Recently we were discussing the law of karma with a few friends. One of them made an interesting comment that karma doesn’t always come back immediately, but hangs around for a while. It isn’t, he said, as if there were a credit card company keeping track of charges and payments each month. That’s why we need a “Master Card” to help us work through our karma over many lives.
The “Master Card” is, of course, the guru: God’s agent acting in this world to guide each soul to freedom. A disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda told us of an interesting dream he once had. In it, he was walking along a beach with a child’s plastic pail and shovel in his hand. He suddenly came upon a huge mound of tarlike black material, and he knew that this was his past karma that he must remove to be free. He began laboriously to chip away at the sticky mound, filling his little pail only halfway after much effort.
He persisted at the task, when, almost at the point of giving up in despair, he heard a loud racket coming from the other side of the tremendous pile before him. Quickly running to see what was making the noise, he saw Paramhansa Yogananda riding on a backhoe with a huge bucket, joyfully scooping up vast quantities of the “tar-ma” and throwing it into the sea.
By our own efforts, the task of removing our past karma seems nearly impossible. Still, we must earnestly do our part. A discouraged disciple once said to Master that working out all our karma seemed hopeless, that “one might as well try calming the waves on the ocean.”
Yoganandaji answered: “It is a big job, I grant you. Still, it isn’t nearly so difficult as it looks. For, ask yourself this: What is it that causes the waves to rise and fall in the first place? It’s the wind. Without wind, the surface grows calm automatically. Similarly, when the storm of delusion abates in the mind, the waves of action and reaction subside automatically. So what you must do is still the waves of your mind by deep meditation, and then, in meditation, rid yourself of the consciousness of ego-involvement.”
When Yogananda said that the wind is what keeps the waves crashing, he was referring to the breath. In the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna says to Krishna that the mind is restless and more difficult to control than the wind. Krishna replies that it can be controlled by yoga practice and mental dispassion. The deeper meaning of this passage, as Yogananda explains, is that by calming the breath through pranayama and meditation, we gain control over our mind, and can transcend ego-identification. Then the seeds of our karma cannot find soil in which to take root in our consciousness.
Here is a technique for using the breath to overcome past karma:
1) Inhale deeply and concentrate all your energy at the point between the eyebrows.
2) Feel that you are burning away faults, bad habits, negative thoughts or tendencies— fruits, all, of your past karma.
3) Exhale completely and keep your breath out as long as you can comfortably. Feel completely free within yourself.
4) When you breathe in again, think of a positive image or memory, and let it fill your mind.
5) Repeat this several times in a row. Practice this daily until you feel a release from some karmic burden.
Yogananda also counseled that by acting without desire for the fruits of our action, we will gradually be freed from the bondage of karma. To act is necessary. But, “During activity, never feel that it is you who are acting. Act, instead, with the thought that God is the Doer. . . . Desireless action is the pathway to freedom.”
This is one of the main themes of the Bhagavad Gita, in which Krishna tells a reluctant Arjuna that he must fight the impending battle of good against evil. He goes on to explain that by selfless action we are playing our part in this world and fulfilling our destiny. “Therefore, strive conscientiously during the performance of all actions, whether physical or spiritual, to act without attachment. By activity without self-interest, one attains the Supreme.” (3:19)
The grace of the Guru; meditation and breath control; action without attachment to the results: These are the keys to overcoming karma. Yoganandaji showed us these ways in which we can remove the mound of our past karma and open the doors to soul freedom.
Your friend in God,
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