What is Karma and How Does it Work?
What is karma? That's a question that is often answered with explanations of good and bad actions. But karma is something far more profound than that. Yogi and mystic, Sadhguru, looks at these questions and explains the role karma can play in a spiritual seeker’s life.
Questioner: What is karma? Are there different kinds of karma and how do they affect us?
Sadhguru: What you call as "my life" is a certain amount of energy controlled by a certain amount of information. This information, in today’s terms, can be called software. A certain amount of life energy is charged with a certain amount of information. Together, this information technology is you. You become a certain kind of character because of the type of information that has gone into you. The past impressions of life go far beyond the moment you were born, but in your perception right now, at least from the moment you were born till today, what kind of parents, family, and education you had, what kind of religious and social background, what kind of cultural realities – all these impressions have gone in. Someone has become a different character simply because of the type of information that has gotten into him. This is what is karma. This information is traditionally called karma or karmic body or causal body – that which causes life.
The different types of karma
This information is on many different levels. There are four dimensions, two of which are not relevant right now. For understanding, we can talk about the other two. One is sanchita karma. This is the warehouse of karma which goes right back to a single-celled animal and even inanimate substances from where life evolved. All the information is there. If you close your eyes, become aware enough and look into yourself, you will know the nature of the universe – not because you are looking at it through your head, but simply because this information is present in the making of the body. There is a warehouse of information going back into creation. That is your sanchita karma. But you cannot take your warehouse and do retail business. You need to have a shop to do retail. That “retail shop,” which is for this life, is called prarabdha.
Prarabdha karma is a certain amount of information allotted for this life. Depending upon the vibrancy of your life, life allots for itself how much information it can take on. The creation is very compassionate. If it gives you the whole lot of karma that you have, you will be dead. Right now, many people are tortured by the simple memories from the 30-40 years of this lifetime. If they are given a hundred times that memory, they wouldn’t survive it. So, nature allots prarabdha, an allotted memory that you could handle.
What is karma and its role in a seeker's life?
Once you enter the spiritual path, you are making a statement, “I am in a hurry to get to my ultimate destination.” You don’t want to take one hundred lifetimes. And in the process of this one hundred lifetimes you may gather enough karma to last out for another thousand lifetimes. You want to hurry it up. So, once a spiritual process begins, if initiations are done in a certain way, it opens up dimensions which would not have opened up otherwise. You would have lived a more peaceful life if you were not spiritual, but a more lifeless life too, closer to death than life. Without anything fundamental being shaken within you, maybe you just passed comfortably.
So does this mean all negative things happen to you once you are on the spiritual path? That’s not how it is. It is just that when life moves at a tremendous pace – a pace much faster pace than that of people around you – you think some tragedy is happening to you. No tragedy is happening to you. It is just that they are going at normal speed but your life is rolling on fast-forward.
Many people have this wrong notion that once you enter a spiritual path, you will become peaceful and everything will be clear. If you take on a convenient belief system and become a single-track mind, then everything seems to be clear. But if you are genuinely on the spiritual path, nothing will be clear. Everything will be a blur. The faster you travel the more of a blur it becomes.
A few years ago, I happened to be in Germany and after we finished the program, I had to drive to France, which was about 440 km from where I was. Usually the journey takes five hours. I had no intention of staying on the road for five hours so I just pushed it and we were doing something like 200 kmph. The countryside was supposed to be beautiful in this region, and I thought I would look at it. I tried to roll my eyeballs but everything was a blur and I couldn’t take my eyes off the road for a moment. It was snowing and we were driving crazy speeds.
So, the faster you go, everything becomes a blur and you can't take your eyes off what you are doing for a moment. If you want to enjoy the countryside, you must go easy and slow. If you are in a hurry to reach your destination, you gas it. You see nothing. You are just going. The spiritual path is like this. If you are really on the spiritual path, everything is in turmoil all around you. But you are still going, so it's okay. Is this alright? If it’s not alright, you can go at the evolutionary pace. Maybe it will take a million years and you will get there.
For those who are in a hurry, there is one kind of path. For those who are not in a hurry, there is another kind of path. You must be clear what the hell you want. If you get onto the fast track and try to go slow, you will be run over. If you are on the slow path and try to go fast, you will get a ticket. Every seeker must always decide – does he want to just enjoy the road or does he want to get to the destination quick?
Editor’s Note: Check out "Mystic's Musings" for more of Sadhguru's wisdom and insights. Not for the faint-hearted, this book deftly guides us with answers about reality that transcend our fears, angers, hopes, and struggles. Sadhguru keeps us teetering on the edge of logic and captivates us with his answers to questions relating to life, death, rebirth, suffering, karma, and the journey of the Self.