Inner Quest by Pandit Rajmani Tugnait

  • By Pandit Rajmani Tugnait
  • May 2003

Breaking Cycle       
                                                        Karma: The Maker of Destiny

58. The word “karma: is used loosely these days. What is its actual meaning?
Karma is the law of cause and effect, action and reaction: as you sow, so shall you reap.

59. How does karma come into being?
Subtle impressions of all our actions mental, verbal, and physical – are stored in the mind in the form of memories. When we keep performing the same actions, we reinforce these memories. At some point, they become so strong that they turn into habits and start dictating our behavior.

As long as we remember the cause of these habits and the consequences of giving in to them, we can change them. If our power of will and determination is strong desire to overcome our habits, we can gradually erase the habit patterns until they again become simple memories.

But through constant reinforcement some habits become so strong that they create deep grooves, not only in the conscious mind but also in the nervous and glandular systems, our musculature, and the senses, and reach all the way into the unconscious mind. These strong impressions of actions, having the unconscious mind as their domain, influence the entire personality. When powerful impressions are created by taking potent substances, such as psychoactive drugs, we use the term “addiction” We call other strong impressions, which we have forgotten about with the passage of time but which have become part of the personality, “unconscious material.”

In yogic literature, the name for this unconscious material is samskara. Samskaras are subtle impressions of our previous actions that normally are not known by our conscious mind, but which influence our present activities. Depending on the nature and characteristics of a particular samskara or group of samskaras, we find ourselves inclined toward a particular lifestyle, environment, academic discipline, type of entertainment, and so forth. For example, two children in a family have the same upbringing and exposure to the world, but one child seems to be more interested in art and music and the other is more interested in science. Although we cannot find a direct causes for these differences, yoga philosophy says that they are due to the children’s samskaras.

Samskaras seem to be more powerful than the forces of our conscious mind and intellect. From deep within, the samskaras influence our mind and intellect. As a result, we often know what is right and yet do not find ourselves fully motivated to do it, just as we know what is wrong and yet, under the influence of an unknown and irresistible force, we do it anyway. Such situations reveal the conflict between our conscious understanding and our samskaras. We find ourselves being impelled by our samskaras in spite of our conscious awareness that we are failing to do something that ought to be done or doing something that ought not to be done.

The progression from action to memory, from memory to habit, from habit to compulsion, and from compulsion to samskara finally results in the formation of karma. At this stage, the samskaras (which have now become karma) are so subtle and so deeply imbedded in the recesses of the unconscious that they are completely outside of our awareness. Because we do not even know they are there, we have no means of bringing them into our conscious awareness. They have survived so long and have been so well nourished that they are the most powerful aspects of our personality. In fact, they are the makers of our interior being. Karmas keep influencing and manipulating our bodies, senses, mind, ego, and intellect as long as we are alive, even though we are blind to that influence.

When the bond between the body and the mind is severed by death, they become the sole motivating factors. The journey of life after death is carried on by our karmas.

60. On a practical level, how do our karmas affect our lives?
Our karmas influence not only our behavior but also our surroundings and the circumstances of our relationships. Karmas are the makers of our destiny. This is why the scriptures say, “It is karma that brings us into the world.” It is karma that makes us feel that someone is our soul mate. Karmic factors stir the subtle realm of providence, resulting in such events as winning a lottery or becoming the victim of a natural disaster. The most satisfactory answer to the question of why one person seems to be prosperous, healthy, and lucky while another suffers from poverty, disease, and misfortune can be found in the law of karma.

According to this law, everyone is responsible for his or her actions. No one can reap the fruits of another’s actions nor escape the fruits of his or her own actions. When we do not know the exact cause of a particular event, we call it an accident, but nothing happens accidentally. We sowed the seed of that so - called accident in the form of our previous actions, whether in this life or in a previous one.

There is no reason to blame anyone for our current problems and circumstance. Whether we know it or not, we are bound by the ropes of our own karma. It is through our karmas that we reward or punish ourselves, bind or release ourselves. Our karmas are also innate guides: they guide us in the form of our inner inclinations, tastes, and interests.

61. Are we totally at the mercy of our karmas?
The answer is both yes and no. by virtue of being born as humans, we possess a more evolved body, brain, senses, and mind than do other creatures. Our innate abilities and intelligence enable us to build comfortable shelters, move from one place to another, and explore ways of improving the quality of our lives. Plants and animals don’t have that privilege. But how we use this privilege is totally up to us. Making the best use of the unique gifts that distinguish us from the other forms of life here on earth can free us from being the victim of our karmas, at least to some degree.

However, we must not forget that our knowledge, capacities, and resources are limited. Even the most knowledgeable, powerful, and resourceful person has limitations. No one has complete freedom to choose, change, and transform the circumstances that are the result of his or her karmas.

We have very little freedom when it comes to working with our karmas. The greatest limitation is that our knowledge of the unconscious mind is insufficient and we do not have the means of attaining perfect control over it. We also lack knowledge about how to withdraw our senses and mind from the external world and turn them inward to penetrate the subtle mystery of karmshaya, the realm of the mind-field where all karmas are deposited. Even our inclination to gain knowledge about our own mind, withdraw the senses and mind from the external world, and turn them inward is influenced by our karmas. This is the classic chicken-and-egg dilemma.

Friends if you like to read Panditji thoughts on the subject, in Q & A section have converted his book on Karma & Reincarnation into an FAQ.
                                                                          Outrunning Death

62. Yoga tells us that the world is illusory and atman alone is real. What does this mean?
The world is unreal in the sense that everything in it is constantly changing. Objects of the world are transitory: they are all subject to destruction, death, and decay. It is one thing to say this, however, and quite another to really grasp it. Lack of knowledge about the real nature of object is the source of disappointment. Usually we forget that the objects we ourselves possess are subject to destruction and decay. For example, your own body is an object and is subject to nature. When you are young, you don’t really believe you will become old, although you see those around you age. When your own old age approaches, you are surprised and disappointed. You try to escape this disappointment by using herbs, medicines, and cosmetics, or by keeping yourself busy. But nothing really helps. That which you think you are is constantly slipping through your fingers.

In your relationship with others, the situation is even worse. The person who seems to love you today doesn’t care for you tomorrow. Your children say they love you, but eventually they marry and devote themselves to their spouses and children. You are left alone with your own I-am-ness-which is undependable because it is constantly in flux. It is in this sense that the scriptures say the world is illusory. This fact should not dishearten you or make you sad. Simply accept the nature of the world as it is.

While you are trying to assimilate the knowledge that worldly objects are illusory, contemplate on the Truth that is immortal and not subject to destruction, death, and decay. The Truth remains unchanged and witnesses the changing states of all worldly objects, including your body and mind. Once you know this eternal Truth, life’s successes and failures, losses and gains will no longer be disappointing. Instead of viewing this stream of change as destructive, you will see that is the source of continual renewal. You will appreciate the process of change, for you will understand that without it the world would become stale and stagnant-a boring place to live!

63. If the soul doesn’t go through the cycle of birth and death, then what does? And why?
The soul is eternal, all pervading, and omniscient. In its pure form it is subject to neither birth nor death. It is unitary consciousness. In this state of consciousness, the sense of individuality does not exist. According to the yoga tradition, what we call an individual soul is a state of consciousness that identifies itself with the mind and ego, and thus isolates itself from the universal pool of consciousness. Such an individuated soul is called jiva and it is the jiva that goes through the cycle of birth and death.

That leaves the question of why this individual self identifies itself with the mind and ego and becomes separated from the universal consciousness in the first place. Does it separate itself first and then become identified with the mind and ego? Or is its identification with the mind and ego the cause of this separation?

The answer the scriptures give is itself the source of numberless question: the Supreme Self or the Universal Being throws the blanker of illusion over Itself and simultaneously veils Its true nature, projecting a multitude of images. Each of these images now contains only a fragment of the Universal Self. Because a veil covers the self-shining glory of the Universal Truth, these images now appear to be born in time and space. They also seem to die.

Why the Universal Being throws this blanket of illusion over itself and projects a multitude of images is another question. The scriptures tell us that this is an eternal process. Evolution and involution, manifestation and dissolution are intrinsic attributes of the transcendental Truth.

From the standpoint of individual souls who already happen to be separated from the Universal Consciousness, it is the law of karma that dictates that they must go through the cycle of birth and death. In the long journey of life, individual souls-jivas-have accumulated a vast range of karmic impressions. They cannot go back to their pristine state of unity with Universal Consciousness unless their karmic impurities have been removed, their minds have become transparent, and their egos have been dissolved. This process of washing away the karmas cannot begin if the individual soul remains suspended in death. Primordial nature-prakriti-pulls together all the conditions necessary for an individual soul to be reborn. Nature is stirred by the force of compassion to bring the souls to birth. Birth is the only way to attain freedom not only from death but also from the entire cycle of birth and death.

This purpose can be accomplished only by making the best use of all the resources that come with being born as a human. If we somehow fail to use these resources correctly, or if we abuse them, we remain caught in the wheel of karma and perpetuate the cycle of birth and death. Therefore, scriptures such as the Isha Upanishad tell us “krato smra, kritam smra….” “Know what you are doing now and know what you did in the past. By knowing that, decide the right course of action for the future and attain freedom in this lifetime.

64. How does an individual soul, which has just sparked from Universal Consciousness, incur karma? If it doesn’t have karma to begin with, how can it be involved in paying off karmic debts?
This may seem like a clever question, but according to the scriptures, each jiva has some karma, which is why it sparks from Universal Consciousness in the first place. The manifestation of the universe is not a one-time phenomenon. There is nothing like creation and annihilation. Instead, consciousness is constantly expanding and contracting. Through mortal eyes, this is seen as creation and annihilation, birth and death.

Life is an eve-flowing stream of consciousness. When and how it started, no one can say. This current creation had its beginning somewhere in the dissolution of the previous cycle of creation. During the time of dissolution, individual souls - which are numberless-fall into cosmic slumber. When under the will of the Divine, nature comes out of this slumber; these individual souls also wake up. We call this the beginning of creation. Just as a night’s sleep does not dissolve yesterday’s unfinished projects, the long sleep between cycles of creation does not clear up our previous karmic debts. When we wake up, our karmas wake up along with us and we start the cycle all over again. Those who break this cycle are fortunate.

People who are unfamiliar with the boundless domain of knowledge and consciousness may still argue that there has to be some beginning. But trying to find a beginning of the beginningless is a fool’s errand. That is why in regard to these questions, a great master like Buddha remained silent and why the sages of the Upanishads simply smiled and said, “This is a wonder.”

65. Once you have a direct experience of Truth, are you really free from the bondage of birth and death? Do you become immortal, as the scriptures say?
A knower of the eternal Self, Atman, becomes immortal. This does not mean that you will never die; rather, you transcend your attachment to worldly objects, including your own body, and maintain the joy of simply being. Death is a habit of the body, which is composed of different elements and so must decompose one day.

While we are alive, we are motivated by our desire to undertake certain actions. In most cases, these actions are goal-oriented. Attachment to the fruit of an action leads to disappointment and misery. If we fail to achieve the fruits of our actions, we are depressed. If we succeed, we become attached. This attachment is a source of fear, because sooner or later, we lose what we have gained. Either we must leave those objects we worked so hard for or they are destroyed. But desire itself is never destroyed. Insatiable desire forces us to perform actions, which create misery. To overcome these self-created miseries, we perform more actions, thinking this will liberate us. Many desires for performing actions and receiving the fruits of our actions are not fulfilled in this lifetime. Those unfulfilled desires create the psychological conditions for continuing the cycle of birth and death.

To free yourself from this cycle you must cultivate an attitude of non-attachment toward worldly objects. This is possible only when you know that there is a higher Truth. Then you will no longer be tempted by the charms of the world. After knowing the higher Truth (para vidya), lower truth (apara vidya) loses its binding power. In the light of higher Truth, lower truth is seen as provisional. An enlightened person knows that the external world is like the water in a mirage. It is a waste of time to run after such water; it cannot quench your thirst. Ignore such appearances and seek the oasis of peace and happiness-Brahman, the highest Truth.

66. After knowing Brahman, do you really experience oneness with the Universal Consciousness?
Yes. The knower of Brahman becomes Brahman (brahmavit brahmaiva bhavati). If you know only the lower reality, that is the reality you believe in. For you, it is the only reality. Your concepts of pleasure and pain, loss and gain and bondage and freedom are confined to the objects in your field of knowing. In this tiny, illusory world, you fashion your self-image: you find yourself poorer than someone else, richer than someone else, and so forth. Because of your limited vision, you become the victim of numberless, self-created complexes.

If you identify yourself as a merchant, you derive delight from becoming richer than other merchant, and you conceptualize heaven as a place where you will be able to enjoy those riches you were not able to attain on earth. For those who live in the desert, heaven is filled with oases, and hell has no water. Such concepts of heaven and hell and bondage and freedom parallel our self-image, which itself is a reflection of the circumstances of our little world. In this world, we either love our self-image or hate it. In either case, we are afraid of losing it because we believe in it ourselves. People with superiority or inferiority complexes appreciate or depreciate themselves but, in the final analysis, do not want to lose what they are. 

Nevertheless, as circumstances change, our self-image changes and falls apart in spite of all our efforts to sustain it. Because we can’t stop this process of change, we are insecure and fearful. This process becomes a continuous death, which we experience before the actual death of the body. Thus, the knower of the lower reality remains in the lower reality.

You are whatever you know yourself to be - this is a simple law. Thus, the knower of Brahman becomes Brahman. The moment you know you are inseparable from Universal Consciousness, you become that Universal Consciousness. Your faith in that Consciousness will grow, and your self-image will be transformed. You no longer feel superior or inferior to anyone else. You are free from all complexes, for in you all complexes and diversities find their rightful place. They become an integral part of you. Their diverse and seemingly contradictory appearances beautify your unified awareness. You understand that you are not part of collective consciousness. Rather you are collective consciousness.

All changes taking place within the realm of consciousness are natural and have no effect on the eternity of consciousness. For example, in a forest there are plants, shrubs, vines, animals, insects, rocks, and so forth. If we look at every thing that exists in that forest individually, we will not see the forest as such, although we can’t deny the existence of the forest. From the standpoint of an individual tree in the forest, the destruction of a particular plant or insect may be significant but from the perspective of the forest, it is all part of the process of growth. Even if the entire forest were to catch fire and burn down, it would still exist, because the potential for regeneration would remain.

When you identify yourself with Universal Consciousness, you experience oneness with all and find great delight in witnessing the changes taking place in the external world as well as in yourself. Fear of destruction, death and decay vanishes. You become fearless, loving all and rejecting none, for you know that everyone and everything in the universe is simply an elaboration of yourself. In this state of realization, love alone is your spontaneous expression because that has become your nature.

67. But why practice? Why not just study, contemplate, and gain the conviction that you are the pure Self and become That?
Through study and contemplation on the truth described in the Upanishads, you transcend false identification with the non-self, which is destroyed by knowledge of the true Self. You experience yourself as a pure, unalloyed, totally independent wave of consciousness. This can be achieved by virtue of your contemplative knowledge. But in what sense are you perfectly free being? The unlimited grandeur, knowledge, and bliss within can be brought forward only by awakening and unfolding the infinite power of Atman. You awaken it through sadhana.

It is as if you are a billionaire who has completely forgotten about the money you have in the bank and have come to think of yourself as poor. You cannot claim your wealth if you don’t know it exists. If you remember you are a billionaire, you no longer think of yourself as poor. But you still need to know which bank your wealth is stored in, how to withdraw it, and how to find your way to the bank. For that purpose, you need convincing knowledge that cannot be contradicted by arguments. You gain that knowledge through spiritual practice.

The experiences the sages have recorded in the scriptures, confirming the existence of Atman and its infinite power-atma shakti-is like a passbook. Your unshakable conviction, fully supported by reason and logic, is like recognizing your name on the passbook, opening it, and reading the balance. On the ground of this knowledge, desire grows to find the source of your wealth. Learning the proper system of sadhana is like acquainting yourself with the route to the bank. Seeking direct guidance from a teacher is like overcoming doubts about which way to turn at the crossroads. Reaching the source and gaining access to that which was already yours is called spiritual accomplishment - the realization of who you are and how great and infinite you are.

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