The karma of the “I”

Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny, (Matthew 5.25-26).

The term “karma”, now very popular in the West, literally means “action.” A law of physics shows that every action causes a reaction. All of our actions produce consequences, which finally end up catching up with us. Therefore, “karma” means the reactions produced by our actions, whether they are positive or negative. The law of karma says that we will receive, when we do not know, the same as we have given.

“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword,” (Matthew 26.52).

The so called karma includes the consequences of our actions, whether they are positive or negative. Faced with what happens to us, or with the adverse circumstances that we need to face, we have two options: thinking that we are an innocent victim or thinking that we have something to do with what we must now face.

According to karma’s law, our aggressors today were our victims in the past. Your adversary is yourself looking at you from the outside. So one must try to reach a compromise with his negative karma. In ancient India they used to use astrology, or the Jyotish, an instrument which, handled by illuminated minds, prescribed people the actions that best fitted their dharma (right mission or task) in their present life, to counteract the negative effects of their past karmas. The teachers of divine realization or gurus could prescribe, better than anyone, those actions that the disciple needed to carry out to pay off their negative account; or even they could absorb that negative karma for the wellbeing of the disciple. Such is the case of Jesus, who declared that he had to suffer and die so that his disciples could receive the Holy Spirit, the descent of the energy or Shakti, transformer of the Divinity.

But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you, (John 16.7).

After that descent, the disciples were transformed to the point that some of them developed siddhis or powers (like speaking in different tongues).

Jesus also absorbed the negative karma of other people, apart from that of their disciples. The reasons that he had to do that we do not know – such actions from a divine being are unpredictable: or perhaps they are due to pending karmas from the past that only the Divinity remembers, or some times they are simply the result of the Divine grace.

Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!” Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” 7 Then the man got up and went home, (Matthew 9.2-7).

In India they distinguish between several kinds of negative karma: some are easily overcome; there are others whose negative effects can only be neutralized if the person makes a big constant effort (like, for example, a chronic disease that needs constant medication); and lastly, there is another type of karmas whose effects cannot be avoided at all, forming a drastic part of the learning curve that the soul must experience in its present incarnation.

But the divine grace is unpredictable, and can overcome all limitations. A traditional Indian story tells how an advanced yogi found, in his journey, a married couple that welcomed him and gave him dinner. The woman asked the yogi if he could pray for her, because they had not been able to have children yet. The yogi promised that he would try to help them. That night he prayed to God on their behalf, but God replied: “this woman's bad karma stops her from having children in this life, it is not possible." So the yogi, because he did not want to give ’hem bad news, left early in the morning without saying good bye. Some years went past and the yogi returned to that place and, to his surprise, saw that the couple had three sons. He asked the woman about it and she told him that, after his visit, a man who was meant to be a saint came and she also asked him to pray for her before God so she could have children.

That night the yogi asked God again about the woman and her bad karma. “Yes,” said God, “her bad karma was stopping her from having children.” ”Then,” said the yogi, “why did she have children when she asked the saint?.” ”Well,” said God, “you never know with saints.”

That is why is so important to cultivate the presence of saints or beings of spiritual realization, so much appreciated in India. Any relationship with a being of spiritual realization is a source of blessing for those who approach him with the respect he deserves:

Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward, (Matthew 10.41-42).

Divine grace, above the inexorable law of karma, can perform miracles.

Karma, negative or positive, does not only consist in the things that “happen to us”. In fact, the more important karma are the tendencies that exist in our own personality. Some tendencies are positive, in the way that they favor our personal and spiritual growth and our happiness, and others are negative, because they stop us from progressing and finally cause us limitation and suffering. That is why is better for us if we eradicate the bad tendencies and stimulate the good ones. Or, some times, establish new ones to help us grow.

Mirra Alfassa, collaborator and disciple of Sri Aurobindo, said about what we call “karma”: “The Divine does not see things like men do, and has no need to punish or reward. Every action carries in itself its fruits and its consequences. According to the action's nature, this gets you closer to God or further from Him, and that is the supreme consequence."

 

Ending with the “I”

We all have a human personality. As Buddha said, the result of all of our previous lives is ourselves, our current life. We all have certain emotional and mental tendencies of our own, ingrained in our subconscious. These tendencies create thoughts, actions and habits. There are people with the ability to earn money, people with the ability to lose it, people who start relationships easily, people who are friendly, people who are cruel, etc.

We have a physical body, a vital body and a mental body, which are our daily experience and which we must learn to manage. If we do not dominate them, they will dominate us; someone drives a car and can go wherever he wants, or the car can take control and the driver will crash. Our subconscious patterns condition our management of our physical, vital and mental body, its degree of health. That is the ego.

And what is between us and the experience of the divinity is our ego. Our mind is the bastion of the ego. We must take control of it. This is the spiritual practice. The spiritual practice is the attempt to recover and reveal our divine nature, with the result of experimenting the endless happiness that we are. So the yogi must be a master of himself, through dominating his own thoughts and his own emotions, instead of being dominated by them. Regarding this personal ego, interjected between our experience of the Divinity, the master Yogananda said: “I killed Yogananda a long time ago.”

Changing the samskaras is difficult, they are our mental tendencies, ingrained in our psyche. We need to become aware of them, and then we need to make the effort to change them.

We need external help to see our ego – this was traditionally the role of the guru. In reality we need others, we need the world, so they can act as a mirror reflecting our back, our shadow, the side of us that we cannot see.

Experience demonstrates that the personal transformation, the transformation of our own tendencies, is a slow and laborious task (when it actually happens). It could take several lives to eradicate a tendency. First of all, because we do not know that we have it. This is where the Satsang, the company of wise or saintly people, shows all its worth; it is said that the brief company of a saint can transform a life. A look from them can remove years of negativity or bring forward what is most precious inside us.

Nowadays there are in the market a lot spiritual offers available for those searching for the Truth, but we must be discerning. There will be no advancement unless we discover and transform our samskaras. Nobody gives away spiritual advancement, nor through messages, revelations, lectures, videos or ceremonies. We must do that work of personal transmutation. We are not going to change our life (and even less, change our “plane”) without changing and transforming our mind. To think otherwise is to fool ourselves.

A good spiritual method is the one that lets us see our own mind and our samskaras, and offers us methods to transform them. That is ending with the karma. Much of the yogi’s work is to liberate himself from the external layers of his personality, like the layers of an onion, to end up discovering the pearl of his own Being, the Divinity, sitting in his heart.

That is why Jesus said:

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it, (Matthew 13.44-46).

The Divinity is the hidden treasure in our own consciousness. We must dig until the treasure of our Divinity is revealed. “To sell all he had” means to start letting go of all those internal contents, bad habits, memories, ideologies, addictions and mental constructions that stop the free flow of the “waters of Truth,” that hide the pearl of high value. The divine truth is not something stagnant and static, like a book or an ideology, it is a live experience.

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me, (Matthew 16.24).

Christian contemplation, practiced by saints like St John of the Cross or St Theresa of Jesus, is a way of realizing this process. In it the monks become “poor of Spirit,” through the detachment from their sensations, thoughts and desires, and finding at the end, in their consciousness, the divine joy. The yogi goes through a similar process, but accelerating the internalization through mastering the techniques that dominate the vital energy of the body, which is what controls the cognitive processes and the thoughts.

In Western contemplation (and Western meditation) we renounce to our different mental contents in favor of the absorption in the Divinity. This way, the mind is gradually dissolved, as the different samskaras are discarded, until it reaches its original purity:

Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven, (Matthew 18.3).

Those who practice meditation and apply themselves with determination, will see how He lives inside them. But those who are not of pure heart and lack Knowledge, even though they apply themselves, can never see Him, (Bhagavad Gita XV.11).

To become “pure of heart” is simply to develop the pure consciousness more and more. The knowledge of the Being is the Self-knowledge, in which one realizes what one really is. This is given by the experience of more and more unconditional joy, and not by any kind of short lived experiences:

The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst, (Luke 17.20-21).

St John of the Cross says:

It guided me
Surer than noonday sunlight,
And lead me where awaited
Whom I well knew
In place where no one seemed to be,
(Dark night of the soul, 4).