Life’s laws are one and the same on every level. The laws of physics are essentially the same as the laws of spirit.
Thus we see that the principle of action and reaction in physics—for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction—applies to human beings through the law of karma: As you sow, so shall ye reap. If you sow evil you will reap evil in the form of suffering; if you sow goodness, you will reap goodness in the form of inner joy.
Matter responds to thoughts
To understand karma you must realize that thoughts are things. The very universe, in the final analysis, is composed not of matter but of consciousness. Matter responds, far more than most people realize to the power of thought, whether expressed directly or through actions.
People seldom think of their own thoughts or actions as bad, but if they create disharmony for others, those waves of disharmony will inevitably return to them in the form of suffering. Human suffering is not a sign of God’s anger with mankind; it is a sign, rather, of man’s ignorance of the divine law.
One lifetime is usually not enough to close the circle on the countless acts initiated during an individual lifetime. The law of karma is therefore inextricable from its companion, the law of reincarnation. Each would be incomplete without the other.
Offsetting negative mass karma
By and large, what returns to you in the form of karma is what you have generated through your own past actions. But there is also mass karma.
Whether, and to what extent, an individual’s karma is influenced by mass karma depends on the strength of his individual karma. Not all who die in a plane crash, for example, necessarily had the karma to do so.
The karma of the majority may simply have been stronger than that of the minority to live. Those, however, with a strong enough karma to live will be saved, either during the crash itself or by not taking that flight in the first place.
For example, the mother of an Ananda Village member had booked a flight to California. Shortly before she left her house, her daughter phoned and suggested that she visit at a later date, so she cancelled her reservation. The airplane crashed and everyone on board was killed.
To offset any potential negative mass karma, it’s always good to pray before you make a trip, go out in a car—or whatever. Pray and put your life and safety in God’s hands.
Getting out of karma
The source of all karmic involvement is attachment to the ego; thus the first step out of karma is severing yourself from egoic involvement in any action you perform. This has two aspects, acting without desire for the fruits of your actions, and seeing God as the Doer—as the sole causative agent.
To achieve nishkam karma, action without desire for the fruits of action, we must neutralize the waves of likes and dislikes in the heart. We do this gradually through ever-deepening meditation, and through expressions of kindness, forgiveness, and compassion to all. As you become more inwardly free, you will be increasingly less affected by life’s inevitable ups and downs.
So work on your reactions to outer circumstances. Be happy inside, knowing that you will never be able to change things to make them ever pleasing to you outwardly.
Always feel that God is acting through you
Another aspect of getting out of karma is seeing God as the Doer, as the sole causative agent. During activity, never feel that it is you who are acting. Pray to Him, “Lord, Thou art acting through me.” Essentially it’s a matter of inner attitude. Yogananda often told a delightful story that makes this point beautifully.
Devotees of Krishna or “gopis,” as they were called, would each day cross the Jamuna River to take Krishna an offering of fresh cheese. One day, however, the river was flooded and the gopis couldn’t cross.
“What shall we do?” they cried. And then they remembered Byasa, a great devotee of Krishna, who lived on their side of the river. “Byasa is a saint,” they said. “Let us ask him to perform a miracle to help us cross the river.” They went and asked him to help them reach Krishna.
“Krishna! Krishna!” Byasa shouted, pretending to be displeased. “All I ever hear is Krishna! What about me?”
The gopis were very embarrassed. The cheese was for Krishna, but they didn’t dare refuse Byasa since they’d asked him for help. So they offered him a little bit. Byasa, however, ate, and ate, and didn’t stop eating until he could swallow no more, leaving only a small portion for Krishna.
When he’d eaten as much as his stomach could hold, he somehow carried himself to the riverbank. There he cried, “O river Jamuna, if I have not eaten anything, divide up and part!”
“What is he saying?’’ the gopis whispered among themselves. “First he stuffs himself like a pig and now he cries, ‘If I have not eaten!’ What possible good can come of this adventure?”
To their amazement, the river parted! Not pausing to ponder this mystery, the gopis rushed across to the other side. There they found Krishna asleep in his hut.
Usually Krishna was standing outside his hut, eagerly awaiting their visit—and the cheese. “Lord,” they cried, “aren’t you hungry today? We’ve brought you your cheese.”
Krishna opened his eyes sleepily and said, “Oh, thank you but I’m no longer hungry. That fellow, Byasa, on the other bank has fed me too much already.”
Byasa, you see, had offered the food first to Krishna, and had thought of him constantly while eating it. He didn’t eat in ego-consciousness, but only in the thought that Krishna was eating through him. In this way, every devotee should feel that God is acting through him.
Developing a strong aura
Yogananda taught that if a person’s aura is strong, the negative consequences of his bad karma will have a greatly lessened impact on him, even though the karma must, of necessity, return to him. A strong aura might be compared to the protection an umbrella gives when it rains.
Yogananda frequently counseled the wearing of astrological bangles as a means of artificially strengthening the aura. To this counsel, however, he would often add, “Never forget that devotion to God is the greatest ‘bangle.”
The law of karma is impersonal and operates mechanically. But we can change that for ourselves and for others by prayer, by right action toward them, and by loving them as manifestations of God, Who dwells equally in all.
But the ways to mitigate its impact, whether for you or for others, come down to a few simple rules, the most important of which is to ”love God.” As Jesus said, ”To one who loves much, much is forgiven.”