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Here’s What Everyone Gets Wrong About Karma

Teaching Yoga | Yoga

We’d all love to believe that there’s a universal law that we can attribute to our woes and misfortunes, chalking every calamity and missed opportunity up to “karma” and pretending that it’s out of our hands.

However, in an age where cultural respect and awareness, knowledge-seeking, and political correctness is the name of the game, we can no longer ignore the glaringly-wrong perceptions about the superfluous “k” word.

What is Karma?

When a word gets thrown around as often as karma does, it tends to lose its original meaning. You’d be surprised to learn that the true definition is more complex (but makes much more sense) than the pop version. This is physicist and theorist Paramahamsa Tewari’s take on it:

“The Principle of Karma requires that the experiences of the individual being, based on his actions during the lifetime, are imprinted in the subtle body, which will therefore have to possess some organized structure of fine matter as mental state within it, and will accordingly be impelled to move to specific locations for rebirth.

The principle of Karma is fundamentally based on this very concept that the deeds of today shape the future events for man – the most intelligent of beings is gifted with the discriminating ability in addition to the instinctive habits that all other creatures possess.”

Notice that there is no doom and gloom, no Old Testament-type scolding in this eloquent assertion. What we put out there is indeed a reflection of what we receive, but we must remember that the universe is impartial. There’s no cackling entity keeping score and doling out retributions.

There is only our thoughts, actions, and deeds reminding us that we hold the future in our hands. It’s a big responsibility, yes, but one we must accept with complete awareness, compassion, and honor.

Karma and Ethical Responsibility

Those who subscribe to the assumed definition of karma tend to believe that there’s no getting off the karmic wheel of fortune, i.e., if you’ve committed bad deeds in a past life, you’re destined to pay for them in this one.

Although none of us can scarcely live a karma-free life (and remember, karma is inherently neither good or bad), we can begin to recognize that our behavior holds weight on our future. This insight allows us to take responsibility for our actions, and make adjustments that will change our course for the better.

The Concept of Good and Bad Karma

This leads us to the concept of “good” and “bad” karma. How often have you given yourself a pat on the back for a good deed, looking forward to all those invisible karmic points you’re racking up? And, let’s be honest, how many of us have relished the thought of that karma hammer coming down on the wicked and corrupt?

When we consider the poles with which everything is formed—the masculine and the feminine, the positive and the negative—we begin to see that “goods” and “bads” are a human construct that help us make sense of the human experience.

Sure, getting fired feels pretty bad, but in the grand scheme of things, we often find that major life challenges or occurrences like this are the yucky-but-effective medicine that we need the most in order to grow.

As for good deeds, do them without expectation. Give openly, freely, and compassionately with an open heart rather than an open hand. See the outcome not as a reward, but as a beautiful confirmation that living a life of love and honesty is a gift in and of itself.

Once we detach ourselves from expectation, restriction, guilt, and fear, we realize that we’re the ones at the helm. Stay mindful and grateful, and enjoy the ride!

Image credit: Mandy

Featured in New York Magazine, The Guardian, and The Washington Post
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