“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.

Festival of Light by Swami Kriyananda on Karma

Arati during the Festival of Light at Ananda Village.

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.

In freedom,

Nayaswami Jyotish

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  1. You have no idea how much I needed this article. It came just at the correct time. I sometimes get overwhelmed by life & am not the easiest to be around when this happens. I needed to hear that my ego is causing all the problems & now I need to learn the lessons & change my ego. Thank you very much for taking the time to write & send it. I appreciate it. Gail

  2. Dear Nayswami Jyotish Ji,
    Thank you very much for this blog :)
    “karma is meant to punish us. It is meant to teach us. Think of it as a super-advanced and benevolent AI (Almighty Intelligence)”… Very true and a good reminder :))

  3. Thank you so much for this. It is so very reassuring and makes karma not as scary as it was! I am very new to Ananda and am loving what I am hearing.

  4. “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. ”
    These words give so much confidence , reassurance and Joy in working out our Karma which is already reduced by practice of Kriya.
    Thanks for sharing.

  5. Another classic practical guideline, Jyotish—thanks!

  6. I’m having a headache today and I realized how much I needed this article haha. Thank you Jyotishji. Jai Guru

  7. Thank you Jyotishji ?
    “Endeavor, during all of life’s many complexities, to offer up your ego with calm acceptance…” beautiful pointer to remember and follow. Thank you

  8. Is there a noun that can be used instead of “God” which is then always as “Him” in so many articles? It always feel like a separation
    when it’s really one whole.

    1. mm

      Dear friend,
      You raise a good point. Unfortunately, the English language—and most of the others I know of—simply doesn’t offer us a good alternative to “he” or “she.” What’s needed is some humanized version of the word, “it.” There actually is such a word—”ini” —in Bengali. Language is constantly changing: Let’s hope the day comes when English adds a word like that.
      The reason that “He” is generally used in the West to refer to God is that Jesus taught people to worship God as our Heavenly Father. Jesus, like all great teachers, tailored his teachings to the needs of people at that time. Paramhansa Yogananda, in our time, worshipped God especially in the form of the Divine Mother. In his autobiography The New Path, Swami Kriyananda wrote:

      Of all aspects of the Divine, that of Mother is the sweetest. As my Guru [Yogananda] once said, “Mother is closer than the Father.” I, too, prefer to pray to God as my Divine Mother. And I can testify to the truth of what my Guru told us: “When you pray to Her, She will answer!”

      This raises a good point: Even if English did offer us a word like “ini,” we might not want to use it when thinking of (or praying to) God. I’ll append for you below something I think you’ll find quite interesting that Yogananda had to say on this subject.
      In divine friendship,
      “I have trouble visualizing God,” complained a student of religious New Thought. “I’ve imagined Him as Infinite Intelligence, as the I AM principle, as my God-Self within, as the Cosmic Ground of Being. It all seems so abstract! But your relationship with the Lord is so loving. How can I achieve such a relationship?”
      “The first step,” replied the Master, “is not to imagine that He wants your definitions. He wants only your love.
      “Why not,” Yogananda then suggested, “worship the Infinite as your Divine Mother?”
      “What a lovely idea!” exclaimed the visitor. “But is it valid? Is it true?”
      “Indeed, yes!” replied Sri Yogananda emphatically. “God’s love is already reflected in human relationships. His love, like the sunlight shining on countless pieces of glass, is reflected everywhere.
      “The Infinite is the Mother behind all human mothers, the true Father behind all human fathers. He is the ever-loyal Friend behind all earthly friends. He is the eternal Beloved behind all human loves. He is all things to all men, because, you see, the Lord is everything.
      “Through your parents He cares for you, supports you, and protects you. Through your friends He shows you that love is a free sharing, without any hint of compulsion. Through the beloved He helps one to find the selfless intensity of divine love. Through people’s children He helps them to understand love as something precious, as a thing to be protected from harmful influences and nourished with devotion.
      “Countless are the forms in which God comes to man. In each, He seeks to teach man something of His infinite nature. The lessons are there, for anyone whose heart is open to receive them.
      “Thus, it isn’t that the Lord wants you to deny your human nature. What He wants, rather, is for you to purify it: to expand whatever love you feel in your heart, and not to keep it locked up in ego-attachments.
      “For the devotee, it is natural therefore to worship God in some human aspect: as his Divine Mother, for example, or as his Heavenly Father.
      “I myself worship the Mother aspect, especially. For the Mother is closer than the Father. The Father aspect of God represents that part which is aloof from His creation. The Mother is creation itself. Even among mankind, the human father is more disposed than the mother to judge their erring children. The mother always forgives.
      “Pray, then, to the Divine Mother. Talk to Her like a child: ‘Divine Mother, naughty or good, I am Your own. You must release me from this delusion.’ The Mother ever responds with compassion when the devotee prays to Her sincerely in this way.
      “Of course, in the highest sense God is none of the forms in which people worship Him. But it is helpful to use human concepts as a means of deepening our devotion to Him.
      “Beyond devotion comes divine love. In that perfection of love there is complete union. In that state the yogi realizes the supreme truth: ‘I am That.’”
      –from the book The Essence of Self-Realization

  9. Thank you for this explanation of karma. It is clear and understandable. It would be a great topic for a small book …

  10. Very well explained. When you are blamed for the bad karma of ignorant people, even if you are assaulted for what you did not do – the bad karma will still go back to its source, no matter how much the wrong individual tries to hide his actions and no matter how much of a facade of innocence they portray to everyone. The ignorant who indulge in fraud against you – no matter how much they minimize, deceive, or lie will still go through the Karma process. Like Jesus symbolic language “What you Sow, ye shall someday Reap.”

  11. Dear Nayaswami,
    If we are to think of God as Love, Peace or Joy, why do we need an overarching concept of a God at all? Why not just think of Love, Peace and Joy themselves?
    Thank you for your articles.

    1. Diane, I too had a similar question as the word “God” brings up so much. One of my teachers calls it, “Ultimate Reality.” I found “consciousness” to work. Everything else being an attribute of, or a “spin off” of consciousness.

    2. mm

      Dear Diane and JoAnn,
      You’ve both raised an excellent question, and an important one. The concept of God that many of us in the West were raised on is not very inspiring, or even very believable. And so it’s no wonder that so many people, if they survive that indoctrination with their natural spiritual aspiration intact, decide to pursue their spiritual search setting considerations of God to the side.
      The problem is not with God, though, but simply with our definitions of Him. What we need today is a truer understanding of God. The alternative—to “throw out the baby of God with the bathwater of those unsatisfactory definitions”—would be to do ourselves a great disservice. Attempts to “cut God down to size,” or to sweep Him from the stage entirely, do nothing to diminish Him, but much to diminish ourselves in our own eyes. For we are in actuality God’s children, and our destiny—“enjoyable beyond imagination of expectancy,” as Yogananda put it—is a glorious one: to be reunited with Him.
      The problem with using light, love, peace, or joy as a substitute for God is that we normally think of these as being unconscious forces. On the other hand, God is both conscious and loving toward all of His children.
      There is a reason why definitions that satisfied people for centuries no longer satisfy us. It is that we are living in a new age, characterized by an awareness of energy as the reality underlying matter: The effects of this shift in understanding are revolutionary: in science and technology, in religion, in everything. Yogananda came as a wayshower for the age. As part of that mission, he brought to both East and West a new understanding—appropriate to this age—of God and of our relationship to Him.
      Have you had the chance to read his Autobiography of a Yogi? If not, you have a wonderful adventure in store for you. The book is a delight to read from start to finish, and it expresses a conception of God, and our relationship with Him—or perhaps I should write “with Her,” because Yogananda worshiped God as the Divine Mother—that is so intimate, so sweet, that you may find yourself a different person by the time you finish reading it.
      I’m attaching for you a few passages that present this new understanding. One of them is a little longer (a short chapter); the other two are quite brief. I invite you to read and enjoy them, the first one in particular. [If you’re someone reading this letter on the website, and would like to see these attachments, please just post a comment with your request, and I’ll be glad to send them to you.]
      In divine friendship,

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