What is karma?
In The Universe In A Single Atom, the Dalai Lama offers this explanation of karma:
“Literally, karma means “action” and refers to the intentional acts of sentient beings. Such acts may be physical, verbal or mental – even just thoughts or feelings – all of which have impacts upon the psyche of an individual, no matter how minute. Intentions result in acts, which result in effects that condition the mind toward certain traits and propensities, all of which give rise to further intentions and actions.”
Karma means you don’t get away with anything.
Jung describes a woman who came to him for one session to confess she had murdered her best friend years before so she could marry her husband. The murderess had indeed married the friend’s husband, and her life afterwards seemed like the unfolding of “bad karma.” The husband died young. Her daughter distanced herself and eventually disappeared. Her horses became nervous; she had to give up riding. Her beloved dog was paralyzed. Read the story – and the analysis – in Jung’s words here.
The Jung example is extreme and not what most people are going to experience in their lives but we do all experience the consequences of both our skillful and unskillful actions. We know when our words and actions are not as “aligned” as they could be, when we’ve missed the mark.
While reading The Concise Yoga Vasistha by Swami Venkatesananda, I came across a gem that strikes me as an antidote to “bad karma.” When you’re reaping the fruits of unskillful action, remember this heartening piece of wisdom:
There is no power greater than right action in the present.
I love this idea, that right action in the present is not only powerful; “there is no greater power.” Perhaps what we thought, said or did was not ideal. Regardless, we can take “right action” to rectify the situation. Our deep intention/desire to make things right is likely what’s potent.
For those who feel undue regret or remorse over unskillful words or actions, there is another piece of yogic wisdom that is empowering, from Baba Muktananda, passed on by my first Teacher of Yoga, Rudrani Farbman Brown:
The Yogi only feels regret for a moment, then she comes back to her center.
The Yogi dwells in her truest Self; she does not dwell in contracted, lower states. Once you have recognized what you did was unskillful and taken right action, guilt and remorse are useless emotions. There is nothing to gain by indulging guilt or other negative states. So once you’ve made your best effort to do the right thing, inhale, exhale, and come back to your center.
Even if you don’t care about “what Yogis do,” consider that it’s empowering and freeing not to indulge guilt or other negative emotions once you’ve grasped what the emotion is telling you.
If you’re interested in learning more about what your feelings are trying to tell you and skillful ways of dealing with emotions, I highly recommend The Language of Emotions by Karla McClaren.