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

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Karma : The Three Types Of Karma

Dormant Karmas or Sanchita Karmas: 

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 Story Of Jaigishavya in the previous post sheds some light on the yogic method of reaching the realm of dormant karmas and attaining freedom from them.

Active Karma or Prarabdha Karma :

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.Newton's first law states that an object moving in a straight line will continue in a straight line unless acted upon by an outside force acts on it.This is known as the principle of inertia-for a force to change an object's motion,it must first overcome the inertia of the object.The same is true of the karmas that constitutes our destiny.They will continue to move in a particular direction at a set rate of speed unless acted upon by an outside force.

According to Newton's second law,an object change its motion when a force is applied to it; the change of motion depends on the magnitude of the force and the mass of the object.The greater an object's mass,the harder it is to put the object in to motion or change its velocity;thus the change in the motion of a heavy object will be less under given applied force than the change in motion of a lighter object.

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 Story Of Maluk Das' in the previous post will illustrate the dynamics of prarabdha karma.

By its very 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.


There was once a Brahmin couple.They were learned but poor - their only property was a horse.They did not own any land,so th only way they could feed the horse was to cut grass with the permission of the landowner or get him some from overgrazed public lands.

Everyday the wife searched for grass for the horse while the husband went from door to door looking for a tutoring job-usually to no avail.Poverty and hunger aged the couple although the horse was healthy due to their kindness and care.

One hot summer day the great sage Narada visited the village and stopped at the couple's door for alms.Even though they had nothing they offered him salt and water as that was all they had.When the couple explained their situation,Narada looked into their prarabdha karmas and found that the only property their destiny held for them was this horse.He also checked their dormant karmas and saw there were hundreds of horses lined up,although none would manifest until the current horse was gone.

So  Narada told them to sell the horse.They were reluctant,but they knew Narada  wouldn't advise them to do anything not in their interest.The sage also told them that since the husband was a learned brahmin,his first duty was to disseminate knowledge.He should start a school so that he could house and teach the students right in his own home.In this way the couple would free themselves from the burden of caring for a horse and knocking on doors looking for students to tutor.

With Narada's help the horse was sold by the end of the day.The couple bought food and announced that the brahmin would take in students.People were amazed,for they knew how much the couple loved their horse.The sale was interpreted in all kinds of ways,but most people concluded that all these years they had failed to recognize the couple's greatness and generosity.The villagers believed that the couple had sold their prized possession for the sake providing education to others.People began whispering among themselves,saying ,"Shame on us for not respecting their selfless love.We thought they were a burden.We should honor them."

Taking this to heart,someone soon donated a horse to the brahmin.Following Narada's instructions,he promptly sold it and used the proceeds to expand the school.Almost immediately someone else donated another horse,which the brahmin also sold.Convinced of the brahmin's greatness and selflessness,the villagers wanted to make sure that he always had a horse,so each time he sold one,another was donated.The school continued to expand;although the couple's property was still limited to one horse,their poverty vanished,never to return ,and they lived graceful,happy life.


Here destiny was not averted,but skillfully altered.Narada's guidance and couple's faith in the stage enabled them to act on his instructions and engendered a force greater than the force of destiny-which in this case had induced poverty.Moreover,the same force helped overcome the inertia that kept their dormant karmas at rest,and these karmas began turning in to destiny faster than they would have if that force had not been applied.

Potential Karmas or Kriyamana Karmas : 

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.


Angira and Narada are two of the mysterious sages in the vedic tradition,both are famous for guiding students at levels incomprehensible to ordinary minds.

One day these two sages visited the palace of King Chitra Ketu, and were greeted by the learned king and his many queens. The sages inquired into the health and happiness of the royal family and the welfare of the kingdom.The king replied, “There is peace, prosperity, and contentment throughout the kingdom. The clouds bring rain on time and our crops grow in abundance. There is such great moral strength and inner contentment among the citizens that there is little need for authorities to maintain order. But in spite of this, merciful sages, my heart is empty. I am growing old and I am without a child. The thought of dying without leaving my kingdom in the hands of a worthy successor makes me miserable.”

“Life is a mystery,” Angira replied. “It is a mingled stream 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."

“O compassionate Angira, l understand what you are saying," the king answered. “But still this desire lingers in my mind day and night. Once it is fulfilled, I will pursue the path of eternal peace with a composed and tranquil mind. O sages,I beg you for a son."

But Angira countered: “It does not befit a learned person like you to work against destiny, especially if it is already working in your favor. It is easy to serve others selflessly when you do not have self-interest. It is very hard to overcome desire and attachment to one's own children. When you achieve something in the normal course of your destiny, you may not develop a strong attachment toward that object. But when you gain it after a struggle, you value it too highly; if it should be destroyed, your emotions are deeply stirred. My advice is that you surrender to your destiny. Drop your desire for a child and pursue the highest goal of life."

But the king could not be persuaded. “I am already so miserable that I can hardly think of anything else," he said. “How can I pursue a spiritual path in this state of mind? Once this desire has been fulfilled and the kingdom has been entrusted to my rightful heir, I will gladly follow the path of renunciation."

Finally, out of compassion Angira relented, saying, “May you be blessed with a son.” Then, with foresight,Narada added: “This child will be the cause of both joy and misery.”
A few months later the king was delighted to find that one of his queens had conceived, and when the baby was born there was rejoicing throughout the kingdom. But as the proud father began to spend more and more time with the infant and his mother, the other queens grew jealous. And as the king's involvement with his son and his mother continued to deepen, it fueled the jealousy of the childless queens until they were so enraged that they poisoned the young prince.
The terrible news struck the king to the heart, and his grief overpowered him.Well-wishers and wise men offered condolences, but to no avail. Days passed, and the king remained distraught.His counselors made him feel worse—their condolences were like salt in a grievous wound. Each expression of sympathy awakened his memories anew.

After some time, Angira and Narada appeared again, but the king was so disoriented by his intense sorrow that he failed to recognize them. Still, their mere presence healed his tormented heart.He felt as though they had brought a cooling breeze that gently swept away his grief, so he sensed that there was something remarkable about them.

“Who are you?” he asked. “Your presence has healed my wounds. Please make yourselves known so I may honor you.”

“I am Angira,” the sage replied, “and this is Narada. We came some time ago to give you the highest gift of knowledge,but you were not ready for it. Your desire to have a son was so strong that we could not help you. You were convinced that you could set foot on the path of the highest good only after your desires were fulfilled.”

At these words, the king fell at their feet and asked humbly,“What does it all mean? Why is there pain in life and in all the relationships that are a part of this life? Where does real peace lie-inside or outside of this world? Why is everything so disappointing? Help me, please. I am at your feet.”

Angira answered, “I told you before that life is a mystery.Experiences, both pleasant or painful, manifesting in the present, are the result of our destiny. Active karmas determine when, where, and how we will be born; how long we live in that body; and what major events we will face in that lifetime.In regard to this group of karmas, we cannot do very much.

“But stocked in the deepest recesses of our unconscious mind is another set of karmas, the dormant ones. They are numberless. In the journey of many lifetimes we have performed so many actions and have reaped so many fruits that we have stored the impressions of all kinds of karmas. lt is possible to awaken any of them and allow them to manifest in the present in the form of active karma, provided we have a strong desire to awaken them.

“That is what happened to you. Destiny had not planned a son for you in this lifetime. By being content without a son,you could have played out your destiny and attained freedom from the bondage of karma. But your strong desire forced you to search for a son in the storehouse of dormant karmas, and this storehouse abides in a deeper realm than the prarabdha karmas which constitute your destiny. In that storehouse the only dormant karmas which could give you a son were contaminated with pain and misery.”

Bewildered, the king asked, “If you knew this, why did you give me your blessing to have a child?”

“We were your guests,” Angira explained. “You served us lovingly and respectfully. You had been our student for a long time, and due to your service we were bound to give you something. We offered you the knowledge of nonattachment, but you preferred a son. As your teacher, Narada warned you that your son would be the cause of both joy and misery, but your strong desire did not allow you to heed his voice.

“lt was our duty to guide you in the right direction, but in spite of our advice you insisted on a son. So after a strong warning, we gave you the kind of blessing you asked for. This was the result of your potential karma.You created it and you alone are responsible for it.”

The king understood. “I surrender myself to you,” he said.“Please guide me. What should I do to stop being miserable?”

“Vairagya [dispassion] is the only way,” Angira replied.“With the help of vairagya you can shun the aftereffect of your loss. Lack of dispassion forces you to cling to the object of your desire, and this clinging becomes the cause of anger, hatred,confusion, loss of memory, and ultimately the loss of your power of discrimination. In such a mental state you will not be able to stop from creating another long chain of potential karma, thus adding momentum to the cycle of karma in which you are already caught.

“But once you are established in vairagya your mind will become peaceful and your senses will be under control. Your awareness will turn inward. Your mind will accompany you all the time, like a benevolent friend. You may then continue to perform your actions, but you will also have time to pursue your higher goals."

Narada then described how the force of providence guides those who are karmically connected, pulling them into situations that automatically create a worldly bond that is either pleasant or unpleasant. “Such bonds exist for a while and then vanish,” Narada added. “A person with true wisdom remains steadfast throughout all the phases of relationships: when the bonds are first forged; when the resulting karma blossoms and disperses the aroma of either pleasure or pain; and when those bonds are shattered.Throughout these cycles, the one who has true wisdom does not spend his time and energy wallowing in emotional turmoil. Thus he is free from loss and gain.”
The king then asked, “I-low can I avoid making such mistakes in the future? How can I avoid trapping myself in potential karmas, especially those which invite a long chain of misery?”
“The mind is powerful and volatile, easily led by desires or worries,” the sage replied. “At the unconscious level, it knows what kind of karmas and subtle impressions are stored inside, but out of curiosity, anxiety, and attachment it is drawn to the hidden impressions from the past. Because many of our desires are linked to our past karmas, attachment to these past karmas is ever present. Therefore, although we may not be aware of it at the conscious level, these impressions trigger our thought processes, and when they do, at a subtle level we begin to think about the objects associated with our past karmas. This awakens our attachment to those objects. Once awakened,the desire for these objects grows. In response to those desires,we perform actions and end up with kriyamana karmas.”

“But how can we prevent these potential karmas from being created in the first place? " asked the king.

“There is much you can do to prevent yourself from creating potential karmas that are not conducive to your spiritual growth," Narada answered. Then he gave the king the following guidelines:

Renounce desire and attachment, as well as the company of those who are filled with desire and attachment.Seek the company of wise people and embrace their teachings in your thought, speech, and action.

Remember that nothing in this world belongs to you. You can use the objects of the world presented by your destiny, but at some point you must leave them behind in order to walk forward.Form the habit of living in solitude, for only there can you contemplate on the higher reality without distraction.

Cut asunder your worldly relationships once you have fulfilled your duties and obligations.
Do not identify yourself as the doer of actions that your personality traits drive you to perform.
Renounce the fruits of your actions and rise above the dance of duality: success and failure, loss and gain, honor and insult,reward and punishment, and so on.
“By embracing these instructions,” Narada told the king,“you will perform your actions without being motivated by desire and attachment. Such karmas become impotent-they have no power to sprout.”

Under the guidance of Angira and Narada, King Chitra Ketu made a firm decision to follow the path of light. Through intense sadhana and by practicing dispassion (vairagya) his worldview was transformed, and ultimately 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.

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 learned masters 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. Lord Krishna demonstrated this beautifully when he was serving as Arjuna's chariot driver in the Mahabharata war.

Story :

Several years earlier, Arjuna had burned a great forest to propitiate the god of fire. A very special family of snakes had been living in that forest for thousands of years, and the fire killed all except one. This lone survivor dedicated his life to avenging the death of his family by striking at Arjuna. He knew that he could not take his revenge in face-to-face combat. He also knew that there was only one warrior in the entire land equal to Arjuna: Karna, who was also Arjuna’s staunch enemy. And he knew he could never kill Arjuna without Karna’s help. So the snake approached the warrior and offered his assistance, but Kama refused it.He wanted to defeat Arjuna without anyone’s help.

Several years later the snake died, but not his desire for revenge.This was so strong that even after his death his consciousness continued to search for a means of vengeance. And this desire, together with the snake's firm belief in Karna’s ability to kill Arjuna in combat, brought his soul to dwell in one of Karna's arrows. '

When Karna and Arjuna found themselves face to face on the battlefield, Karna shot this special arrow. Because it was imbued with the force of the snake's vengeance, it was certain to hit the target. Karna had aimed precisely at Arjuna's forehead. Lord Krishna, who was Arjuna's chariot driver as well as his protector and guide, was aware that it was Arjuna’s destiny to be struck by the snake. The arrow was already in flight.In a flash, Krishna made the horses kneel, causing the chariot bed to dip a few inches. At that instant the arrow turned into the snake and struck, hitting Arjuna's gold crown instead of his forehead.

Krishna had the capacity to alter the destiny of everyone concerned. He could have changed the mind of the snake; he could have destroyed the arrow imbued with the snake's consciousness; he could have spoiled Karna’s aim; he could even have made Arjuna’s body arrow-proof. But he did not. He honored destiny by allowing it to manifest completely. At the last moment, he employed his skill with horses to save Arjuna.This was his duty as a chariot driver.


Stories such as the ones in this chapter lead us to understand that the law of karma has been set by nature with divine guidance. Under normal circumstances this law cannot be violated-There was not even a single example of a great master who tried to change his or her own destiny. Masters always work with their dormant and potential karmas and honored destiny in its current form.When moved by their inherent compassion and kindness,enlightened master consider changing another person's sanchita or prarabdha karmas only after they have taken the will of the divine in to account.

It is important for us to have at-least a rudimentary understanding of the threefold karmas and their interrelationship,but this is not enough to enable us to develop a plan for attaining mastery over them.To do that,we need to understand the force that causes karmas to be formed,to be stored intact,and finally to manifest in the realm of time and space.This lead us to study the mind,for according to the yogis,that is where the karmic drama is created,enacted,and experienced.In the future post we will discuss on this aspect of the Karma.

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

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


Post a Comment

Copyright © Warrior of Light (India) | Powered by Blogger

Design by Anders Noren | Blogger Theme by NewBloggerThemes.com