3 types of Karmas
Are we the makers of our own destiny? Are we shaped by our destiny, or are we the shapers of our destiny? Is destiny our creator or are we the creators of destiny? Who are we? The answers to these questions lie in discovering how karmas are created in the first place. But before we do that let us examine the relationship between dormant, active and potential karmas, gain some understanding of them and how they become predominant in different phases of our lives.
The questions answered in this chapter are what is the law of karma, what are the three types of karma, how do you know your dormant (past) karmas, about active and future karmas.
Q.4 What is the Law of Karma?
A.4 THE WORD KARMA MEANS “action.” All of our actions are karmas except the ones we are in the process of performing. These are kriyas; completed actions are karmas. The seeds of karma lie in the kriya, because our present actions instantly turn into completed actions. When an action is completed, the action itself no longer exists in its gross form, but the result of that action manifests sooner or later. Both the action and its results are stored in their subtle forms in the unconscious mind and are known as “karmas.”
These days the word karma has taken on negative connotations. People in the East as well as the West makes statements such as “My karma caught up with me” when something unpleasant happens. This is a distortion of the concept. Karma can be positive or negative, uplifting or degrading. The law of karma is simply “As you sow, so shall you reap.”
All cultures share the belief that if we do good we will reap good results. The concept of good differs from place to place and from time to time, but the conviction that there is a causal relationship between good actions and good results and bad or wrong actions and bad results is fundamental to all societies. And regardless of what the highest goal of life is thought to be, spiritually uplifting actions are universally seen as the means of purifying the way of the soul, just as bad actions are seen as contaminating.
Any action we perform-whether mental, verbal, or physical-creates a subtle impression in our unconscious mind. When we continually repeat the same action these impressions are strengthened, until eventually they become so powerful that, unable to resist their strong currents, we are swept into performing actions that match these impressions. In other words, subtle impressions (samskaras) are born from our actions, and, in turn, our actions are motivated by subtle impression. This is a vicious cycle that, once in motion, is difficult to break. This cycle-actions creating impressions, which in turn drive our actions - is the law of karma.
We do not know when this process began, so we call it beginningless.
Q.5 What are the 3 types of Karma?
A.5 As we discussed in chapter one, the yogis categorize all karmas into three main divisions: sanchita (dormant), prarabdha (active), and kriyamana (potential) karmas. The literal meaning of sanchita karma is “stored karma.” These are dormant; they will become active only when conditions are ripe. Like seed corn stored in a silo, sanchita karmas will sprout and bear fruit if they are planted in a viable place in the proper season and receive the right amount of sustenance.
Prarabdha karmas have already started producing fruit. These are like seed corn, which has been removed from the silo, planted, and is now growing. The life of these plants is determined by the fertility of the soil, climatic conditions, and the prevalence of disease and insects. Corn plants growing in a field have no choice but to withstand whatever conditions they encounter and to strive to produce ears of corn. Once a plant has sprouted there is no way that it can return to its seed forms to await more favorable growing conditions. Our active karmas are like these plants
When conditions are favorable our dormant karmas become active, shaping our life and its circumstances. Like sprouting corn, once we begin our outward journey we are totally dependent on what life has to offer. Just as a farmer tends the plants, hoping for a good harvest (although he knows that much of the plant’s fate is not in his hands), we try to do what is best for ourselves and those we love. Our success depends on many variables, most of which are unpredictable.
Prarabdha karmas constitute our destiny. (Prarabdha literally means, “already in the process of producing fruits.”) There is not much to be done once the cycle of karma has reached the stage of destiny, but the process of reaping the fruits of destiny can be managed wisely. When our active karmas have run their course, for example, their fruits can be stored or given up. If we are attached to the fruits of our actions we will store them, and if we do, there is a good chance they will sprout and the cycle will begin again.
Potential karmas are those, which have not yet been created. The literal translation of kriyamana karma is “karma yet to be performed.” These can be compared to the ears of corn, which have not yet formed. If we let the plant grows, it will form ears and eventually yield fully mature kernels in the natural course of events. Similarly, under the so-called normal circumstances of life-the conditions into which we are born and under which we live-we find ourselves performing actions, all of which bear fruit.
Here the analogy breaks down. Corn has no free will but depends totally on nature for its survival. We seem to have more free will and are less dependent on nature. We may not be able to stop the course of events caused by prarabdha karma, but we are free either to accumulate the fruits of our karmas or to renounce them. Hoarding the fruits creates an environment of further involvement-potential karmas-but those who entertain destiny joyfully and wisely, who are free from both attachment and aversion to the experiences that destiny brings, renounce the fruit of their actions and thus do not form potential karmas.
This also applies to dormant karmas-the safest course is to either burn them in the fire of knowledge or surrender them to the Divine. This is possible only if we have been able to conduct a thorough inventory of our karmic deeds. But most of us have neither the knowledge nor the ability to enter the basement of our unconscious mind, where our karmic deeds are stored in the form of subtle impressions.
Q.6 How do you know your Dormant - past Karmas (Sanchita)?
A.6 In the process of self-discovery we must penetrate the layer of our being where our karmas are deposited. When we know what they are and how numerous they are, we can make the decision whether to throw them into the fire of knowledge, thereby disidentifying ourselves from them, or to surrender them to the Divine. The following story sheds some light on the yogic method of reaching the realm of dormant karmas and attaining freedom from them.
Story - Long ago there lives a yogi named Jaigishavya (JA for short) who undertook a long uninterrupted practice of intense tapas (austerities) before attaining enlightenment. He defied hunger, thirst, sleep and fatigue. Eventually the concentrated force of his consciousness penetrated the realms of existence where the ordinary mind cannot reach. Then, as recounted in the scriptures, he transcended his body-consciousness and saw the relationship between the body, senses and the different faculties of the mind. As his practice intensified, he gained direct experience of the contents of his mind, ego and intellect. Finally he entered the vast realm of the unconscious mind, known as chitta, where he encountered the dormant karmas related to millions of past lives.
But after knowing his mind he became disoriented. As he focused more intently, however, his confusion vanished and he realized that he was in samadhi. His consciousness had transcended the realms of time and space and he was being blessed with the intuitive experience of his sanchita karmas. All his past lives were before him.
As he traveled deeper into the backyard of time he was overwhelmed by the number of life forms he had assumed in the past. He had been a king, beggar, insect, demon, elephant, celestial being and everything in between. Everything that had ever happened to him had created an impression, all of which had been stored intact. Although there were occasional intervals of pleasure, a stream of vivid pain flowed continuously throughout all these experiences. Being aware of these impressions he saw clearly that they would eventually manifest.
JA said, “I am able to see the history of millions of lifetimes of my transmigration but I still can’t see the beginning of my soul’s outward journey. This means there are still dormant karmas lying beyond my present intuitive capacity. I can do nothing about the dormant karmas that are outside my awareness – but do I have the freedom to erase, rewrite or recycle the dormant karmas that I have identified. If so, how can it be done?
At this point one of the immortal guides, the sage Avatya, sensed that someone was in need of help. Intent on removing the yogi’s final knot of ignorance, the sage emerged from the universal pool of consciousness and descended into JA’s consciousness. JA prostrated before him and sage Avatya spoke “How can I help you? JA said, “It is disheartening that inspite of intense yogic practices I still have so many karmic practices?
Sage Avatya replied “Because of austerities and meditation, you were able to penetrate your own chitta, the vast unconscious mind where the subtle impressions of all your past deeds are stored. You think you are witnessing the contents of your mind while remaining above it, but you are actually actively involved. That is Maya. Rise above maya and you will see what or who lies behind”.
JA asks, “How can I rise above maya?
Avatya says, “The first step in tearing the veil of maya is to sharpen your intellect so that you can clearly understand why you are so attracted to knowing your past. Your desire arises out of your desire to reclaim it. And this desire arises out of your attachment. Inspite of knowing about your painful past you are attached to your actions, their fruits and subtle impressions. That is how your dormant – sanchita karmas gather their momentum and come into manifestation”.
“Disidentify from your karmas. You have been reinforcing the idea that you were a doer of actions. Your anxieties about the fruits of your actions made you miserable while you performed the actions. If you achieved what you wanted, your worry about retaining the fruits of your actions made you miserable, in the event of non-achievement you also felt miserable. In this way every karma, to some degree contains inherent misery. True knowledge lies not in knowing your karmas but their inherent nature. This type of knowledge will give you freedom from the effects of your dormant karmas.
Whenever a memory either grieves or thrills you, it is your attachment giving energy to that related dormant karma. Instantly neutralize that karma with the power of nonattachment (works only in relation to weak karmas). Attachment is like the nutrients a seed needs in order to sprout. Once you no longer provide these nutrients, the seed of dormant karma will loose its capacity to grow into destiny. To neutralize the effect of powerful karmas you must commit yourself to methodical practice that has to be intense. During such practice you have to summon your entire sankalpa shakti – the power of determination to complete it regardless of how many obstacles you face. Thus vairagya (non attachment) and abhyasa (practice) are the ways to attain freedom from your dormant karmas”. End Story
In light of this story, let’s revisit the stories in chapter one. Masters like Sri Swami Sadanand and Swamiji (Sri Swami Rama) have the ability to penetrate subtle realms of our being, where both dormant and active karmas reside. If we have the good karmas to be in their company and catch their attention, these masters show us how to neutralize undesirable sanchita karmas before they gather their momentum and manifest in the form of prarabdha, or destiny.
In the case of my mother’s loss of vision, her dormant karmas were awakened and manifested as destiny. It was too late for medicines. She needed help from an extraordinary source-the sun, which is the eye of the universe. My mother did not know the aditya hridayam mantra nor did she have the ability to undertake the practice of it. Although I had both, I was young and immature, and my simple recitation of it could not have been the cause underlying the restoration of her eyesight. Rather, just as a teacher transmits the power of mantra by blessing the student during mantra initiation, the invisible force of Sri Sadanandji’s blessings served as a medium between my mother and the healing power of the aditya hridayam mantra, in which this gentle saint was proficient. (Aditya hridayam means “the heart of the sun.”) A new karmic force created by the mantra blocked the flow of prarbdha karmas and neutralized the remaining karmas, which were still in their sanchita form. In this way, my mother was healed in three days.
Q.7 About Active Karmas?
A.7 The karmas of destiny, active karmas, are hard to change. They are like arrows already in flight, and because they run at the speed of time, it is almost impossible to change their direction. The laws governing prarabdha karma are similar to Newton’s first and second laws of motion.
In yogic literature we find tales and parables about karmic predicaments. In some, great masters and even divine incarnations could not overcome the inertia of active karmas: in spite of knowing the details of someone’s destiny, they could not influence either its direction or its speed. In other cases, they changed the direction, slowed it down, or stopped it entirely, thus helping someone to escape before destiny could strike. The following stories will illustrate the dynamics of prarabdha karma.
Story - About 400 years ago a man named Maluk Das or MD lived in the plains of north India. He was fully absorbed in farming and did not believe in Ishwar, destiny or rebirth. One hot humid morning he decided to rest for a while. It was adhik mas, a month that devout Hindus dedicate to reading scriptures, chanting and meditating. A local pandit was reciting scriptures under a tree with a small group of villagers, MD too joined them.
In the course of the recitation the pandit said, “Destiny is inevitable. We cannot experience the pleasure or pain brought about by destiny. Due to our karmas we would be happy or miserable. We cannot go hungry if we are supposed to have food”. KD challenged him, “Are you saying because it is written in that book or do you have proof?” The pandit had some intuitive knowledge, he said “The proof is this: today you are not supposed to be hungry. No matter what you do you will be fed”?
MD decided that come what may he was not going to eat. Around lunchtime he left the group of villagers and made his way to the dense forest where he hid in the branches of a tall tree waiting for evening. Soon he heard voices. He saw three men making plants from the leaves of the trees he was hiding in. They washed their hands and were about to eat their meal when a tiger suddenly roared nearby. In a panic the three ran away leaving the food behind. MD thought the pandit had arranged this scene to entice him to eat.
Next came three robbers. Surprised to see the food they thought that someone might have poisoned the food so as to catch them. Meanwhile one of the robbers noticed MD, asked him to explain why he was there. They refused to believe MD’s story and thought he was trying to poison them. In order to know whether the food was poisoned they pushed the food into his mouth. Once they found that MD had survived the food they ate the rest and went away.
Next day MD met the pandit, gained further knowledge and committed himself to spiritual practice. He later on became one of the greatest saints of North India. Kade Ki Mai, a famous temple of the Divine Mother is associated with MD, stands near Allahabad. End Story
This story shows the relentless power of destiny. Maluk Das’ prarabdha karma was so strong that he could not change it, in spite of his best efforts. His main karma was that he must eat, and his secondary karmas led to the events that resulted in his taking a meal. From his standpoint both the travelers and the robbers were instruments in the hands of his destiny. Maluk Das could not apply a force strong enough to overcome the inertia of his destiny, and it continued on in the direction it was going.
By its very nature destiny is entrenched and almost insurmountable. Yet in some cases it can be altered if enough force is applied-and in a skillful enough manner - as the next tale illustrates.
Story - There was once a poor Brahmin couple whose property was a horse. The only way they could feed him was to cut grass with the permission of the landowner or get him some from overgrazed public lands. Poverty and hunger aged the couple although the horse was healthy due to their kindness and care.
One-day sage Narada visited the village and stopped at the couple’s house for alms. Even though they had nothing they offered him salt and water as that was all they had. When Narada checked up their active karmas it provided for one horse, in dormant karmas he found that hundreds of horses were lined up although none would manifest until the current horse was gone.
So Narada told them to sell the horse. Reluctant but since they had full faith in him they did so. The sage told them that since the husband was a learned Brahmin dissemination of knowledge was the first duty. He should start a school and free himself from the burden of looking after a horse.
When they sold the horse villagers were shocked because they knew how much the couple loved their horse. It was perceived that the sale was to fund the school. The couple’s selfless love impressed the villagers. Thus someone gifted the Brahmin a horse. The Brahmin sold it and used the proceeds to expand the school. And then someone else gave the couple a horse. The process of gifting and selling continued. This way the couple said good-bye to poverty and always owned a horse. End Story
Here destiny was not averted but skillfully altered. Friends my destiny is that the harder I try to get something or attached to the further away it goes from me. When I am cool, not expecting too much or attached to something be it women or getting an assignment that’s when things have worked out for me.
Q.8 About Potential Karma?
A.8 Potential karmas are like arrows that have not yet been made, although the factory, the skilled arrow maker, the raw materials, and the customer are all present. The ego is the factory, the senses are the arrow makers, anxiety is the raw material, and the desire-ridden mind is the consumer. It is up to our faculty of discrimination to make the final decision as to whether or not these arrows will be made. If they are, they will be stored as dormant (sanchita) karmas, and sooner or later they are bound to be shot, resulting in destiny-prarabdha karma.
Kriyamana (potential) karmas are in our hands, provided we have the knowledge and ability to exercise our faculty of discrimination properly. Although our present level of knowledge and ability are greatly influenced by our active karmas, as human beings we have a high degree of free will and the power of choice. We are blessed with the ability to think linearly, as well as with the power of discrimination. By using these gifts we can avoid creating undesirable potential karmas, and can create potential karmas, which can soon neutralize the impact of our negative dormant karmas and even of our destiny. The Srimad Bhagavatam provides a story that clarifies this process.
Story - Angira and Narada are two sages in the Vedic tradition. One day they visited the palace of King Chitra Ketu, who was very prosperous but unhappy because he did not have a child. Angira said, “Life is a mystery. It is a mingled dream of joy and sorrow. But deep within lies a real and everlasting joy. A human being is born to dive deep into the stream of life, find the hidden treasure, and attain eternal fulfillment”. But the king begged the sage for a son.
Angira countered “It does not befit a learned person like you to work against destiny, esp. if it is already working in your favor. My advice is that you surrender to your destiny. Drop your desire for a child and purse the highest goal of life”. But the king insisted so the sage said, “May you be blessed with a son”. A few months one of the queens was blessed with a son. Since the king spent more time with the child and his queen mother the other queens got jealous. They poisoned the prince to death. The king was heart-broken.
After a while the two sages reappeared but the King could not recognize them. He said, learned men please make yourself known. Angira and Narada introduced themselves. They said, “We came some time ago to give you the highest gift of knowledge, but you were not ready for it. You were convinced that you could set foot on the path of the highest good only after your desires are fulfilled”. Friends I have realized that in life things do not happen in a sequential or mutually exclusive manner. You have to do what you think is right and let the future decide thereafter. When the time is right things will happen by themselves.
The King told the sages, ‘why is there pain in life, where does real peace lie – inside or outside this world? Why is everything so disappointing? Help me, I am at your feet”.
Angira replied, “Life is a mystery. Experiences of either types are the result of our destiny. Active karmas decide when and where will we be born, how long will we live in that body, and what major events we will face in that lifetime. W.R.T. these karmas we cannot do much but there exist another set of dormant karmas. It is possible to awaken them and allow them to manifest in the present form of active karma, provided we have a strong desire to awaken them. In your case Destiny had not planned a son for a long time but you longed for one. Thus your strong desire forced you to search for a son in the storehouse of dormant karmas. Here the only dormant karmas that could give you a son were contaminated with pain and misery”.
The King was shocked. He said “if you knew this, why did you bless me with a child”. Angira said “It was our duty to guide you in the right direction, but inspite of our advice you insisted on a son. This was the result of your potential karma. You are responsible for it’.
“Vairagya or non-attachment is the only way. This way your mind will become peaceful and your senses will be under control. You may continue to perform actions, but you wil also have time to pursue higher goals”. Friends what I have realized that life continuously puts you in various situations and gives you options. We have to use our Buddhi – intellect – the ability to discriminate between right and wrong – to make the right decision. The type of decision taken affects our potential karmas.
Under the guidance of Angira and Narada, King Chitra made a decision to follow the path of light. Through sadhana and by practicing dispassion (vairagya) he attained complete freedom from his karmic deeds.
As this story indicates, in certain areas of life we have little or no freedom of choice-some events are totally in the hands of destiny. King Chitra Ketu would not have been able to beget a son through his self-effort alone. He got a son only through the intervention of the sages Angira and Narada, yet even the blessings of these great sages could not entirely alter the course of his destiny. For a short period the king was graced with a child, but soon he fell into the stream of his central prarabdha karma, which destined him to remain childless. His desire, which was the potential karma that enabled him to awaken his dormant karmas for having a son, brought grief along with it.
King Chitra Ketu’s plight also shows us that the main strand of destiny is usually surrounded and supported by numberless secondary karmas. The main prarabdha karma acts like a magnet; the secondary karmas are pulled toward it like iron filings. Because it is difficult to separate the secondary karmas from the main prarabdha karmas, they usually work in perfect coordination, mutually supporting one another. End Story
The same is true of dormant karmas. A powerful dormant karma is usually surrounded by many secondary dormant karmas. When the main one is awakened and becomes destiny, the secondary ones are automatically awakened. That is why the learned master tell us that unless we know the complete mystery and dynamics of karma, it is better not to try to alter it. Divine grace flows along with the current of destiny, and it is this grace that gives us the strength to withstand the storms stirred up by our karmas.
Situations and circumstances, which we cannot change, are part of our destiny. It is best to honor such circumstances and accept them as they are. If you have the wisdom and ability to transform them for the better, go ahead-but make sure you do it without violating the laws of nature. Nature is the highest repository of each individual’s destiny, and it gives you only what you need. If you attempt to neutralize or modify your destiny, you must take care not to mistake your desires for your needs. Even if you come in touch with the divine providence that operates beyond the law of destiny, do not ask for more than you can sustain.
Even wise people obey the law of destiny. When absolutely necessary they may modify it slightly, although they are careful not to dishonor it when they do so.
Next we need to understand the forces that cause karmas to be formed, to be stored in tact, and finally to manifest in the realm of time and space. This leads us to study the mind, for according to the yogis that is where this karmic drama is created, enacted and experienced.