Karma: Facing our Destiny with Free Will
Karma means action and reaction. It refers to the entire cycle of action and its consequences. Actions can be divided into two broad groups: those with a selfless motive, which are rare, and those with selfish motivation, which are common. Selfish actions can result in joy or pain, or a mixture of the two. They always create more karma, complication, and bondage because worldly desires tend to keep us stuck in worldly, karmic existence. Authentic spiritual endeavours, on the other hand, carry us to a more liberated spiritual existence. Selfless actions ultimately lead to freedom from karma and worldly attachment.
The capacity to perform truly selfless actions—actions that benefit all beings—is called karma yoga. Karma yoga is selfless service, or service to others without expectation of any outcome. The practice of karma yoga is a path to freedom from karma and its effects.
Karma and consciousness
There is good and bad karma. A body-mind will always have some karma, some process of activity which keeps it acting and reacting. Consciousness, on the other hand, transcends Nature and is free from karma. Therefore, the more conscious and aware we become and the more we identify with our real Self or our higher consciousness, the more freedom and choice we experience. Awareness is the ultimate tool we use to liberate ourselves from the bondage of karma. Beings without karma are spiritual adepts who have identified with the higher Self, rather than the body. They are rare and may have worked on their spiritual evolution for lifetimes.
Yoga teaches us how to manage our karma. Through the practice of karma yoga, we develop greater awareness. We witness the quality of our actions, how they are filled with desires, expectations, hopes, and fears.
Until we can achieve the exalted goal of being without karma, we need to become aware of our thoughts and actions and understand how they impact our own lives and the lives of others.
Fate and free will
A palmist walking beside a river sees a fellow drowning. The man is going down for the last time and puts his hand in the air calling for help. The palmist peers at him and yells out, "Do not worry, you have a long life line!" and departs.
People in Eastern cultures tend to place their destiny in the hands of fate and to believe that all that happens is God's will. The positive side of this attitude is that it develops acceptance of one's lot in life. The negative side is that it can lead to excessive fatalism.
Western cultures, on the other hand, tend to place more emphasis on free will. Free will in this context implies that we feel we should get whatever we want out of life and, in extreme cases, that life owes us. The positive side of this attitude is that we are motivated to exert effort in to change the world we live in, so that it may grant us our desires.
Yoga brings balance to these two opposing beliefs. Yogis work with both fate and free will, accepting life as it is and exerting effort to live a more sattvic life that engenders health, happiness, and enlightenment.