FAQ Karma & Reincarnation

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Creation of Karmas      

This chapter answers three questions namely how are samskaras created, do we get our minds clear and create positive samskaras. A background note first.

According to Yoga Science, everything in the universe, including the mind, has evolved from prakriti (primordial nature). It is eternal and is the cause of our manifest world. Itself unborn, it is the mother of the entire universe and all that exists in it. It is the highest form of energy. It has three intrinsic forces: sattva, rajas and tamas. While prakriti is in its unmanifest form, these three forces remain in balance. When disturbed, prakriti becomes manifest.

Everything in this world consists of sattva, rajas and tamas of varying degrees. Sattva is the force characterized by light, illumination, clarity, purity etc. Rajas is the force of activity, movement, instability, agitation and pulsation. Tamas is the force of darkness, heaviness, inertia, confusion, dullness etc. Sattva and Tamas appear to be opposites while due to rajas vibration is an intrinsic characteristic of prakriti.

The mind – both the cosmic and individual is the first to emerge from the stillness of prakriti, the material world evolves from that mind. According to the Yogic doctrine of evolution, an effect must contain all the qualities and characteristics of its cause. Because prakriti is the mother of the mind, the mind must consist of three forces intrinsic to prakriti. If these forces reach a stage of equilibrium the mind will no longer exists but will be merged in prakriti.

By the same token, as long as the mind exists these forces cannot be in equilibrium. It continuously shifts from one state to another. It could be distracted, dull or well controlled. Because our thoughts, speech and actions are either confused, organized or peaceful depending on our mental state, these mental states play a significant role in the formation of our karmas. In a distracted or disturbed state our actions are confused. Actions performed in such a state will be accompanied by the samskaras of confusion and their results would be confused. A confused mind causes us to create a multitude of weak karmas, which in turn are stored in the unconscious mind in a disorganized way.

Friends when ever I am feeling dull, confused I have learnt to relax, take it easy and not perform any actions esp. with people who are going to pass judgment on me.

Q.9 Creating Samskaras
A.9 To get a clearer understanding let us look at two people – one whose mind is disturbed called Arun and another whose mind is one pointed called Pooja – might handle the situation. Both are professionals and like chocolates. They face a decision about which chocolate bar to buy – a decision so simple but that demonstrates clearly the interplay of the various kinds of karma.

Story - Arun a freelance computer consultant was working at home when early afternoon he gets a call from a customer who is furious because a defect in Arun’s work is causing other problems with his software. The customer wants Arun to come home right away and he agrees. A minute later the school calls to say a storm is expected and he should pick up the children. He asks his wife to pick up the children so that he could attend to the customer but she had a problem with her car and needed help instead.

Confused and cranky about what to do he picks up the children first who demand computer games to entertain them during the storm. The game store is next to the supermarket. He decides to stop, let the kids play while he picks up provisions.

On his way to the dairy case, Arun sees chocolates his favorite food so he stops without thinking. He had no plan to buy but his mind was so scattered and chocolate captivating that he stopped by. There were twenty types of chocolates of which 18 grab his attention because he is familiar with them. One by one he keeps on eliminating various brands till 15 were left. Then looks at them again and puts four at random into his cart. Harried and confused he does not know why he is in the store? Anyway he reorients himself, buys the groceries planned and goes next door to pick up his children.

Now let us analyze the chocolate karmas Arun created in that confused state of mind. At the sensory level none of these chocolates were good or bad. The subtle impressions of chocolates at this stage were vague and accompanied by uncertainty and aimlessness. Let us call this samskara 1. Then Arun focused his attention on one chocolate from another & recognized their characteristics. This is samskara 2. Next he began to analyze chocolates further. He identified 18 of them. Based on his previous experiences a sense of liking and disliking arose from this identification. The memories associated with those 18 varieties of chocolates rushed forward, forcing him to buy the chocolate. We call this samskara 3. Next Arun transferred the chocolate file to his buddhi to make a final decision about which to buy. But his buddhi was confused too. Unable to make up his mind the buddhi motivated Arun to grab four chocolate bars at random. Arun filed this information in a memory filed called samskara 5.

Add all these up and we can see that Arun has collected 75 chocolate samskaras although he bought only four varieties. Friends I had this experience so often that today I never venture shopping if I am in a confused state of mind for two reasons. One I do not buy what I set out to buy. Two I buy at too at a high price.

On the other hand an attorney Pooja who has completed her duties is in a peaceful frame of mind. She too hears about the storm and stops by at the store to pick up her favorite chocolate. Clear about what she wants she picks up one and walks out of the store. In her case there are impressions of 20 types of chocolates stored as samskara 1 but they are so vague that they hardly occupy any space in her memory field. Versions 2 and 3 contain only one chocolate. Samskara 4 contains one strong, clear impression that is filed so distinctly that Pooja can retrieve it with comfort.  Only the 23rd samskara can motivate her to buy the chocolate. On the other hand Arun created seventy-five samskaras and ended buying something that he did not really want to buy.   End Story

This example may seem frivolous, but it explains how we create samskaras.

Q.10 How do we get our Minds Clear?
A.10 If we want to make sure that our mind functions in a balanced way, we must first increase the level of sattva and let rajas and tamas become subordinate. Under the influence of sattvic energy we can think clearly, make the right decisions, and summon our will and determination. This will engender positive karmas and prevent negative ones from forming. But it requires creating an environment, which attracts sattvic energies from every direction and repels rajasic and tamasic ones. To do this we have to be vigilant in all areas of our life: how we sleep, what we eat, what we read, how we exercise, and how we interact with others. In short, we have to bring a sattvic quality to all our actions-physical, verbal, and mental. In the area of diet, for example, we must eat sattvic food and avoid rajasic and tamasic food. Sattvic food is light, fresh, easily digestible, nutritious, and neither overcooked nor under-cooked. Rajasic food has a strong taste; it is heavily spiced, fiery, and salty; it aggravates our digestive system, disturbs our sleep, and causes unpleasant dreams. Tamasic food is stale, heavy, overcooked, and composed of so many ingredients that it is hard to identify the main one; it is loaded with additives and preservatives, and may be overly sweet; it is hard to digest, and makes us slothful and sleepy.

How we entertain ourselves also has a strong bearing on our temperament. Entertainment that delights the senses while leaving them calm, has a tranquil effect on the mind, does not linger in the mind afterwards, and is spiritually inspiring is sattvic. Rajasic entertainment is exciting; it is associated with loud sounds, bright lights and colors; it is fast moving, violent, romantic, or tragic-it agitates our emotions. Entertainment that is dull, boring, and leads to inertia is tamasic. Friends I invariably feel dull the day after I listen to loud music at home or party. I still party but do not overdo it.

If we pay attention to these and other areas of our life with a view to increasing our sattvic energies, we can make our mind balanced, focused, sharp, and penetrating. A balanced, sattvic mind then has the capacity to withstand the internal turmoil caused by the rajasic and tamasic effects of our dormant and active karmas. Although our efforts to increase sattvic energy do not destroy these karmas, if we adopt a sattvic lifestyle the tamasic and rajasic effects of these karmas will be neutralized significantly.

Patanjali, the author of the Yoga Sutra, and Vyasa, its fore most commentator, tell us that a confused mind is not fit to follow the path of yoga. Such a mind is dominated by tamas and rajas and fails to envision the highest good, so it has little inclination to perform those actions, which have the highest good as their goal. Even if it does perform such actions, it generates so much confusion that the subtle impressions stored in the form of dormant karma are totally contaminated. In short, although auspicious actions performed by a confused person will create karmas conducive to spiritual growth, they will not be altogether free of negative effects. Preparatory practices, however, can purify and discipline the mind so that it no longer shifts among disturbed, distracted, and stupefied states.

This does not mean that we should not attempt to do anything good until we have attained complete freedom from confusion. It is true that our present and future actions are primarily motivated by our destiny-our prarabdha karmas and in relation to those karmas we have virtually no freedom of choice. But the main prarabdha karma is always accompanied by a host of secondary karmic strands, and in relation to these we have greater freedom to make choices.

To clarify the relationship between the central and secondary strands of prarabdha karma, let’s return to the story of the Brahmin and his beloved horse. It was his destiny to have one horse. Honoring the advice of sage Narada, the brahmin overcame his attachment to that horse by summoning his power of will and determination, and getting rid of it. By doing so he manipulated his secondary karmas, which were causing his wife to spend her days getting food for the horse and were forcing him to look for students for his livelihood rather than as a form of service. The story shows how our present actions can influence our secondary active karmas.

Q.11 How do we Create Positive Karmas?
A.11 We can summon our power of will and determination to make a decision and act on that decision, even if secondary karmas stored in the past are exerting an influence on us in the present. It is entirely up to us to create potential karmas that are conducive to our growth. If we decide to make an effort to perform sattvic actions, such actions will engender sattvic fruits, helping us to purify our mind and minimize confusion.

There is nothing in our destiny that we ourselves did not create. The results of actions we performed long ago have manifested as our current destiny, just as the actions we are performing today will manifest as our future destiny. Even if we have a confused mind, we must make an effort to perform actions, which are conducive to our well-being. We must never forget that as humans we have a great degree of freedom of choice. With effort we can focus our scattered mind momentarily and makes a decision to involve ourselves only in wholesome actions. We may not always succeed, but we can keep trying.

Committing ourselves to such a course of action and staying with it for a prolonged period is called spiritual practice. The scriptures tell us that it is the practice that makes us perfect - by undertaking positive actions we create positive potential karmas, which serve as an antidote to the karmas that have caused our mind to become scattered. These positive potential karmas will be deposited in the unconscious mind in a dormant form; later they will influence our present and future actions. That is why we must attend to our present actions and refrain from blaming our karmas for our confusion and scatteredness. According to yoga, we can incorporate three spiritual practices into our lives, which will do much to loosen the grip of our negative karmas: cultivating focus, exercising control over our senses, and strengthening our power of will and determination.

Forming a habit of staying focused will prevent us from involving ourselves in useless actions. Like children, we are often more interested in knowing what others are doing than in doing what we need to do. This leads us to compare ourselves with others and engenders inferiority and superiority complexes, creating an environment in which hatred, jealousy, greed, and competitiveness flourish. Such feelings pollute our mind and force us to involve ourselves in unnecessary actions. By performing unnecessary actions we create unnecessary karmas, which perpetuate our confusion and complicate our life.

The next step is to practice pratyahara (sense withdrawal). The mind cannot execute its plans without the help of the senses. A sattvic mind employs them to complete its chosen tasks. When tamas is dominant, however, the mind becomes careless and begins to depend on the senses. The senses take advantage of this dependency-their cravings grow into urges, and these urges draw the mind toward pleasurable objects. Eventually the mind becomes subservient to the senses. This is a recipe for a scattered mind-the senses are constantly employing the mind to contact, perceive, feel, and judge the pleasure and pain contained in sensory objects. And we perform our actions under the influence of these sensory urges, creating potential karmas contaminated by craving and confusion.

The senses are many and powerful. By offering us a modicum of what seems to be pleasure, the senses of taste, touch, smell, sight, and hearing compel the mind to run from one object to another. They promise great fulfillment, and the mind believes them. But soon after the mind embraces an object, it is disappointed-the joy of this embrace was not as profound and long lasting as it had hoped. Through its own experience, the mind knows that sensory pleasures have no real value, yet under the sway of the senses it allows itself to be attracted by the charms and temptations of objects again and again, only to encounter repeated disappointment. Realizing its folly, the mind often decides not to waste time in such acts, but, driven by sensory urges, it fails to act on this decision. Eventually the mind becomes frustrated and loses its self-confidence and self-respect. From that point on, it continues performing actions without knowing why.

Freeing ourselves from this cycle requires disciplining the sense. The scriptures tell us that “discipline which has provision for training and taming the senses alone qualifies as yoga practice. Only by undertaking such a yoga practice can one prevent oneself from falling into the trap of negligence and self-deception. Such practice alone enables an aspirant to break the cycle of birth and death.” (Katha Upanishad 2:3:11)

The third and most important action we can undertake to overcome the confusion in our mind is to build our sankalpa shakti (the power of will and determination). The same mind that has the capacity to create karmas in the first place (and to be influenced later by its own karmic accumulations) also has the power to dismantle previous karmas and rebuild according to a well-thought-out plan.

Ordinarily we surrender ourselves to the force of karma because we are not aware of the power of the mind. But according to jnana yoga (the yoga of knowledge) karmas are created, sustained, and executed by the magical power of the mind. Getting caught in the net of our karmas is like a magician becoming mesmerized by his own magic. In other words, the mind is the cause of both bondage and liberation. The key to unlocking the mind’s liberating power is sankalpa shakti; the failure to use this power of will and determination is the source of misery. As humans, we have the capacity to over-come our self-created karmic misery, provided we unfold our sankalpa shakti to its fullest. As the following story from the Puranas (not given since too long) shows, even those with a great deal of self-knowledge create long-lasting misery for themselves if they do not employ their power of will and determination.
This story illustrates the crucial role of sankalpa shakti in either unfolding or suppressing the intrinsic powers of the mind to liberate itself. According to the sage Vyasa, the mind is imbued with seven such intrinsic powers. They are:

Shakti -  the power to be and the power to become. This is the fundamental force necessary to accomplish any task.
Cheshta - purposeful movement.
Jivana - the capacity to contain the life force and thus to keep an organism alive.
Parinama - the capacity to keep changing from one state to another, from one mood to another.

Nirodha - the capacity to stop shifting from one state to another. This is the mind’s capacity to control and rescue itself even when it seems to be totally disorganized and lost.
Samskara - the capacity to store the subtle impression of an action, or any information the mind gathers from any source.
Dharma - the power that naturally inclines the mind toward freedom and inner fulfillment.

Due to a lack of spiritual training we usually experience only the functioning of the sixth force, samskara, but because we also have the other six intrinsic capacities, there is always a way to accomplish our goal. Regardless of the state of our mind-how confused or clear it is, how disturbed or composed, how dull or vibrant, inspired or depressed-we can meet the challenge of any problem, provided we have access to these intrinsic forces. Spiritual training provides this access.

Success in any endeavor, spiritual or worldly comes from cultivating the conviction that we have the power to accomplish anything, the power to be and become whatever we want. This conviction introduces us to the mind’s first intrinsic capacity, shakti, which is the key to attaining mastery over the other six powers.

The storage of our karmas, the unconscious mind, is also the creation of the mind. And once it is fully formed, our decision-making faculty is heavily influenced by the powerful subtle impressions stored there. That is why even though we know what is right at the conscious level; we do things inspite of knowing that what we are doing is harmful. Our personality traits evolve from the contents of our unconscious mind to shape our tastes, interests and choices. To discover why this is so we must embark on a study of the unconscious mind and its relationship with the conscious mind.