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Karma: Facing our Destiny with Free Will

Karma is one of the most basic concepts at the heart of Indian philosophy. When we combine an understanding of karma with yogic practice, we can consciously and quickly journey toward enlightened living and higher consciousness.

By Dr. Swami Shankardev Saraswati and Jayne Stevenson

Karmic theory

Karmic theory reveals how fate and free will operate together. Fate has two aspects. First is sanchit karma, the results of past actions that accumulate and await fruition. This is the karma that builds up over time, even over lifetimes. Second is prarabdha karma, actions manifesting in our lives in the present moment as a result of past actions. It is evident in the patterns in our body-mind that make us desire, think, feel, and behave.

Similarly, free will has two aspects. First is kriyamana karma, how we act and react in each moment in response to prarabdha karma. Second is agama karma, which is long-term planning, our ability to think and plan for our future.

A classic metaphor that explains the four types of karma is that of a handgun. When the gun is in the holster, it is potential, or sanchit karma. When it has been taken out of the holster and we still have a choice, that is kriyamana karma. Once the gun has been fired the bullet cannot be taken back, it is prarabdha karma. Depending on what happens with the bullet; agama karma is our plan to manage the situation.

Yogic tools to manage karma

There is no end to our karma. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, "God created karma and retired." However, we do have free will, or choice, in terms of how we react to our karmas. Think of karma as patterns or habits in our body-mind, in our nervous system, in our thinking and emotions, and in the actions we perform every day. Our thoughts, emotions, and desires have a way of repeating themselves, and these form karmic patterns.

We inherit some of these patterns at birth, and some we create over the course of our lives. A karmic pattern can be a strength or a weakness. We can find it difficult (perhaps impossible) or easy to change.

As yogis, we need to develop awareness of our patterns. We can do this through meditation and self-study (the niyama of Patanjali called swadhyaya.

Once we identify our patterns, we apply yogic techniques that allow us to act on our patterns—to respond to them, changing those that we can and accepting those we cannot. Acceptance of weakness is a great strength. It is an outcome of authentic meditation, arising from the cultivation of self-knowledge and self-love.

When we know our weakness, we can apply the next yogic tool: sankalpa, or resolve. Sankalpa is a short, positive, and sincere statement of intent that expresses what we want to achieve. It is best to work on just one or two things at a time until we achieve our goal. A sankalpa focuses our energy and prevents distraction and confusion.

Having made a sankalpa, we begin to use other yogic tools. For example, we may have a digestive problem, perhaps as a result of worry or anxiety. This health pattern undermines our energy, so we are motivated to work on it. We may apply asana to reduce the symptoms of pain and discomfort. This helps to manage the problem, though it may not remove the root cause.

We may then choose to address the cause of the problem. We may change our eating habits and other lifestyle factors, and we may engage in more powerful healing yoga methods such as pPranayama, or breathwork. Thus the old patterns may fade over time as we modify them with the new pattern we are consciously creating.

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m way

that was very good

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