What is Karma? Finding the Truth

What is Karma? Finding the Truth

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When things aren’t going your way, don’t you love it when someone tells you it’s your karma?

You should know that when anyone says that to you, they really don’t get the whole karma thing. I don’t believe we should live our lives in the wake of good or bad karma from past actions.

When you’re told it is your karma,” the speaker is likely referring to your past karma, sometimes interpreted to mean that you did something bad in the past or even in a past life and are now paying for it. That concept basically says if you do something really bad, you will pay in dearly in the future.

It is true that if you do something bad in this life, you should feel remorse and do everything to make amends and change your behavior—not for fear of punishment, but because deep down, it is the nature of all of us to function from a place of love and compassion for others.

When you’re told that the bad things in your life are from bad karma or negative actions you have done, say, in a past life, how demoralizing is that? If you do believe in reincarnation, then perhaps the reason why most people do not have a recollection of those lives is so we can live this life with a clean slate, to start over and not carry the emotional burdens of poor choices made in past lives.

We all know we cannot change the past, and the future seems to totally dependent on what we do right now—at this moment. We cannot change karma or actions from the past, we can only act on the now. Right now, we have the opportunity to take karmic transformational action and do the right things for the right reasons. When we engage in any action with the hope to get some good karmic return or burn off some bad karma, we are breaking the golden rule of Vedic Science: not to be attached to the fruits of our actions.

The soul may carry the energy of past actions, but to use this to explain a troubled life can become an excuse for further bad actions. Why bother being good in this life when I am doomed from these actions of a past life? I believe we all are on a journey to use our troubles as opportunities to find a deeper inner peace.

I do believe that, by definition, we humans are flawed and that goes for all of us. We must practice compassion and understanding for our own actions as well as the actions of others. I believe that to do good for goodness’ sake, which I believe is our nature, starts with a desire to find inner peace and perhaps trust in a higher power. This trust gives us a feeling of safety that allows us to let the more delicate and vulnerable version of ourselves—our true nature—out. If God or a higher power has doomed you in this life because of bad actions from a past life, I find this a disturbing thought. In my opinion, karma is action and negative actions from the past (that we remember) provide us with opportunities to act positively in the future.

I do not view karma as punishment but as an opportunity.

The Definition of Karma

Karma simply means action! We create karma every day, as the opportunities to act on our truth—to be free of desire, addictions, needs, and wants—present themselves. On the flip side, life also presents innumerable opportunities each day to indulge our desires, needs, and wants. I like to call navigating these opportunities the “game of life,” and your karma simply relates to the kinds of actions you choose to take.

The actions we take during our lifetime have much to do with how much self-awareness we develop along the way. Self-awareness is a natural phenomenon enhanced first and foremost by living a lifestyle connected to the cycles and rhythms of nature, a lifestyle that has supported our evolution for millions of years. Let’s call that Ayurveda 101.

Yoga, breathing, and meditation techniques are also powerful tools to deepen our connection to nature’s circadian rhythms, bringing better health and higher and more refined states of self-awareness. With heightened self-awareness, we have the opportunity to choose actions that are positive, life-supporting and transformational.

By transformational action, I mean the ability to transmute old protective patterns of behavior that simply do not feel good after you act on them into actions that free us from that bad feeling.

There is an easy trick to know if an action is based on old emotional and behavioral patterns or is a positive action. Does the action make you feel contracted or expanded? Also, does your action require a return on that investment to feel satisfied? If you find yourself attached to the outcome of your actions, then your joy is dependent on that return on investment (ROI) rather than simply being satisfied by the action itself.

The goal of karma is to take more actions that do not require an ROI, including looking for love, appreciation, and approval.

How Do Past Karmas Work?

Every child is born without much of the emotional and mental baggage that we invariably accumulate as we age. That doesn’t mean that we’re not born with passed-down stressors. The science is pretty clear here: not only do the thoughts, diet, and behavior of our mother have an effect on our mental, emotional, and physical development, so do the emotional traumas of our father, grandparents, and great-grandparents.1 These are called samskaras in Ayurveda: emotional impressions passed down over generations.1

As children, based on the impressions we come into this world with, along with the environment and nurturing we receive, we quickly develop a unique personality and learn emotional behavioral patterns that elicit a protective response or reward from mom and dad. This is a survival tool to keep kids safe and close to our parents as we grow up.

In fact, a recent study shows that when preschoolers are nurtured by their mothers, their emotional and learning brain centers grow twice as fast as kids whose mothers were not as nurturing—suggesting that we are hard-wired to need their love and approval.2

The actions (karma) we take growing up almost always stem from these early desires to be safe. These actions drive a dopamine-based reward chemistry that often evolves to have more material desires as we grow up. Bad karma could be misinterpreted as wrongdoings, but we can be compassionate rather than punishing about these wrongdoings, seeing that they too stem from the desire to be loved, approved of, nurtured, or safe. Sadly, the desired reward doesn’t always happen.

Every Rose Has Its Thorn

Take a rose, for example: without thorns, it would have been trampled for millions of years. After generations of being trampled, the rose evolved to grow protective thorns and, voila—trampled no longer!

As young children, we are like the rose: we set out to find safety and security from our parents and, sadly, we sometimes get trampled instead. It seems perfectly logical that we might develop some thorny protective patterns that could be perceived as wrong actions or bad karma.

Karma has no place being applied to another person’s actions: it is a 100% self-directed concept. So, for example, if someone with thorny behavior throws some emotional darts at you, your karma is determined by how you respond.

If you run away or throw a dart back in defense, then you are in reaction to their actions. Remember, their thorny behavior is just a manifestation of protective armor they developed from years of being trampled. Who they truly are lies underneath the armor. If you run away or throw darts back, you are reacting to their armor and totally missing the opportunity to act based on your truth and experience a karmic transformation.

Karma has to do with current actions and opportunity to act from a more authentic place deep within all of us. When you choose, with heightened self-awareness, not to run away or retaliate, and instead have compassion and understanding for why they may be throwing darts in the first place, you have opened the door to a transformative karmic action.

Compassion and understanding are actions connected to your truth—your more loving, kind, and evolutionary nature. By allowing yourself to see through the window of compassion, and then act on that compassion, you are not reacting to the armor, but acting from your truth.

This is the only type of action that will disarm others and allow you to connect with your truth and theirs. This is a form of true love, a transformational karmic action—or, as I like to call it, the game of life.

You Do You

Karma is simply an opportunity for you to do you and stop doing them. It’s an opportunity to be free from expending energy worrying if people like you, approve of you, or judge you. Tough times only offer a more powerful opportunity to transform old emotional patterns that may have been haunting you for a lifetime. Soon you will become grateful for the tough times. There is no good or bad karma. It is all just an opportunity for transformational karmic action.

I invite you to consider how you might be able to apply the concept of karma as transformational action to your life, your healing, and your relationships.

The most powerful of life’s karmic opportunities to make transformational change and healing often comes through illness. This could be no better illustrated than in the book Saving My Neck: A Doctor’s East/West Journey Through Cancer by my friend and podcast guest, Timothy McCall, MD.

Please join me as I interview Dr. McCall about his journey of healing throat cancer using Ayurveda, Western medicine, yoga, breathing, and, perhaps above all, Ayurvedic psychology, which allowed him to use his karma as a life-changing opportunity for healing.

Don’t miss this podcast. It will motivate us all to go forth and make that change!

Dr Timothy McCall


  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21281632
  2. http://www.pnas.org/content/113/20/5742.abstract

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Dr. John

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