On Yoga Terms and Philosophy: What is Karma?

On Yoga Terms and Philosophy: What is Karma?
[Fourth article in a series]
By Alice Koh

What is Karma?

Samskaras are the imprints or memories that we carry from previous lives to our present life. Samskaras and karma are very intimately related. You cannot talk about one without the other.

Karma is the seed that is hidden deep within our being. Through our daily actions, we water it, fertilize it and give it attention and this seed takes roots and sprouts into a mature tree that will bear fruits for this life and the next.

Some people are born prodigies of music or athletics or other disciplines. These are their samskaras. The musician plays music and either heals or destroys others. These are the fruits of his or her karma. That is, his or her actions.

Karma is part of that wheel which brings forth rebirths. It is cause and effect, action and reaction and further actions and consequences ad infinitum, until that fateful day of Liberation or Moksha.

Karma, therefore, is action. Just as life is action. Everything vibrates, nothing and I mean nothing stands stills. We are constantly moving, changing and evolving. Our hearts, even when we are sleeping, never stop beating. Everything in the universe is like the heart, in constant movement, evolving. Your brain, too, is in constant activity.

The life cycle of a living being starts from the fertilization of the ovum by the male sperm; then, the birth of a baby and this baby developing into a toddler, a teenager, an adult and into old age, and finally comes death through old age or sickness [though sometimes people die very young].

Our senses (which perceive external stimuli) are sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch. These senses as a whole make up the energetic impression of one entity that we love to call the Self.

And this Self also loves to think, to see, and to feel and imagine that the universe is made up of individual parts, and can never perceive it as a whole. Yet, when it comes to the Self, it is always perceived as a whole, and cannot imagine this Self being made of trillions of individual parts.

In our thoughts, we adhere to the believe that Cause is the antecedent of the Effect which becomes a Cause of another Cause which will give forth another Effect ad infinitum.

This is not a wrong assumption. However, what is the true cause of an effect? We will never know the true cause of an effect unless we realize the Truth of all things. And this Truth is? There is no individuality.

We say, we live in this planet. We live in this solar system. We live in this galaxy. We live in this universe. In our minds, there is segregation and distinction. But one day, you will realize that we are not just body and mind. We are the Pure Consciousness that is found throughout the Universe.

The human being is the Microcosm, the embodiment of the Universe. But the Universal being is the Macrocosm which is made up of the sun and moon, stars, and galaxies.

This Universal Self is also found inside your body. Think of the living, intelligent, self-reproducing CELLS inside your body. Your body is a universe to itself.

We think we are these individual Selves. Willing slaves to our senses and desires! And our desires giving rise to more desires. We cast projections, we create memories, we believe, we discriminate, becoming fanatical and narrow minded. We thus plant the seeds of our Future. The fruits may not mature in this life. Mostly likely they will be in the next. But we will reap what we sow.

Every action that you do now whether good or bad brings a reaction. These actions accumulate with time. The actions that you accumulate in this life are called ‘Agami Karma.’ So how do you stop creating new causes or further being influenced by past actions? How do you stop binding karma? The technique is called Karma Yoga. And you are taught this technique in the sacred writings of the Bhagavad-Gita.

Now, the outcome of your past and present actions brings forth Samsara.

Samsara is the Universal Self becoming Individuals. It is the endless cycle of birth and rebirth, death and re-deaths. These individuals depending upon their karma are reborn in various realms and forms. Therefore, how you live your life now will bring about how you will live your life in a future world. The ignorant and evil will go to a lower realm of darkness as hungry ghosts or animals. The ethical and good will be elevated to a higher realm of humans and gods.

We see things as separate entities. A tree is a tree, a dog is a dog and we see nothing that connects them all. We are also deluded by time and space. Our perception of separation becomes our reality.

Within our body, there is the dichotomy of right and wrong, ignorance and truth. We crave for the incessant high of alcohol, sex and drugs. We are enslaved by materialism, by the quick fixes, by our limitations bound by individuality and duality.

Through yoga, the body releases the restrictive thoughts and thus allows the body and mind to flow with the essence of divine consciousness. This is where we reach a trance of unity with the Atman (the Universal Eternal Self). The student shakes off the Jiva or the individual self out of his ignorance.

Plato´s allegory of the Chariot demonstrates the qualities of our senses which are wild and unbridled. The soul who is the charioteer tries to take control of the disparate senses, which are the horses. The charioteer is the student in yoga class learning to rule over his turbulent self. He is like a lover in exile, away from his beloved. His mission is to unite with his beloved. This is no metaphor but the truth of a devotee’s wishing the union with God.

The allegory of the Chariot brings to mind the Chariot of Arjuna where Lord Krishna is holding the reins. He teaches Arjuna that the soul (like god) is immortal and that God is everywhere at all times. God occupies all space even that which is invisible to our eyes. This is shown in chapter 11 of the Bhagavad-Gita where Lord Krishna goes through a transfiguration in front of Arjuna.

We are fighting a battle everyday between our demonic and divine qualities. But Lord Krishna teaches us that God is All and All is God. It is impossible for evil to win because God is in its entirety, as the Bible says, God is Love. The miracle of human creation should be enough evidence to convince you of this fact.

Everything in the right mindset is equanimous. Victory and defeat and a life of joy and pain. But bear in mind that what you do in this life, no matter how small or trivial will have consequences in your near future or in the next life. This is the KARMA (actions/consequences) that will bring SAMSARA (rebirths) or MOKSHA (liberation).

All human action should be dedicated to god. This means that you wake up in god´s consciousness, you go about the day in god’s consciousness and finally you fall asleep in god’s consciousness until the day you unite with god and end this worldly delusion of the individual self.