As a man himself sows, so he himself reaps; no man inherits the good or evil deeds of another. The outcome of any action is of the same quality as the action.
— Mahabharata, xii.291.22
The Indian concept of karma developed and evolved over centuries. The earliest Upanishads (Indian Classical Texts) began with questions about how and why man is born, and what happens after death. This led to theories of cause and effect. These theories then evolved into the diverse concepts of karma
Over time, various ideas developed as did many different definitions of karma. Central to all these definitions was the relationship between karma and causality. Karma – was described as ones actions, deeds and intentions as well as the outcomes of ones actions. Hence karma was both cause and effect. For you cannot separate the outcome from the action or intention. This is the essence of karma.
The Essence of Karma
Whatever you do initiates a chain of events in the world around you. The question you need to consider – is your action or intention creating a chain that is positive or negative?
Philosophical Interpretations and Practical Applications of Karma
Some Indian schools of philosophy described karma as deterministic – which meant that you were bound to past actions with no ability to change the outcome. These schools seem to claim that you are determined by your DNA with no option to improve your circumstances.
Others, made room for free will, moral agency and human effort in enabling you to mitigate the effects of past deeds. These schools of Indian thought seem to have pre-empted the modern concept of epigenetics.
The Yoga school of Indian philosophy was one such school – it claimed that human effort could overcome biological and physiological constraints. In Yoga, karma from past lives (akin to modern concepts of Genetics – DNA or conditioning) is of secondary value. The Yoga system proposes that it is one’s current actions and practices that alter behaviour, physiology, and psychology which has the ability to alter your karma. Regular actions or practices may lead one to entanglement or enlightenment. But not all forms of modern yoga are equal – ensure that the style you practice is suitable for your development. And the intention you take into your practice will determine its outcome.
There is more to your downward dog or Vriksasana than you think. Asana or yoga posture enable body reconditioning. The aim of this reconditioning is to make body and mind more flexible. And cognitive flexibility as opposed to reflex actions can alter karma.
Good or Bad Karma – A Fallacy
An important point to understand is that there is no essentially good or bad karma. There is appropriate or inappropriate action – but this is based more on the situation at hand than a moral or philosophical standpoint. A good life is about acting appropriately in every given situation. And this is the essential teaching of the Bhagvadh Gita – where Krishna helps Arjuna work through his confusion and understand why he needs to perform the actions that his position in society demands.
Dr Nitasha Buldeo is an Integrated Medical Practitioner, Entrepreneur, Scientist and Yogi. She created I-Yoga & Organic Apoteke and is Director of the Centre for Exceptional Human Performance. She researches human potential and delivers programs that encourage you to live exceptionally. Nitasha believes that every one of us is striving to be the best we can. Her passion is bringing you programs that enable you to unlock your personal genius.
Nitasha’s yoga training began in childhood and she has been trekking into the Himalayan peaks to meet her teachers and to teach for over 25 years. Her wisdom on traditional yoga and meditation practices is immense. Her personal practice is one of dedication, perseverance and humility.
She is a Senior Yoga Teacher with Yoga Alliance Professionals and leads Yoga training and retreats globally.