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Karma and How to Exhaust Them
Karma is both physical and mental action, and the effect of such actions. Every action produces some effect in the form of impression on the subtle mind. As we sow, so do we reap! Repeated karma of similar nature becomes a habit. The some total of karma is tendency. Character is determined by such tendencies; predominantly good tendencies make a person noble, and bad tendencies a wicked being. We begin encountering karma as soon as we are born, and continue to act till death in ceaseless chain of karma. It is a continuous process of cause and effect.
Desire is the main motivating factor behind the karma. Complete fulfillment of any desire is impossible; on the contrary, as habits, these desires lead us to do repeated karma even against our wish. Our karma may harm us or may prove injurious to others; still we act according to our predominant tendencies. Similarly, binding with good karmas make philanthropists work for the good of others. This is also a form of attachment, albeit desirable to some extent. In short, a stage is reached when we are trapped in a ceaseless repetition of karma. Death temporarily gives respite from this incessant tyranny.
But does death really free us from the karma? No, the samskaras (subtle impressions) these karma have impressed upon our subtle mind reincarnate in other body - human or sub-human. According to the tendencies the subtle mind weaves the necessary body by appropriate selection of parenthood and other essential conditions. Thus the chain of life and death continues for eternity, almost! Why almost? Because law of karma is also a great boon to us, for it prompts us to act in a better way by consciously pursuing beneficial and noble desires. What we are today is because of our karmas in the past, what we will be tomorrow will be determined by our actions of the present. Thus, there is a chance to ensure noble life in future, both in this birth and in the subsequent births.
Liberation from Karma
The cycle of life and death can and will come to end only when the person has no desires. This can happen only when the person realizes his/her true nature. Our true nature is all knowledge, bliss, and freedom. (In fact, desireless mind is equated with all pervasive eternal reality -Atman!) Karmas bind us to limited expression of these virtues. Therefore, we have to develop such a mind that is free from the impressions of karmas. This is possible because there are means to exhaust our karma. This can be accomplished by 1) putting an end to desires or at least reduce them significantly, 2) we can act in such a way that karmas do not cause impressions on the chitta or mind, and 3) gradually accumulated karma and their impressions can be attenuated or erased from subconscious mind.
a) This is achieved by doing everything in the spirit of detachment. Spiritual disciplines comprising of all four paths of yoga, viz. Raja, Karma, Jnana, and Bhakti help us in this endeavour. Although, of course, karma yoga is best suited path for most of us engaged in worldly pursuits, the combined effort makes us strong enough to encounter karma with discrimination and authority. Not only we conserve energy in fewer desires, but also ponder less on the outcome of our actions. 'You have only right to act, but no right over the fruits of actions,' so says Sri Krishna in the Gita.
b) Only to have one desire like 'realization of God' is not easily accepted as wise spiritual discipline in these days of 'scientific outlook'. It is seen as an escape from and perpetuation of the system of exploitation. But this not what is meant by yoga of surrender or devotion. We renounce actions that fulfill our lower desires so that we can grasp and love our higher, noble, and moral nature. It is like having one desire to realize one's true nature, which is unity in diversity. It is to realize the universal solidarity. Thus such a desire, at the cost of all other desires, surely is a better option to seek peace and knowledge. In pursuance of this goal to realize our higher self, all other karmas become secondary, and their impressions likewise become faint and harmless in the long run.
c) Desires are like scattered mustard seeds. They break up our personality likewise in infinite tiny fragments. Jealousy and hatred are the natural consequences of fragmented mind. Spiritual discipline is like engaging in the act of collecting the scattered seeds into one heap. Though difficult, such a practice creates positive impulse to become one with others. This is also the process to become ethical; selflessness is the basis of ethics. Merging our tiny fragmented ego into universal or cosmic ego leads to idea of oneness. In this process karma drop down. Peaceful, and selfless actions lead to building of mature and tranquil personality.
C S Shah