"In Wonders We Sail, Questing for the Answers in Veil"

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Karma : Creating Positive Karmas

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 one under-cooked. Rajasic food has a strong taste; it is heavily spiced, fiery, 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.

 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 ancl 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.

A sattvic mind is free from attachment, anger, desire, hatred, jealousy, greed, and ego. Because the mind is more subtle than the body and senses, a sattvic mind will send waves of sattvic energy into the body and senses, and they will lose their rajasic and tamasic cravings. Even the primitive urges of hunger, sleep, lovemaking, and self-preservation will be sattvic, there-by causing little turmoil in our life. What is more, increasing our sattvic energy will significantly reduce our confusion.

Patanjali, the author of the Yoga Sutra, and Vyasa, its foremost 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 any-thing good until we have attained complete freedom from confusion. It is true that our present and future actions are pri-marily 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. 

Another story, this one from the Srimad Bhagavaram, will further clarify the relationship between the main and secondary karmic strands of our destiny. It will show how our present actions can influence our secondary active karmas. 


Shortly before Lord Krishna was born in the lineage of King Yadu, a young sage named Gargya was wed to a princess in that lineage. They lived together happily in Mathura, the capital city, until, with the consent of his wife, the sage undertook an intense spiritual practice which required that he eat very little and practice celibacy. He had explained the nature of the practice to his wife, but she did not realize he would be to adamant about following it. As time went on, she began to feel abandoned and depressed, and finally expressed her unhappiness to her brothers. 

Because of his restricted diet the sage had become thin and looked quite weak. It was rumored that he was impotent and was using the practice to hide his problem. So the princess' brothers, probably driven by their active karmas, began to harass and abuse him. The sage remained calm and tranquil for a long time, but the harassment continued unabated. At last he lost his temper. "How potent I am will become apparent when my son is born," he said. "My son will be invincible to the entire Yadu clan, and even Lord Narayana, who will soon incarnate in that clan in the form of Krishna, will not be able to defeat him." 

So saying, the sage abandoned Mathura and moved west-ward. He traveled all the way to what is now Turkey and settled there, and after a few years he had a son with a woman from a family of cowherds. Soon after the child was born, the sage returned to his homeland and rededicated his life to his spiritual practice. Meanwhile his son, Kalayavana, grew up to be a great warrior. He conquered the region east of Turkey and expanded his empire all the way to the western border of India, where several Indian kings became his friends. 

In the interim, Lord Krishna had been born in Mathura in the lineage of King Yadu and grew to be an unmatched warrior. But for political reasons many Indian kings turned against him, joining together to consolidate their power. They asked Kalayavana to come to their aid. Kalayavana had no personal reason to consider Krishna his enemy. In fact, Krishna had always treated him as a friend and relative, and because they were both in the lineage of King Yadu, Kalayavana had reason to ally himself with Krishna. But his friendship with the Indian kings who were Krishna's enemies, and the knowledge that Krishna's relatives had taunted his father, persuaded Kalayavana to turn against Krishna and take revenge for his father's humiliation. Besides, he knew that he could not be defeated by anyone belonging to the lineage of King Yadu. So Kalayavana joined forces with Krishna's enemies and attacked Mathura. 

Krishna, who was omniscient and almighty, knew he could not defeat Kalayavana without violating the law of destiny - and so, at the cost of great destruction, pain, and dishonor, he fled from the battlefield. The invincible Kalayavana gave chase and attempted to capture him. Like a coward, Krishna kept running, Kalayavana at his heels. After several days, Krishna darted into a large cave. A man was sleeping there in the darkness. Krishna threw his shawl over the sleeper and hid himself at the back of the cave. In a few minutes, Kalayavana rushed in. Recognizing Krishna's golden shawl, he kicked the sleeper. The instant the man woke up, flames shot from his eyes, incinerating Kalayavana. In this way Krishna's enemy was destroyed, but the law of destiny was upheld. 

Before we attempt to analyze the law of destiny and its relationship with secondary karmas, let us see who the sleeping man was. Several thousand years earlier, in the satya yuga, this man was known as King Muchukunda - a noble king, a valiant warrior, and an accomplished yogi. King Muchukunda ruled a land bordered by the Himalayas in the north and the ocean in three other directions, and while he was living in the world his consciousness merged in Bhagavan Narayana. For several hundred years he worked day and night to bring both external prosperity and internal happiness to his empire. He stamped out the forces of destruction and negativity, and there was peace and prosperity everywhere. Hatred and greed vanished from his kingdom. Even the celestial beings longed to be born in the land he ruled. 

Indra, the king of divine beings, visited King Muchukunda one day, and to honor him he told the king to ask for a boon. The king replied, "If my kingdom is safe and my time for serving it is over, please grant me a long rest." So Indra taught him the technique of preserving his body while he went into yoga-nidra (yogic sleep) and showed him a cave where he could rest undisturbed. Indra also decreed that if anyone should awaken him forcibly, that person would be reduced to ashes through his yogic fire. So the adept went into sleepless sleep with his consciousness fully absorbed in Bhagavan Narayana. 

When Kalayavana awakened the yogi with a kick and was consequently reduced to ashes, Krishna emerged from the back of the cave, shining in his full glory. King Muchukunda could not believe his eyes: here was the highest form of beauty and bliss, standing personified in front of him. His whole being was pervaded by indescribable, supernal joy. Realizing that Krishna was none other than the Lord of Life, he prostrated himself at Krishna's feet, where he received the highest grace. Then, guided by Krishna, he retreated into the deep Himalayas, where he took mahasamadhi, leaving his body in the most exalted yogic manner. 


In this story, the main strand of Kalayavana's destiny ensured that he would not be defeated or killed by anybody from the lineage of King Yadu, including Krishna. His secondary harm as caused him to have Krishna's enemies as his friends and engendered the desire to avenge his father. Muchukunda's main active karma dictated that he would see his Lord face to face. Krishna, on the other hand, was free from all karmas and was motivated only by his own intrinsic wisdom and compassion.

Kalayavana could have chosen to deal with his friends wisely; he was free to do so. By themselves the secondary karma of friendship with Krishna's enemies was not strong enough to invite animosity toward Krishna. But this secondary karma in combination with another - his desire to avenge the insult to his father - tipped the scales and inspired him to take up arms against Krishna, which created a new field of potential karmas. Potential karmas immediately turn into dormant karmas and later manifest as powerful active karmas. 

By embracing the spiritual disciplines of love, compassion, forgiveness, and non-attachment - and, what is more important, by using his own power of will and determination - Kalayavana could have avoided the fight with Krishna. But he had neglected the spiritual virtues, and this neglect supported his secondary karrnas in creating a new set of potential karmas. These potential karmas, combined with the dormant karmas already stored, supported the main strands of his destiny, and vice versa. Eventually Kalayavana became so entangled in this web that he could not extricate himself. As a result his life came to an end. 

Similarly, Muchukunda's main destiny was to come face to face with Krishna, not incinerating Kalayavana. Had he been dominated by rajas he would have become so enraged at being awakened with a kick that he would have ignored Krishna, but because he was established in the higher virtues of non attachment, forgiveness, and compassion, his mind did not linger on the person who woke him up. Because he paid hardly any attention to Kalayavana, he did not allow any of his secondary karmas to influence him adversely.

Creating Positive Karmas

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 enertiogan influence on us in the present. It is entirely up to us to create potential karrnas 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 make a decision to involve ourselves only in whole-some 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, hut, 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 senses. 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 23:11) 

In other words, to extricate the mind from this endless cycle we must work with our senses. But it is impossible to begin with all of them simultaneously, especially when they have come to dominate the mind. We must choose one and concentrate on bringing it under control. 

In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna advises us to begin by working with the tongue, the abode of two senses - taste and speech - because the influence of taste supersedes all other urges and motivates many of our actions. Even though taste is generally associated with food, in truth anything we take in has a taste. The taste buds on our tongue experience pleasure related to food, but the experiences corresponding to the other sense organs are ultimately savored by the mind and those experiences are expressed through our tongue in the form of speech. Words rolling off our tongue are the manifestation of our thoughts, which themselves are generated in response to our sensory perceptions and feelings. Whether or not we express them aloud, we cannot comprehend our own thoughts and feelings without putting them into words. In short, we cannot think without words, and words are expressed aloud through the tongue. 

Thus at some point any experience of sense pleasure is related to the tongue, and one means of disciplining the senses is to discipline the tongue by regulating both our diet and our speech. When these are regulated properly, our actions are better organized and our life becomes less complicated. A simple life provides fewer opportunities for the mind to be confused and scattered. And with a more organized and peaceful mind we can perform actions that create positive karmas.

 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 so overcome our self-created karmic misery, provided we unfold our sankalpa shakti to its fullest. As the following story from the Puranas 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. 


Rama was the ideal king, tending to the needs of his subjects in matters both great and small. One day he asked his brother, Lakshmana, to see if there was anyone in the palace courtyard seeking an audience with the king. Lakshmana went out and looked around, but saw nothing out of the ordinary. Rama, however, was not satisfied with this and asked Lakshmana to look once more.

Again Lakshmana went outside and stood on the palace steps, but saw no one who seemed anxious or unhappy. Then, as he stood there puzzled, he noticed a dejected-looking dog and saw that it had been wounded in the head. When Lakshrnana came nearer, the dog stood up and began to cry. In those days, rulers and those in high positions had the ability to understand the language of other creatures, no Lakshmana addressed the dog, asking about the cause of his tears. The dog bowed his head and said he wanted justice from Rama, so Lakshmana took him to the king. 

Assembling his counselors. Rama invited the dog to speak openly and without fear. "Your majesty, you are our protector and the provider of justice," the dog began. "A beggar named Sarvartha Siddha hit me on the head for no reason. I pray that you will grant me justice." 

Sarvartha Siddha was summoned immediately and invited to present his side of the story. Without hesitation the man confessed. "Lord, it is true that! struck this dog out of anger. It happened as I was on my way to ask for alms. I had been walking for hours and I was overcome by hunger. This animal was sitting on a narrow trail. When I asked him to move so I could pass, he didn't budge. I lost my temper and struck hint on the head. I am at fault; I deserve punishment." 

Turning to his advisers, Rama asked them to assign an appropriate punishment. But, after conferring for a few moments, they replied, "This is a complicated case, involving as it does a human being and an animal. In addition, this beggar is a brahmin, so he cannot be punished in any way that entails physical pain. We are at a loss to know what punishment to give, but this dog has sought refuge in your protection, and you must provide It." 

Rama turned to the dog and asked if he had anything to say. "Yes, your majesty," the dog replied. "With your permission, I will offer a solution to the problem: appoint him the head of the monastery at Kalinger." 

To everyone's amazement, Rama agreed. The beggar, delighted with this punishment, mounted an elephant provided by Rama and left to assume his new post. To the bewildered counselors, it seemed as if the beggar had been rewarded for his misdeeds. When they said as much to Rama, the king asked the dog to unravel the mystery and explain why granting the beggar the post of head monk at the Kalinger monastery was a form of punishment. 

Without a moment's hesitation the dog replied, "I will explain, your majesty. In my previous lifetime I was the head of that monastery. I got this appointment because I was born into a learned and prestigious family. I had studied the scriptures and had a strong desire to use my position for my own spiritual fulfillment as well as that of the monks and of the people the monastery served. During my long tenure! took good care of those who worked under me. I worshiped God sincerely. Yet in spite of these good acts I have been reborn a dog. "

It happened because I did not pay attention to the subtle mental impressions which caused me to find pleasure in name and fame - even though I also had a strong desire for liberation. Because of my position, people treated me as a holy man, and I too came to believe that I was holy. But deep in my heart I knew that my position had not completely transformed me. Yet for the sake of prestige, I pretended that it had. When I assumed my post, my desire for the ultimate spiritual knowledge was quite powerful. Had I focused my willpower on achieving that goal at all costs, the transformation I was seeking would surely have come about. But I did not remain focused. 

"Faithful followers trusted me to be selfless. They offered inc donations for religious and charitable purposes, and I accepted them in the name of God. But because I was lacking in self-analysis and introspection, I began, as time passed, to use some of this money for my own comfort. Each time I did so my conscience told me that I was committing a mistake, but my mind justified my act. 'A person in my position needs to be impressive,' I told myself. 'My prestige and the prestige of the Kalinger monastery are one and the same.' My conscience contradicted these justifications, but I did not heed it. 

"Finally, failure to heed the voice of conscience damaged my willpower so badly that in spite of knowing what was right and what was wrong - which actions would lead to further bondage and which to liberation- I could not control my actions. Instead of governing my life through the power of will and determination, the charms and temptations of the world gradually became my governing force. And in time my willpower became so weak that I no longer had the courage to even acknowledge the battle between my tricky mind and my conscience. The desire for liberation gave way to the desire for a comfortable life. I began eating sumptuous food, wearing splendid ornaments and vestments, and indulging in all manner of luxuries."

 The dog paused for a moment, and then concluded: "The beggar who attacked me is angry and violent and has no control over his senses and appetites. As head of that monastery, he will fall into the same trap I fell into. His own karmas will punish him, just as mine have punished me." 


This story illustrates the crucial role of sankalpa thakti 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. 

Sarnskara - 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. As the story shows, shakti plays the pivotal role in the unfolding or suppressing of the other six characteristics. The dog, in his earlier life as head of the monastery, was at first aware of the subtle functioning of his mind. As he became careless and the charms and temptations of the world began to enslave him, he started to lose mastery over his mind. Failure to exercise his willpower and determination caused him to become weak, and the subtle impressions of his past actions then influenced his present actions. Due to his declining willpower and weakening determination he lost control over dharma, the power that makes the mind naturally inclined toward freedom and inner fulfillment. Gradually his life came to be governed only by samskara, through which the mind stores the impressions of our deeds. Had the chief monk awakened the force of sankalpa shakti he could have channeled the powers of cheshta, Parinama, nirodha, and samskara to awaken dharma. And by doing so, his desire for liberation would have been strengthened and his tendency to misappropriate that which had been offered to God would have been extinguished.

Due to lack of spiritual awareness, however, most of us experience only the functioning of samskara, through which the mind continuously stores the subtle impressions of our actions. This storage space, called the unconscious mind, is expanded in the process. Jivana gives life to all the stored contents. It keeps the past alive in the form of samskaras, and cheshta stirs these subtle impressions, giving them momentum to manifest. Thus it is the mind's own power that awakens the stored karmas, transforming them into the active karmas that constitute our destiny.

The storage space of our karmas, the unconscious mind, is also a 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 a conscious level, we are not motivated to do it; that is also why we fail to stop doing that which we know is harmful. Our personality traits, in turn, evolve along the pattern established by the contents of our unconscious mind and shape our tastes, interests, and choices. To discover why this is so, and to continue adding to our knowledge of how to attain freedom from the wheel of karma, we must embark on a study of the unconscious mind and its relationship with the conscious mind in the upcoming posts.

Other Articles On Karma and Afterlife In This Blog :
Afterlife : Astral Heaven Explained By Paramahansa Yogananda 1
Karma : As You Sow, So Shall You Reap
Karma : How Mind Creates Karma ?

From Death to Birth: Understanding Karma and Reincarnation
By Rajmani Tigunait


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