Q & A : On karma and conditioning Adi ji explains intuitively what karma is, how mental conditioning is formed and various methods to liberate oneself from the conditioning.

Share now!

(Extracted from Satsangha with Shri Adinarayanan, Mahashivaratri 2017)

In the Indian shastras, the word ‘karma’ is often used. What is karma? What are the three types of karma – Sanchita, Prarabdha, Agami Karma? How can one be liberated from karma?

Now, very simply put, karma is action. But action is not just outward action, there is verbal action, there is thought. Thought is also considered action. So thought, word and actual deed, all these are action. But each of these has its corresponding effect or reaction. And experience is separate. It is not necessary that your experience must always be as per your reaction. Even when what you expected out of the action comes true, still your experience might not be great. You might not experience a sense of balance or happiness. So there is action, reaction and experience. Let’s say we engage in some action at the thought level. What reaction does it immediately get? You might have some reaction inwardly, but outwardly you might not have so much of a reaction. Isn’t it? And hence it is not reinforced by the outer environment. Not yet. Now, let’s say, through that thought, you speak out. What sort of reaction do you get?

Others will respond.
Others. Now “others” come into play. Others will respond in a certain way. And all of us seek a good experience, and hence we need to direct our words appropriately, because it creates a reaction and not always an expected reaction. We act it out. When we have acted out something, that is like definitive. Done. You cannot retract it. That will create actual reaction. So we need to be very careful as to what we actually finally act out. It should be properly reasoned out. So if you act out something at the thought level, it is still contained in a certain way. If you act out something verbally, it’s the sphere of influence has grown. But, if the act out as a deed, it is done, and it has more wide ranging action. But this also tells us that thought is subtle, and hence long-term, encompassing a large space. So in an expansive context of time and space, if you bring out your reasoning appropriately to your thoughts, such thoughts become extremely powerful, because the reactions that they cause are widespread and hence they should be beneficial. This is why we pray with the intention “Lokaha samasthaha sukino bavanthu” (May all beings in all worlds be happy). We want the well-being of everybody everywhere.

So that is a thought, that is an intention. How would the thought patterns emerging from such an intention be? Whatever action we do, we will reason out, “Does it align with that noble intention?” Is this for the well-being of everybody? It is only with such an alignment that we would take necessary steps and act out. Hence thought has tremendous power. Because it is subtle. Though we cannot see its visible effects immediately, thought is the most powerful, and hence making it coherent, broad, expansive and beneficial for everybody is very important, because then, that governs your words and ultimately deeds.

So what happens when we perform karma? There is reaction. What happens when there is reaction? Experiences get created within us. Experiences are generally positive, negative and neutral. When it is a positive experience, next time we act out, we expect that “If I do this action, this reaction will happen. And if this reaction happens, ‘Ah! That would be so good!’” We expect, and that expectation begins to grow gradually. That is called raaga. In the same way, we do something and let’s say a negative reaction happens. That creates a negative experience, a bitter experience. What happens then? Let’s say you speak to someone and they don’t respond favourably, they speak harsh words, and that sinks into your heart, you feel bad. That is a negative experience. Then, next time you see them, you will remember the hurt and the negative experience will be reinforced. That is called dwesha, repulsion. So attraction repulsion – raaga, dwesha – which creates a framework for future action. So this is called karma. Karma is because that experience is reinforced and you start acting out of that conditioning. So that conditioned response, that conditioned action is called karma. So, karma, over a period of time, it becomes very conditioned. Conditioned actions of long time is called Sanchita karma. Prarabdha karma are the conditionings from Sanchita that are manifest for this (current) lifetime. What is lifetime? Basically, lifetime means the body. The body falls away. It is born and it goes. But there are subtler aspects which govern how this work. Those are also sciences. In that, what manifests in this lifetime is called prarabdha. And agami or kriyamana karma is where your current actions and experiences create the future conditionings – conditioned actions and responses. This is agami. It is very simple, it is actually a no-brainer. But the complex ways in which they inter-operate seems like it is overwhelming. Actually the principles are very straightforward.

So raaga-dwesha leads to conditioning, which you will see leads you to compulsive actions. These are called vasanas. You act out of them, whether you like it or not. These are deeply etched in your antahkarana. So that creates the future reactions, and desire patterns. What is kamya karma? Desired action. You desire a certain result and towards that you act, and there is a reaction. If it is intelligently directed, then you will see the reaction will be successful. It will be what you desire and hence you will call it success. If what you expected has not come forth, you call it failure. So the desires are born out of those previously conditioned actions. You act, you expect certain reactions, if they meet with your expectations, it is success. If they don’t meet with your expectations, it is failure. And there are various gradations to it, various percentages of success. That is kamya karma. The conditionings can be broad, expansive, wonderful conditionings. They could be extremely narrow, limited, painful conditionings. But conditionings are conditionings. When it is broad, expansive, you call that good action. It is for everybody’s benefit. It is called good action.When the conditioning is limited, extremely selfish, “Others are pained, but that does not matter, I will still do what I want” – that is called negative conditioning, or negative action. Bad action, vikarma. Sukarma means good action, and bad is Vikarma. So conditioning is what has caused this and when you get what you expect, it gets reinforced.

And hence the logical question arises, “Okay, it is just this conditioning. Then how do you get over this conditioning?” So there are multiple strategies one can adopt. One is, a conditioned action is there, but you are tied to the result. You expect a certain result and hence, give up that expectation, which is the limitation to the result. So through the conditioning, the desires originate – the desires in terms of the result of the action, the result of the action producing a certain experience. So you are tied to a beneficial experience, to an expected result and hence your action is motivated. So if you need to be free of this reinforcement of the conditioning, what should you do? You need to sever the connection with the expectation for a beneficial experience. So in the Bhagavad Gita, Bhagavan Krishna talks of prasada buddhi. Prasada buddhi means whatever comes you accept it. Whatever comes. That way, over a period of time, you weaken this conditioning. Whatever comes, it doesn’t matter. You accept it. Whether it creates a painful reaction or a beneficial experience, a happy experience or a sorrowful experience, you accept it. Why? To actually grow in freedom. Because you see this entire structure of conditioned actions and responses. It maybe positive conditioning or negative conditioning, but still conditioning. Raaga dwesha.

Another strategy is surrendered action. So that is called arpana buddhi. Arpana means you surrender the action itself. You are not able to overcome this conditioning, and hence you surrender the action. Arpana. Krishna arpanam, Shiva arpanam, Brahmarpanam. Or you surrender it or pour it for the well-being of all, not just your well-being. That is also surrender. Right now, it might be tied to just your own expectation. But here you expand the scope. So you do the action, but with the clear idea of how it is beneficial for everybody, otherwise you don’t do it. Then again, you gradually become free of this conditioned processes. You are not doing away with the conditioning, but you are becoming free of it. Your perspective starts expanding. Your perception of you being bound by it starts getting freed up.

Deconstruction is a wonderful strategy. That is called the process of vichara or enquiry. You deconstruct this conditioning. You observe this conditioning closely. “Oh, in this scenario, I act out this way”, but you deconstruct it. Then you see, you are not that. You are not all these conditioned responses at all. Even the senses are conditioned. For example, 400 nm – 700 nm are the range of wavelengths of light that our eyes are conditioned to perceive. Other things are not perceivable. Why? Because they are not conditioned, it goes beyond the scope of conditioning, the range of conditioning. The ear is conditioned to receive frequencies of only 20 – 20,000 Hz. Only that much. Conditioned. That you see you are not that conditioning. You simply see that as conditioning. And hence you have nothing to do with it, that is called vichara.

Another strategy is Satsangha. You basically recondition yourself with the process of association. With reconditioning, also a perspective emerges – “Oh! So this is how it operates.” You start understanding raaga dwesha. This is the process of conditioning that is happening. So when you see this process as a process, and not as you, then there is a distance. There is space, where you see it is raaga dwesha. You don’t act just out of that raaga dwesha. You tell yourselves, “Nothing doing”. You recondition it towards freedom. Yogic practices, pranayama for example, directly work at the electromagnetic structure of conditioning, because it is electromagnetic, it is prana based. So you do those, it is a direct path, where you break up those bubbles of those conditioned processes. Then the energy that is locked up there gets released. The structure of that conditioning gets released, and hence that conditioning is not there.

Now for people who can’t actually practise vichara and mentally deconstruct it, is it better to just practise pranayama?

Yeah there will be processes of growth. See one will not do only one thing. It will be a mix and match of everything in whatever we have discussed. It will be a mix and match of everything. But predominantly what is suitable for you. It should be a mix and match of all of this, but predominantly what suits you. It is percentages, and that will also change as you grow. So there, yogic processes directly work at this, where that conditioning, that bubble is broken. And hence the energy is liberated. Let’s say you are conditioned to have a certain fear. You will see, through certain pranayama practices, that structure will be dissolved and immediately you will be free of that fear. That fear will be gone. It will be almost magical or miraculous. It is not miraculous; it is understanding the science behind raaga-dwesha.

Can all sorts of conditioning be broken through these yogic practices?
It can be. That is why Shaktipat, Gurus transfer energy and just like that liberate. You would have heard of Ramana Maharshi. He liberated a crow and a cow. All that is possible, but just that it is all appropriate, you know, it is not like, just magic. There are certain regulatory aspects. So that is karma. All of this is karma. So prarabdha is basically that which operates out for this lifetime. Through appropriate understanding you should regulate it in such a way that prarabdha is not a problem. It gives you a platform for appropriate action. When you understand this, you regulate it intelligently and see that it does not further limit you – further limit your sense of freedom. Otherwise you can get completely enmeshed and entangled and that will cause serious miserable experience. And that is not to do with your external circumstances. Your prarabdha might give you a palace, but still your experience would be miserable. That is because you have not attained to a sense of inner freedom. That is very critical.

(Featured Image Source: https://www.harekrsna.com/gallery/gita1/gita6.jpg)