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Q & A : On karma and conditioning

(Extract­ed from Sat­sang­ha with Shri Adi­narayanan, Mahashiv­ara­tri 2017)

In the Indi­an shas­tras, the word ‘kar­ma’ is often used. What is kar­ma? What are the three types of kar­ma — San­chi­ta, Prarab­d­ha, Aga­mi Kar­ma? How can one be lib­er­at­ed from kar­ma?

Now, very sim­ply put, kar­ma is action. But action is not just out­ward action, there is ver­bal action, there is thought. Thought is also con­sid­ered action. So thought, word and actu­al deed, all these are action. But each of these has its cor­re­spond­ing effect or reac­tion. And expe­ri­ence is sep­a­rate. It is not nec­es­sary that your expe­ri­ence must always be as per your reac­tion. Even when what you expect­ed out of the action comes true, still your expe­ri­ence might not be great. You might not expe­ri­ence a sense of bal­ance or hap­pi­ness. So there is action, reac­tion and expe­ri­ence. Let’s say we engage in some action at the thought lev­el. What reac­tion does it imme­di­ate­ly get? You might have some reac­tion inward­ly, but out­ward­ly you might not have so much of a reac­tion. Isn’t it? And hence it is not rein­forced by the out­er envi­ron­ment. Not yet. Now, let’s say, through that thought, you speak out. What sort of reac­tion do you get?

Oth­ers will respond. Oth­ers. Now “oth­ers” come into play. Oth­ers will respond in a cer­tain way. And all of us seek a good expe­ri­ence, and hence we need to direct our words appro­pri­ate­ly, because it cre­ates a reac­tion and not always an expect­ed reac­tion. We act it out. When we have act­ed out some­thing, that is like defin­i­tive. Done. You can­not retract it. That will cre­ate actu­al reac­tion. So we need to be very care­ful as to what we actu­al­ly final­ly act out. It should be prop­er­ly rea­soned out. So if you act out some­thing at the thought lev­el, it is still con­tained in a cer­tain way. If you act out some­thing ver­bal­ly, it’s the sphere of influ­ence has grown. But, if the act out as a deed, it is done, and it has more wide rang­ing action. But this also tells us that thought is sub­tle, and hence long-term, encom­pass­ing a large space. So in an expan­sive con­text of time and space, if you bring out your rea­son­ing appro­pri­ate­ly to your thoughts, such thoughts become extreme­ly pow­er­ful, because the reac­tions that they cause are wide­spread and hence they should be ben­e­fi­cial. This is why we pray with the inten­tion “Loka­ha samas­tha­ha suki­no bavan­thu” (May all beings in all worlds be hap­py). We want the well-being of every­body every­where.

So that is a thought, that is an inten­tion. How would the thought pat­terns emerg­ing from such an inten­tion be? What­ev­er action we do, we will rea­son out, “Does it align with that noble inten­tion?” Is this for the well-being of every­body? It is only with such an align­ment that we would take nec­es­sary steps and act out. Hence thought has tremen­dous pow­er. Because it is sub­tle. Though we can­not see its vis­i­ble effects imme­di­ate­ly, thought is the most pow­er­ful, and hence mak­ing it coher­ent, broad, expan­sive and ben­e­fi­cial for every­body is very impor­tant, because then, that gov­erns your words and ulti­mate­ly deeds.

So what hap­pens when we per­form kar­ma? There is reac­tion. What hap­pens when there is reac­tion? Expe­ri­ences get cre­at­ed with­in us. Expe­ri­ences are gen­er­al­ly pos­i­tive, neg­a­tive and neu­tral. When it is a pos­i­tive expe­ri­ence, next time we act out, we expect that “If I do this action, this reac­tion will hap­pen. And if this reac­tion hap­pens, ‘Ah! That would be so good!’” We expect, and that expec­ta­tion begins to grow grad­u­al­ly. That is called raa­ga. In the same way, we do some­thing and let’s say a neg­a­tive reac­tion hap­pens. That cre­ates a neg­a­tive expe­ri­ence, a bit­ter expe­ri­ence. What hap­pens then? Let’s say you speak to some­one and they don’t respond favourably, they speak harsh words, and that sinks into your heart, you feel bad. That is a neg­a­tive expe­ri­ence. Then, next time you see them, you will remem­ber the hurt and the neg­a­tive expe­ri­ence will be rein­forced. That is called dwe­sha, repul­sion. So attrac­tion repul­sion — raa­ga, dwe­sha — which cre­ates a frame­work for future action. So this is called kar­ma. Kar­ma is because that expe­ri­ence is rein­forced and you start act­ing out of that con­di­tion­ing. So that con­di­tioned response, that con­di­tioned action is called kar­ma. So, kar­ma, over a peri­od of time, it becomes very con­di­tioned. Con­di­tioned actions of long time is called San­chi­ta kar­ma. Prarab­d­ha kar­ma are the con­di­tion­ings from San­chi­ta that are man­i­fest for this (cur­rent) life­time. What is life­time? Basi­cal­ly, life­time means the body. The body falls away. It is born and it goes. But there are sub­tler aspects which gov­ern how this work. Those are also sci­ences. In that, what man­i­fests in this life­time is called prarab­d­ha. And aga­mi or kriya­mana kar­ma is where your cur­rent actions and expe­ri­ences cre­ate the future con­di­tion­ings — con­di­tioned actions and respons­es. This is aga­mi. It is very sim­ple, it is actu­al­ly a no-brain­er. But the com­plex ways in which they inter-oper­ate seems like it is over­whelm­ing. Actu­al­ly the prin­ci­ples are very straight­for­ward.

So raa­ga-dwe­sha leads to con­di­tion­ing, which you will see leads you to com­pul­sive actions. These are called vasanas. You act out of them, whether you like it or not. These are deeply etched in your antahkarana. So that cre­ates the future reac­tions, and desire pat­terns. What is kamya kar­ma? Desired action. You desire a cer­tain result and towards that you act, and there is a reac­tion. If it is intel­li­gent­ly direct­ed, then you will see the reac­tion will be suc­cess­ful. It will be what you desire and hence you will call it suc­cess. If what you expect­ed has not come forth, you call it fail­ure. So the desires are born out of those pre­vi­ous­ly con­di­tioned actions. You act, you expect cer­tain reac­tions, if they meet with your expec­ta­tions, it is suc­cess. If they don’t meet with your expec­ta­tions, it is fail­ure. And there are var­i­ous gra­da­tions to it, var­i­ous per­cent­ages of suc­cess. That is kamya kar­ma. The con­di­tion­ings can be broad, expan­sive, won­der­ful con­di­tion­ings. They could be extreme­ly nar­row, lim­it­ed, painful con­di­tion­ings. But con­di­tion­ings are con­di­tion­ings. When it is broad, expan­sive, you call that good action. It is for every­body’s ben­e­fit. It is called good action.When the con­di­tion­ing is lim­it­ed, extreme­ly self­ish, “Oth­ers are pained, but that does not mat­ter, I will still do what I want” — that is called neg­a­tive con­di­tion­ing, or neg­a­tive action. Bad action, vikar­ma. Sukar­ma means good action, and bad is Vikar­ma. So con­di­tion­ing is what has caused this and when you get what you expect, it gets rein­forced.

And hence the log­i­cal ques­tion aris­es, “Okay, it is just this con­di­tion­ing. Then how do you get over this con­di­tion­ing?” So there are mul­ti­ple strate­gies one can adopt. One is, a con­di­tioned action is there, but you are tied to the result. You expect a cer­tain result and hence, give up that expec­ta­tion, which is the lim­i­ta­tion to the result. So through the con­di­tion­ing, the desires orig­i­nate — the desires in terms of the result of the action, the result of the action pro­duc­ing a cer­tain expe­ri­ence. So you are tied to a ben­e­fi­cial expe­ri­ence, to an expect­ed result and hence your action is moti­vat­ed. So if you need to be free of this rein­force­ment of the con­di­tion­ing, what should you do? You need to sev­er the con­nec­tion with the expec­ta­tion for a ben­e­fi­cial expe­ri­ence. So in the Bha­gavad Gita, Bha­ga­van Krish­na talks of prasa­da bud­dhi. Prasa­da bud­dhi means what­ev­er comes you accept it. What­ev­er comes. That way, over a peri­od of time, you weak­en this con­di­tion­ing. What­ev­er comes, it does­n’t mat­ter. You accept it. Whether it cre­ates a painful reac­tion or a ben­e­fi­cial expe­ri­ence, a hap­py expe­ri­ence or a sor­row­ful expe­ri­ence, you accept it. Why? To actu­al­ly grow in free­dom. Because you see this entire struc­ture of con­di­tioned actions and respons­es. It maybe pos­i­tive con­di­tion­ing or neg­a­tive con­di­tion­ing, but still con­di­tion­ing. Raa­ga dwe­sha.

Anoth­er strat­e­gy is sur­ren­dered action. So that is called arpana bud­dhi. Arpana means you sur­ren­der the action itself. You are not able to over­come this con­di­tion­ing, and hence you sur­ren­der the action. Arpana. Krish­na arpanam, Shi­va arpanam, Brah­marpanam. Or you sur­ren­der it or pour it for the well-being of all, not just your well-being. That is also sur­ren­der. Right now, it might be tied to just your own expec­ta­tion. But here you expand the scope. So you do the action, but with the clear idea of how it is ben­e­fi­cial for every­body, oth­er­wise you don’t do it. Then again, you grad­u­al­ly become free of this con­di­tioned process­es. You are not doing away with the con­di­tion­ing, but you are becom­ing free of it. Your per­spec­tive starts expand­ing. Your per­cep­tion of you being bound by it starts get­ting freed up.

Decon­struc­tion is a won­der­ful strat­e­gy. That is called the process of vichara or enquiry. You decon­struct this con­di­tion­ing. You observe this con­di­tion­ing close­ly. “Oh, in this sce­nario, I act out this way”, but you decon­struct it. Then you see, you are not that. You are not all these con­di­tioned respons­es at all. Even the sens­es are con­di­tioned. For exam­ple, 400 nm – 700 nm are the range of wave­lengths of light that our eyes are con­di­tioned to per­ceive. Oth­er things are not per­ceiv­able. Why? Because they are not con­di­tioned, it goes beyond the scope of con­di­tion­ing, the range of con­di­tion­ing. The ear is con­di­tioned to receive fre­quen­cies of only 20 – 20,000 Hz. Only that much. Con­di­tioned. That you see you are not that con­di­tion­ing. You sim­ply see that as con­di­tion­ing. And hence you have noth­ing to do with it, that is called vichara.

Anoth­er strat­e­gy is Sat­sang­ha. You basi­cal­ly recon­di­tion your­self with the process of asso­ci­a­tion. With recon­di­tion­ing, also a per­spec­tive emerges — “Oh! So this is how it oper­ates.” You start under­stand­ing raa­ga dwe­sha. This is the process of con­di­tion­ing that is hap­pen­ing. So when you see this process as a process, and not as you, then there is a dis­tance. There is space, where you see it is raa­ga dwe­sha. You don’t act just out of that raa­ga dwe­sha. You tell your­selves, “Noth­ing doing”. You recon­di­tion it towards free­dom. Yog­ic prac­tices, pranaya­ma for exam­ple, direct­ly work at the elec­tro­mag­net­ic struc­ture of con­di­tion­ing, because it is elec­tro­mag­net­ic, it is prana based. So you do those, it is a direct path, where you break up those bub­bles of those con­di­tioned process­es. Then the ener­gy that is locked up there gets released. The struc­ture of that con­di­tion­ing gets released, and hence that con­di­tion­ing is not there.

Now for peo­ple who can’t actu­al­ly prac­tise vichara and men­tal­ly decon­struct it, is it bet­ter to just prac­tise pranaya­ma?

Yeah there will be process­es of growth. See one will not do only one thing. It will be a mix and match of every­thing in what­ev­er we have dis­cussed. It will be a mix and match of every­thing. But pre­dom­i­nant­ly what is suit­able for you. It should be a mix and match of all of this, but pre­dom­i­nant­ly what suits you. It is per­cent­ages, and that will also change as you grow. So there, yog­ic process­es direct­ly work at this, where that con­di­tion­ing, that bub­ble is bro­ken. And hence the ener­gy is lib­er­at­ed. Let’s say you are con­di­tioned to have a cer­tain fear. You will see, through cer­tain pranaya­ma prac­tices, that struc­ture will be dis­solved and imme­di­ate­ly you will be free of that fear. That fear will be gone. It will be almost mag­i­cal or mirac­u­lous. It is not mirac­u­lous; it is under­stand­ing the sci­ence behind raa­ga-dwe­sha.

Can all sorts of con­di­tion­ing be bro­ken through these yog­ic prac­tices? It can be. That is why Shak­ti­pat, Gurus trans­fer ener­gy and just like that lib­er­ate. You would have heard of Ramana Maharshi. He lib­er­at­ed a crow and a cow. All that is pos­si­ble, but just that it is all appro­pri­ate, you know, it is not like, just mag­ic. There are cer­tain reg­u­la­to­ry aspects. So that is kar­ma. All of this is kar­ma. So prarab­d­ha is basi­cal­ly that which oper­ates out for this life­time. Through appro­pri­ate under­stand­ing you should reg­u­late it in such a way that prarab­d­ha is not a prob­lem. It gives you a plat­form for appro­pri­ate action. When you under­stand this, you reg­u­late it intel­li­gent­ly and see that it does not fur­ther lim­it you — fur­ther lim­it your sense of free­dom. Oth­er­wise you can get com­plete­ly enmeshed and entan­gled and that will cause seri­ous mis­er­able expe­ri­ence. And that is not to do with your exter­nal cir­cum­stances. Your prarab­d­ha might give you a palace, but still your expe­ri­ence would be mis­er­able. That is because you have not attained to a sense of inner free­dom. That is very crit­i­cal.

(Fea­tured Image Source:

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