What is Karma?
Karma can be thought of as similar to Isaac Newton’s 3rd law of motion: every action must be followed by an equal and opposite reaction. When Newton discovered that law, however, he didn’t realize, or at least didn’t mention, that the same principle applies to emotions and behavior. If we get really excited, we will inevitably feel tired and depressed later. If we hurt someone, someone will later hurt us. Even our desires cause karma; they must eventually be satisfied or overcome. However, if we hurt someone unintentionally or if what we desire is also the right thing, then there is a much smaller repercussion.
When people refer to a person’s karma, they are referring to the person’s past actions and feelings that are waiting to be balanced out with it’s opposite. As long as we have unfulfilled desires and actions that have not yet been repaid (good or bad), we we must reincarnate to neutralize them, which keeps us from merging completely in God. The difficulty is that each time we come back to balance out our previous actions, we create even more karma. Before we know it we have lived millions of lifetimes and have a seemingly insurmountable store of karma.
Of course there is free will, or how we choose to respond to a situation. If someone hurts you, and you hurt them back, then they hurt you back, this cycle of karma could go on indefinitely. If you forgive them though, instead of getting angry, then you will not produce more karma with that person and that particular cycle will be ended.
The Purpose of Karma
Swami Kriyananda, the founder of Ananda, said, “the law of karma is rooted in love.” So then why does it make us suffer? Because God is perfect, and the only way to merge with Him is to become perfect ourselves, by learning the lessons that karma gives us. Once, we were all one with God. Then we came to Earth and got distracted by all the possibilities. We became greedy and selfish and created heaps of karma in order to feel more important and powerful. But now that we have lived out all those lives and faced some of the karma that came with them, we must realize that the only way to truly be happy is to merge with God. And the only way to merge with God is…to learn from our karma!
If you have ever been robbed, you know what a frightening experience it is. Maybe in one lifetime you were a robber, but now that you have seen what it is like to be robbed, you are very much against it, even though you may not remember robbing anyone. You probably also don’t remember most of the lessons you’ve learned in previous lives, but they still remain in your subconscious. Think about the values and beliefs you’ve held your whole life. Some probably came from your parents and culture, but many are from lessons you have learned in other lives. After a million or so lives, these lessons add up, and “slowly but inevitably” as Paramhansa Yogananda said, we learn every lesson and finally come to God.
How to Be Free of Karma
There are ways to speed up this process though. You don’t have to be a passive observer, watching the lessons of your life come and go while you helplessly create more and more karma trying to get through those lessons. As I said earlier, how you respond makes a big difference. When you are acting with inner peace and love, rather than acting on your desires and attachments, there is no opposite consequence that follows that action, and so you avoid creating more karma.
So how do you learn to always act in inner peace and be free of your desires? Spiritual practices, such as meditation. The practice of Kriya Yoga is specifically designed to burn up karma and speed up our spiritual evolution. However, to be completely free, we must realize that we are a part of God and that He is the “Doer”; the one who is actually doing everything through us. At this point we will no longer be creating karma, and will quickly finish up our last few lessons.
For the next few days, try to be especially aware of the consequences of your actions, thoughts, and desires. Paramhansa Yogananda said that even the desire for an ice cream cone can keep you from completely merging in God. So the next time you feel a desire, try to detach yourself from the desire and remember that you are a soul.
Karma and Reincarnation by Paramhansa Yogananda
Through Many Lives by Savitri Simpson
The Reincarnation of Abraham Lincolnby Richard Salva
Two Souls: Four Lives by Catherine Kairavi