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Freedom from the Bondage of Karma.

by Swami Rama.


Chapter 4



We cannot live without creating thoughts and performing actions, yet these very thoughts and actions entangle us in the net of cause and effect. However, freedom from karma, which means to be free from the bonds of cause and effect, is possible despite the inevitability of our actions. To cross the ocean of maya and ignorance and reach the far shore of wisdom, we must learn to perform our actions skillfully and selflessly. To help us achieve this freedom it is of great assistance to study the law of karma and how it affects our lives.

Karma is the expression of the rule of perfect justice within us. It is the law of the cosmos reflected in the microcosm, man. There is nothing arbitary or punitive about it; it is universally the guarantee that every act produces results which finally return again to the source. Karmic results may be immediate or delayed, but they are always inevitable. Such is the truth behind the verse in the Bible and in the Gita, "As you so, so shall you reap."

It is a mistake to think ourselves as individuals who live only once as mere products of favourable or unfavourable circumstances which seem to surround our present existence. Actually, the soul is reincarnated into many lives due to the necessities of karma. Reincarnation is a strange concept to many in the West because it seems alien to Western culture and traditions. Reincarnation is not discussed in the Bible as it is in many of the great scriptures of the East and Middle East. Christ refrained from openly teaching the concept of reincarnation to His uninitiated followers so that they would not develop fatalistic attitudes. Reincarnation has been known and mentioned by others in the West from the times of ancient Greece onward, and many philosophers such as Plato, Hegel, and Schopenhauer accepted this concept. For Plato, reincarnation was an important metaphysical principle since, according to his teachings, knowledge is built up in this life on the foundation of learning and experience gained in previous lives.

The concept of karma leads to the conclusion that nothing happens by accident. This is not a fatalistic idea, however, since whatever happens is both the result of previous choices and actions and is necessary for completing the experience of the individual. What happens to us is the fulfillment of what we have done in the past; what is to be in the future will likewise be the result of present actions. The karma created by previous action cannot be altered. We can, however, determine future karma.

The advantage of reincarnation in human form is that is provides the one reborn with a certain degree of free will which can be used for spiritual progress and for overcoming the bonds of past karma. To see how this free will operates for human beings within the laws of nature, it is necessary to understand that there are four kingdoms in the cosmos:

Human life affords the opportunity of evolution towards a certain destiny, that destiny being determined by ourselves alone. When we become dependent upon the fruits of our actions, our destiny takes a form which may necessitate many additional lives; but through selfless actions liberation can be achieved in this life. Animals, in contrast to human beings, have instincts that guide them in their actions so that their lives are largely governed by the laws of nature and not by themselves. Vegetables are even more inert; they have fewer instincts, but they are alive. Vegetables are quite sensitive, however. They can even communicate and experience emotions. Natural law is more dominant in the plant kingdom in the sense that plants have less control over their destiny than animals.

The extreme case of non-control is that of the kingdom of clay and stone. Non-living matter is completely subject to natural law with no trace of self-determination. Average human beings, in contrast to the other kingdoms, are in a state in which perhaps fifty per cent of their lives may be controlled by themselves. Enlightened people have complete control over their lives. We are as we are because we want it to be that way. In effect, we have earned our present condition; and each incarnation gives us new opportunities to create more favourable circumstances for future spiritual unfoldment.

Rebirth in a human form in the necessary condition for gaining experience by which the consciousness of the soul may expand into full awareness of its essential unity with God. Through the operation of the universal law of karma, the soul is born into those conditions which enable it to gain the necessary experience and to complete the work left undone in previous lives.

The law of karma and how it affects an individual may be represented symbolically as a man firing arrows from a bow. The arrows already released, like past karma, are no longer under control. They are a person's present fate. There was control over them at one time, which determined our fate in the past. Present karma is not out of our control - it is in our hands. The arrow that is just now being loaded in our bow is the one which can be controlled. If this is done skilfully and selflessly, the arrow will reach its mark. We no longer control our childhood, yet we are living our the consequences of that childhood. If follows that to control the present in which we live is also to have some power in the determination of our future. If attachments can be burned up in the fire of knowledge through selflessly and lovingly performing present actions, a desirable future can be created. The law of equality and retribution in nature can always be understood in terms of the law of karma.

If we cannot completely dissociate ourselves from the fruits of our actions, we can at least surrender them to humanity. The skillful gardener who gives the fruits of his labor to his master, overcomes his karma; but the obsequious gardener, who praises his master and gives him nothing, remains in bondage. This is how we should all act; we must relinquish the fruits of our actions and stop worrying about them, for it we spend all our time worrying, we will have to return in another incarnation and go through the whole process again.

As long as we look only at the effects of karma, it remains a mystery. We must look for the root cause, and to do this we must try to understand the nature of free will. This requires that we learn what we mean by "wish", "want", "will", "desire", and "impressions". A wish always contains an element of doubt; we are not certain that we may have what we wish for. A want includes an urge; there is a feeling of compulsion behind them. Want is the offspring of craving which has its roods in the subtle impressions called samskaras which we carry with us from the past. They are the results of our past actions whose fruits we sought to possess and could not relinquish. It is the attachment to our desires and the results of our actions that give such strength to the rope of karms.

It is said that the face of Truth is hidden by a golden disc. This golden disc is a symbol for all of the temptations of life and for the subtler cord of the rope of karma, the cord of mind or thought. This cord is finer but stronger than the first cord of action for it involves more of the inner world, in particular, emotions and feelings. Emotionally we are like fish in a turbulent lake. Most of our responses are reactions to the environment which surrounds us. When our bodies are pleasantly stimulated we are pleased and call it love. When we are hurt we call it pain or hate. We are constantly affected by these outside influences and respond to them like fish caught in a current. We must learn to live in our inner world and to establish peace and tranquility which is not affected by any outside forces. Living too much in the world of others prevents this from happening. Our education and culture leave us no time to delve into our own inner world, free from outer disturbances.

Food, sleep, fear, and sex are the basic determining factors of personal emotions. All of these primitive impulses are controlling and affecting us in different ways. A dream involving sex, for example, may satisfy us while a dream involving food does not. This is because sex has its greatest effect upon the mind, whereas a dream feast cannot nourish the physical body. However, in one way or another, all of these external influences disturb our mind. We are more acutely aware of our responses to the external than to the internal world. The external world is allowed to control our lives and retard growth. How? We are afraid of exposing ourselves and thereby revealing our weaknesses to others. Consequently we rarely have the opportunity to correct personal defects. Two-thirds of our personality is beyond our awareness and control. We live with others but do not come to really know and love each other because of our inability to really learn about ourselves. Instead, we love others to satisfy ourselves. We expect others to dance around us as a nucleus. We look to the whole outside world for satisfaction because we have never learned to explore our personal identity and true needs. We think that this whole world belongs to us but never admit that we belong to others as well. We may share the same bed with someone, but we dream differently. Others are rarely allowed into our private world. We want more time to spend in our private world but become frightened upon entry and run back to others. We must learn to explore this world and to share it with others.

If you love someone, that person cannot hurt you; yet we seem unable to share inner experience with our loved ones. Stronger fences are built around ourselves to keep our loved ones out than barriers created to control strangers. When people live together it takes longer for them to adjust to each other because their inner lives are more exposed. This period of adjustment is not generally understood, and people often give up and try to find someone else with whom they think they will be more compatible. It is better to try to correct that which is known than to search for something unknown. An unknown devil is worse than a known devil.

How can we become free from the tyranny of emotions and our primitive urges? We must learn to be unaffected by others and try to understand the purposes of our lives and actions. All eat - dogs, man, swamis; but why do we eat? Learning how to eat and why to eat is an art. It is something which must be understood and controlled. Why do we want to live? Indeed, we should all aspire for a long life of one-hundred years or more, but for the sake of enlightenment and not simply for enjoyment or pleasure. Control over ourselves means learning to regulate ourselves physically, mentally, and emotionally. We must learn how to do and how to be.

Relying on external stimuli always leaves the mind scattered and dissipated. A distracted mind is somewhere else; there is no control over it. There is, of course, both a voluntary and an involuntary part of the mind; but the mind is not yours unless you can control it in all respects. A master can control all the processes of his or her mind, whereas most of us belong to and are under the control of our minds rather than vice versa. In other words, our mind motivates our actions and because we are not free, the fruits of these actions are being reaped constantly.

To gain control over ourselves the exercise of will is necessary. This in turn requires a study of the relationship of the body, the mind, and the soul. Will power is not a separate source of energy apart from us and our minds. Will power implies a certain state of the mind. Normally our minds remain in a scattered and dissipated state; when the mind becomes concentrated and one-pointed we have will power. A disturbed and dissipated mind has no power to will. He is master of himself who has understood the different functions of the mind, and has gained control over all of them.

What is unique about the karma of a great yoga master? Like us, she too has a certain purpose in life, certain actions to perform. Such a master is not completely free to choose the course of her life but understands perfectly what she is doing and why. She is carrying our her duty but is not enslaved by it; there is no reaping the fruits of such action because they are offered to mankind and God. She is like a potter who continues spinning her wheel after completing her pots. She is totally absorbed in doing her actions skillfully and selflessly and freely gives away the results of her actions. The only concern is to make the pots firm and beautiful, not to possess them. Everyone must perform actions in life, but the secret is to learn to do them without reaping the fruits.

In the rope of karma, mind is a finer and stronger cord than actions. In the West, in the science called psychology, we learn much about certain aspects of the mind, emotions, thinking, will-power, etc. In the East, the mind is dealt with differently, as in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras and in the Vedanta philosophy. Yogis approach the mind through experience. They have learned to study the inner states of mind in terms of their own meditational experiences and have firmly demonstrated the existence of a fourth state of mind, that of sleepless sleep, of equilibrium and tranquility, which is called samadhi or Christ-consciousness. In this highest state, man can attain total understanding and control over himself. How was it possible, for example, for Christ to change water into wine? He could do this by entering the fourth state in which He attained complete mastery over Himself and the situation. In this highest state, Christ could express His love to all people and things, and just as the beloved may blush before the lover, so nature "blushed" before Christ and water became wine.

Meditating can teach us all of these things. If people come to meditation for narrower or less meaningful reasons than those we are suggesting, then let them begin in that way. Sooner or later, meditation will lead to a higher path. The true purpose of meditation is to awaken people to the greater reality within themselves - that being God consciousness. Meditation leads us to seek enlightenment by performing our actions skillfully and selflessly. Ultimately, the desire for enlightenment swallows up all of the urges and desires of the lower ego. Enlightenment becomes the highest of life's goals.



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