Shine a Light on Your Understanding of Karma with These 13 Insights

By Denise Everheart | Posted: July 16, 2020

Today most people have at least a pop-culture concept about what they think karma is and how it works. ‘What goes around, comes around’ and ‘whatever you do, comes back to you’ are just a couple of common phrases relating to the idea of karma. Even the lyrics in the Broadway sensation, ‘Hamilton’ references the law of karma as Jefferson raps, “Ev’ry action has its equal, opposite reactions”.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, the informal meaning of karma is ‘destiny or fate, following as effect from cause’. You can also find the law of karma in science. “Newton’s Third Law of Motion states, “When one object exerts a force on a second object, the second one exerts a force on the first that is equal in magnitude and opposite in direction.” This law is sometimes called the “Law of Action and Reaction”.

Associated with the concept of karma are the identifications ‘good karma’ and ‘bad karma’. A common belief of both Hinduism and Buddhism is the belief that karmas stay with you into your next life. Reincarnation may help to explain why someone is born into certain life challenges, bad karma, with significant suffering while others seem to be blessed beyond any meritorious actions, good karma, in this life.

But what about this lifetime? Besides working towards bettering your karma through good deeds, what else can you do? Many believe that using meditation and Sanskrit chanting can reduce or eliminate some bad karmas. Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of the Art of Living Foundation recommends several techniques or tools to use on an ongoing basis that over time can help overcome challenges that may be a result of a past action. 

Often those who ponder the ways of karma and go on to adopt better behaviors, find their lives improve exponentially. One could argue that the rewards of practicing good karmic actions, or doing a good deed, would be compelling enough to make actions more thoughtfully. Adam Grant, Ph.D., professor at Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, writes in his book, ‘Give and Take’, a New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller, “Being genuinely giving isn't just icing on the cake - it's why there's a cake at all.“

But understanding karma and applying these concepts aren’t as easy to grasp as one might think. What action causes what result is more of a tangled web. It is said in the Bhagavad Gita that, “Unfathomable are the ways of karma”. To gain a deeper insight Guru Dev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar gives guidance in 13 quotes.

Understanding karma

Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar often gets questions about karma from people all over the world. Here we include some excerpts and also his 13 quotes on karma that will change the way you think about karma!  

#1 Every moment of your life and everything happening around you is the result of some past karma.

#2 Anything which you do to someone comes back to you. That is the karma principle, very simple!

#3 Clarity in the head, purity in the heart, and spontaneity in action: this is the sutra (aphorism) we need to remember. This will take care of all the karmas.

#4 Don't try to analyze karma because you cannot fathom the depth of karma. Just do your duty and keep moving ahead with love and prayer in your heart.

Q. Can Guru change the karma of a person, and when does that happen?

Gurudev: If a Guru alone could change the karma of a person then he would have changed the karma of everybody in one stroke.  No, you have to make some effort as well. Guru can definitely relieve you of your sins. When you commit a sin and you realize that you made a mistake, you cannot relieve yourself of sin, but the Guru can definitely do it for you. So in that sense, yes!

At the same time, you have to do purusharth (self-effort). You need to do some good work.

And the sense of love and devotion is equally proportionate to the amount of karma that gets released.

#5 Bad things do not happen because you are good or because you are not good. You must have done something bad in the past and that karma is showing up now. You have to face the consequences.

#6 If you throw blame, then blame will come back to you. If you give compliments, you will see it come back to you manifolds. This is the law of attraction: whatever you throw bounces back to you.

#7  When you praise someone, you take on their good karma. When you blame someone, you take on their bad karma.

Q. How does the karma of our parents and ancestors affect us? Are we also punished because of their bad karmas?

Gurudev: Listen, if your ancestor has left you a house, is it not a boon for you now? Why are you asking such obvious questions?! They have earned a lot of money, toiled and built a home and they left it to you. You are enjoying their karma, is it not?! And if they are gone with a big debt in the bank, and if you have to pay that back then that is your karma too. So naturally, it affects you. Not just parents but your company also affects you.

If you keep sitting with very depressed people, you also feel down and depressed as well. If you are in the company of joyful and spiritual people your karma improves.

#8 A situation that happens now becomes the cause of another situation in the future. When that next situation happens in the future, that too becomes the cause of some other situation to happen. That is why it is called cause and the effect - karma.

#9 Don't worry about cleansing your bad karma of the past. It will automatically go when you live with knowledge, when you are in satang (Satsang means sitting in the company of the truth), when you meditate and when you do Sudarshan Kriya.

#10 You can rise above the ocean of karma through awareness.

Q. Gurudev, are bodily diseases or disorders linked to our karmas?

Gurudev: Yes, some of them are linked, but not all. Some are linked to your actions of the past, and some are a result of your own wrong deeds that you have done now. That is why it is called prajnapradha (a wrong deed committed despite having the knowledge or discretion of right and wrong).   When you are not fully attentive or in awareness, and commit some wrong deed, then your health also suffers due to that.

#11 Getting a friend or enemy happens through some karma. If your time is good, even an enemy acts like a friend, and if your time is not good, even a friend acts like an enemy.

#12 When you do an action without aversion or craving, with a smile, with a free mind and a clean heart, then there is no bondage.

#13 Only human life has the ability to be free from karma and only a few aims to be free from karma. Karma cannot be eliminated by performing actions – only grace can burn the bonds of karma.

For more information on the crest jewel of Art of Living’s Sudrashan Kriya, SKY Breath Meditation, please sign up for a free online session, Beyond Breath, with a live instructor.

Denise Everheart is a freelance writer, meditation coach and recipe designer. Follow her @everheartstudio4meditation and @celeplateyourlife on Instagram. 

Part of this was originally published on the Art of Living Blog, India.

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