Karma Management Part 1
Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami , 2002-02-01
I get many questions about karma that are way off the mark. We need to understand karma and apply it to our life. Here are 4 of the principles Principle number 1: Take responsibility. Karma comes back from other people. Easy to blame them. But you caused it. Principle number 2: Forgive the offender. When we look at it as our karma and are happy to receive it, we don't think about the other person and hold it against them. Principle number 3: Don't retaliate. No reason to be the person to deliver the karma back to the other person. Principle number 4: Consider the consequences. Sometimes we don't respond wisely. Wise person thinks carefully about the consequences and avoids reacting emotionally.
One of our Church activities that is going to begin, I believe, this month in Malaysia is a one-day Youth Seminar. A lot of inspiration there. They have an outline for a day long activity presenting a number of topics. Arvindraj and Sivanesvaran are instrumental in taking back the idea, from their six-month Task Force program here and pushing it through the COM there and bringing it all into manifestation. We are very happy to see that. There is certainly lots of youth in Malaysia that will benefit from being exposed to Gurudeva's teachings.
One of the sections in that seminar is on karma and I have been thinking about karma a lot recently. Because when I am asked questions about karma, the questions are so far off the mark as to what they should be! I was wondering, "What is going on here? What is missing?"
Of course, from just individuals who aren't familiar at all with our teachings, you get the common stereotypes such as, "What is the point of trying anyway? It is all in my karma no matter what I do. It is going to work out the same way. So, why bother?" We get that one quite often which, of course, is a total misunderstanding. But even when understanding exists, such as from reading 'Merging with Siva' and Gurudeva's other writings on karma. Karma is the law of cause and effect. We know, of course, the three kinds of karma. Sanchita, prarabdha and kriyamana. We understand.
That isn't enough, just understanding correctly what karma is, isn't the final goal here. We need to take this understanding and apply it to our life in a way which changes our life so that we refine the way we act and react to life.
So the story to begin, we have a new writer and he likes stories! I have a new story for you. It is a story about loaning a car. A family loaned its one car to a neighbor for the day, as the neighbor's car wasn't working. Then, unexpectedly late in the morning the family needed the car to go to town for an unexpected and important errand. At the very moment the mother said to her son, "We need to go to town right away," the son heard a car pulling into their driveway, looked out the window, turned to the mother and said, "Our car ma, yes, our karma." It was both their car, of course, and their karma. They had done a generous act and so in their moment of need, their car came back.
Trying to get an overview on the understanding of karma is also important. Sometimes we understand it but we get an underview, we understand kind-of, from a bottom up point of view. We are looking at it but we don't really see it in its totality. So this is a little story, a comparison actually to try an give us a sense of looking at it from the top down.
We imagine a kingdom, a Hindu kingdom existing some two thousand years ago, when kingdoms were common. The kingdom of course, had laws for governing misbehaviors such as murder, theft and so forth. When a citizen broke the law, he was punished by the King. Likewise, the King rewarded those who perform outstanding service to the Kingdom. So in that
situation the King is very busy punishing and rewarding, according to the law and according to standards of behavior, those who live in the Kingdom. So, it all goes along very well.
If we imagine that the King is God Siva and His laws are initially unwritten, of course because the King is invisible and His laws are invisible. But eventually they are written down in scripture. Wise men figure out the laws that govern life and they write them down for us. They are passed on from one generation to the next. So we end up with the laws of conduct, virtuous conduct, non-virtuous conduct, definitions of dharma and adharma. So, we have got the laws but how do the laws get enforced? The King is invisible, God is invisible. He is not around to enforce them. That is where karma comes in. Karma is the system of justice that is built into life. It is automatic, it is like a computer program. God Siva doesn't have to watch everything that happens and reward and punish. No, He has put a program, a computer program into effect so that, an action creates a reaction. A cause creates an effect. It is a system of justice that is built right into life, invisible system.
Justice is known for moving very slowly, right? It takes a number of years before a criminal receives his punishment. Say in the US, it might take five even ten years, before a punishment actually is received. However, the law of karma is even slower. It can take many lifetimes before the reward or punishment comes back. So consequently you get a large backlog of rewards and punishment, because we are acting all the time. But the reaction, the effect doesn't come back to us except over a long period of time. So the karma we bring into a life are the rewards and punishments from our past actions we have yet to receive, they are pending. They are coming but it is a slow process. So our own past actions are creating this backlog of rewards and punishments which we carry from one life to another and constitutes our karma.
A few years ago, I had the pleasure of co-conducting a lecture with Jagadeesan, a very fine, religious person from Malaysia, who is a leader in the Sai Baba movement there. I got to go first and give my talk which was on 'Enlightenment'. I was pointing out the process of enlightenment. How we don't sit there totally unenlightened and then one day lighting flashes and we become enlightened. No, it doesn't work like that. It is not like the story book idea of enlightenment that we go from total ignorance to total enlightenment in a split second. It is a gradual process. I went through the whole explanation of the different ways we realize God gradually, starting with Gurudeva's favorite, which is - "Look into the other person's eyes. See the light. What are you seeing? You are seeing God, everyone can see God."
So I started there, and went through everything. Then, it was Jagadeesan's turn and he is a very charismatic speaker. He was talking and acknowledging what I said. One of the points he made is that unfortunately today Hindus don't pay that much attention to the traditional wisdom given by the Swamis. But this wisdom gets repackaged into secular, self-improvement seminars based on Hindu principles. Hindus go to them and pay thousands of dollars. Isn't this a strange phenomenon? That the teachings are free, given by the Swamis. But, someone rather than going and listening and understanding, will pay thousand of dollars to go to a self-improvement seminar based upon just a few of the principles.
So I took that into account. I have created a self-improvement seminar, so to speak, on karma. You have heard of stress management workshops? This is called a 'Karma Management Workshop'. This is Part One of our Karma Management Workshop. You have to come back next Sun 1 for Part Two.
Like in the 'Seven Habits of Highly Effective People', they make a list of all these points. The first habit is be pro-active, right? We have got our principles here.
Our first principle is, we have to take responsibility. Okay? Take responsibility.
Karma manifests through other people. We are not just sitting there and a rock falls on our head. Usually someone does something to us. There is another person involved. Therefore, it is easy to blame it on the other person. For example, we are hit by a car and our leg is broken. The natural response is we are upset with the driver who hit us, we are really mad. "This person broke my leg through carelessness, I am really upset with that person." That is not taking responsibility, we are blaming the other person. "That person made a mistake, I did perfectly well and that person made a mistake and so forth and so on."
The correct perspective is to see yourself as responsible for whatever happens to you. Take responsibility. You caused yourself to be hit by a car and to end up with a broken leg. You caused yourself to experience that. The other person was simply an instrument for your karma.
How many times do we really look at it that way? Probably not as often as we should. It is so easy to blame the other person for doing something wrong and to see us as perfect. But no, that misses the point. We have to take responsibility for everything that happens to us. Gurudeva has a nice statement in this regard. "As long as we externalize the source of our success and failures, we perpetuate the cycles of karma, good and bad. There is no one out there making it all happen. Our actions, thoughts and attitudes make it all happen."
Human nature, of course, makes it easy to take responsibility when things go well right? $2000 extra comes in somehow and you say, "Boy, what good karma! What did I do in my past life to earn this?" You are so happy. But then you loose $2000 unexpectedly and you start to blame someone. You say, "Boy, that person sure gave me bad advise." Somehow we are more willing to take more responsibility for things that go well than for things that don't go well.
The Tirukural has a comment on that. It says, "Why should those that rejoice when destiny brings them good, moan when that same destiny decrees misfortune?" Because, it is human nature. But of course the wise ones take responsibility. No matter if something goes well or something goes poorly. No matter who is the instrument to return your karma to you. Realize that it is your karma that is coming to you. It has nothing to do with the person that is there. It is your karma. Everything you face is your karma. So take responsibility. That is our first principle. Okay?
Ready for our second principle? Second principle, forgive the offender.
We have a story here. A school boy, a teenage school boy on the way home from school runs into a gang. The boy is somehow different the way he dresses, he looks. The gang teases him for being different and then beats him up, leaves him there. The boy of course has the common reaction of being upset with the gang. He is not only upset this week, he is upset this month, he is upset this year, he is upset next year. In fact, he is never going to forget that this gang beat him up on this day. That is a normal reaction, right? You just cling to something like that and you are really upset with the people that do it.
Gurudeva often told the story of Swami Sivananda, most of us remember that story. It goes something like this. Swami Sivananda was at his ashram in Rishikesh. Some man comes up to him and starts beating him up, just out of nowhere. Swami's disciples manage to grab hold of the man and not only that, they throw him in the local jail. The next day Swami
Sivananda with garland in hand goes to jail, garlands the person and says, "Thank you so much for returning this karma to me, it is now gone. I am no longer carrying it. I am so happy to be free from this karma. Thank you so much for being the instrument to bring this karma back to me."
Isn't that a wise point of view? But how often do we not forgive the offender? We are missing the point. We are compounding the situation. Instead of looking at it as, it is an action coming back to us and focusing on the action and being happy to receive it because it is one less karmic burden, we get upset with the person who expresses it. We are so upset, we are not going to forgive them. We are going to be mad at them forever because they did that to us.
Tirukural says, "Forget anger toward all who have offended you for it gives rise to teeming troubles." One of the troubles is it keeps the mind disturbed. Particularly when you start building these up because it never happens just once, right? It happens when we are ten years old, it happens when we are fifteen years old and then twenty, twenty-two and so forth. It has happened to us ten, twenty times. We can remember every single time and that is still swirling around in our subconscious disturbing us, making it difficult to meditate and difficult to concentrate. We are certainly not at peace. Why? Because we have not forgiven the offender.
When we are able to look at it as our karma and we are happy to receive it, we don't pay any attention to the offender. Or as in Swami Sivananda's case, we thank the offender. We are so understanding of the process that we are happy to have it happen.
Ready for the third principle? Don't retaliate.
There is no need for us to be the instrument to return the karma, karmic reaction to someone else. For example, someone is nasty to us, so of course we have to nasty back. Then because we were nasty to them, they are nasty to us again. Right? Because they were nasty to us, we felt obligated to be nasty to them. This could go on forever, right? So you get stuck in these cycles that are endless.
The wise approach is to say, "Okay, that person is being nasty. I am just going to step back and let the nastiness go by. Let it come around and go back to them by itself." You don't need to be the one to be the instrument to return it to them. It is going to go back to them through the law of karma. So the human response is the feeling, "They were nasty to me. Therefore, they deserve to have someone be nasty to them and I am going to be the one to return it to them." That is the human response but that is not the wise response. The wise response is that it is going to go back to them through the law of karma. I don't need to be involved because if I give it back to them, it will come back to me. Let us just let karma take care of it.
So, it is like the classic cowboy movie. In the cowboy movies, they are always pursuing revenge. For example, a robbery. There is a robbery that happens and there are two brothers. The robber takes the money but shoots one of the brothers, kills him. So what happens to the rest of the movie? Of course, the other brother chases down the murderer and kills him. That is all you see, but what is the karma, of course? The brother has no right to kill someone. He is not free from the karma of killing someone just because that person killed his brother. The next movie would be the opposite, right? He would get killed and then probably his brother would spend the rest of the movie going around and killing the robber. Then the next movie would be the same again, it goes on forever. So of course, it shows the problem of retaliating.
If you personally retaliate, you get stuck in the cycle of karma yourself, which is an endless cycle. You are just stuck in repeating and repeating. Let someone else take care of it and in this case, the cowboy analogy, let the Sheriff do it. The Sheriff has taken an oath, he is upholding the law. He tries to capture the person and in trying to capture the person, the person gets killed. The Sheriff has no karma in killing the person because he has taken an oath, he is upholding the law as long as he tries not to kill a person. But if he ends up having to kill a person, then he is okay. There is no karma involved. So we have ended the cycle of karma. The brother got killed, the Sheriff goes and catches the killer. It doesn't keep going and going and going into future episodes. It is just one movie, one time.
Kural, "If you return kindness for injuries received and forget both, those who harmed you will be punished by their own shame." So, that is really wise, not only do you not injure back you return it with a kindness and then you forget the whole thing. That is a really high-minded approach.
Ready for our fourth principle? Fourth principle is, consider the consequences.
Often, our actions are based upon an emotional reaction to what someone else has done. We really haven't thought through clearly the consequences of what we are doing, we are just responding. But we are responding more with our heart, more with our emotions than with our head. Consequently, we don't always respond in a wise way.
Gurudeva gives us some good advise in this regard. He says, "It is our reaction to karmas through lack of understanding that create most karmas we shall experience at a future time." Let us look at that again. "It is our reaction to karmas through lack of understanding." So, if something happens to us and we don't take the time to understand it, we respond to it without
clearly understanding what happened to us or what are the consequences of our response.
The Tirukural has some good wisdom in this regard. "As a man's shadow follows his footsteps wherever he goes, even so will destruction pursue those who commit sinful deeds. All suffering recoils on the wrong doer himself, thus those desiring not to suffer, refrain from causing others pain."
There is a wonderful letter from Lord Ganesa, in the 'Loving Ganesa' book, that starts out "Keep track of your paces for your walk makes marks. Each mark is a reward or a stumbling block." So everything we do makes a mark, meaning creates a karma and that karma is either positive or negative. If it is positive, here it is called a reward. If it is negative, it is a stumbling block.
Therefore, the wise person thinks carefully about the consequences of all actions and avoids reacting, acting upon a emotional response. But he thinks clearly through an action to make sure, "What is the karma that I am creating here? Is it a reward or is it a stumbling block?"