Karma means action or the imprint of action which remains within us.
Action is on many different levels. There is physical, mental, emotional and energy action which we call karma.
What is the difference between Karma and Kriya?
If the action sinks deeper than those four dimensions, i.e physical, mental, emotional and energy, then we call it kriya. So both karma and kriya mean action, but karma is that kind of action which leaves a residual imprint or impact upon the system. This means the memory and chemistry of that action remains. Kriya is a type of action which imprints itself on a completely different dimension and begins to dismantle the karmic residue that has accumulated in the system.
Karma is not about something good or bad that you did. Karma is the memory of life.
Karma is of many kinds, many different layers and many different dimensions. The actions that your father performed are working and kicking up within you in so many different ways, not just in your situation, but in every cell in your body.
Karma - Memory of Life
When we say memory, people tend to think of the mind, but the body has much, much more memory than the mind. Your great, great, great-grandfather’s nose is sitting on your face because something inside your body remembers. Your body still remembers how someone was a million years ago and it is still acting that out. So the memory of the body is way bigger than the memory of the mind. This memory is what we refer to as karmic impressions. There was a time when in India, society was trying to manage your karmic impressions. It is for this purpose that jatis, gotras and other things were started. But that has all gone now. So you have to manage it within yourself.
Karma is not just yours or your forefathers’. The first single-celled little piece of life, that bacteria or virus’ karma is also acting up within you today. In a normal-sized body you have approximately 10 trillion human cells. But in your body, there are over a hundred trillion bacteria – you are outnumbered one to ten! Just upon your facial skin, there are 18 billion bacteria.
A significant percentage of you is actually bacteria. And the kind of bacteria that you have carries a certain behavioral pattern depending upon what kind of bacteria your forefathers had. The way the bacteria behave in your body and in some other body is very different and depends upon this memory.
So you inherit even the bacteria with a certain quality. They also carry a certain karmic content and behave and make the quality of your life in a certain way. So karma is not about something good or bad that you did. Karma is the memory of life. The very way the body is structured is because there is memory of life right from that single-celled animal to every other form.
All the grand ideas that you had about yourself are very false. This is why we told you, “It is all Maya,” because the way things are happening within you is such that almost everything that you do is controlled by past information.
"Does that mean to say I am hopelessly entangled?"
Entangled for sure, but not hopelessly. From being a Pashupata – a composite expression of animal nature – from that single-celled animal to the highest one, there is a possibility of becoming a Pashupati – one can leave all this behind and transcend. Within the human system, the basic skeleton of the system – not the orthopedic skeleton, but the energy skeleton – or the basic blueprint of energy has 112 chakras or junction points where it is held together.
All these chakras function according to the influence of the karmic residue or the past memory within the system which makes this life process happen. But there are two other chakras outside the physical framework of the body which generally remain very minimal or almost dormant in most people. But if you do enough sadhana, they become active.
The 114th chakra pulsates in a certain way which has been described right from ancient times as the Ouroboros – the symbol of a snake swallowing its own tail. You can see this symbol in almost every ancient culture. In India you can see it all over the temples, you can see it in Greece, Egypt and in Mesopotamian temples – almost everywhere. You can see the Ouroboros in all ancient cultures which were focused more upon the beyond than what is here.
Today, modern mathematics uses the Ouroboros as the sign of infinity. So the 114th chakra pulsates in the form of the infinite. And if one’s energies touch this dimension within you, then every action, whatever you do is a process of liberation because action is not yours anymore, it is of infinite nature. If one’s energies are within the 112, every action that you do has a residue, so it is best that you do the right kind of action which leaves a pleasant residue upon you.
Whether activity entangles you or is a process of liberation depends essentially on one’s level of sadhana and also the attitude and the volition with which action is done.
If we do not attain in this life would all this sadhana
that we are doing be carried forward to the next birth?
The action itself is not the karma; it is the volition that is the karma. Volition means intention. Volition is the right word. It is the intention, or with what volition you are doing the action, that matters. That is what decides your karma. Now, suppose you are a butcher. Everyday you chop animals to feed other people. You are not killing these animals with any vengeance; it is just your job. Like everybody is doing something, you too are doing something; that's all. Maybe because your father was a butcher you are also a butcher. So you don't have the karma of killing. You only have the karma of unawareness. That's all; but if you kill that animal with vengeance, with anger, or just for the sake of killing, of enjoying the pain of the animal, then it is a different karma.
To sustain this life you have to kill something, maybe a carrot, maybe a chicken, maybe a deer; you don't know what you have to kill, but you have to kill something. Everyday here at Isha when you put these soaked peanuts in your mouth, just chew with your eyes closed and meditate upon them. They are full of life, and when you notice they are full of life, if you are immature you will vomit. When you begin to notice every time you chew the groundnuts that so much life is struggling to live and you are causing their death, you will throw up everything. If you are immature, you won't be able to eat the food anymore. If you are mature enough you will eat it with a tremendous amount of gratitude. Recognizing that this one peanut gives you life, with much gratitude you eat it. Normally, at least in some moment in your life, you may have tremendous gratitude for your mother. That's the kind of gratitude you need to have for this peanut, but if you are on the level of thinking, it will just make you puke. So the karma is not in the action itself, it is in the volition.
Now you are on the spiritual path. Next life when you are born, it is not that you are going to sit up and meditate as soon as you come out of the womb. That's not the point. You will be like any other fool, but something will fall into place in such a way that slowly, somewhere life provides opportunities here and there. Above all, definitely the other aspects of life like food, clothing and shelter fall into place. Generally, a person who goes into the spiritual path gets well placed in life, so that he doesn't have to worry about the basic necessities. The existence placed you comfortable enough in life that you don’t have to worry about the basics for survival. You can focus yourself on something better, but again, because of your unawareness, you may get so caught up with your comforts and position that you may just sink into that itself. So once again, the struggle begins somewhere else. Otherwise for the person who makes use of life's opportunities, it definitely starts off from where he left off.