FAQ Karma & Reincarnation

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The Weaver of Destiny       

The questions answered in this chapter are, tell me about the Conscious & Unconscious mind, on what basis is our broad destiny decided before we are born? what about Group Karma? and how one particular karma becomes the leading force in an individual’s destiny and eventually overpowers all other karmas?

Q.12 Tell me about the Conscious Unconscious Mind?
A.12 According to YOGA, the mind has two aspects: conscious, and unconscious. The conscious mind works during our waking state and is always accompanied by the senses. It is the part of the mind that uses the brain as its seat and functions in response to sense stimuli. This mind is called manas. The totality of the mind (which includes manas as well as the vast unconscious) is known as chitta. Using the senses as its instruments, manas gathers data related to external objects and, through further processing, perceives them distinctly, identifies them as good or bad, and decides to respond to them positively or negatively. The conscious mind stores information at each step, some in the conscious memory, and some in the unconscious. This process was illustrated by the story of Arun and his chocolate in the previous chapter.

The unconscious mind is where our mental experiences are stored in the form of subtle impressions (samskaras); it is called unconscious because we are not ordinarily aware of its existence, let alone of the contents deposited there. In other words, we do not have conscious access to this aspect of the mind.

Nature provided us with an organized brain so we can process, assimilate, and retrieve information. Today, however, our minds are overloaded, and what is more, with the advent of calculators, computers, and fast-moving images, our attention span is shrinking rapidly. Less than five percent of our brain is active; the rest is dormant. We are using the conscious mind less and dumping more information into an already congested unconscious.

As a result, most of our activities are governed by the unconscious mind. For instance, we know that commercials and advertisements rarely present the complete truth, yet we are heavily influenced by them. Messages from cigarette and liquor advertisements, for example, have been deeply implanted in our unconscious mind, and as a result the tiny part of the conscious mind that knows how damaging they are to our health is not always able to stop many of us from using those substances. In large measure, we are slaves of our unconscious.

Our modern system of education trains only the conscious part of our mind, and that training does not include training us in how to use the conscious mind to gain freedom from our slavery to the unconscious mind. No one teaches us how to cleanse the unconscious, or how to expand the space in the conscious realm, or - the most crucial skill of all - how to penetrate the unconscious consciously. If we could do that, if we could enter the unconscious mind consciously and take an inventory of the contents deposited there, we could design an effective and realistic system for inner transformation. This skill can be cultivated through meditation. With it, we can precisely target and attenuate the negative impressions stored in the unconscious and strengthen the positive ones, and this speeds up our inner journey.

As it is, however, we have neither the knowledge nor the ability to open the door of our unconscious mind. The basement has been locked and ignored for so long that we have forgotten what it looks like, and we have no idea of what is hidden there. Thus it is impossible to formulate a plan for organizing the contents of our basement and getting rid of the junk.

The deeper the unconscious contents of our mind are buried, and the more densely they are packed into storage place, the more likely they are to explode, shaking the entire structure so violently that the weak parts shatter. We feel the blast, but because we do not know what exploded or why, we call the trauma destiny, God’s will, or an accident. And even if our karmic bombs do not actually explode, they create constant tremors, making us insecure, anxious, and fearful. Most of our conscious activities are influenced by this precarious state.

We perform most of our actions either to achieve that which we do not yet have or to preserve that which we do have. Actions performed under these conditions are motivated by the unconscious; what seems to be our immediate motive in the conscious realm is in reality only the catalyst for activating samskaras in the unconscious. It is the samskara that motivates the conscious mind to employ the body and sensory organs to perform an action.

Q.13 On what basis is our broad destiny decided before we are born?
A.13 It is not easy to pinpoint what exactly determines which particular karma or group of karmas will dictate our behavior, and when. The scriptures constantly remind us that only the omniscient Divine Being understands the precise dynamics of karma and its relationship to the cycle of birth and death. However, the scriptures do spell out what the sages in the past have confirmed through their intuitive wisdom: the grand plan of destiny - our prarabdha or active karma - is set before the beginning of each lifetime. Under normal circumstances it cannot be changed or even modified. For example, the kind of body we are born in how long we will live in that body, and whether we will be basically happy or unhappy during that lifetime is determined by destiny before we are born.

In general, the law of karma holds that with every action we create a subtle impression, which is then stored in the unconscious as a samskara. Under normal circumstances every impression will eventually ripen and manifest in the form of destiny. Powerful impressions individually or collectively become the main strands of our destiny; other impressions coalesce around them in the form of secondary karmas. The main strands dictate which body we will be born into, how long we will live, and whether the experience we undergo during that lifetime will be pleasant or unpleasant. The secondary karmas fill in the details. Although we cannot change the course of our main destiny, we have some degree of choice in manipulating our secondary karmas, and thereby, to some extent, we can influence our destiny.

The main active karma is like a blueprint for a house. The secondary dormant karmas and the secondary strands of destiny provide the details. The blueprint determines the basic shape and structure and cannot be modified. Secondary karmas are like the finishing materials and decorative details that complete the house. As the construction progresses, the architect has nothing to say about where, when, and how we hang curtains or paintings, what color we paint our shutters, or how we arrange our furniture. These are like secondary karmas.

The trivial, day-to-day details - losing something and getting something else, how we spend our time on a particular weekend - are secondary karmas that revolve around the main strand of destiny.

What determines which particular karmas or group of karmas will dictate our behavior, and when?” is both simple and complex. The simple part of the answer is that destiny in the forms of active karmas has its own course, and we have no power to change it. The complex part of the answer involves an explanation of secondary karmas - how they gather around the main karmic strands of destiny, and how they dictate our behavior. Some secondary karmas can be manipulated, but if they are strong and are deeply intertwined with the main karma it is almost impossible to prevent them from manifesting or to modify their effect after they have manifested. Or even if they are not deeply intertwined with the main karma, they can be like tentacles radiating from it and connecting one person’s destiny with another’s, thus opening a channel between personal karma and group karma. Only the knower’s of destiny can see precisely how these tentacles of secondary karmas are connected to the tentacles radiating from the main destiny of others. In very rare cases, such accomplished masters can cut the tentacles of destiny, and thereby disconnect one person’s fate from the fate of others. Or, if necessary, they can connect one person’s fate with another’s fare or with the fate of others by intertwining secondary karmas.

I came to understand this when I was fortunate enough to watch a saint working with the secondary karmas of a young man who was born with a heart defect. Although this young man had undergone valve-replacement surgery in his childhood, he was never very strong and had to be extremely careful with his health. His mother was deeply attached to him; her only son, and they both revered the saint and visited him regularly. For reasons unknown to me, the saint was constantly urging the young man to get married. One day when I felt that the saint was in the mood to explain the subtle mysteries of life, I asked him what he was trying to accomplish by encouraging the young man to get married. He explained that since this young man had long-standing health problems, he might not live long live unless something drastic was done. When I asked about further medical treatment, the saint said the young man had already undergone the best possible treatments and that changes now had to be made in the realm of his fate.

Here is how the saint described the karmic conditions prevailing in the sickly young man: His mother was very much attached to him; the two were karmically connected, and it was her destiny to lose her son. If she disowned him or if she renounced her relationship with him, his health would improve. But that was not an option, because neither mother nor son was ready to understand this subtle point.

The other option was for him to get married - marriage binds two people’s destinies together. If he married a woman whose destiny was to have a long-lasting marital relationship with a healthy husband, this young man’s destiny would be modified. He was currently attracted to a young woman whose family was close to his mother’s relatives. Once married, the couple would live near the young man’s mother - so that by marrying that woman he would reinforce the bond with his mother. On the other hand, if he married a woman who had ties with his mother, and if after marriage the couple settled somewhere far away, the mother and son would retain their relationship on the ground of pure love and duty, while the emotional ties based on attachment would be weakened.

In the ensuing months I watched as the saint skillfully created a situation in which the young man lost his interest in the woman with strong ties to his mother’s relatives. Soon afterwards he married someone else and settled in a city far away from where his mother lived. Immediately his health improved.

In this case it was in the young man’s destiny to be united with someone in marriage. All the saint did was create a situation in which he married a young woman who was destined to have a long-lasting marital relationship with a healthy man. By trying the tentacles of the young man’s secondary karmas to hers, the saint helped to modify his health-related destiny without disturbing the mother’s main prarabdha karma, which was to be separated from her son.

Q.14 What about Group Karma?
A.14 Further, the justice in reaping what we sow is obvious, but where is the justice in reaping the fruits of group karmas, which we may not have personally sown? The scriptures entertain such questions and explain these relationships.

They tell us, that, with the exception of meditative karmas, there is no such thing as totally personal karmas. All actions involve at least two parties: the one who performs the action, and the person or object affected by the action. And because both parties to an action are connected to other parties, the ripple effect causes several parties to become involved in actions and their fruition. As long as we have a body and live in the world, it is utterly impossible to live in karmic isolation. Even entering the world involves at least three parties: the mother, the father, and the one being born. All have their independent destiny as well as a shared group destiny. One person’s main destiny functions as another’s secondary karmas, and vice versa. Thus we are all caught in a complex karmic web. Hundreds of stories documented in the epic literature explain the complex nature of destiny in an understandable fashion. Let’s look at one from the Ramayana.

Story - Rama was a prince born in the city of Ayodhya to King Dhasharatha and Queen Kaushalya. Later on he married Sita. On the day he was to be crowned king he was exiled to the forest for 14 years. Unable to cope with the separation the King died. Next wife Sita was abducted by Ravana, the king of Sri Lanka. Eventually with the help of monkey-faced people Rama defeated Ravana, freed his wife and returned home. Throughout his exile Rama experienced tremendous ups and downs. To understand his destiny and its relationship with the destiny of those whose lives intertwined with his, we have to know what happened in his previous life, when he existed in the form of Narayana.

Kama (desire) is accompanied by an army of lust and others charms and temptations. It once waged a battle against the sage Narada when he was in deep samadhi. But Narada the most beloved disciple of Narayana, was able to remain unperturbed. Kama recognized his defeat and retreated. Narada was happy with accomplishment and told Shiva about his victory. Next he went to Narayana and said “Through your grace I remained unperturbed when Kama attacked me during my samadhi”. Narayana smiled and dismissed him. Friends I am always trying never to boast about my conquests or victories, underplay yourself is my moto. Some people call me a bad salesman but that is my style.

Narada was an unsurpassed astrologer and palmist. One day the king asked him to help in shaping the future of his daughter. Narada said that he had never seen such an exceptional horoscope and his daughter was very good in every respect. The princess an epitome of beauty overwhelmed Narada when she walked into the room. While he was seeing her hand, his heart was melting. He advised the royal family to invite the most eligible men from the kingdom for her svayamvara – the ceremony in which the princess chooses her own husband.

At the same time he went to his master and explained the situation. Narayana blessed him with an able body; virility and youth but gave him the face of a monkey. Not knowing this Narada went for the ceremony and attracted looks from all sides. Surprised with the looks he attracted from other princes and the princess he walked out.

When he saw his monkey face in the nearby lake he was furious with his master. On the way he met Narayana with the princess. He shouted, “Hear my curse. Just as today I am suffering on account of losing my wife, you will one day suffer the loss of your wife. And only those with monkey faces will be able to help you”. Narayana replied, “I accept this curse. To save you from misery I did what I did”. Narada realized his mistake and begged forgiveness. Narayana said, “No. For the sake of preserving your will power intact, I will take this curse upon myself. It will be honored when I reincarnate as Rama”.

At the same time, two great yogis, Manu and his wife, Shatarupa were ruling a great kingdom. They wanted to have Narayana as their son so they gave up kingdom and meditated on him. Narayana appeared and granted them the boon they were seeking. Thus Manu & Shatarupa reincarnated as Dasharatha and Kaushalya, Rama’s parents.

King Dasharatha was an expert archer. One day in the forest he inadvertently killed a young saint who was accompanying his blind parents on a holy pilgrimage. When the king saw the blind couple he begged for their forgiveness to which the father cursed Dasharatha saying, “My grief is so great that it will soon kill me. May grief over your son end your life as well”?

Later Rama was made crown king but exiled on the day of his coronation to the forest for 14 years. During the 13th year his wife Sita was abducted by Ravana, the king of Sri Lanka. The search for her led them to the kingdom of Vanaras, a group pf people with monkey faces. Together Rama and the Vanaras defeated Ravana, rescued Sita and returned to Ayodhya.        End Story

This story gives us a glimpse of the web of destiny. Rama’s was woven from many threads, the main ones being the boon he had granted his parents in their previous lifetime by agreeing to be their son, the effects of Narada’s curse, and his own promise to redeem the two students of Shiva who were also under Narada’s curse. There were hundreds of others involved in Rama’s life either as friends or enemies, or according to the scriptures, all of their destinies were connected to Rama’s destiny. Rama, a highly evolved soul, had no personal karma and therefore no karmic reason to be born or to die. But he used the boons, which he granted, and the curse that he accepted to create a momentary web of destiny in order to help disentangle others from their karmic webs. While he was caught in his own karmic web, however, he suffered anguish and enjoyed pleasure, just as ordinary mortals do.

Q.15 How one particular karma becomes the leading force in an individual’s destiny and eventually overpowers all other karmas?
A.15 Story - Once there lived a murderous robber who had made life miserable for everyone. During an attack on an isolated village the gang was outnumbered and the robbers scattered into the forests. While he was trying to find his bearings, he heard the wail of someone in pain. When he went closer he found a lone women who was in the process of giving birth. The robber helped her give birth and quenched her thirst. While doing so he remembered similar pain his mother had gone through to give him birth. This made him reflect on the preciousness of human life and he decided to change. He carried the woman and her child to the village where angry villagers killed him.

After death the robber was brought to Samyamani Puri, the realm where conscience alone rules, to face Yama, the king of death. Although based on his karmas as a robber he was prescribed 7,000 years of hell, Deva Guru, the celestial teacher appeared to say that even though the robber’s karma of helping the women was minute, it was intensely potent. According to the law of Karma established at the beginning of creation, such intensely potent karmas became the most powerful forces in the formation of destiny.  End Story

According to scriptures such as the Yoga Sutra it is possible to create a powerful positive karma, which overrides other karmas. The karmas generated through such means become the main strands of our destiny. Similarly, we create a powerful negative karma by hurting someone who is filled with fear or is sick, someone who is a miser, someone who trusts us, or one who is totally dedicated to spiritual life. This negative karma too, overrides all others karmas. The scriptures are replete with examples of those who were entangled in the web of destiny just as we are, but who created powerful karmas, which overrode many aspects of that destiny for better or worse. In other words, the intense karmas they created in the present changed the direction of their destiny.