Karma Management Part 2
Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami , 2002-02-08
Review of part 1 plus... Fifth principle: create no negative karmas. Refrain from actions that will create negative karmas. Promise to. Sixth principle: Mitigate past karma. As long as we're creating karma, life is upset. When we stop, life calms down. We can make karma less severe by good behavior in the present; by helping others, karma yoga; worship, bhakti yoga, blessings of the Gods, worship which is intense enough; and penance, punishing yourself now, getting it over with so it won't come up in the future.
I know you have been sleepless waiting for the continuation of our 'Effective Karma Management' seminar! Just rushing to the Temple, this morning! For those who don't recall or were not here, I will try and give a simple review.
We are developing some principles for 'Effective Karma Management'. It is like the 'Seven Habits of Highly Effective People'. We are responding to that, with something Hindu. We are going to come up with seven or more principles for effective karma management, along the same line. We developed a few more to present but we will review just to give continuity. I will read some of the beginning material which is new, a new introduction here.
The concept of karma has spread beyond the confines of the Asian religions that conceived it. It has become a core concept of today's Yoga and New Age movements and is even mentioned regularly on American mainstream television programs. It is amazing how many times you hear, "Well, that is my karma popping up," on a regular program. They will throw that out at you. Last year, in discussing the concept with a Junior College Class in Hawaii, KCC, a student astutely defined karma in her own words as, "What goes around, comes around." That caught it.
Unfortunately, most individuals' understanding of karma is at best limited to thinking about it as an abstract principle without applying it to one's life. This is the equivalent of understanding all the laws of nutrition, being able to get an 'A' on any test on the subject, but following a personal diet of junk food three times a day! So, the nutritionist understands it intellectually but hasn't changed her diet at all. What we have learned is not influencing how we live.
The study of karma can be effectively approached in a three-step process. Firstly, dispelling common misconceptions. Secondly, acquiring a correct intellectual understanding of key concepts. Thirdly, utilizing that understanding to refine one's actions in and reactions to life. So, that is the seminar approach, when we actually apply it to our life and not just our intellectual understanding.
Common misconceptions. We have two common misconceptions here to start. You yourself have probably heard the most common false concept about karma on a number of occasions. It goes something like this. "Nothing but bad things happen to me. It's my karma, and even when I strive to do better, my striving has no effect upon it. So why even try to make my life amount to anything? It is truly hopeless."
Have you heard that one? This misconcept must be rejected for two important reasons. The first is that we can actually change our karma, through the principles of effective karma management. The second is, how we live in this life creates the karma we face in our future lives. So, why not consciously use the law of karma to create a future that is filled with pleasant experiences rather than painful ones?
A second common false concept about karma, you have probably heard also goes something like this, "My life is in a state of chaos. Everything is going wrong, it all started three months ago when Saturn entered Taurus and my karma changed. I have been advised that if I can successfully appease Saturn through having a priest do a regular Sani puja, my life will be problem-free. So, that has become the entire focus of my religious life at this time, attending Sani puja."
This misconception must also be rejected. It attributes the cause of our problem to the planet Saturn, rather than to our own actions in a past life. It is like pleading with the jailer to be let out of jail, simply because it is an unpleasant experience, having forgotten completely about the crime you committed that put you in jail in the first place. Those are misconceptions.
Developing correct conceptions, which we won't read, it is a bit tedious. We have got ten of those. Ten correct concepts about karma. Then we get into our principles of effective karma management. We will just quickly review the ones we went over last phase.
The first principle is to forgo retaliation. The idea is, if someone does something that harms us, the first instinctive reaction, of course, is, "Well, let us harm them back. I suffered. They should suffer just as much as I have suffered. So, I am going to make them suffer." If we succumb to that, we cannot do anything deeper. We are stuck in the cycle of endless hurting and getting hurt, hurting and getting hurt. This goes on forever because every time we hurt back, of course, what will happen? We will create the event of getting hurt in the future. We will have to hurt back and then we will experience that again. So, it is like we are stuck in this cycle of retaliation, until we step out of it. We say, "Okay, no more retaliation."
Second principle, accept responsibility. That's the idea that, whatever happens to us is our creation. If something wonderful happens, we have ourselves to congratulate. If something terrible happens, we have ourselves to blame. Unfortunately, because most experiences come to us through another person, it is easy to blame the other person. "That is the person that hit me with the car and broke my leg. I am upset with that person. I blame that person." Where, of course we need to blame ourselves. "I caused that to happen, the person was just the instrument for returning my karma to me." Until we accept responsibility, we cannot make much progress in controlling our karma because we are always blaming it on someone else, particularly the bad things that happen. We are kind of willing to accept that the good things, maybe, we created. But if it is a bad thing - No way, we didn't create this, this is someone else's fault. So, that is accepting responsibility, that we did last phase.
Forgive the offender. That's taking it one step further. The person who drove the car that broke your leg, you make them some cookies, take them a garland. Really forgive them by a gesture of forgiveness. That is taking it a step further which makes sure that it is out of your mind because when you give something, you have really forgotten it and moved on. The Tirukural has a beautiful statement on that. "If you return kindness for injuries received and forget both, those who harmed you will be punished by their own shame." That just captures the point perfectly. Someone injuries you, you don't just forgive them, you return the injury with kindness and forget both, let it go. A beautiful statement.
Fourth principle, which I think is the last one we did, was consider the consequences. The idea here is, before acting, think about the consequences of an act. Quite often, we don't take the time to think. We are responding emotionally in some way. We are reacting to something that happened to us previously. So, our action isn't necessarily coming from our wisest state of mind. It is coming, at least partially, from a reactive state of mind. We are upset with something that happened to us. So, we kind of act in a partially upset way. Maybe not totally unreasonable, but it's not as wise a reaction as we could conceive of, if we were totally detached and considered the consequences.
The letter in the Lord Ganesa book, I will read that again. It is so beautiful and pertinent. "Keep track of your paces for your walk makes marks. Each mark is a reward or a stumbling block. Learn to look at the step you have made and the step you have not made yet. This brings you close to me."
It is the step you have not made yet that we are talking about. The step we are about to make. If we think carefully about it, consider the consequences, "Is this going to reward us or punish us?" - that is the idea there. Consider the consequences.
So, you are ready for the fifth principle. Create no new negative karmas. Now that we have a good grasp of the karmic consequences of various kinds of actions, what is needed next to progress even further in the management of karma, is a firm commitment to refrain from actions that create new negative karma. Perhaps we should all take a pledge, such as, "I promise henceforth to refrain from all actions that create negative karmas." Would you sign that? That would be a good commitment, right? "I promise henceforth to refrain from all actions that create negative karmas."
How do we know if a specific action will create negative karma or not? Scriptures such as the Tirukural may make mention of it. We can ask a Hindu religious leader his or her opinion. If young, we could ask our parents. Once we get the knack of it, our own conscience might be able to provide the answer most of the time.
Gurudeva tells us about creating no new negative karmas, "Wise handling of karma begins with the decision to carry the karma we now have cheerfully and not add to it." Repeat: and not add to it. "A firm decision to live in such a way as to create no new negative karmas is a sound basis for living a religious life, for following the precepts of dharma and avoiding that which is adharmic."
So, that is Gurudeva's advice there to make a firm decision to live in such a way as to create no new negative karmas.
Moving on to the sixth principle and the longest one, mitigate past karma. Now that we have stopped acting in ways that create new negative karmas, our life is sublime enough to focus on ridding ourselves of karmas of the past. Mitigating them, meaning to make less harsh, painful or severe. One of the points is, as long as we are still creating new negative karma, our life tends to be
upset. We tend to be disturbed, regularly. Things are not calm enough to reflect wisely. Once we stop creating new negative karma, then life calms down. We are in a position where we can face our past karmas and start to mitigate them, make them less severe.
To better understand mitigation, let us make a comparison to the judicial system. You commit armed robbery and receive a ten to twenty year sentence. But due to good behavior in prison, you are released after only five years. You have mitigated your sentence, made it less severe due to your good behavior. So that shows what mitigation means. Your behavior in the
present has changed the sentence you would otherwise face. The punishment that is coming to you has been reduced by what you are doing in the present.
Let us now take an example of karma that is mitigated. You are destined to lose a leg in this life because you caused someone to loose a leg in a past life. If living a selfish, low-minded kind of life, the karma would come full force and you would lose the leg. Remember this example in 'Merging with Siva'? However, if you are a kindly person who regularly helps
others, the karma would be mitigated and you might read in the morning paper about someone losing a leg and take on the emotion of that experience as if it happened to you. Later on, when hiking you stumble and your leg is cut but only slightly. The full force of the karma was avoided by your kind and helpful actions in the present. It was mitigated.
How do we mitigate karma? It sounds like a good thing, right? Maybe we should do more of this. As this example points out, one way of mitigating karma is helping others. Karma yoga, performance of good deeds. Acquiring merit that registers as a new and positive karma is one way of alleviating the heaviness of some of our past karmas. That is the simplest way. Just being a good person, helping others. Selfless action actually changes how our karma comes back to us. It mitigates it, makes it less severe.
Second way, worship, bhakti yoga which is intense enough to cause us to receive the grace of the Gods and change the patterns of karma dating back many lives, clearing and clarifying conditions that were created hundreds of years ago and are but seeds now, waiting to manifest in the future. The keyword here is intensity, worship which is intense enough. Dropping by the temple for fifteen minutes on the way home from work is unlikely to accomplish the task.
How do we generate intensity then? Pilgrimage is an excellent way to generate an intensity of worship. Over the years, many of
Gurudeva's devotees have pilgrimaged to India visiting the major temples such as Chidambaram, Rameswaram, Palani Hills. In certain instances, they have come back and are different. They physically look a little different, behave differently and fit back into life in a more positive way than before. Why is this? Their karma has been changed by the grace of the Gods. You
may have noticed that in watching Innersearchers come back, particularly if you don't go on the trip. You watch who goes, you say good-bye to them and then they come back one or two months later and you notice a difference. You say, "Boy! He looks a little different, acts a little different." Why is that? That is because the karma has been changed by the grace of the Gods.
Another way of generating an intensity of worship is through taking a vrata, such as for six days on Skanda Shasti. This would involve fasting during the day, attending temple on each of the six days. It can generate an intensity of worship sufficient to mitigate one's karma.
The third way that Gurudeva has given us for mitigating karma is penance, prayashchitta. Gurudeva has described this as punishing yourself now and getting it over with instead of waiting for your karma to manifest a punishment in the future. If any of you have done the walking prostrations up San Marga, that will probably sound familiar. Definitely causes those
knees to hurt. Typical form of penance is to perform walking prostrations such as around a sacred lake, up a sacred path or around the temple. Have you seen those pictures of Buddhists going around the mountain? It must take forever, prostrating around the sacred mountain, very impressive.
You can also do penance is that is directly related to a misdeed. Take the example of a teacher who frequently used corporal punishment to discipline students, but now strongly feels corporal punishment is inappropriate. An appropriate
penance would be to print and distribute to teachers literature on alternative methods to corporal punishment. This type of penance should only be undertaken, Gurudeva says, after a certain degree of remorse is shown and the urgency is felt by the devotee to rid his mind of the plaguing matter. Otherwise, it doesn't work right. It is like the issue has to pop up by itself from the subconscious. All of a sudden, we start to feel really bad about something we did or something we did over many years. It just really bothers us. That is the state of mind in which this type of penance works. We are trying to get rid of something which is really, really bothering us that popped up all by itself. We didn't go looking for it, it is just there and now we want to get rid of it. We need to match the penance to the deed.
So, those are the three ways given to us by Gurudeva, in 'Merging with Siva' and 'Living with Siva' for mitigating, making less severe our karma. First one is karma yoga, selfless deeds. Second one is worship, but needs to be intense. You really have to get the grace of the Gods. It has to be that intense. The third one is penance, prayashchitta.