“Good karma is that which moves you closer to God, and bad karma is that which moves you farther away from Him.” Swami Kriyananda once gave this reply to a young man’s question. His answer not only clears up much of the confusion around the subject of karma, but also gives us a guideline for living: Always strive to do that which moves you closer to God. At another time Swamiji said, “The whole spiritual path is meant to dissolve the ego.” So, good karma is that which dissolves the ego, and bad karma is that which reinforces it.
Paramhansa Yogananda explained that thought is a force similar to magnetism. Each thought, word, or action sends out a pulse of energy that attracts to us a similar energy, just as a stone dropped into a pond creates a wave that bounces back to the original spot. Actions that are in tune with universal law attract a positive karmic response, and those that are against universal truth attract a negative one. Thus, we gradually learn right from wrong.
We make a serious mistake when we think that karma is meant to punish us. It is meant to teach us. Think of it as a super-advanced and benevolent AI (Almighty Intelligence) that gives each individual an exquisitely customized lesson plan based on past performance. Since the goal is for us to develop right attitudes, what happens to us is far less important than what we become by dealing with our karma correctly.
Some people react to the term “God” because they define Him erroneously. It might help if, instead of “God,” we think in terms of one of His qualities. So, does a particular action expand your love? If so, it produces good karma because God is love. It works the same way if we substitute wisdom, or peace, or joy.
So how do we beat karma? Not by trying to make everything pleasant. Some of our most powerful spiritual growth comes as a result of the most unpleasant experiences. Cancer, for instance: I’ve had many people tell me (generally after a bit of time has passed) that a bout with cancer was the best thing that ever happened to them. The same can be said of financial loss, or the passing of a loved one. None of these experiences are pleasant, but each can be a mighty spiritual teacher.
To beat karma at its own game, we need to develop the right attitudes before the karmic test arrives. If we are already moving in the right direction, then our karma will simply tap us on the back and nudge us the more quickly along toward freedom. The right attitude allows us to defeat even death; wrong ones make us cower before even the common cold.
If we can, we should be grateful for everything that happens. If this bar is too high, then remember a phrase that Swami Kriyananda wrote into his Festival of Light: “Whereas suffering and sorrow, in the past, were the coin of man’s redemption, for us now the payment has been exchanged for calm acceptance and joy.”
Endeavor, during all of life’s many complexities, to offer up your ego with calm acceptance and joy and you will be able to sail over the sea of karma, whether sunny and pleasant or dark and stormy.