Swamiji on Facebook Swamiji on Twitter Swamiji on Youtube

The Study and Practice of Yoga

An Exposition of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali


Chapter 102: Avoiding Karma That Has Not Yet Germinated

It was said already that apart from these actions of a yogin, every action is of a specific character – good, bad or mixed, as the case may be. But in the case of a yogin, the actions are neither good, nor bad, nor mixed. This was the point made out in the sutra. Why the yogin’s actions are not binding and cannot be categorised as either good or bad would be very clear from the very nature of things, because a yogin does not act with a sense of agency from the point of view of his personality or ego. It is not he or she that acts; it is a spontaneity of nature that manifests itself through the apparent personality of a yogin. But in the case of others, action is specifically generated by a sense of agency. Every agent of action feels, “I do the action.” When there is this ‘I-ness’ in respect of the doership of an action at the background, the result of the action also should come to the agent, and this explains why all individualised action should bear an individualised result.

Every action produces a result in this manner. The result is produced because nature tries to maintain a balance at all times. Every individualised action, or action proceeding from a sense of egoistic agency, may be said to be a kind of disturbance created in the harmony of nature. In nature there is no such thing as ego and, therefore, there is no personality; hence, there cannot be any isolated actor or agent of action. Thus, it may be said that every sense of agency attributed to an individual event or to any action is contrary to the law of nature. Therefore, retribution follows – what they call the nemesis of action. It is disobedience to law. It is very strange, indeed, that every action that we perform seems to be a violation of the law of nature. Therefore, we are punished by the law, by the reaction that is set up. Every action is a kind of disharmony expressed through the personality of the individual. This is something which the ordinary mind cannot grasp, because no human being can ever imagine what impersonality is, as such a thing does not exist in this world. And it is impersonality that is the remedy for all the ills of life. The ills are caused by the personalities themselves, and the solution is the abolition of the personality.

The sense of agency in action arises on account of the asmita, in the language of Patanjali. These results of action follow from a peculiar complex whose details we observed previously. Every result that is produced by an action becomes an occasion for experience by the individual concerned, and it is this that is the cause of rebirth. This is the cause of experience through a phenomenal universe. The various incarnations, or births and deaths, undergone by an individual as a process are the punitive processes which perforce have to be undergone as an expiation, as it were, for the error committed by the individual through the wrong notion of agency in action.

Rebirth cannot be stopped as long as the potency of karmas exist. It is futile to imagine that one can escape the vicious circle of the law of karma by adding to it in the form of further actions. No action can rectify action. It will only accentuate it, and add an attribute to it, whether pleasant or unpleasant, but it cannot nullify the action because even the action that we perform with an intention to nullify an action proceeds from the sense of agency in us and, therefore, it cannot have the power to nullify the action. The difficulty arises on account of the sense of agency behind the action, and it cannot be solved by another action proceeding from the same sense of agency. Thus it is that karma cannot destroy karma. It can make readjustments, but it cannot completely abolish the root of karma, for obvious reasons.

Another sutra tells us that only ripe vasanas – that is, impressions of actions which are ready for manifestation – become visible in conscious experience. The others get buried and do not become a content of one’s consciousness or experience. Tataḥ tadvipāka anuguṇānām eva abhivyaktiḥ vāsanānām (IV.8) is the sutra. Only those vasanas which have become ready for manifestation will manifest themselves in the form of experience. As it was pointed out previously, which potency, which karma, which result becomes manifest at what time no one can say, unless one is omniscient. Short of omniscience, nothing can reveal the mystery of karma. There is a karma vipaka, the ripening of the results of karma, the fructification of the deeds of the past in a particular manner, at a particular time, under given circumstances. And then it is they germinate into experience. The germination into experience of these potencies is rebirth. It was already mentioned that they carry with them these rules and regulations concerning the kind of birth one would take, the span of life for which one would live, and the type of experiences which one would undergo. All these will be determined by the nature of the seed that has been sown – just as we can see by inference what sort of fruit a tree will yield by noting the kind of seed that we have sown.

The seed potentially contains, in a latent form, the fruit that will be yielded by the tree that will grow out of that seed. Likewise, from the nature of our actions, we can have an idea of the kind of experience that will follow in future. We cannot experience something quite the opposite of what we are sowing today. There is an old saying in Sanskrit, the meaning of which is that nobody would like to reap the fruit of sin, because it is painful. But yet, people deliberately commit sin. They expect the fruit of good deeds, but nobody wants to do good deeds. We only want the fruit of good deeds, without doing the good deeds. And we want to avoid the consequence of sin, but we deliberately commit it.

These peculiar characters of the law of karma will give us an idea of how far we are removed from the solution of the problem. A careful scrutiny of one’s own motives, feelings and intentions may be able to reveal the type of evolution which one has reached and the distance that one maintains at present from the goal that is beyond. The practice of yoga is, therefore, not a kind of karma that we perform. It is the solution for the bond of karma by setting at naught the causes and the other factors mentioned previously – hetu, phala, asraya and alambana. Yoga sets at naught the very root of the problem by detecting where the problem lies. We cannot answer a question unless we understand the question. We cannot solve a problem unless we know what the problem is, and then we must know where the problem lies. The problems of human nature lie in human nature itself; they do not come from outside. They are certain results that automatically follow from the very nature of humankind. The way in which we think and feel is behind the way in which we act; and, inasmuch as the act has to produce or reap the consequence, it follows that the consequence is actually caused by our feelings, our thoughts, our notions – our total outlook of life itself.

Therefore, unless the outlook of life is changed, the bondage of karma cannot be severed. There should be a complete reorientation of the mode of life of the individual in such a manner that it sets itself in harmony with the way in which nature would like him to think and act. That is, one has to become super-individualistic – transcendent to individuality. Until that time, karma will bind. Wherever one is, whatever one be, whatever be the distance in time between one birth and another birth, the forces of karma will pursue a person: jāti deśa kāla vyavahitānām api ānantaryaṁ smṛti saṁskārayoḥ ekarūpatvāt (IV.9). “Just as a small child of a cow finds its mother in the herd of cows by wriggling through the crowd, hither and thither, so will the result of your karma find you wherever you are,” goes an old saying. We may run away to a distance of thousands of miles, or we may go to the distant galaxies, but the karma will pursue us wherever we are. Even if there is a gap of thousands of years, or even millions of years, between the time when we performed an action and the time when it fructifies, the karma will not leave us.

Time and space are not obstacles to the operation of karma. It will pursue the individual wherever he is or she is, and whatever be the circumstances under which the individual is. Karma is like a tax collector who will not listen to our woes of family, etc. He says, “You pay the tax.” We cannot cry, “I have got a sick child and an old mother. I cannot pay the tax.” There is no use telling him that. He will say, “You must pay the tax.” Similarly, there is no use crying before the law of karma, “I made a mistake, I’m very sorry.” Well, if we made a mistake, we pay through the nose, that’s all. The law of karma will not leave us.

The species into which one is born is the jati. The place where one is born is the desa. The time when one is born is the kala. They may be variegated from one circumstance to another. At different times, at different places and in different kinds of species one may take birth, but karma will be uniformly operating under all these conditions and it cannot be set at naught by the difference of space, time and species.

There is a causal connection between the source of action and the fruit of action. That is called anantarya. There is a continuity of process between cause and effect. There is no gulf between cause and effect. There is a connection, and this connection is universal, cosmical in nature. The fruit of the particular karma can be born at any place and at any time when it is ready for manifestation. Throughout the universe it operates – and we cannot go outside the universe. We are inside the universe wherever we are. We may go to any realm or plane of existence, yet all these planes of existence are within the cosmos. We may go from one district to another district, or from one province to another province, but the law of the government uniformly operates in all places. And if we are culprits, we will be caught by the law, and we cannot escape merely because we have jumped from one district to another district or from one province to another province. Likewise is this law. We may take birth in another plane of existence, and yet the law of karma will be operating there because there is a single government for the whole cosmos and the law will work wherever we are. The point is, there is no escape from the law of karma. We have, perforce, to enjoy or suffer the consequence of the deeds that we perform because we did them and, therefore, we have to bear the fruit. If we have done the deed, who else will bear the fruit thereof? Thus, there is a causal connection, says the sutra.

This causal connection is maintained by the capacity of the mind of the individual to contain within itself everything, any blessed thing, in a very, very subtle form. The mind is like a seed. It may look very small, almost invisible, but it can contain potentially, or latently, the possibility of the spreading of a vast banyan tree of future experience, notwithstanding that it looks so small. We see how big the banyan tree is. How can it be contained in that seed which is so negligibly small? Yet it is there. Very surprising! Such a minute seed – to see it we have to observe it with great care, with focused eyes – can contain within itself such a mighty expanse of a banyan tree! Likewise, a cosmic expanse of future experience can be contained in a very fine, subtle form in the little seed of the mind, which is the individual that performs the action. The reason why this continuity of cause and effect is maintained is the mind itself. The mind is the cause, and it also contains the potential of the effect. And it manifests itself from itself only; it does not come from somewhere outside. Whatever the birth one takes, one cannot jump out of one’s own skin. In all the various births, or incarnations, into which one passes, one cannot abandon one’s own mind. It is the mind that really incarnates, it is the mind that performs the action, and it is the mind that contains the seed of future experience as the result of the action.

We are the cause, and we also contain within ourselves the effect. We carry with us the effect because we are the cause. The effect proceeds only from the cause, and inasmuch as we are the cause, naturally the effect is there hiddenly present in us. Hence, it should be very clear as to why the effect should be produced wherever we are – at any place, at any time, in any plane of existence. That is the significance of this sutra: jāti deśa kāla vyavahitānām api ānantaryaṁ smṛti saṁskārayoḥ ekarūpatvāt (IV.9). The samskaras of action – that is, the impressions produced by a particular action – become the cause of the reproduction of the corresponding effect in the very same agent which performs the action.

Tāsām anāditvam ca āśiṣaḥ nityatvāt (IV.10), says another sutra. This circle, or cycle of karma, is beginningless and endless, inasmuch as desire is eternal, almost. We cannot say when desire began and how it will end. There is no limitation of time to this law of karma, because it is not limited by the movement of time and the distance of space. When did desire begin? Nobody can say. When individuality began, desire also began, as they are identical. When did our individuality begin? God only knows. No one can say when it began. And, simultaneously, desire arose. As I mentioned previously, avidya and kama go together, and immediately they produce karma, or action. But, says the Yoga Shastra, there is a solution for this problem. All this looks very forbidding and formidable indeed when we look upon it as an observer from outside. The solution does not lie in observing this as an outside onlooker, but by getting into its very structure – which is the practice of yoga.

Atīta anāgataṁ svarūpataḥ asti adhvabhedāt dharmāṇām (IV.12): The dharmas, which are the characteristics of karma, have a past, a present and a future. The future is what causes bondage. The past is already experienced, so we cannot do anything with it. It is over. The present is being undergone. We are in it completely, so we cannot do anything with the present either. But we can do something with the future and see that it does not come upon us like a nemesis.Heyaṁ duḥkham anāgatam (II.16), says an earlier sutra. The pain that has not yet come can be avoided with the adoption of certain means. The pain which has already come cannot be avoided, because it is there as a part of our present life. But the future, which is now hiddenly existent in what is known as the present, can be burnt up by the adoption of the proper means. And what is the means? It is yoga.

By the practice of yoga it is possible to see that the future does not manifest itself, because the future has not yet taken action. It has not become part of our conscious life. It is still hiddenly present, and it can be burnt up inside before it germinates into action. Once it germinates, it becomes a prarabdha which is the total complex of a present experience, including the body, the mind, etc. Once it manifests itself, we cannot get out of it. But there are certain reservoirs inside us in the form of future possibility. Sometimes they are called sanchita karmas, which have not yet become prarabdha. They can be dealt with effectively by yoga. What is this yoga?

This is what we have been explaining all along, from the Samadhi Pada onwards. Yoga is a gradual, effective effort at the abolition of the distinction between the object of experience and the subject thereof, by the practice of samyama. That is the solution to the problem. As long as there is object-consciousness, citta-consciousness, ego-consciousness, personality-consciousness, karma cannot be avoided. The power of yoga is such that it can fry up the seeds inside that are yet ungerminated. If the force exerted by the practice of yoga is sufficiently strong, every karma can be destroyed: sarvaṁ karmākhilaṁ pārtha jñāne parisamāpyate (B.G. IV.33).

The sutras that follow in the Kaivalya Pada will not go into details of the practice of yoga, because the details have already been stated in the earlier sutras. Now we are given only the psychology behind the law of karma, and the sutra points out that, though ordinarily karma cannot be escaped and no one can be free from the operation of the law of karma, there is one solution by which the future pains can be avoided and rebirth abolished completely by the supernal means which is provided by the system of yoga.