Karma is a popular word in conversations nowadays. Karma is a Sanskrit word and it translates to “action”. Today, people understand Karma as good and bad deeds. This word is often used to mean if anything good or bad happened it is because of one’s karma. In essence, it is loosely used to refer to luck, destiny or fate, which has created some myths about what Karma really means.
Below are a few common myths associated with it.
- What goes around comes around – In other words this means good deeds attract good things and bad deeds attract bad things.
- Karma is reward and punishment – Anyone viewing karma in this manner is sure to be consumed by guilt anytime they “think” or others “think” they are doing something wrong. It also enhances the false perception that there is always a reward associated with a “supposed” good action.
- I have no control over my karma – This is the fatalistic part of the thinking especially when undesirable situations are happening in one’s life. When life situations seem to be spiraling out of control, people think “this is my karma and there is nothing I can do about it”
All of the above are incorrect. Shedding light on the misunderstood word Karma can help you approach your life situation with more clarity and control.
What is Karma? It is an internal cycle generated by our intention and the way we respond to what is happening within us. Over time, accumulation of karma causes unconscious patterns of behavior, which solidifies to the point where we begin to think “this is how we are” and there is no way out.
As mentioned earlier Karma means action. It does not refer to any physical deeds – good or bad – that we perform in the outside world. Neither is it an external system of arbitration or some such. Karma is action on these 3 levels – body, mind and energy. What does this mean? We experience the external world through our senses and how our mind interprets the sensory impressions. Everyday we are bombarded by a huge volume of sensory impressions, but we are largely unaware of it. Over time these sensory impressions start becoming patterns which we call “my personality”. These patterns are cyclical by nature. Our body is like the computer hardware and the patterns are like software which is on constant replay. Therefore we find ourselves reacting to situations in certain ways because the old software of patterns is playing itself out over and over again. Of course, we are oblivious to this and mistakenly think that this is “who we are”.
Simply put, we largely experience this world through two main filters – our likes and dislikes, which shape our personalities. These likes and dislikes which we can refer to as tendencies are what accumulate the karmic impressions. The stronger the likes and dislikes the stronger the hold of the karmic impressions upon how we behave. Depending on the karmic impressions gathered – whether it is hatred, anger, love, joy (usually a combination of these and more) – accordingly the personality.
For example – if you have a strong liking for chocolates, then you will keep your cupboards stocked with chocolates. If you dislike getting up early in the morning, then you may say “you are not a morning person”. One way to observe your tendencies is to be aware how you gravitate towards some things and how you avoid certain other things. These tendencies or patterns control your behavior all through your life.
So your karma is determined by how you conduct yourself – through your body, mind and energy. You can see it as – My action and therefore My responsibility, because these accumulations are unconsciously determined by your experience of the world and not by outside forces of reward, punishment etc. Essentially understanding “my life is my karma and my responsibility, my successes and failures my responsibility” you will inevitably want to take charge of your thoughts, emotions and actions. Seeing it as “My” responsibility is key to having control over how you go about your life situations.
Can we break out of these cycles? Absolutely! For example – If your karma is to wake up at 8 o’clock in the morning, you set your alarm for 5 o’clock. But at 5 o’clock you do not want to get up. But you say, “No, I am going to get up” and follow through. Now, you are just breaking the old karmic process by consciously doing something. This is one simple way of doing it, but this process takes time as it needs attention, commitment, awareness and willingness to break out of these cycles.
Being on the path of yoga speeds up the process of breaking out of the karmic cycles. Classical Hatha Yoga is about putting the body in asanas or postures that over time loosen the grip that karmic impressions have over you so you can be in the driver’s seat of your life.
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