A webinar by swami Sitaramananda 05/06/21
The law of karma applies to everyone and everything
The Bhagavad Gita is the scripture of yoga that teaches about the 4 paths of yoga, and the most important teaching is about karma yoga. What Karma does mean? A lot of people understand Karma wrongly. It simply means action and consequence of action. So, karma is the action that is done by body, by speech and by thought. These actions have consequences. Nothing happens by accident. We usually do not understand the reason that may come from a previous life. We do not remember. We are born in a family, in a country, in circumstances that come from a reason from before.
It is not by accident that we are born in a particular country, that we are a boy or a girl, that we are children of particular parents. Everything has its own reason. What is the reason? The real reason is that you have been born in order for you to learn your karmic lessons, for you to grow. To grow means that you understand the meaning of your life, and you understand that everything that you must experience has a reason. Then you will learn from this experience that is your karma. The word Karma does not mean anything negative, just simply means the law of action and reaction, action, and consequence of action. What you sow is what you reap. This is a universal law.
The other thing we need to understand is that with the law of karma is the law of retribution which means if you do something wrong, you will receive a punishment. Also, there is the law of compensation that means that everything is inter-related and in the big picture, everything is perfect the way it is even though we might not think so.
Karma comes from desire
Where does Karma come from? It comes from desire, where does desire come from? Desire comes from ignorance. In ignorance, we fail to see that we have everything, that we are pure consciousness and that we are the source of everything. We think that this limited life in this body is our self and we think satisfying our desires in this life is the goal. But we do not realize that we cannot satisfy any desire because desire never stops, you satisfy one desire, another one comes, then another one will come.
That is how you go around, around, around, in that circle of Karma. Karma is depicted as a circle, a wheel, so this life is to experience the result of the desire from past but when you live this life, you react and then you create new desire, and then you must be reborn again to experience or to enjoy or to pay your debt. You constantly create new desire, new karma, that is how it works.
The way of liberation: Paying karmic debts and not creating new
So, the Yogi attempts to not have any desire because he/she knows that it is endless, so they only focus on paying up the karmic debt and at the same time they focus on not creating new karmic debts. In the same manner, with money, you must pay up your debts, but if you keep borrowing more money, then you will have new debts. The smart way is slowly clear up the old debts without creating new debt so that you can be free.
See life differently from the point of view of karma
When you experience the karma it is always difficult. The reason why it is difficult is because you have to go deep inside to understand yourself. Usually, we do not want to do that, we want to blame, we want to run away, and we react. By doing so, we cannot learn the lessons that we are supposed to learn.
There are people that have difficulty to face their karmic challenges and are afraid to live up to their potential due to fears. Yoga described avoidance as coming from the fear of pains and attraction as the dwelling on pleasures. Some people want to avoid life and avoid facing themselves. Some people want life to be only pleasurable. However, is it possible to avoid life? Is it possible to have only pleasure without pain? Swami Sivananda said that pain and pleasure are two sides of the same coin. If you are going to experience life then you know life will bring suffering.
Courage is the most important quality, courage to face your own karma. You know that by suffering, you will understand the root causes of the suffering and then you will realize your character, your personality, your habit and this realization and awareness will set you free from repeating the same mistake . Humility will help you to accept things as they are and not the way you would like them to be. Patience and perseverance are also other valuable qualities to allow you to slowly change your character, see everything as an opportunity, and stop blaming.
Awakening from our spiritual ignorance , breaking through the chain of karma
Spiritual ignorance is like this. Spiritual ignorance comes from that false ego identity that is not perfect but fails to see that it is not perfect and always thinks that it is perfect. That is why there are many kinds of yoga that go to the root cause of this phenomenon, the false ego identity. In particular, Karma Yoga, practiced seriously in daily life, helps us to escape the wheel of birth and death. Karma Yoga explains to us what karma is and shows us the way to finish the karma and to find happiness and peace and not always go around and around in this life completely immersed in the struggle of life.
Remember what we really want is absolute happiness
Everyone needs to be conscious of what one really wants. What we really want is happiness absolute, what we really want is freedom from birth and death. Everyone wants not to be limited, to be everywhere, to be fulfilled. Everyone wants to know that happiness that is not contradicted, that does not require you to think too much. Isn’t it true? people who think too much, are they happy? No. In fact, thinking correctly is the way to liberation, but negative thinking leads you to make mistakes and endlessly trying to correct the mistakes you have made. The wise person is the one who understands that “I don’t want anything. I just want true happiness”.
Our attachments are our obstacles to happiness
THE REASON WHY we cannot get out of this because we are attached. We are attached to our own thinking, our own feeling, our relationships, and our work. The key word here is attachment. Think about this, if you are attached, you cannot be free and you cannot be liberated. Why? Because of the word attachment itself. When you are attached, you cannot be free. Who forces you to be attached if you do not want to be attached?
Your right thinking, your right opinion slowly slowly helps you to get out of yourself. Right thinking means that you are detached, or you are free from any attachment. Your happiness at that time does not come from your emotion. You understand that your happiness does not come from your thinking. You understand that your happiness does not come from any relationships. You understand that your happiness does not come from any work you do. You understand that happiness does not come from any kind of special karmic situation.
Remember the True Self
Before you were attached to this or that karma but now you understand that happiness doesn’t come from this, and you really want to be free. You then become attached to your own Self. It means that you no longer make a mistake between the means and the goal. The goal is to find happiness and peace, the means is to be mindful, to be aware of your experience of this and that so that you realize your mistake while experiencing your character and your reactive habits. The way to be free is the detachment from what you experience so that you can always remember the true Self.
The goal of life is not to experience life. Life is just the means, not the goal. To avoid entanglement, you need to really understand very well what freedom is. Freedom from what? Freedom from the causes of suffering. You would then take yourself very seriously to try to disentangle yourself step-by-step. You don’t expect anybody to free you. You know you would experience the attraction and the pangs of separation, but you are not attached to either. The wise person always lives in the present, he/she does not live in the past or the future. Why? Because the past and the future brings a lot of thinking. The past will bring thoughts of regrets; the future will bring thoughts of worry. In the present, you have peace.
Think less and immerse yourself in the present
It is said the peace you have in the present is like the space in between two thoughts, for example when you repeat your mantra using the mala bead. At the same time, you channel your thinking by pronouncing the divine sacred name one bead at the time, and at the same time, you imagine you don’t have any other thought in between. Eventually, the beads disappear, the mantras disappear, and there is only the subject. In the same manner, you see the movie screen at the same time you witness all kinds of images of the movies projected on the screen.
If you do not find peace in this film, in this movie, you can always create what you think to be better, may be a more romantic story, may be a more beautiful movie, may be with nice landscapes, may be with a perfect beautiful person etc… you would think that maybe I will be very happy in the next movie but then the next movie will change and then the beautiful film will become some kind of nightmare, full of evil things. The negative is alternating with the positive, there is no movie that will bring you to lasting happiness. No story whatsoever will bring you peace because you always create a new story imagining all kinds of best scenario.
Maybe I can be at the beach with my best friend then I will be really very happy, maybe I can be a princess or a queen with her prince, maybe I can be famous with hundreds of thousands subscribers to my social media account … may be I can be that skillful person perfecting my art in this or that. You can go through many many lifetimes, many different scenarios, but you will be always revolving in the same imagination of your mind. That is why it is said that you satisfy one karma, and you create new debts. You create new circumstances you believe that this would be better but that’s how your ignorance goes always, finding fault always. What you need to understand is no circumstance, no story would be better.
No happiness in this world would be perfect because it comes from your mind and imagination. You live in the mountain and you want to live by the ocean, you live in the East and you want to go to the West, you are a male and you would like to become a female, and the person who is female would like to become a male person, the old person wants to become young, the young person wants to become old… You will never find perfection because it’s all creations of your mind. There is always some greed and ignorance. The idea is not to find any fault with the present, not to worry, not to regret, but really try to detach always, detach from what you experience.
This is called karma yoga. Karma yoga means detachment from what you have to experience, detachment from all relationships, detachment from your mind, detachment from your emotions, from your circumstances. Be the witness, not jumping in the movie and becoming the actor. Slowly the mind will be able to be detached and you will be able to be free from its illusion when you live this life.
Selflessness is the key
The secret, the trick in Karma Yoga is the spirit of selflessness. Selflessness means that you don’t want anything because if you want something you will be stuck in the wheel.
You will be stuck with it from one thing to 2, 3, 4 things. Always you will be desiring perfection, you will be suffering from dissatisfaction, you would think that God is not seeing my need, God is not fair, my loved ones do not understand me and so on.
However, the most important thing is not to have the ego, to be selfless. Not having ego means not having any attachment to the idea of yourself, what you like and what you not like, the idea that you like something and you dislike somebody else. That is called selflessness, the life that is not depending on the ego.
Liberation comes with doing your duty with detachment
When you liberate yourself, you are not entangling, you have a bigger picture of life, of yourself and you walk on the path of liberation that is called karma yoga. Karma yoga here is the path of selflessness. It means you still live this life, but you live this life in a nonattached manner. What does that mean? it means that you don’t want anything, you just want to do your duty. In any situation you just want to do your duty and you do the best you can with the attitude of detachment. This is the secret of Karma yoga to liberate yourself. However, pay attention, do not do somebody else’s duty.
For example, I see this person, she’s not working very well so I jump in and I do her work. It’s not good, why? because I am doing the duty of somebody else. My attachment creates this desire to do things. Why? Because I think that I am better, I do things better; I become attached to this person, I want to do her job thinking that I will be helping her, but I am doing her job and I don’t allow her to have the chance to release herself from the karma. On the contrary, my karma will become heavier because of my attachment. I need to understand differently and compassionately that this lady is suffering in some way and it’s good for her because she’s learning the lesson of detachment.
If you have the duty to remind the person or to teach the person then this is fine. You will see that most of the time, people will not listen because when people are deep in their karma, they will not be able to listen to helpful advice, coming from you or from someone else. Then you have the temptation to jump in and do all kinds of things, so you are the one that create problems for yourself. So always remember that you need to liberate yourself, that you are the other person indeed, that you want the other person to liberate themselves.
However, they will liberate themselves in due time, when they truly understand their karma and when they truly realize their mistake. You cannot liberate them; you can give them advice, but you cannot liberate anybody else. Even when you give advice, you have to give advice only when it is your duty to do so, not giving advice to everybody, when not being asked or when it’s not your duty.
Yoga is skill in action
The Bhagavad Gita says Yoga is skill in action. That is the teaching. Skill in doing your duty without likes and dislikes. You do action and at the same time it looks like you are not doing anything. You are involved but it looks like you are not attached. This is not easy, that’s why scripture said that it is a skill. How to live your life, to love and at the same time not be attached? The key is always you have to remember that the goal of life is liberation from suffering so when you understand this very clearly, you understand that nobody can help you. This is very difficult because everyone has the expectation that somebody else will free them, somebody else will help them.
Is it not true that when people are young, growing up, so many people suffer because you think that your father and mother would save you? And the father and the mother also have the expectation that you will save them one day. But then you realize that your father and mother live their own karma, and you have to liberate yourself on your own. You realize that they cannot save you, they have to save themselves. When you understand this, you will very carefully follow your own karma and liberate yourself. Of course, the guideline is you have to do your duty without attachment. So, if you are a student, you would have to do the duty of the student without expectation. In the same manner, you learn your lessons of self love.
If you suffer from rejection for example, your karma is to learn the lesson of self sufficiency, self-love, but if you have expectation that this person or that person should love you as you love them, and then you blame them, you are not getting the lesson which is the lesson of self sufficiency. You then cannot be free from this tendency of dependency and of expectation and will carry this seed of karma to the next life. It is not easy to be relieved from karma.
Most people will live their life, not being able to release themselves from karma, because they always have this expectation that somebody else will do it for them. You think somebody else will love you, you blame your relationships, you blame your father/mother, you live your whole life never asking yourself the right question. You get angry, suffer from resentment, you blame others, compare yourself with others and suffer. You do not really see your own attachment to your ego and your own ignorance.
Meditation in action:
The meaning of Bhagavad Gita about “skill in action” is the teaching about meditation in action. You meditate on your life while you are acting and when you live your life, you meditate. You understand that life is meditation, and you understand that you need to really understand what your life is, so that you can be free, and you always remember that in mind that you want to be free. You remember that happiness absolute is from within, happiness absolute is what you are looking for and this life is the opportunity to pay up your karmic debt. You understand that your life is a result of your past karma, that attachment to the result of your past karma is a mistake and you want to take all opportunities to release yourself from the cycle of births and deaths.
4 important things to remember:
To summarize, the most important thing to remember from this talk is what is detachment. The 2nd important thing to understand is the words “doing your duty without attachment to results”. The number 3rd important idea is the spirit of selflessness and renunciation, you don’t want anything, you don’t want any benefit, you just want to be detached from everything you want to do your duty, you do not expect anything from your work, you just want freedom and happiness. You don’t run away from your duty, but you are not attached to it.
Last but not least, you understand that you are the one that can free yourself and nobody can do it for you. Even with the teacher, the teacher can teach you all these things so you can have some clarity in order to apply the teaching in your life, but the teacher cannot do it for you. If you are hungry, you have to eat for yourself, if you are thirsty, you have to drink, nobody else can really help you.
Please read more the Bhagavad Gita and become expert, a Karma Yogi skillful in action!
Swami Sitaramananda is a senior acharya of the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers and is director of the Sivananda Yoga Farm, California and the Sivananda Yoga Resort and Training Center, Vietnam. She is acharya of China, Taiwan, and Japan as well. Swamiji is the organizer and teacher of the Sivananda Yoga Health Educator Training program, an 800 hours program on yoga therapy, accredited by the International Association of Yoga Therapists. She is the author of Essentials of Yoga Practice and Philosophy (translated in Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese) Positive Thinking Manual, Karma Yoga Manual, Meditation Manual, 108 Yoga Health Tips,Swamiji Said, a collection of teachings by Swami Vishnudevananda in His Own Words, as well as two poem books. She is responsible for the Vietnamese translation of The Completed Illustrated Book of Yoga by Swami Vishnudevananda. Some of her audio lectures on Yoga Life, articles, and webinar presentations can be found on the website.