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  • Writer's pictureBarry Shirley


Hi Guys. In this combined December 2021/January 2022 blog (Issue 24) I contemplate the subject of ‘Karma’. Do we really understand what ‘Karma’ is? – or, is it a blithely used pop culture remark denoting something bad will happen to you if you do something bad yourself? Or – is it a serious Cosmic Law (i.e. laws that govern humanity) requiring you to live by certain guidelines and take full responsibility for your thoughts and actions?

As in my previous blogs, I will draw on the views and opinions of past and current masters, sages, mystics, gurus, philosophers and generally wise people. I also tap into worldly belief systems, religions and philosophies to draw on ancient knowledge and wisdom. Also, if you are beginning to realise there is more to this life than you think, and you have the merest hint of something happening in yourself – read on.

These blog posts are designed for those interested in mindfulness/spirituality and will only give you a taste of the information, knowledge and wisdom that is out there (and all points raised can easily be further researched). I will also include text from my previous blogs as appropriate.

In the east, Karma is historically well considered and in recent times, very much documented in the west too. On our spiritual journey or life path, which is quite unique and very personal to each of us, we should make no mistake that Karma is a serious part of that journey.

Karma is a Sanskrit word (ancient classical language of SE Asia) meaning action, work or deed (not fate). And refers to the dynamic spiritual principle of cause and effect. The principle of Karma indicates the intent and actions of an individual can cause or influence the future of that individual. Good intent and good deeds contribute to good Karma and happier rebirths, while bad intent and bad deeds are said to contribute to bad Karma and bad rebirths.

Rebirth or reincarnation (or an afterlife concept) is an important aspect of Karma and a central tenet of the Indian religions/philosophies. Reincarnation is the philosophical or religious concept that the non-physical essence (immortal soul/consciousness) of a living being begins a new life in a different physical form. Reincarnation is said to be cyclic and an endless Samsara (Sanskrit word meaning wheel of birth and death, suffering, ignorance, and dwelling in the ego) unless one gains spiritual insights that end this cycle leading to liberation (Moksha or Nirvana).

This ‘liberation’ is achieved through ethical living, meditative and yogic practices (i.e. Bhakti, Jnana, Raja or Karma yoga) as a path towards enlightenment (also known as Self-Realisation). This is also known as ‘burning off your Samsara’, by making actions and decisions that are not driven by attachments and sense desires (i.e. greed, anger, hate, fear, craving or unsatisfied longing).

Finding Self-Realisation (or spiritual awakening through a journey) in this aspect is where the ego is recognised but diminished by you, the practitioner, through a conscious realisation of the authentic self (Atman – higher Self). This is where your Dharma (or ethics – knowledge of how to behave justly – and the power that runs the universe as a cosmic law of creation) applies to your individual soul path and it is important to practice right action in your code of conduct, ethics and moral obligations. A person’s karmic accumulations (karmic bank account!) will decide whether or not they are reborn in a human form. See, ‘Spiritual Liberation’ by Michael Bernard Beckwith (2008)

Karma is an important concept in many Eastern religions, particularly Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. Whilst these religions are generally identified as such, they all have strong underlying ancient philosophies which explore sources of knowledge, consciousness, meditation, contemplation, perception, logic, epistemology (theory of knowledge) the existence (or denial) of free will including the existence (or denial) of Atman (Higher Self). Indeed, the ancient Vedic texts (Vedic meaning ‘knowledge’ in Sanskrit) are said to predate Hinduism and are without any specific author. It must be noted that there is considerable detail about Karma in these ancient texts and I am only just garnering a small portion of it.

In my view, these ancient eastern philosophies appear to be incredibly relevant to what we are experiencing today in life, and modern science is tending to support or better understand a number of these concepts (e.g. quantum theory/cyclic time, interconnectedness, fractal maths, consciousness, etc).

I use the word religion loosely, as most of these philosophies were co-opted into religions only by virtue of priestly persons giving ritual and practice to aphorisms about the divine. “The concept of ‘religion’ was formed in the 16thand 17th centuries. Ancient so-called sacred texts did not have a word or even a concept of religion in the original languages and neither did the people of the cultures in which the sacred texts were written’. See ‘Before Religion: A History of a Modern Concept’ by Brent Nongbri (2013) & ‘Religion and the Religions in the English Enlightenment’ by Peter Harrison (1990).

There are three types of Karma listed in Hinduism and Hindu philosophy namely, Sanchita Karma, which is the sum of one’s past Karmas – all actions, good and bad, from one’s past lives follow through to the next life.

Prarabdha Karma, which is a collection of past karmas, which are ready to be experienced through the present incarnation.

Agami Karma is the Karma we are creating for ourselves in the current time frame. It is said to be the action that we create and choices we make in this present lifetime. These three aspects of Karma blend into each other and the choices and actions of the present moment will become our karmic future.

In his recent book, simply called Karma (Penguin 2021), Jagadish Vasudev, venerated as Sadhguru (Indian Yoga guru and author) indicates that each person has a unique collection of memories carried through multiple lifetimes (Sanchita). And, all the memories exist in something akin to a computer cloud storage where a person has access to a portion, being allotted Karma. He states that a person’s goal is to erase this ‘allotted portion’.

He indicates that the goal of emptying the Karma portion doesn’t mean that all memories are bad, and you shouldn’t detach from life but rather be involved with the world around us but not entangled.

Sadhguru suggests that fostering a conscious desire to live in bliss (total selflessness) here on Earth, you can create heaven within yourself and life can become an expression of happiness rather that the pursuit of it.

He states that the key message is: Karma is your attachment to the limiting illusion of your individuality and cleansing yourself of this notion will allow you to live joyfully. In the book he also refers to that well known proverb passage from the Bible (Galatians) - “You reap what you sow” meaning, to reap is “to gather a crop” and to sow, “to plant seeds.” Sowing is used as a metaphor for one’s actions and reaping for the results of such actions.

Deepak Chopra (renowned US/Indian/Medical Doctor/Spiritual Teacher/author) puts these aspects succinctly in a Q and A segment from July 2018 taken from

his website.

The question was posed (inter alia); “How can we affect Karma, or can we change it?

Chopra’s response was; “We change Karma most effectively by transcending the limitations of action, time and space and causality and recognising our true self. A single action will produce Karma of different qualities-physical, emotional and mental. Using the willpower of our conditioned mind to change Karma will only generate more karma and can’t free us from Karma.

The physical aspects of Karma will operate according to the laws of dynamics of the space/time context it is found in. The subtler Karmic influences on the mental and emotional levels operate according to the non-local, non-dimensional values. The realm of pure conscious, the Atman, is beyond the consideration of Karma altogether.

When an individual awareness incarnates it is said to take a small portion of the vast heap of Karma that the soul has accumulated throughout its entire existence. That figurative pile of Karma is Sanchita Karma. The small package that one takes for the journey of one lifetime is called Prarabdha Karma. This Prarabdha Karma is what is available to be experienced in that lifetime and it presents itself as the currents of our destiny that we find in our personality, health, family upbringing, and relationships.

This Karma has been accumulated from past choices, from a state of constrictedness, but now feels like fate, not your choice because awareness remains as the conditioned ego mind.

Our actions and present choices that we take now, in the present, are called Kriyamana Karma. This is our free will, and this is a significant factor in our life experience and direction. Our circumstances are the complex interaction of all these forces from the past together with our free will in the present-all these together comprise the context for our awareness to awaken to its true nature, unlimited consciousness not bound or limited by time or Karma.

Chopra also poses the question of how you can apply the Law of Karma to the choices you have already made. He says, “Most people pay their karmic debts – unconsciously, of course. Sometimes there’s a lot of suffering involved, but the Law of Karma says no debt in the universe ever goes unpaid. If you want to transform to a more desirable experience, look for the seed of opportunity within every adversity, and tie that seed of opportunity to your dharma, or purpose in life.This will enable you to convert the adversity into a benefit and transform the Karma into a new expression."

There are numerous books on the subject of Karma including many by Deepak Chopra - see; ‘the Seven Spiritual Laws of Success’ - 2015.

Eckhart Tolle (revered German born spiritual teacher and self-help author who resides in Canada) has commented extensively on Karma and consciousness and is best known for his seminal book ‘The Power of Now’ (1997).

The following is an excerpt from his book, ‘A New Earth’ (2005) pages 129 -131.

“The voice in the head has a life of its own. Most people are at the mercy of that voice; they are possessed by thought, by the mind. And since the mind is conditioned by the past, you are then forced to re-enact the past again and again.

The Eastern term for this is Karma. When you are identified with that voice, you don’t know this, of course. If you knew it, you would no longer be possessed because you are only truly possessed when you mistake the possessing entity for who you are, that is to say, when you become it.

For thousands of years, humanity has been increasingly mind-possessed, failing to recognize the possessing entity as “not self.” Through complete identification with the mind, a false sense of self—the ego—came into existence. The density of the ego depends on the degree to which you—the consciousness—are identified with your mind, with thinking. Thinking is no more than a tiny aspect of the totality of consciousness, the totality of who you are.

The degree of identification with the mind differs from person to person. Some people enjoy periods of freedom from it, however brief, and the peace, joy, and aliveness they experience in those moments make life worth living. These are also the moments when creativity, love, and compassion arise.

Others are constantly trapped in the egoic state. They are alienated from themselves, as well as from others and the world around them. When you look at them, you may see the tension in their face, perhaps the furrowed brow, or the absent or staring expression in their eyes. Most of their attention is absorbed by thinking, and so they don’t really see you, and they are not really listening to you. They are not present in any situation, their attention being either in the past or future which, of course, exist only in the mind as thought forms. Or they relate to you through some kind of role they play and so are not themselves. Most people are alienated from who they are, and some are alienated to such a degree that the way they behave and interact is recognized as “phony” by almost everyone, except those who are equally phony, equally alienated from who they are.

Alienation means you don’t feel at ease in any situation, any place, or with any person, not even with yourself. You are always trying to get “home” but never feel at home. Some of the greatest writers of the twentieth century, such as Franz Kafka, Albert Camus, T. S. Eliot, and James Joyce, recognized alienation as the universal dilemma of human existence, probably felt it deeply within themselves and so were able to express it brilliantly in their works. They don’t offer a solution. Their contribution is to show us a reflection of the human predicament so that we can see it more clearly.

To see one’s predicament clearly is a first step toward going beyond it. So, while you are perhaps still waiting for something significant to happen in your life, you may not realize that the most significant thing that can happen to a human being has already happened within you: the beginning of the separation process of thinking and awareness”.

The Bhagavad Gita is an ancient Sanskrit Hindu teaching at least 3-5 thousand years old. The Gita basically denotes an allegorical battle between the forces of ego and the higher self, it does this with dialogue between Krishna, as the Supreme Soul teaching the warrior Arjuna (representing the best but flawed aspects of humanity) how to defeat the ego forces and discover the higher Self, (The Gita is considered a mostly secular practical guide on living a spiritual life. The entire text is a representation of the battle that goes on in our minds representing a blueprint for solving the ethical and moral struggles of human life).

Chapter 3 on Karma Yoga (the Path of Action or Selfless Action) is important as it explains the technique of exactly what constitutes an ideal action on the journey. As previously stated, Karma means, action or sum of your actions relating to this and future existence. The word Yoga means union or yoking of the mind body and soul in the inward journey to enlightenment. There are many verses of note in this chapter. For instance, at Gita 3.25, where Krishna is guiding Arjuna, it states: “O Bharata (i.e. one who seeks knowledge – directed to Arjuna), as the ignorant act attached to action, so should the wise one act, unattached, wishing the welfare of the world.” This verse reflects that human beings have the choice of action.

In the Swami Parthasarathy translation/transliteration of this dialogue (and the sum of previous verses) he states; “At the very outset Krishna distinguishes between the two broad categories of activity. The ignorant and the wise are both engaged in action. But their mental attitudes towards action differ greatly. The ignorant person has an obsession for action. He becomes involved in and attached to what he does. He binds himself emotionally to his field of activity. He acts merely to fulfil his egocentric desires. His motive is only personal profit or benefit. He sweats and toils all his life for procuring more comforts and pleasures for himself and perhaps for his family. He entertains no other ideal or goal in life. The purpose of his existence does not extend beyond his personal acquisition and indulgence in this world. Compared to the ignorant, the wise person works less selfishly. He visualises a higher and nobler ideal in his life. An ideal which serves a common cause, which benefits his society or nation. He does not confine his activity to one of mere personal pleasure or profit. The cause for which he works embraces the welfare of the people at large. He strives and struggles to achieve this noble ideal. Krishna advises humanity to be wise and work for high ideal in the world.”

Swami Parthasarathy has written extensively on the subject of Karma and talks about the chronology of action which is called Vasana (Sanskrit word for behavioural tendency/inclination) – thought desire and action. He says that Vasana is the seed of your personality and is produced by past actions where you become a victim of your Vasana - and that you are the architect of your fortune or your misfortune.

See Chapter XVII LAW OF CAUSATION – ‘The Vedanta Treatise, the Eternities’ by Swami Parthasarathy (1978). The Swami concludes that particular chapter by stating; “People the world over are unaware of the relentless law of Karma. They entertain all sorts of desires indiscriminately. Plunge into action in pursuit of their passions. Thoughtless of the dire consequences. And end up with calamities in their life. Unaware of their responsibility for the misfortune, they bewail the stars and planets. Blame everything, everybody in the world except themselves. In desperation some go to astrologers, palmists and spiritualists for help. Others pray to the gods to mend their fortune. Not realising they have brought the misery upon themselves. And that they have to redeem themselves.”

In loose terms, the worlds’ own karmic path also seems to be considered in Hindu philosophy, where it is suggested that we are currently experiencing the age of Kali Yuga (various debate suggests it started from 5,000 plus years ago and it is not clearly known when it finishes). Kali Yuga is the last one of four extremely long periods of time (e.g. a bit like seasons) described in the ancient Indian Sanskrit texts, as an age of strife, discord, contention, injustice, war pestilence and disease, not unlike a winter of sorts.

The Vedic scriptures on the Kali Yuga also include reference to bad rulers, large migrations, an intolerance to each other and an overall age of spiritual and moral decline (an interesting parallel to current times!).

This all sounds pretty grim really (until it cycles back up to a better Yuga age many thousands of years into the future perhaps – not much good to us now!). However, even though Dharma (i.e. in Hinduism, right action/right way of living) has declined, each of us can do something to make the world a better place.

Whilst this Yuga is a part of a Hindu philosophical cyclic tradition, it is heartening to think that a great many kind and caring people are currently reclaiming what is right for humanity in different ways. In this example, we should all strive to achieve yoga (i.e. seeking union with the higher Self) to understand all the dimensions of our being – to recognise that we are all the same with the same wants and needs – to assist humanity in our interconnectedness with all. In this context, perhaps if more people practised Karma Yoga there may be a lot less stress, anxiety, fear and suffering in the world – this might just be an answer for the world?

Whether you want to take the Kali Yuga explanation on board or not, it provides an interesting context to what we are actually experiencing in current times. And perhaps what we can each do about the situation ourselves – whether or not we are aware of our higher Self, our journey or the concept of consciousness and unconsciousness.


  • “The recognition of the law of the cause and effect, also known as Karma, is a fundamental key to understand how you have created your world, with actions of your body, speech and mind. When you truly understand Karma then you realise you are responsible for everything in your life. It is incredibly empowering to know that your future is in your hands.” – Keanu Reeves – Canadian actor (starred in the Matrix – philosophical thriller).

  • “Your right is in action only, never to the fruits; let not the fruit of action be your motive, nor let your attachment be to inaction” – ‘Bhagavad Gita’, Chapter 2 Verse (Sloka) 47.

  • “We are often easily distracted and miss messages which make us believe we have a lot of ‘bad’ Karma. But those situations are simply signs for us to course-correct and move forward toward our higher purpose. The journey is not about being perfect, it’s about undoing what is not us and becoming who we really are,” - Dr Jennifer B Rhodes – US Psychologist –

  • “Karma is a philosophy of how to live our lives so we can truly become the best version of ourselves and live the most fulfilling life we desire – and since the future isn’t set in stone, we can change the path of our life by the choices, thoughts, and deeds we choose right now.” – Tejal Patel – US Meditation and Mindfulness expert -

  • “People were created to be loved. Things were created to be used. The reason why the world is in chaos is because things are being loved and people are being used.” And - Whether you believe in God or not does not matter much, whether you believe in Buddha or not does not matter so much; as a Buddhist, whether you believe in reincarnation or not does not matter so much. You must lead a good life. And a good life does not mean just good food, good clothes, good shelter. These are not sufficient. A good motivation is what is needed: compassion, without dogmatism, without complicated philosophy; just understanding that others are human brothers and sisters and respecting their rights and human dignity - Dalai Lama – 14th Dalai Lama – spiritual leader of the Tibetan people.

  • “Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do” – Voltaire (nom de plume) - French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher famous for his wit, his criticism of Christianity – 1694 -1778.

Take away

  • In any conclusion we must take full responsibility for our thoughts and actions. We create our reality and we should live by choice not chance – you alone create your destiny. Think about letting go of things you cannot control and accepting certain other situations. And, we should make the right choices for our Dharma to achieve selfless action for the benefit of others.

  • In a general sense, Karma is all about cause and effect and the world is therefore an endless expression of this. Every cause has an effect and every effect a cause. If bad things happen to you, this is the natural result of the negative actions that were taken. In the Law of Karma there is no such thing as luck or accident or fate.

  • Dissolving the ego mind and achieving self-realisation is the ultimate destination. You can change the course of your life this instant by changing your intentional acts and self-destructive patterns. Good deeds for a karmic bank account in the black perhaps! Karma is an action for an action - not a result.

  • Ego is the only enemy!

  • Also, try yoga, along with meditation – a natural combination for overall well-being.

Compiled by Baz Shirley.


*See also:

Instagram: @bazabstractart - Facebook: Barry Shirley

And all my previous posts on:*

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