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Living the Yoga Life: Karma and Karma Yoga

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Knowing the eternal law is an absolute necessity for the attainment of freedom in the spirit. For it is the law that produces or prevents all things. The three great components of the eternal law are: karma, reincarnation and the evolution of consciousness. If we can get a thorough grasp of these three we will understand and accomplish everything.

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The knowledge of cause and effect is an absolute necessity if we are going to understand anything about our life. Those that do not understand about karma and rebirth have no idea why they are here and how they should live.

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All the religiosity in the world cannot substitute for practical spiritual knowledge. Consider how the “one lifers” lay all the blame for human suffering and misery at God’s door rather than rightly attributing it to human action (karma). So they claim that all this mess is “God’s will” supposedly “for a reason.”

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Buddha stated the essence in the Four Aryan Truths: There is suffering. There is a cause of suffering. Suffering can end. There is a way to end suffering. The power behind all four of these statements is insight into the Law of Karma. Otherwise we keep being reborn and suffering.

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It is our karma that brings us here and takes us away, until enlightenment frees us and we leave of our own liberated will.

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We must know good, evil, right and wrong, for obviously they exist. And there are definite principles in getting through the maze of this world.

Things are good, evil, right and wrong because of their karmic reactions on us. Patanjali, in enumerating the principles of yogic behavior explains carefully to us what the good, even miraculous, results will be if we are perfect in yama-niyama. We certainly do need to know them. If we follow these sacred laws, peace and realization must come to us. There is no doubt or exception.

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If the nature of karma, the law of cause and effect, is not understood, then only confusion and even hypocrisy will be the result. It is karma which drags us back into rebirth over and over again, blocking us from attaining the degree of evolution needed to enable us to pass into a higher world at death and progress onward to perfection, rising from world to world until relativity itself is transcended.

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The creation is a living entity which responds to the will and action of sentient beings, especially human beings. It can be used by them to accomplish much, but its real purpose is their evolution. This is why Sri Ramakrishna would often say: “The mind is everything.” Limitations do not exist in the outer world, but in the personal, inner world of each person’s mind.

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Prakriti is neutral; it is our own mind and will that determine how we react to it and it reacts to us. For here is the great secret: karma is not a mere “force” and certainly not “destiny,” but karma is embodied in our mind and will conditioned by past actions. Karma creates karma, so to say. Karma comes from our mind, conditions our mind, and determines the kind of karma it will produce in the future. This is a corollary to the principle that seer, seen and seeing are the same thing: the mind. So also, then, are action, actor, and acting. All is mind, and mind is all.

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Paramhansa Nityananda said: “Everything comes out from within; not from without.” This is one of the most important principles we can know. Those whose inner eyes are blinded by continual immersion in material experience think that everything comes from outside. And some people’s lives do seem to be a barrage of things just hurled at them. But that is because they do not recognize karma as the force behind all phenomena, and if they do, they think of karma as an outside power that hits them at random.

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When thinking cosmically, materialistic people think that in the beginning was matter from which somehow consciousness arose. To them material existence comes first and only later does consciousness develop. This is absolutely backwards. Matter and material existence proceed from consciousness, not the other way round. First there is spirit, and then there occurs a series of expansions of consciousness that, the further they are away from the originating impulse, appear as grosser and grosser states of existence. But matter is not the seed of the cosmos, consciousness is. When we realize the implications of these two views and the effects they have on spiritual inquiry, we see how important it is to hold the right view: that of the East.

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Many think of karma as a kind of cosmic force that operates upon all, that human beings are helplessly subject to karmic retribution/reaction. Karma is often a bugaboo they use to frighten childish aspirants. But if the seeds of jnana are operative in them they will come to realize that karma is completely within the mind of each one of us, that karma is the mind in operation, and that we are moment by moment creating our inner and outer environment.

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Thought is the most powerful tool of the human being and creates the most powerful form of karma, especially in the form of samskaras and vasanas that determine our life path from life to life. This is why Jesus said that evil mental desire and intention are themselves real deeds. “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: but I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28). “He who restrains action’s organs while yet revolving in his mind thoughts of objects of the senses, is deluded, a hypocrite” (Bhagavad Gita 3:6). Thinking evil but not doing evil overtly does not make a person good, because thinking is doing and every evil thought is an evil deed. People often excuse themselves because they do not realize (or accept) that this is the truth.

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We may say that another person is the cause of our being good or evil, but that is not true. Rather, it is our attunement to that person which evokes either good or evil from within us. In other words, it is our thoughts and attention to that person which causes us to begin vibrating to their subtle levels. We do not absorb good or evil from them, but we reproduce in ourselves their qualities by an act of highly subtle will. Furthermore, their qualities evoke the same qualities buried in our subconscious, so they surface and will eventually manifest in our outer life. This is why we should avoid as much as possible all ignorant, negatively oriented, undisciplined, irreligious and outright evil people. The wise yogi may have to work with them, but he goes home, closes his door and is alone with God. And when he becomes really good, those people will avoid him.

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One of the most important teachings of Buddha was the fact that the character of our karma is determined by the disposition and intention of our mind when we act. So the fruits of our actions will be according to our inner purpose when we did those actions.

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Everything, without exception, material, or immaterial, arises from a cause, and is a revelation of that cause. Because of this, everything has a meaning. Those who believe in karma should carefully analyze their life situation in order to understand what kind of actions from the past are coming to fruition now and to see what their minds were like in that past. The real lesson to be learned is that just as the present is created by the past, the future is created by the present, sometimes combined with elements from the past. Before, we were unaware that we were creating the future, but now we do know, and can take complete charge of our destiny. The best thing, of course, is to “roast” the karmic seeds through yoga sadhana.

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Since all our problems are really inward, only seeming to be outside us, they can be dissolved by the cultivation of interior consciousness, the awareness of our true nature. The process of awakening is simple and direct: the practice of yoga meditation.

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All comes from God, but in response to our thoughts and actions. So God is the giver of all, but we alone determine the nature of the gifts. That is karma in a nutshell.

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This is fundamental truth: we create our future totally–no one else. This is why karma must be grasped fully and kept in mind at all times in order to have a right understanding of where we are, what we are and why we are.

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In the film The Third Man Harry Lime points out that in centuries of terrible political turmoil and plague Italy produced some of the greatest literature, music and art of Western civilization, whereas Switzerland during that time was free of all conflict and tribulation and produced nothing but the cuckoo clock. Adversity is a matter of karma, and karma is not for mere enduring, but for our learning. So if we avoid the adversity we will deprive ourselves of the learning we need. And in time the karma will catch up with us, anyway.

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If medicine tastes bad, we may think it is poison, but often it is the cure for our illness, without which we might die. In the same way, those who have set their feet on the path to liberation must realize that any obstacles or troubles they might encounter are really aids to their success in spiritual life. If they carefully ponder them they will see the lessons to be learned and the way to pass through them and be benefitted by them. It is delusion that makes us afraid of them and feel helpless before them. If we face them in the context of dharma and yoga will will see them very differently and respond to them courageously and effectively.

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“Hell” is the suffering of samsara, physical or astral. Our prayer should be that we may be led toward God and attain the cessation of all the suffering caused by ignorance. Sometimes, though, we have to be led into the swamp to learn that it is a dangerous place to be avoided in the future. Some children are sensible enough to believe it when they are told an object is hot, but some have to touch it and get burned to learn for themselves. Fortunately, both learn.

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It has been my observation that misfortune can have two effects. It can cause the unfortunate to fold back in on themselves in self-pity, making them blind to the reality and worth of everyone but themselves. Such persons are supremely incompassionate and seldom if ever give a thought about others. However, misfortune enables some people to understand and sympathize with the pain of others and motivates them to extend help and comfort to those around them.

We must be like this second type. When something happens to us we should be aware that countless others are undergoing the same thing, that they are fellow-sufferers to be cared for and consoled. And when we awaken to the fact that Self-realization should be our prime concern, we should consider the same of others and do what we can to help them journey along with us from the unreal to the Real, from darkness to Light, from death to Immortality.

Notice I say help, not force or impose. We must always respect the will of others, and realize that until they awaken to the same understanding as ours, they cannot travel the way we are going. Until then our consideration and care should be given in the context of their present level of understanding.

It is foolish to provoke difficulties, but it can be equally foolish to do everything we can to avoid them. The more wind pushes against a tree the more its roots go deeper and get stronger. I think we have all seen spoiled children who were completely unprepared for real life by their parent’s pampering and indulgence. We must not do the same with ourself.

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It is karma and the level of evolution that determines the birth of all beings. Not only that, the soul is attracted by those who are like it in karma, samskara and basic character. Yogananda said that when a man and woman engage in sexual relations an astral light emanates from their base (muladhara) chakras. Highly evolved people emit bright light, whereas those of low development emit a dim and murky light. Souls waiting to be born are attracted by that light, but unless the light is completely harmonious with them, they turn back and only those that are compatible with the light will come near and try to enter and be conceived. No matter how rebellious a child may be in relation to his parents, if there was not a powerful affinity with them (even if it is bad karma and enmity carried over from past lives) he could never have become their child.

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All the evil and good that comes to us comes from ourselves: from the karma we created in the past. So we alone harm and we alone help ourselves. What about “grace”? Karma is grace, as is everything.

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People pray and good comes to them. Praying is the karmic seed and receiving the good is the fruition of the seed. Just to turn to God and holy people for help is powerful karma. Without good karma people do not even think of God in time of trouble.

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Being solely the action and reaction of the gross and subtle bodies, karma has nothing to do with the Self. It is only a force of gross and subtle materiality. The ego-mind can certainly say “my karma,” but to the Self karma does not exist except as a dream.

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Yogananda’s most advanced disciple, Sister Gyanamata, once wrote to Virginia Wright (Ananda Mata): “Your own will always come to you. Indeed, you can have nothing but your own.” That is karma. There are no “just lucky” people, nor are there “just unlucky” people. The present of each one of us is a creation of our own actions in the past, either in this life or in past lives. It is also a creation of past inaction, as well. We reap what we sow; and we do not reap what we do not sow. Our entire life in all its aspects is a result of just one thing: us. Looking in the mirror of life shows us our own face. That is its purpose. The wise learn, the heedless do not.

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Whatever we encounter is a projection of our own mind in the form of karma. When we experience kindness from others it is our own kindness being returned to us. When we experience the opposite, it is also our own karmic voice echoing back to us. The “face” of our outer life is the face of our inner life and mind. Whatever comes to us is our own, actually is us. We should never forget this when we are tempted to retaliate. Through the law of karmic return we are doing to ourselves that which we dislike. That is why, when two disciples came to Yogananda with complaints about each other, the Master simply said: “Change yourselves.”

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The Gita continually tells us to follow the path of karma yoga, which is Right Doing, and at the same time to realize: “I am doing nothing.” Who can do this but the yogi whose buddhi can penetrate beyond the appearance of this world to the reality of things–including himself?

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As its root, action is an “act” of the buddhi, the seat of the will. Karma yoga, then, is also purely intellectual. Even though carried out in external action, it is primarily an internal affair.

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Sri Ramakrishna said that meditation and yoga practices are all part of Karma Yoga. The Gita insists that such Right Action is the path to freedom.

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When the intellect and the intuition are in direct contact with the Self, then no actions create karma. The Gita describes the perfect karma yogi, saying: “Offering actions to Brahman, having abandoned attachment, he acts untainted by evil as a lotus leaf is not wetted by water. Karma yogis perform action only with the body, mind, intellect, or the senses, forsaking attachment, performing action for self-purification. He who is steadfast, having abandoned action’s fruit, attains lasting peace” (Bhagavad Gita 5:10-12).

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If we “roast” karmic seeds in the fire of intense spiritual discipline (tapasya) they will not be able to manifest in the future. This is the safest way to deal with karma.

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Deluded people often if not usually get cause and effect reversed, and think that an effect is a cause. For example, there are those that think that if they act like they are a certain kind of person then they will be that kind of person. Wrong. As Swami Sivananda said: Be Good. Do Good. Just acting without really being something is valueless.

Next in Living the Yoga Life: Kundalini

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About to Living the Yoga Life–Perspectives on Yoga

Living the Yoga Life–Perspectives on Yoga

Living the Yoga Life–Perspectives on Yoga: Introduction

    1. Living the Yoga Life: Climbing the Ladder of Consciousness
    2. Living the Yoga Life: Sanatana Dharma, Sanatana Yoga
    3. Living the Yoga Life: The Atman/Self
    4. Living the Yoga Life: Bhakti and Jnana
    5. Living the Yoga Life: Brahman
    6. Living the Yoga Life: Ishwara
    7. Living the Yoga Life: Breath
    8. Living the Yoga Life: India and Sanatana Dharma
    9. Living the Yoga Life: The Importance of Independence
    10. Living the Yoga Life: The Intelligent Path
    11. Living the Yoga Life: The Internal Life
    12. Living the Yoga Life: Japa and Sound (Shabda)
    13. Living the Yoga Life: Japa with the Breath
    14. Living the Yoga Life: Jnana
    15. Living the Yoga Life: The Jnani
    16. Living the Yoga Life: Karma and Karma Yoga
    17. Living the Yoga Life: Kundalini
    18. Living the Yoga Life: Liberation
    19. Living the Yoga Life: It Is All Up To Us
    20. Living the Yoga Life: Madness, Divine and Worldly
    21. Living the Yoga Life: Manas (Mind) and Buddhi (Intelligence/Intellect)
    22. Living the Yoga Life: Buddhi Yoga
    23. Living the Yoga Life: True Masters (And Not)
    24. Living the Yoga Life: Maya
    25. Living the Yoga Life: Meditation
    26. Living the Yoga Life: Prana
    27. Living the Yoga Life: Raja Yoga
    28. Living the Yoga Life: Reincarnation
    29. Living the Yoga Life: Religion
    30. Living the Yoga Life: Samadhi
    31. Living the Yoga Life: Sadhana
    32. Living the Yoga Life: Dedication to Spiritual Life
    33. Living the Yoga Life: Self-realization
    34. Living the Yoga Life: Shivashakti
    35. Living the Yoga Life: Spiritual Experience
    36. Living the Yoga Life: The Spiritual Teacher
    37. Living the Yoga Life: Subtle Anatomy
    38. Living the Yoga Life: The World
    39. Living the Yoga Life: Worship
    40. Living the Yoga Life: Yoga, the Body and the World
    41. Living the Yoga Life: Dharma and Adharma
    42. Living the Yoga Life: Yoga–The Supreme Dharma
    43. Living the Yoga Life: Yoga Nidra
    44. Living the Yoga Life: The Yogi
    45. Living the Yoga Life: Some Advice to Yogis
    46. Living the Yoga Life: Qualities of a Yogi
    47. Living the Yoga Life: This and That
    48. Living the Yoga Life: Touch Not
    49. Living the Yoga Life: The Gita Speaks To The Yogi
    50. Living the Yoga Life: How It Is Done
    51. Living the Yoga Life: Use your mind
    52. Living the Yoga Life: Some things it is wise to avoid
    53. Living the Yoga Life: Things you should definitely do and have in your life
    54. Living the Yoga Life: Spiritual Reading
    55. Living the Yoga Life: Gorakhnath Speaks To The Yogi
    56. Living the Yoga Life: And A Final Word From Me
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