What’s it about?

Karma (2021) is a crash course in karma. Filled with explanations, stories, and personal anecdotes, it dispels myths and common misperceptions about karma, explains the science and universality behind the concept, and presents practical tips on how to live a free and joyful life.

About the Author

Sadhguru is a mystic, yogi, and internationally renowned speaker. He’s the founder of the Isha Foundation, which has attracted legions to its world-famous ashram and yoga center near Coimbatore, India. His other best-selling books include Inner Engineering and Death

Karma is a state of being that we create within ourselves:

Consider what would happen if you inflated a qualification on your résumé while applying for a job. You find out you’re being fired owing to budget cuts after only a few months on the job. You groan, “Why do these bad things happen to me?” “It’s got to be my terrible luck.”

Alternatively, things could go the other way: you put money in a homeless person’s jar, and later that day, someone you’ve been eyeing invites you to dinner. You might say, “Ah.” “My good karma is starting to pay off.”

In reality, neither of these assumptions is correct. Rather than being a process of justice imposed from on high, karma is something that exists within you and is completely under your control.

This is not what karma is. It’s not about paying the price or reaping the benefits of past actions. Nobody is sitting in judgment with a good-and-naughty book, judging who goes to heaven and who goes to hell.

Consider karma as an internal loop that we create for ourselves. We respond to stimuli all of our lives. A mental reaction creates a chemical reaction, which causes a physical experience, strengthening the chemical and mental oscillations. These responses build patterns, and these patterns take on the shape of our personality. As a result, our “personality” has an impact on how we see the world.

Karmic memory isn’t something we merely make up in our heads. It’s a multi-level cause-and-effect loop that includes cellular and genetic levels.

Another way to look at it is as follows: Karma is a self-programmed software that operates indefinitely. Our karma develops a vasana, which roughly translates as “scent,” due to the recurring patterns that result from executing this software. The vasana you produce for yourself cannot be sensed by the nose, but it can attract or repel other individuals or situations, much like a good or bad scent. For example, one person may repeatedly attract the same type of abusive relationship. Another may be blessed with financial success.

However, karma isn’t in charge. You are. Once you realize and comprehend it, you may rebuild the software and reclaim the driver’s seat of your own life, allowing you to live with confidence and delight.

Karma isn’t just about what you do. It’s all about the willpower that drives the action:

Let’s imagine you’re chopping veggies with your partner when he or she says something that irritates you. You turn around and stab him with your knife, enraged. Is this an act that will bring you poor karma as well as legal issues? Definitely.

Here’s another possibility. Let’s pretend you’ve been engaged with your partner for a few months and have chosen to retaliate with violence. When he comes over and agitates you, you lunge with your knife. Because you’ve exacerbated the violence with months of bitter and spiteful thoughts, you’ll earn considerably more negative karma than in the first case. There’s no surprise there.

However, it may surprise you to learn that doing no violence can result in much more negative karma.

Imagine spending time with your boyfriend while pretending everything is fine but secretly hating him and wishing you could kill him. You don’t grab for the knife, and you don’t act violently. But you want you could whenever you see him. This, however, will bring you the greatest terrible karma of all.

We frequently conceive karma as something outside of our control, something that causes us to suffer or be happy. But the truth is that we can generate both agony and happiness solely via our willpower. Unlike animals guided entirely by instinct, humans have the freedom of not having a set nature and practically limitless thought and behavior alternatives.

Even in situations that we believe are influenced by fate or destiny, every thought we have has an effect. But nothing is destined to happen; nothing is intended to happen. Every day, we shape our fate and, in doing so, contribute to our karmic debt. Most of us do it unconsciously. However, by becoming aware of our thoughts and adjusting our volition, we can influence our fate and lighten our load.

Someone suffering from a terrible condition, for example, may bemoan their “destiny.” However, while the agony of their condition is unavoidable, suffering is a self-created option with little use. However, many of us suffer needlessly because we are unaware that we have the option of not doing so.

It’s crucial to comprehend the role of memory in yogic tradition to comprehend how karma works:

Researchers at Emory University introduced the scent of cherry blossoms into a cage of mice in 2013. The mice were given a minor electric shock as soon as the researchers released the odor. The startled mice eventually learned to correlate the smell with the shock’s agony. Even after the scientists had stopped administering the shock, they began to run as soon as they smelled cherry blossoms.

But here’s the thing: here’s where it gets fascinating. Even though the second generation of mice was never electrocuted, they were still terrified of the smell of cherry blossoms. This apprehension was passed down to the third generation.

Like the memory of cherry blossoms that spans generations, Karma can be regarded as a long-lasting memory that spans millions of years.

Everything we’ve ever seen, heard, or felt with our five senses gets saved. We react to everything, even memories we aren’t aware of, because of how deeply they are buried within us.

Memory has eight aspects, according to yogic tradition. The first four pertain to our collective karma, or how the elements and our species’ genetics have shaped us. Elements, atoms, evolution, and genetics are the four dimensions. The last four dimensions — karmic, sensory, articulate, and inarticulate – are where our volition comes into play.

Each person has a distinct set of memories, spanning from genetic to sensory, distinguishing them as distinct individuals. All of these memories are stored in a karmic memory vault known as sanchita.

Even though we carry the totality of this storehouse with us for several lifetimes, we are unaware of its size. Consider it a computer-cloud subscription: all of your data is stored in a cloud that you can access, but it isn’t all kept on the laptop you carry around with you.

During a single lifetime, no one has access to their complete karmic memory. Rather, each person has a piece of their sanctity available to them. This is referred to be assigned karma. Consider it the karmic version of a hard disk. What are your plans for this portion while you’re still alive? The purpose is to unload it, erase it, and completely delete the hard disk.

Your main goal should be to get rid of your karma:

Each culture has its version of the creation story. The yogis’ origin story is that everything began with pure intelligence. Every human’s ultimate goal is to merge back into that intelligence – or God, vibrations, energy, or whatever name you want to give it.

What is preventing us from achieving this goal? Sadhguru, the author, claims that it’s simply the idea that we’re individuals, as well as our valiant efforts to perpetuate that lie, that adds to our karmic load.

According to yogic beliefs, we have five types of bodies: physical, mental, energy, etheric, and joy. Karma largely affects our physical bodies, minds, and “energetic bodies” on the first three levels. Our karmic memory remains in our energy bodies even when our bodies grow feeble, and our thoughts fail us in old age.

In the previous paragraphs, we discussed allotted karma, which is the karmic equivalent of your hard drive.

This is the part of your karma that you must deal with in this incarnation. The goal is to empty it, which is a difficult task. It’s difficult since practically any emotion or action you have generates extra karma, referred to as actionable karma. If you get caught up in your thoughts and deeds, you’ll wind up with actionable karma in the future, which you’ll have to deal with either this lifetime or the next.

It’s worth noting that, while we often associate memory with karma, the goal of emptying the karma storehouse does not imply that all memories are harmful. A nice vacation experience, the ability to swim well, and the stories of your family or clan are all valuable assets. When memories set boundaries, though, karma begins to build up and weigh you down.

The idea is to consciously separate yourself from your karma as much as possible. Now, separating yourself from your karma is not the same as separating yourself from life. Detachment, according to Sadhguru, is a lifeless and joyless ideology. He believes that being involved with people and the world around us is the best way to live, but not entangled.

We have no control over our current karma. But we have a say in how we use it:

Sadhguru narrates the story of an aspiring yogi who meditates under a tree for hours until hunger forces him to return home. The next day, he returns, vowing to be more powerful, but discovers a crippled fox sitting beside the tree. How did this fox manage to stay alive in the jungle? When a lion enters the clearing a few hours later, the mystery is answered. Although the yogi is afraid, the lion approaches the fox and places meat at its feet.

The yogi thinks to himself, “Aha.” It’s a message from God: trust me, and I’ll be taken care of.

A passing guru discovers the famished yogi a few days later. When the guru hears the yogi’s narrative about the fox and the lion, he replies to him, “You received a heavenly message, but why did you choose the crippled fox instead of the brave lion as an example?”

You’ve discovered that you were born with a karmic load on your shoulders. However, by separating yourself from your karma and refusing to be bound by it, you can begin the process of shedding it and exiting the rebirth cycle.

You have complete control over this process, although there are some guidelines to follow. Remember how important volition is? You won’t dissolve any karma if you donate to a cause or volunteer because you want to be perceived as kind or charitable. You will only acquire more karma if you care about others just out of a sense of obligation. Consider the pride and self-righteousness in those deeds as golden threads that wrap themselves around you, tying you to further acts that will do the same.

The objective is to behave with total awareness of utter recklessness. Any task, performance, or act of service – even a simple errand – should be fully embraced and completed. These deeds become an offering if they are performed with joy and love.

In other words, you can construct heaven within yourself by cultivating a deliberate desire to live in joy here on Earth. Life becomes an expression of happiness rather than a quest for happiness when lived in this manner.

On three levels – physical, psychological, and energy – we must endeavor to erase our karma:

Sadhguru says that a child’s karmic strands begin to tighten at 40–48 days after conception. Imagine karma as a thickening and denser coil. This karma is released from the body in the form of energy when one dies.

That person’s entire life lies in the space between the first tightening and the last release. How that individual spends their karma in that lifetime determines how much is left to work on in the next. Our karma can be acted upon on three levels: physical, mental, and energy.

Even if the physical touch is as simple and transitory as a handshake, it can generate karmic energy and leave a karmic imprint. This could explain why Sadhguru prefers to greet people with folded hands. The need to avoid karmic fingerprints also explains behaviors such as choosing a single romantic partner or refusing food or drink from strangers.

When it comes to releasing karmic energy, yoga’s stretching and movement might be beneficial. If you want to release karmic energy, intense physical exertion is a terrific place to start.

Physical locations can also influence the shedding of karma. Mystics often spend a lot of time in places that have a cleansing vibe. In July, January, and December, parts of the northern hemisphere experience a similar impact.

The most crucial thing to accept on a psychological level is the importance of the moment. A great holiday, a joyful childhood – the past is a memory. The future is only limited by one’s imagination — a dream job, the ideal holiday. Both are psychological creations. It’s critical to understand that the current moment is the sole reality if you stay focused and mindful. You’ll be able to harmonize with everything around you once you accept this reality.

This isn’t to argue that remembering and imagining things is a bad thing. They can provide you joy in a positive way. They only become an issue when they lead to victimhood or passivity, such as sentiments like “My father cheated, so I’m sure I’ll do the same.”

It’s time to focus on the energy level now that you’ve learned how to regulate karma on the physical and mental planes:

Sadhguru once went to a rock-carved monastery used by Jain monks 1,900 years ago. He spent the entire day cleaning the apartment. He sat down on a rock bench used by a Jain monk about 2,000 years before that day.

Sadhguru felt intense vibrations almost immediately. Sadhguru could build out a physical outline based on the monk’s energetic vibrations because he had left a substantial amount of energy behind. The monk’s left leg had been amputated at the knee, he could tell.

The Jain monk may have passed away many years ago, but his energy, which he had expended during his lifetime, remained.

You’re already aware of the bodily and mental bodies. Both of these things vanish after a single lifetime. However, the energy body continues to exist, along with all of the karma it has acquired. Whatever karma we have accumulated goes via our energy body.

It is only possible to convert energy, not to generate or destroy it. Advanced mystics, such as the Jain monk from long ago, can delete their energy body’s karma through yoga, meditation, and other techniques. Those who are genuinely enlightened can cleanse their energy bodies of their karma – and if they time it just right, they can merge with the divine by shedding the final bit of karma as they pass away.

Consider a water pond. You take a bucketful of water, then another, and so on. The contents of the two buckets are identical, just as there is no meaningful difference between you and another individual. We’re all part of the same pond. The bucket is a trick of the eye. Mystics are like a bucket being dumped back into that pond by purifying the energy body of all its karma.

These mystics feel no distinction or separation between themselves and the world around them during their lives. They can also slip out of their bodies after death and escape the wheel – the cycle of life, death, and reincarnation.

If you haven’t completed your karma, but your body is destroyed, you will become a disembodied person — an intense energy body with no physical body, sometimes known as a ghost. It’s more difficult to work out karma in this situation because all extremes of karma are amplified. As a result, it’s preferable to deal with karma while you’re still in your body.

Our devotion to the limiting notion of our uniqueness is what we call karma. We can live joyously once we have rid ourselves of this concept:

You’ve learned what karma is and isn’t, as well as how to best manage your karmic load. However, there are still some unanswered questions. Is it necessary to comprehend reincarnation to believe in karma? Should you try regressing to a prior life to solve problems?

From his initial incarnation as a single-celled creature to his current life as the Enlightened One, the Buddha recalled every life he’d lived.

We all start as single-celled organisms, just like the Buddha. We progress through the evolutionary spectrum and countless lives from there, with the ultimate goal of becoming divine. Every thought and action has an effect along the road, and these patterns typically repeat themselves. However, we do not suffer as a result of events from a prior life. What we perceive as misery is simply the result of being at a specific location at a specific moment. What we choose to do in that scenario determines our karma for the rest of our lives.

Through intensive action and meditation, you can burn up karma and detach yourself from it. Sadhguru, on the other hand, loves to compare spiritual emancipation from karma to an elaborate piece of jewelry worn by courtesans in ancient India. It engulfed them and was impossible to remove. Suitors frequently gave up attempting to figure out how to open it.

The solution, though, was straightforward. One little pin might be found on one of the pieces of jewelry. The entire fabric unraveled when that one pin was pulled. It’s simple to find the spiritual pin that will help you understand karma. It’s as simple as this: don’t ask, “How about me?” Shedding your karma, or advancing toward the divine, is a process of releasing your attachments and emptying yourself of all that makes you who you are. You’ve lost the point of finding an answer if you’re asking about yourself.