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says, to wash away the dirt you need soap. But then you must also wash away the soap, otherwise that itself will attract dirt. So it is with karma. We offset the impressions of negative karma by practicing the opposite. Depending on the negativity manifesting in our lives, we practice the opposite – generosity to offset greed and selfishness, love to offset hatred, empathy and inclusiveness to offset social polarity, etc. Then after we can note that yes indeed, negative karma’s impressions have dissipated, then we maintain life nurturing behavior but do so without desiring any benefits. We begin detaching ourselves from the desire to act positively – it just happens because it is in our nature, not because we seek certain benefits. Yoga is living in karma but without being affected by it. Yoga is being in stillness but witnessing the action.
Another key component of karma is how it manifests. Karma that has not manifested yet can be smoothed away. But karma that has already sprouted must play itself out, it must be experienced. So when we talk about getting rid of bad karma, through yogic practices and creating opposing impressions, we can only free ourselves from that seed which has not yet sprouted. But that karma which is already born must live out its cycle. So accumulated past karma or sanchita karma can be gotten rid of, as well as agami karma or future karma. But prarabdha karma is that which we have to experience.
Aside from individual karma, there is also collective karma – family karma, community karma, country karma. Also, karma works on its own mysterious timeline, sprouting at different times and in different lifetimes. Unfathomable are the ways of karma, as Lord Krishna says.
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