From Death to Birth by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD
Chapter 2, p. 22-26
The word karma means “action.” All of our actions are karmas except the ones we are in the process of performing. These are kriyas; completed actions are karmas. The seeds are of karmas lie in the kriya, because our present actions instantly turn into completed actions. When an action is completed, the action itself no longer exists in tis gross form, but the result of that action manifests sooner or later. Both the action and its result are stored in their subtle form in the unconscious mind and are known as “karma’s.”
These days the word karma has taken on negative connotations. People in the East as well as the West make statements such as “My karma caught up with me” when something unpleasant happens. This is a distortion of the concept. Karma can be positive or negative, uplifting or degrading. The law of karma is simply “As you sow, so shall you reap.”
All cultures share the belief that if we do good we will reap good results. The concept of good differs from place to place and from time to time, but the conviction that there is a causal relationship between good and bad results is fundamental to all societies. And regardless of what the highest goal of life is thought to be, spiritually uplifting actions are universally seen as the means of purifying the way of the soul, just as base actions are seen as contaminating.
Any action we perform — whether mental, verbal, or physical — creates a subtle impression in our unconscious mind. When we continually repeat the same action these impressions are strengthened, until eventually they become so powerful that, unable to resist their strong currents, we are swept into performing actions that match these impressions. In other words, subtle impressions (samskaras) are born from our actions, and, in turn, our actions are motivated by subtle impressions. This is a vicious cycle that, once in motion, is difficult to break. This cycle — actions creating impressions, which in turn drive our actions — is the law of karma.
We do not know when this process began, so we call it “beginningless.” According to the yogis, until we gain access to that realm of consciousness where the subtle impression are formed and all our previous deeds are stored, it is fruitless to brood about how and why we performed our first action, created a corresponding subtle impression, and thus got caught in the cycle. What is useful is knowing how to free ourselves. From a practical standpoint, the first step is to discover how to burn or erase negative karmas and engender positive ones.
As we discussed in chapter one, the yogis categorizes all karmas into three main divisions: sanchita (dormant), prarabdha (active), and kriyamana (potential) karmas. The literal meaning of sanchita karma is “stored karma.” These are dormant; they will become active only when conditions are ripe. Like seed corn stored in a silo, sanchita karmas will sprout and bear fruit if they are planted in a visible place in the proper season and receive the right amount of sustenance.
Prarabdha karmas have already started producing fruit. These are like seed corn which has been removed from the silo, planted, and is now growing. The life of these plants is determined by the fertility of the soil, climatic conditions, and the prevalence of disease and insects. Corn plants growing in a field have no choice, but to withstand whatever conditions they encounter and to strive to produce ears of corn. Once a plant has sprouted there is no way that it can return to its seed form to await more favorable growing conditions. Our active karmas are like these plants.
When conditions are favorable our dormant karmas become active, shaping our life and its circumstances. Like sprouting corn, once we begin our outward journey we are totally dependent on what life has to offer. Just as a farmer tends his plants, hoping for a good harvest (although he knows that much of the plant’s fate is not in his hands), we try to do what is best for ourselves, and those we love. Our success depends on many variables, most of which are unpredictable.
Prarabdha karmas constitute our destiny. (Prarabdha literally means “already in the process of producing fruits.”) There is not much to be done once the cycle of karma has reached the stage of destiny, but the process of reaping the fruits of destiny can be managed wisely. When our active karmas have to run their course, for example, their fruits can be stored or given up. If we are attached to the fruits of our actions we will store them, and if we do, there is a good chance they will sprout and the cycle will begin again.
Potential karmas are those which have not yet been created. The literal translation of kriyamana karma is “karma yet to be performed.” These can be compared to the ears of corn which have not yet formed. If we let the plant grow, it will form ears and eventually yield fully mature kernels in the natural course of events. Similarly, under the so-called normal circumstances of life — the conditions into which we are born and under which we live — we find ourselves performing actions, all of which bear fruit.
Here the analogy breaks down. Corn has no free will but depends totally on nature for its survival. We seem to have more free will and are less dependent on nature. We may not be able to stop the course of events caused by prarabdha karma, but we are free either to accumulate the fruits of our karmas or renounce them. Hoarding the fruits creates an environment of further involvement — potential karmas — but those who entertain destiny joyfully and wisely, who are free from both attachment and aversion to the experiences that destiny brings, renounce the fruit of their actions and thus do not form potential karma’s.
Yoga texts use another metaphor, one drawn from archery, to explain the three types of karmas. (At the time these texts were compiled, archery was not a sport but an essential skill for a warrior.) Sanchita (dormant) karmas are like arrows stored in a quiver, ready to be fit into the bow. Prarabdha (active) karmas are like arrows already in flight. Kriyamana (potential) karmas are like arrows that have not yet been made, although all the components are present. Arrows, like any other weapon, are made for a reason. The same reason that impels us to make or purchase arrows impels us to use them. Once they have been shot, the warrior requires more arrows, so more will be made. They will be stored in the warrior’s quiver, shot in due course, and new arrows will be produced and placed in the quiver. The cycle of karmas — from dormant, to active, to potential, back to dormant, and so on — continues in the same fashion.
History tells us that there has never been a weapon manufactured that was not eventually used; similarly, once karmas have been created and stored, they must show their effect somewhere, sometime. With weapons, the safest course is to destroy them before the impulse to use them arises. If this is not possible, the next best option is to entrust them to someone who is wise and balanced. This also applies to dormant karmas — the safest course is to either burn them in the fire of knowledge or surrender them to the Divine.
This is possible only if we have been able to conduct a thorough inventory of our karmic deeds. But most of us have neither the knowledge nor the ability to enter the basement of our unconscious mind, where our karmic deeds are stored in the form of subtle impressions. Some of us do not even want to know because we do not want to be called to account by our own conscience. Yet if we remain oblivious to the unmanifest causes of our present problems we have no way of either eradicating them or preventing other problems in the future. Not knowing the causes of disease may help us stay free from worry, but it will not prevent us from contracting a disease if we are exposed to its causes. Similarly, ignorance regarding our dormant karmas may give us the illusion that everything is fine, but this illusion will be shattered when our dormant karmas manifest and become active, taking the form of destiny.
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