Contrary to popular belief, karma is not about being rewarded or punished based on how good or bad we are. Fundamentally karma is the nature’s software. It establishes the relationship between cause and effect.
Karma can be defined as memory. In life forms, this memory manifests as DNA, and drives the way we look, and the way our bodies work. But karma is more than that, because it also shapes the personalities we appear to be, what appeals to us, and what we naturally like and dislike, love and are fearful of. Karma shapes our psychological structure, our body is the shape it is because of karma. How we think is shaped by karma. It also shapes the energy framework of our body. Karma goes far deeper than our actions, it begins with the very fabric of our physical existence. Karma drives our biology.
Karma means action and consequence. There are physical laws in the universe, and when a given action produces predictable consequences; that is karma. Just the same way, living systems behave in predictable ways because of the cyclical nature of karma. An animal’s instinct to behave in a certain way under certain environmental conditions is due to its karma. Now with more evolved brains comes an added element of free will. Here is where human beings are described to be the most evolved, because we have the choice to not be bound by the limitation of karma. We can choose to live in a conscious way. Otherwise karma runs our life in unconsciously, or compulsively, and we always react to the same situation the same predictable way.
The very definition of a physical existence is that of an interaction of some sort. That is why eastern traditions define life as ever-changing – because there is always eternal action and consequence. But with humans, you also have the possibility of willful action, and intent. That also creates karmic consequences. The question is not one of reward and punishment, it’s not a moral question. The question is, are we willing to accept the consequences. We are not completely open to all consequences of our actions, and that is the root of suffering.
As Swami Vivekananda said, “The law of karma is the law of causation.”
In yoga, there are several approaches to addressing one’s accumulated karma. One is bhakti yoga which is total selfless devotion. The total absence of a personal ego and intent-motivated action stops new karma from forming. Another is karma yoga which is positive action. This still creates karma but one that is life nurturing. Yoga in essence is a set of practices aimed at stopping the accumulation of new karmic memories, thereby allowing old accumulations to peel away. Once karmic substance is minimized, then one is said to be liberated. One can experience creation as it truly is, rather than through layers of karmic conditioning which completely distorts perception.
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