Karma – Principle of action and debt

School of Yoga explains the principle of action (karma)

  • When we like something, we bring it close to ourselves.
  • When we dislike something, we push it away.

The action of bringing close or pushing away is called karma. 

Since this covers all relationships, karma can be considered as the governing principle of all relationships; covering all sentient, non-sentient, animate and inanimate entities.

School of Yoga explains the results of karma – debt (ṛṇa) 

  • Karma or action is the cause as well as outcome of all situations.
  • We know that all situations are driven by relationships / bonds.
  • All relationships are governed by transactions, every transaction results in like or dislike because its very rare that we are perfectly neutral in any situation. 
  • This like-dislike response results in a give and take outcome between the two entities.
  • Consequently, like-dislike/ give-take results in movement of one relative to the other, resulting in karma or action.
  • However, transactions are rarely equal, one will give or get more.
  • This causes the one who takes more to become a debtor and one who gives more to be a creditor.
  • But this debt, like any debt, needs to be repaid; if not in this life, in a rebirth.
  • This is the basis of the ancient concept of cycle of birth and death (samsāra). 

However, this give and take need not be material; it could be ideas, feelings, opinions etc. or a mix of these. So, the generation and repayment of debt can take many forms.

School of Yoga explains principle of like-dislike which results in karma 

  • We know that we exist because transact with our environment.
  • Consequently, the feedback we receive from our environment gives us confirmation of existence.
  • This aspect which evaluates our existence in the environment is a “sense of self-worth”. This is called “asmitā” in Sanskrit.
  • The “sense of self-worth” (asmitā) gets its values from our conditioning (dharma).
  • Conditioning (dharma) is evolved by our home, parents, school, society, friends and environment.
  • When the interaction with the environment is positive, our “sense of self-worth” (asmitā) experiences an expansion, resulting in like/ motivation/ attraction or eustress (rāga).
  • Similarly, when there is a low level or no interaction; the “sense of self-worth” (asmitā) experience contraction, resulting in dislike/ repulsion, anxiety, distress or fear (dveṣa).
  • Consequently, when we experience attraction (rāga), we pull the object closer. When we experience repulsion (dveṣa), we try to push the object away. 
  • This is the principle of action or karma in Sanskrit.

School of Yoga explains karma and rebirth

As mentioned above, if the debt generated in this birth is not paid off, then there comes a need for another birth to pay the debt off. This is the basis of the concept of rebirth. 

  • The generation of debt results in the creation of a bond (bandana) between two entities.
  • This bond exists for as long as the debt exists. Thereafter, the bond between the entities will dissolve.

School of Yoga explains types of karma

  • Any transaction where the give and take are equal is called samabandhana (equal bond). Mostly, this is between married couples where give and take is not measured. So, in India, the in-laws are called sambandhi or samdi (those of equal bond)
  • All debt accrued to or by us in current situation is called cycle of birth and death āgami-karma (current debt generation).
  • The overall aggregation of our debt or credit is called sanchita-karma (overall karma consolidation).
  • Also, debt which comes for repayment is called prārabda-karma (debt reconciliation).
  • Finally, karma which impacts everyone such as weather, climate, pandemic or war is called samasti-karma (equal-for-all debt reconciliation)
  • In conclusion, the bond created by debt is called ṛṇānubandhana (bond of debt).

School of Yoga explains karma according to the seers (ṛṣi);

There have been many references on why people perform action. Most people perform action for an outcome. Outcome is generally motivated by desire which is quantifiable, objective or visible (dṛṣṭaphala) or for an outcome that is not visible or quantifiable (adṛṣṭaphala).

Karma according to Sri Krishna in Srimad Bhagavad-Geeta.

Sri Krishna classifies action into three types, action (karma), inaction (akarma) and forbidden action (vikarma) in Chapter 4. Importantly, Sri Krishna states that even inaction is action and only action which is performed as a sacrifice (yajñá) is karma that will not result in debt (ṛṇa).

  • Sacrifice where action that is performed without desire (niṣkāmya-karma). Here, action and result are experienced without duality such as like-dislike, good-bad or right-wrong.
  • Sacrifice also occurs when one renounces the fruit of one’s action (karmaphala-tyāga), which means that the person becomes indifferent to success or failure of the result.
  • Lastly, sacrifice occurs when the person is in a state of renunciation when acting (karma-saṃnyāsa).

Karma according to Jaimin’s pūrva-mīmāṃsā (early reflections)

  • Jaimin’s pūrva-mīmāṃsā is one of the earlies attempts to classify how life should be lived. It was written around 300-200 BCE. 
  • It states that all actions (karma) should be performed as a sacrifice (yajñá). The classification of karma is as follows;
  • Nitya-karma (perpetual or daily sacrifices) – these cover the five major sacrifices (panca-maha-yajñás) that any individual is supposed to perform. These five (panca-maha-yajñá) are – rishi-yajñá (sacrifice to the seers), deva-yajñá (sacrifice to the deities, represented by the vedas) and pitṛ-yajñá (sacrifice to the manes) which are covered in a ritual called brahma-yajñá. Bhūta-yajñá, which covers supporting all sentient and insentient creations and finally mānuṣyaka-yajñá which covers helping other less fortunate human beings. Nitya-karma also covers regular rituals such as sandhya-vandana (salutation to the various transitions of the Sun), tarpaṇa and śrāddha (ceremonies to feed the manes) and other rituals.
  • Naimittika-karma (periodic karma) – These are sacrifices that are performed to support various rites-of-passage (samskāra) such as naming ceremony, marriage ceremony, death ceremony etc. Naimittika-karma also covers upanayana-samskāra which is performed whenever there is knowledge transmission.
  • Kāmya-karma (karma motivated by desire) – this is an optional sacrifice and refers to any sacrifice performed with a desire for material gain.
  • Niṣāda-karma (forbidden action) – this is any action that goes against order and harmony (dharma). This is also called vikarma in Srimad-Bhagavad-Geeta, chapter 4.
  • The important clause in nitya and naimittika-karma is that these are obligatory and must be performed at prescribed. These sacrifices do not yield any fruits, they are mandatory maintenance actions for maintaining personal dharma (svadharma). Failure to do so will result in debt (ṛṇānubandha).
  • Both kamya-karma and niṣāda-karma will result in debt depending on the severity of the action.

Anecdotes, experiences and situations to help understand karma…

It is very late in the evening. You are driving home. You are tired. Suddenly, you realize that a car is following you very closely. The driver is a teenager, honking continuously and driving in a very offensive manner. There is no room on the street for him to overtake you and you are getting irritated.  You hope that the kid will stop, but it gets worse and you suddenly decide to take the kid to task. So, you stop your car and get out…

  • What is your emotional state at this point?
  • How is your energy level changing?
  • What is your opinion of the other driver?

You stride across to the other car which has stopped some distance behind you. There are two people in the car. You go to the driver’s side and notice that it is a young girl and she seems scared.  She tells you that she is just learning to drive, and that the person next to her is her father who fell unconscious when they were having dinner.  Furthermore, she somehow managed to get him into the car and is now trying to get him to hospital…

  • What is your state at this point?
  • How is your energy level changing?
  • What is your opinion of the other driver?
  • How have you changed?

Principles of action (karma) – points to ponder

Internal Tags: Self Awareness or Asmita, Karma Yoga (Bhagawat Gita – chapter 3)

External Tags: vāsanā (karmic image), pūrva-mīmāṃsā, nitya-karma, brahma-yajñá

  • Does experience change when we “sleep over” a situation? Why?
  • Is there experience when we are doing nothing or not react?
  • Is environmental degradation a karma of nature?
  • Does nature perform action or karma? How?
  • Can inanimate objects increase/ decrease energy in others? Can a car increase energy in you? Does the attachment or aversion you have to your car or cat result in karma?
  • What are the ways in which we can increase energy in ourselves & others?
  • Can we perform actions with complete awareness and reduce karmic load or debt?
  • What is the relationship between karma & accountability?
  • What is the relationship between karma & Self?
Editor at School Of Yoga
School Of Yoga is a single point resource for all aspects of Classical Yoga practise. We try to achieve this by placing Yoga's traditional methodology in front of the reader and eliciting his or her experience. We value everyone's Yoga experience and would like you to share and enrich other practitioners so that everyone benefits.
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Namaste immortal soul. Thank you for this clear explanation of Karma.

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