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What is Karma?

What is Karma?

Is there really a reason for everything? The yoga tradition thinks so, and has much to say when it comes to the concept of karma. While we know that living in a material world can so often feel dangerous, chaotic and unpredictable, in many ways yoga philosophy assures us that the world is both innately intelligent and even predictable to a point. This is good for us as humans because we feel so often feel helpless when we have no means of interpreting the past in order to predict the future. We feel disempowered when we have no sense of control over our lives. 

The ancient yogis believed that everything in nature has a cause, and that every consequence is the outcome of what can be both understood and even determined. This is not to say that karma, or action, isn’t without its complexities. It certainly is full of them because the variables involved in understanding what causes something to happen are often totally complex. In other words, there can be hundreds of reasons why something goes the way it does. 

At the same time, karma is a way of establishing accountability. There’s an assumption, according to yoga, that everything does indeed happen for a reason and there is indeed accountability. Karma empowers us when all the possibilities lay before our eyes to consider. There’s a conundrum here however, because when where’s the freedom for infinite possibility that we yogis long for in order to expand and evolve? As yogis, we’re seeking freedom, right? We want to live in a world of freedom, rather than determination. Where does creativity come in to play? 

On the one hand, all of us want to feel secure, grounded, and certain. While on the other hand, we want to know that endless possibilities are on the table. We don’t want to feel confined. Without uncertainty how do we evolve? 

In addition to the term karma, there’s another word called “daivya.” Daivya means something like, “made of the Gods.” It translates as fate, or destiny – as if the Gods know why things happen. Daivya then represents the innate intelligence of the Universe. This begs to ask the question, “in what way are we creatures of our fate or destiny?” The Gods aren’t exactly in charge of our destiny, but they do know in advance what our karmas, or actions will be. They have the ability to see the path we are inevitably going to go down. They already know what choices we’re going to make. 

The Gods know that everything that is, has become the outcome of what has been, and everything that will be, is predictable because of the choices that we are inevitably going to make. So do we really have freedom if we’re invariably going to make a sort of predetermined choice? How are we creatures of our own destiny, our own fate? It’s as if everyone ends up doing what they were always going to do – given their unique makeup in their incarnation for this lifetime. It’s as if everything was always going to happen because of all the karmas that have added up to this present moment. 

According to this Hindu worldview, the Gods know what karmas you will make in advance, but they don’t make the choices for you. This is generally how the Hindu tradition relates to the Gods. Sure, you can call in the gods and goddesses to help you, and you can invoke their presence in your karmas, but they don’t generally make decisions for you. 

The idea of karma is that there are predictable outcomes, but not necessarily with meaning or purpose – that’s where we get to interpret things for ourselves. This is where the real freedom comes in. We have the freedom to make meaning from our karmas. The meaning behind everything that has happened, everything that is happening, and everything that will happen, is ultimately open to each individual heart and mind’s interpretation. The conversation surrounding the yoga view of karma is complex and incredibly compelling, and a rather unique way of looking at the cosmos and our place in it.

By Aimee Hughes N.D.

Aimee Hughes, ND, is a holistic health writer who has been traveling and exploring the world of natural health and wellness, yoga, dance, and travel for the past two decades. She is the author of a self-published vegan cookbook, The Sexy Vegan Kitchen: Culinary Adventures in Love & Sex,” available on Amazon. Aimee is the lead writer and health consultant for the Yandara Yoga Institute in Todos Santos, Mexico. []

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