ONE day I happened to be driving with an affluent person in a particular town. We started talking about the abject poverty in the area. He shrugged and said, “It is these people’s karma. They must have done something bad in the past to deserve this.” I cautioned him, saying, “Economic well-being and impoverishment are caused by a complex set of factors.” But he went on about how the poor deserved their lot. Ironically, this man later lost all his crores of rupees in the stock market crash, and went through terrible times.
Karma is the most misused word in the modern vocabulary. In the name of divinity, we have ended up forsaking our own humanity. When someone else is hungry, it’s easy to philosophise and talk of divine plans. But when we are hungry, we have to make our own plans, don’t we? The fundamental problem is that karma is seen either as a philosophy, or as a moral system of reward and punishment. It is neither. It is just a description of the way things are.
Existentially, there is no good or bad karma. It is just that for every action, there is a consequence. Actions may happen knowingly or out of ignorance, but there is always a consequence. So when you perform an action, the question is, ‘Are you ready for the result?’ If you can joyfully accept any result, do whatever you please. But if the consequence matters to you, then you have to perform action for which you can take responsibility.
Karma is software. Because you wrote a particular type of software in the past either consciously or unconsciously, you tend to move in certain ways. If the past rules you entirely, your future will just be a rehash of your history. Because we want the future to be a new possibility, we often talk of karma as bondage. But there is nothing good or bad about it. Your previous physical, mental, emotional and energy actions have accumulated in such a way that they are creating certain tendencies, compelling you to move in a certain direction.
Karma is bondage, but it is also protection. It is the very basis of your physical existence. If there were no karmic substance, there would be no way to root yourself in the physical. So, karma is not your enemy, but it has become a mansion of self-imprisonment. You can’t do with it; you can’t do without it.
There are always two impulses in a human being: towards preservation and expansion. If the preservation impulse did not exist, the body would be endangered. But there is another inner impulse that longs for limitless expansion, for unboundedness. That’s the problem. Your history is animal. Your future is divinity. Right now, you are swinging like a pendulum between the two.
So, where did this karmic circus begin? The problem is not that you started the karmic process of cause and effect; it is just that you complicated it; you got attached to it, entangled with it. From simple physical karmas, you moved into a complicated mess of karmas. The whole science of yoga is not to destroy your karma, but to disentangle you from it.
Whatever the nature of your baggage, whether to be joyous or miserable is your choice. It doesn’t matter what kind of karma you carry because this moment’s karma is always in your hands. Karma is the seed; what you are going to make of this seed is entirely up to you. The spiritual path is about removing all compulsiveness so that you can lead your life consciously, so every moment can become a choice. On this path, karma does not rule you; you rule karma.
Ultimately, the paradox is that when you fully accept that your karma is something you created, you suddenly find that it is not there anymore! You realise the baggage you carried never existed. It is a big deception, so destroying it is an even bigger deception. When the bondage is a lie, striving towards liberation is a bigger lie. When you come awake, the dream simply vanishes.
Sadhguru, a yogi, is a visionary, humanitarian and a prominent spiritual leader (www.ishafoundation.org)