Is it possible to work off the karmic debt incurred by actions in past and present lives in ways other than by experiencing the results those actions? Is there a more positive solution? If so, how does one do this?
Karma simply means "action." Just as in the physical world we know of Newton’s law that every action brings an opposite and equal reaction, in the same way, the energy we put out into the world comes back to us.
The action itself is not as important as the intention behind the action. The same action if put out with hatred will reap one kind of karma; if put out to be helpful, it brings a different karma. For example, a doctor sometimes has to inflict pain, but he does it only to help the other person.
Karma is not meant as punishment. Instead, it is part of the learning process that the soul goes through in its journey to freedom. We have to learn, deeply within ourselves, that we never want to cause pain to another in any way. Intellectual understanding does not change us in the same way that personal experience does.
So, karma will come to us. But what changes is how we experience it. The stronger we are spiritually, the less thrown we are by the karma.
Also, a true guru can mitigate one’s karma, lessening the intensity of it. Yogananda said that a man might have the karma to lose an arm, but with the help of the guru, he might break a finger.
In Autobiography of a Yogi, Babaji saves a man from the karma of burning to death by striking him lightly on the shoulder with a burning log.
Yogananda said that the best way to work out our karma is to meet it calmly and pleasantly. It is our resistance to what comes to us that causes us, in most cases, the worst suffering: wishing things were other than they ARE.
In the book The Essence of Self-Realization, there are two marvelously helpful chapters: “The Law of Karma,” and “Working Out Karma.” I highly recommend this book, not only for these chapters but because it brings great clarity on many different philosophical points. I hope you will look into this subject of karma, and you will see that it is not something negative at all. It is actually the flow of divine blessing in our lives.
In divine friendship,