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Freedom from the Bondage of Karma.

by Swami Rama.


Chapter 8



Knowledge alone liberates. As a blazing fire reduces a pile of wood to ashes, so the fire of wisdom reduces all actions to ashes, says the Gita. Wisdom or knowledge does not nullify actions, only their binding power. Wisdom and knowledge purify the way of life and action. A rope can bind no more when it is burned, though it may still appear as a rope of bondage. Similarly, actions bind man, but if they have been tempered by the fire of wisdom, they may retain the appearance of action but will no longer have the power to bind. The energy that finds expression in the action has been transformed into knowledge and wisdom.

How are we to create in us that fire of knowledge in which to burn the samskaras which motivate our actions? We cannot escape our actions by trying to run away from them. Closing our eyes or running away from an action does not make it vanish. It will still be there when we open our eyes again. Life's problems are not to be avoided. They have to be faced and accepted. Coming to grips with life and karma by meeting their challenges with knowledge, spiritual strength and skillful action done selflessly is the only way to be free from karma. Very often people believe in doing good and adopt it as a philosophy of life. This cannot go very far if it is only an outward expression. Belief only in what one considers good is a superficial philosophy. It proves inadequate when confronted by the trials of life. The greatest strength comes only from a deep selflessness in life, and that is expressed through mind, action, and speech. One must not forget that the source of this strength is Atman, the very soul of oneself. After careful self-examination, having pondered the meaning and significance of life, one must try to live performing actions selflessly to the last breath of one's life. Inaction leads to inertia, and selfish actions can become a bondage which tightens the rope of karma.

Selfishness is the negation of spiritual awareness. Animals are meant to be selfish for they have no experience of their true selves. The world of objects comprises their sole sphere of awareness. It is only in human beings that subjective awareness is found. Control and discipline and knowing the art of doing one's action in harmony with one's psycho-physical personality are means for man to deepen his self-awareness and realize himself as pure Atman, the eternal self-illumined, ever-free Self. Trying to save or protect one's physical existence in the external world is to commit spiritual suicide by losing the opportunity to unfold one's being-state in its totality.

What we call fate is also man's making. That which is done by man in the past becomes his fate. By knowing the art of living and by acting selflessly we can go beyond time, space, and causality. The human mind defines objects and events of the world of experience in terms of space and time.What exactly is space and time? They have no absolute reality in themselves. They are only relative concepts. When the mind is made one-pointed it moves to a higher dimension of awareness where there is no time, space or causality, and there freedom from samskaras becomes possible.

Grief and delusion come as a result of self-identification with limited physical and mental states. Identifying with the body, sense, and mind, which are only minor dimensions of our being, we remain weak, helpless, and limited, cut off from others. In such a state of weakness we make all sorts of mistakes which reinforce the rope of karma and add to the samskaras that commit us to endless rounds of birthsand deaths.

Lacking awareness of the Truth (Self, God, Unity of All Life) we separate ourselves from the whole and thus create a small personality, a personal mask for ourselves. Selfless actions done to the best of one's abilities lead to a state of tranquility. It is only a tranquil mind that can experience all levels of consciousness and finally attain liberation.

Samskaras can also be seen as the consequences of the primary sin of ignorance which cuts us off from the mainstream of life. A river cut off from its mainstream becomes stagnant; the man cut off from the mainstream of life, degenerates and falls into grief and delusion.

The capacity of awareness grows in the human mind by the disciplined practicing of social awareness as a citizen and by following an inner discipline as a spiritual seeker. Total discipline helps man in achieving freedom from all cords, gross, and subtle, of karma and samskaras. When one learns how to perform selfless actions, one simultaneously expands the mind and goes to transpersonal levels of mind. This leads to an awakening to the basic unity of existence and consequently to liberation. Thus, by doing one's duty selflessly one is practicing spirituality in daily life.

When equality and diversity does not remain an unsolved riddle in the human mind, then salvation will be possible. There will always be differences of opinion regarding what is the best karma, but such differences will only be on the surface. Deep down there is only one unity. Whatever work or action man does, whatever his position in life, he contains within himself an integral value, the spiritual value proceeding from his soul. When man learns to spiritualize his actions, thoughts, and desires he will be able to perform actions and duties without bondage. Then the subtle traces of samskaras will not germinate at all.

Thus when we want to avoid the sufferings and sorrows arising from samskaras we should discipline our senses, organs of action and mind at all levels but being careful not to ignore our duties.

Man pays his karmic debts only by performing selfless actions. Without paying our karmic debts to the people with whom we live, for example, or to the family into which we are born, we will have no way of attaining freedom. So it is absolutely necessary for one to discharge one's duties and thus to remain free from the obligations of karmic debts.

Actually, we choose our parents and they choose us. Like attracts like. Working to perform our duties conscientiously and sincerely among the people with whom we live, helps us in not creating further bondages and obstacles in the path of enlightenment. The fire of knowledge burns on the fuel of selfless action, and thus karmic debts are met. To gain freedom from past actions and karmas one should learn to act so that karma becomes a useful tool rather than an obstacle on the path to enlightenment.

The knower, the known and the process of knowing comprise the three-fold nature of the drive to action. Instrument, activity and event are the three-fold components that accomplish action. Each of these three divisions is in accordance with the three qualities of sattva, rajas, and tamas. The universe contains many beings. Each being is unique. Variety is the nature of the universe. In this diversity, one feels the presence of oneness; this is due to sattva-endued knowledge. The site of the undivided reality is known because of sattva. For example, the ocean has many waves and they are distinct from one another, yet they are all made from the same water. To see the same water in different waves is sattva-endued knowledge. Gold is made into variouss ornaments, but the presence of gold is common to them all. To see this oneness in different forms is sattva-endued knowledge. There exist in the world many religious faiths - Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, etc. Yet in spite of this multiplicity, one can see in them all a oneness of being and can accordingly relate in one way towards all of them. This results from sattva-endued knowledge. Human beings, birds, beasts, and insects are all different, yet they possess the one life principle in common. To regard them all as alike is due to sattva-endued knowledge alone.

Rajas-endued knowledge enables one to realize division and variety of forms. The variety of aspects in each object is seen by rajas-endued knowledge. This sort of disposition which fastens on diversity alone is due to rajas. It frustrates all efforts towards seeing unity in diversity.

Tamas-endued knowledge actually obscures the relation of causes and effect and is competely unable to reveal Truth. It is the cause of attachment to a part as if it were the whole. Is the cause of ignorance which confuses cause and effect. It is false knowledge, sheer ignorance, and impure ideas and is contrary to enlightenment. This is the defect of tamas-endued knowledge. Tamas-endued people take a part for the whole and attach themselves to that part. They even lead themselves to destroy the whole. This level of knowledge leads to destruction and attachment.

Thus, sattva-endued knowledge sees unity in diversity, while tamas-endued knowledge sees diversity even in unity. Sattva-endued knowledge inspires one to perform actions with the goal of self-realization while tamas-endued knowledge leads to self-degradation. That action is called sattvic-endued which is done without attachment, without lust or hatred and without a selfish desire to enjoy the fruit of one's own actions. Lust and hatred make the mind waver, and pleasure leads to self-enjoyment. They all make the mind extremely agitated. They must be renounced if one is to pursue the tranquil mind.

An action that is done with a tranquil mind is a sattvic action; but an action that is done with the desire to selfishly enjoy the fruit, with a view always to keep it for one's own enjoyment, ignoring its cost in labor and effort and with overwhelming confidence in one's own ability, that action is rajasic. Sattvic actions are performed without egoism, without though of enjoying the fruits, without attachment, lust or hatred. Rajasic actions are permeated with all of these negative qualities. Actions done without the desire to enjoy the fruits will undoubtedly lead to greater happiness. Rajasic actions can lead only to greater misery. Tamasic action leads only to degradation. It happens without thought to what damage or injury it might cause. Therefore, one should observe oneself carefully to guard against performing tamasic actions.

The type of actions a person commits is determined by his disposition. One whose steadiness of mind remains undisturbed in doing actions and duties, is indeed a balanced human. He who is not elated with success or disappointed with failure is a sattvic man. Such a man possesses courage. No anxieties about success or failure worry him. He is neither puffed up with success nor downhearted with failure.

The characteristic of a rajasic man is that he is given to enjoyment. He has a keen desire for pleasure. At the root of all his activities lies the drive for enjoyment. He naturally seeks enjoyment from the fruits of his own action. He who is attached to pleasure is bound to be greedy. Having gotten some pleasure, he yearns for more pleasure; having lost them, his grief is beyond description. Joy and grief swing his mind one way or the other. Thus, he is perpetually agitated. Such a restless man finds it difficult to really enjoy any pleasure. On the spur of the moment he can become violent; especially if he confronts any obstacle in the way of his enjoyment, he may even react and try to destroy it. This increases the hatred and violence in a rajasic man. Violence is always accompanied by uncleanliness of body and mind. Where enjoyment, greed, and violence dwell, it is impossible to maintain the body, speech, and mind in serenity.

The characteristics of a tamasic man are ignorance and delusion, for he has no competence to do anything skillfully. A tamasic man is devoid of good conduct because of his very ignorance; only a man of good conduct can become a good human being. A tamasic man is completely devoid of true knowledge. Filled with delusions, he cannot contribute in knowledgeable discussions, nor perform any activity with skill, nor propagate good ideas. He remains lazy and dull in all circumstances. In the absence of inspiration, there is no possibility of self-advancement through action, work, or duty. When unable to grow through one's own actions, duties, and efforts, the mind begins to run in crooked avenues of tamas, and one always grieves over failure. Such a man begins to hate others; he never rejoices at other people's success. He is always sad, gloomy, and hateful.

Of the various functions of the mind, buddhi - or intellect, is the highest. It is buddhi which decides, discriminates and judges. This buddhi can also be classified into three categories:

Sattvic buddhi correctly and rightly shows to what one should proceed and from what one should keep away, what causes bondage and what dispels the bondage of the aspirant. The rajasic buddhi is involved with the selfish motivations only and runs through the avenues of pleasures. The tamasic buddhi cannot discriminate between duty and non-duty, bondage and freedom, independence and dependence, and always presents false pictures. This deludes the aspirant; he forms a perverse view of things and does not see anything in its true colors at all. A tamasic man cannot decide what to do and what not to do.

Pleasures can also be classified as sattvic, rajasic, and tamasic. The sattvic pleasures in the beginning seem to be painful, but their results are beneficial in the long run. They bring serenity of mind, knowledge, penance, control of the senses, and self-purification, which results purify the way of the soul. Sattvic pleasure finds joy everywhere, in all conditions in life, in the control of the mind and in self-realization, as well as in doing actions selflessly for the sake of humanity as a worship to God. Rajasic pleasure is produced by contact of the senses with their objects. It vanishes when the object vanishes. Rajasic pleasure ends painfully. Tamasic pleasure is pain which produces misery. It increases sleep, laziness, and inactivity. A tamasic man does not feel like doing anything. He feels pleasure in laziness. A rajasic man feels pleasure in balanced, tranquil, and serene conditions.

All things that appear on the face of the earth and in the univerese, are endued with the three qualities of sattva, rajas, and tamas. The whole universe is a play of these three qualities. These qualities are found in the subtle traces of samskaras and determine the life course here and hereafter. If anyone wants to examine one's own disposition, he can do so by examining the quality of his mind. If one starts observing himself impartially, he can find out whether his disposition is sattvic, rajasic, or tamasic, and thus determine the future course he has to take. He can also find out which rung of the spiritual ladder he stands on.

To attain freedom from the rounds of birth and death and from the bondage of karma, one should learn to do his duty whole heartedly. A man attains perfection and achieves perfect eminence by devotion to this proper work and duty. If he gives up his own duty and does what is not his duty, he cannot rise. The question is: "What is one's duty?"

One's duty is that which is determined by one's inborn qualities or samskaras. For instance, if man has the quality of sattva in a dormant state he should practice tranquility, control of the senses, etc. If he has sattva-dominated rajas, his proper duty should by to follow the path of action and practice meditation in action. In this way a man can succeed in doing his duties by studying his inborn qualities or samskaras.

Karma is inevitable; work is worship. By worshipping that Absolute One from whom all beings have sprung and by whom all this universe is pervaded, a man attains right perfection.

The soul is the inner dweller of this body. He who pervades the body and has spread His power into the mind, eyes, ears, and other senses is the object of worship of the senses. It is He whom the senses worship by means of their works - the legs by their movement, the arms by their work of protection, the stomach by its work of digestion, the heart by the circulation of blood throughout the body, the mind by contemplating, the intellect deciding and so on. All the senses and organs are thus always worshipping Him, each in its own particular way. The worship of the soul is carried on within oneself by one's own work. None of these senses gives up its own work and does another's. Each contributes to success by doing its own ordained work well. The power that pervades the whole universe, pervades mankind too. We all are parts of that same Omnipresence. Therefore, it is He whom we serve by our proper work.

It is not possible for anyone to live without doing his own action, duty, or karma. Karma is the only way to cleanse the life process, and without cleansing we cannot attain perfection. The universe is the manifestation of the unmanifest eternal Truth. We see a ripple arise and play on the surface of the lake; it lasts for an instant and then disappears. Whence did it come, what was it, and where did it go? From water it came; having come, it is water still, and unto water it returns in the end. The real nature of that momentary existence, the ripple, is water. Similarly, Truth is the real nature of the universe. When one is caught up in the trivial waves of passing sense experience, then one finds change, death, destruction in every phase of life, and no safe structure of life can be erected. When awareness is developed and the eternal is realized in the midst of the non-eternal, then eternal peace dawns.

To see the eternal in the midst of the non-eternal is the purpose of karma yoga. By affirming the eternal and negating the non-eternal, we pass to the other shore of life. Affirmation and negation should both by present if we are to enjoy this world. What supports us in not what we renounce, but what we possess. This world is worthy of enjoyment, and we should know the art of enjoying. Before we can enjoy this world, we have to learn the correct approach. Duty done out of selfish motives is far inferior to that done with a detached attitude. Petty minded are they who are motivated by selfishness. They bring upon themselves suffering and misery. Renunciation is an eternal maxim. There cannot be real enjoyment without purification through renunciation. In our lives it is in interpersonal relationships that we derive the greatest joy and not by affirming our little selves. When we deny our little selves through renunciation of selfish motives, desires and attachments, we identify with the Self of All and make contact with real life. Negation leads to a larger affirmation.

Karma teaches us the ethical and spiritual values of life, the art of living and enjoying life. When the mind is yoked to the ultimate good through cultivation of detachmetn, which is the highest form of love, then one takes delight in loving all and excluding none. Nothing is evil, but without yoking the mind to the soul and cultivating dispassion for the unreal, real compassion is not possible. To develop an ethical nature becomes easy when one starts enjoying and working selflessly for others, and once the habit is formed, one cannot live without doing so. By dedicating the fruits of actions and negating the sense of ego, one fulfills the real purpose of life. Without achieving freedom from the spirit of exploitation, one cannot enjoy life. The world around us is nothing but blissful Atman, and we are here to enjoy it. It does not appear to us in its profound and true form because we remain caught up in selfish sense enjoyments. Life does not need to be changed; only our attitudes do.



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