Learning to Live with Your Karma
Christina Sarich, Contributing Writer
“Doctrines of reincarnation are neither absurd nor useless. It is not more surprising to be born twice than once.” Voltaire
“The reservoir of Karmas (as in artificial lake, or one that we created) which are rooted in Kleshas bring a myriad of experiences in our present and future lives.” Yoga Sutra 2.12, Patanjali
Many of us wish we could remember our past lives. Some of us are certain there is no evidence that past lives exist. In the book Soul Survivor, a rather poignant case is made for multiple lives, but even if you are still unsure if this is true, your temperament and gifts, your desires and struggles, strongly suggest who you were before coming to this incarnation. The great yogic sage, Patanjali, points to this fact in his Yoga Sutras. He is convinced you have had many lifetimes to experience a multiplicity of things.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: Commentary on the Raja Yoga Sutras by Sri Swami Satchidananda
There are many people who come to this life with dreams, both happy and sad, of lives they’ve lived before. In yogic terms, these emotions color our experience here and now. The kleshas are how our thoughts are colored. Primarily, there are three kleshas or nyon mongs (in Tibetan), kilesa (in the Pali language): attachment, aversion and ignorance. All states of mind are included in the kleshas, however, just as there are different types of weather. Emotions such as fear, anxiety, jealousy, desire, depression, etc. are also kleshas. While many English translators call kleshas defilements or destructive emotions, Eastern philosophies, including Theraveda Buddhism and Tibetan Yoga, consider them, simply, obstacles to true wisdom, or unerring intelligence. Even doubt and restlessness are included in these ‘obstacles.’
So, if we come into this life with certain tendencies to think in a certain way, then how can we overcome our karma instead of just carry it over our shoulders like a heavy bag of boulders? A term called nirodha, from the Sanskrit language, meaning cessation [of suffering], is the key. We use mindfulness in order to take the color away from our kleshas. It is like whiting out all thoughts which lead to suffering, until there is only pure light.
Some of us unload our karma all at once through an act of incredible grace, such as is explained in the experiences of St. Teresa of Avila, but most of us un-color our karmic impressions very gradually. This is the main focus of yoga. Its tools were meant to be used to eliminate the versions of false self that we have grown accustom to. We all do most things in life as a reaction or habit. Very rarely do we see each moment as it truly is, uncolored by the thick karmic glasses we are wearing. St. Teresa came into this incarnation very sickly and was often bed-ridden, but through her devotion (a form of yoga, called bhakti) she overcame her illness and experienced spiritual nirvana. She was so incredibly full of bliss that the priests of her Catholic faith wanted to excommunicate her because they could not explain her orgasmic-like awakening. Eventually, she was named a saint, but not after much confusion about what she was experiencing in her body, which was essentially an overcoming of her karma.
“I am confident that there truly is such a thing as living again, that the living spring from the dead, and that the souls of the dead are in existence.” – Socrates
The kleshas gradually dissolve through many practices, including pranayama, mantra repetition, selfless service (called karma yoga for those who are restless), and asana, as well as through cleansing practices like the yogic master cleanses or eating a mostly vegetarian, organic diet. Primarily, though, the karmic impressions are cleansed through deep meditation, or prayer. Meditation has been called the listening part of spirituality and prayer the speaking part. While it is important to pray, one can find relief from karmic impressions most quickly through meditation.
This can be challenging when one first tries to change the kleshas, or thought patterns, because they are often so deeply entrenched. The irony is that once you start to meditate, they all come rushing up to the surface, like impatient school children, to be given attention, so sitting in meditation seems very counter-intuitive. How can you calm such a restless mind, after all? If you stay with sitting in stillness, though, and with observing the breath and letting thoughts pass without attachment, or concentrate on developing compassion or any of the many other types of meditation from numerous philosophical traditions (Zazen, Vipassana, Transcendental or TM, walking or moving meditation, breath awareness, guided journey, vibrational meditation using sacred sounds like mantra or 432 hz, the Schumann frequency, etc.), you will start to feel as if the unruly school children are ready for a nap, or at least a quiet rest under a tree. Your kleshas will become less and less arduous to slough off. Once our soul learns as many lessons as it can in its current form, it goes to other habitations – literally, other habits, but hopefully, a lifetime that is less burdened by emotions that are non-productive. Our bag of boulders becomes a bit like a sack of pebbles, or even more apropos, a Zen rock cairn, turning a once-burden into beauty.
“The soul comes from without into the human body, as into a temporary abode, and it goes out of it anew… it passes into other habitations, for the soul is immortal.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
About the Author
Christina Sarich is a musician, yogi, humanitarian and freelance writer who channels many hours of studying Lao Tzu, Paramahansa Yogananda, Rob Brezny, Miles Davis, and Tom Robbins into interesting tidbits to help you Wake up Your Sleepy Little Head, and See the Big Picture. Her blog is Yoga for the New World.
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