What Is the True Meaning of Karma?

“Karma itself is neither good, nor bad. It just is..”

Thom Knoles

Episode Summary

What is Karma?  Despite popular belief, it’s neither punishment nor reward, neither good nor bad.  It’s simply Nature’s way of steering us back onto a more evolutionary path.

In this short episode, Thom explains the true meaning of karma, and gives us a short introduction to kriya, evolutionary action.

He tells us how we can think of karma, and karmic behavior, without lacing it with judgement that, ironically, ‘binds’ us even more.

And as you would expect, he shows us how to align our consciousness with kriya rather than karma. 

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Episode Highlights


Good Karma, Bad Karma



A Brief Lesson in Sanskrit



Karma – Action Which is Binding



Kriya – Non-Binding Action



Kriya – Going With the Flow



Karma – Going Against the Flow



Violating the Laws of Nature



Restricted Behaviors Through Karma



Karma is Just Karma



Going Downstream



Getting Back in the Flow Through Vedic Meditation



Every Day, Twice a Day


Jai Guru Deva


What is Karma?

[00:43] Good Karma, Bad Karma

Today, we’re going to speak about karma.  Karma is a very interesting subject and one of the primary concepts that has worked its way into the Western common parlance, the common vernacular of English speakers, particularly.  Karma.  

Even when I go to buy a coffee at my favorite coffee shop, I note that there’s a jar that says The Karma Jar, meaning,”Give us a tip and get some good karma.”  

Actually the adjectives and qualifiers of good karma and bad karma is a complete Western invention.  Karma itself is neither good, nor bad.  It just is.  Karma is one of the most poorly understood concepts that has come out of the Vedic worldview and entered into the Western parlance.  And I’d like to clarify what Karma actually means.

[01:42] A Brief Lesson in Sanskrit

First of all, from Sanskrit, Sanskrit is the language of the Vedic era in India.  Sanskrit is the basis of two thirds of English words.  Sanskrit, S-A-N-S-K-R-I-T, Sanskrit is the parent language of the Indo-European group, that is all of the, as we refer to them as, Latin languages.  The Latin angle came much later.

So we have Sanskrit percolating well into English.  For example, one of my favorite examples is our word ignition.   Put the key in the car and the ignition ignites the spark that causes the car to fire up.  That’s in an old fashioned internal combustion engine, unless you have an electric engine, you have an ignition and ignite comes from the Latin ignis,

which comes from the Greek igness, which comes from the Sanskrit, agni.   A-G-N-I.  Agni is fire in Sanskrit.  And so like this, we can find the ultimate etymology of about two thirds of English words in Sanskrit.  

[03:01] Karma – Action Which is Binding

So Sanskrit.  Karma.  Karma, Kar comes from the root KR, which is a K with an R after it – that R is like a rolled R,  Krr – and Ma.  Ma is the negating sound in Sanskrit.  That which is negating.  Karma, negating or binding.  That which binds.  That which negates.  Ma.  Karma.  

And karma has another word that rests alongside of it.  Karma generally is referred to as “action,” but in this case, it means action that binds.  The binding effect of action or action that binds.

[03:48] Kriya – Non-Binding Action

And then there is a word that rests parallel to it, which generally speaking is translated loosely as activity.  And activity is Kriya.  K-R-I-Y-A.  Kriya.  They both share the root kr, and one of them ends with ma and one of them ends with ya.  Kriya, karma.  

And kriya is supposed to be the spontaneous activity that occurs without bondage as a result of the evolutionary process.  For things to progress in an evolutionary fashion, for there to be movement from less-sophisticated states to more-sophisticated states, for there to be progressive change of any kind, kriya is required.  

Kriya is that spontaneous activity of evolutionary Nature.  Karma is activity, which has with it, some binding implication.  

[04:55] Kriya – Going With the Flow

It turns out that if we think of the way that a river flows, a river flows following the forces of gravity, but following the contours of the land across which the water has to move.  The progress of a river from, let’s say it’s source is mountain snow, down through mountains, and then across plains and then off to the ocean, the river is following the physics principle of least action.  

The river will move with the least amount of action required in order for it to wind its way across and, using the principle of least resistance, will find its way to the ocean level, the level of ocean water.  And that progress of the river, if we think of that as Kriya, the river can’t climb up a mountainside and go over the crest of a pass and then come down the other side.  Water cannot go uphill.  No river can rise higher than its source.  That’s another concept that we’re going to look into some other day.

No river can rise higher than its source, so the river is following the path of least action.  It is following the path of least resistance and moving toward the ocean.  Kriya.  

It may wind around a lot.  So most rivers, when you look at them on the map, especially if you look at a detailed map of a river, is very windy, but that windy-ness in no way causes the river to experience bondage.  

[06:36] Karma – Going Against the Flow

Now karma is, if we think about action that has its inception and the human desire to make things happen quicker, to attempt to, if you like, enhance evolution, then we start hitting the entire realm of karma.  

The idea here is that Kriya, evolutionary action, is the speediest path of evolution.  Any attempt to move faster than, or to slow down the direction of kriya, progressive change, is going to cause ‘ma’, it’s going to cause bondage, karma.  And that karma, the effect of it, is simply to correct us and put us back into the mainstream of kriya.  So karma, kriya.  

[07:32] The Purpose of Karma

What is the purpose of karma?  You do something which inadvertently violates the laws of Nature.  What you feel is suffering as a result, no one intentionally sets out to make themselves suffer.  

However, according to the Vedic worldview, we design our own experience.  Whether we do so consciously or unconsciously, obviously in the case of suffering, it’s unconscious, no one consciously sets out to make themselves suffer.  

We may start a day where, at the end of that given day we could be in tears and say, “All I tried to do was help.  All I tried to do was to make things better.  All I tried to do was to increase happiness for myself and for everyone else.  And look what happened.  Suffering.”  

We commonly hear reports of this type, especially when there have been family gatherings.  And what this means is that we have not been well advised, or our knowledge is not great, or our intuition is not great, about how the laws of Nature that govern human interaction work.  

[08:50] Violating the Laws of Nature

Perhaps we set out to do some farming and we need to use the laws of Nature to do that.  And if we violate the laws of Nature, “All I was trying to do was make more crops that would last longer, and that would yield a greater protein level with a speedier result, but look, what happened.  I ended up making people sick, or I ended up through my actions, robbing the land of its nutrients in a way that was not sustainable.”  

So unsustainable behaviors, whether they are sociological, ecological or physiological…  “When I ate the 15th donut in the package of donuts, I wasn’t trying to make myself sick and come down with an attack of diabetes or gout.  All I wanted to do while watching TV was, make myself happy.  And so I put the 15th donut in my mouth and chewed it up and swallowed.  It was a lovely at the time,” but this is not kriya.  

[09:56] Restricted Behaviors Through Karma

This is going to create karma.  I’m using very obvious examples here.  And so then karma means that we are prevented from continuing to violate laws of Nature.

That prevention of the continuance of the violation of laws of Nature is what we would refer to as karma.  The boundaries begin to move in on the liberty of our behavior.  What are you at liberty to continue doing?  

You know, we, in our approach to attempting to create human-made laws and human-made curbing, if laws have been violated, penitentiaries are a place where penitent people go and they have a chance to be pensive, to think about what they have done.  And we hope that there should be some rehabilitation that occurs that there is a curbing of liberty.  

People are not at liberty any longer to continue violating the human-made laws.  In Nature there is a similar phenomenon, but it is much subtler.  Will you be able to continue to violate the laws of your own physiology?  The answer is no.

What stops you from doing that?  Karma.  

Karma is where Nature sets up boundaries that force you into a very limited behavior range, which if you stay inside that limited behavior range, ultimately, you’re going to go back to the mainstream of the flow of the river of evolution, the flow of kriya.  The idea of karma is to restrict us and bring us back to kriya, bring us back to the frictionless flow of evolution.  

[11:48] Karma is Just Karma

So karma represents the behavior of Nature when it is bringing us, it’s restricting our liberty, and bringing us back into the mainstream of evolution.  The idea of there being good karma, bad karma, you know, you do something and there’s some kind of a record keeper in a punitive universe that is going to levy on you, the experiences that you put out there and that you have bad karma hovering and waiting, and it’s just a matter of time before the administrator comes and assigns bad karma to you.  

Or good karma.  You did something that was helpful to evolution.  What a good boy or a good girl you are now, there’s Santa Claus waiting up there in the cosmos, who’s going to bring you presents and deliver good karma to you.   

This whole good karma, bad karma thing is an invention of the West.  It doesn’t actually exist in the Vedic worldview.  Karma is just karma.  

[12:48] Going Downstream

Karma is where you find, if you’re in our analogy of the river, if you’re not in the main stream of the river, which is frictionlessly flowing toward the ocean, you get over on the sides of the river.  You begin hitting rocks.

You begin hitting all kinds of shallows and shoals.  You begin to have your body beaten around or your boat beaten around.  If you try to swim against the current, well that’s a completely futile activity.  

If the river is moving at 20 miles an hour toward the ocean, the maximum speed with which you could swim is about two miles an hour.  So you could be in the river swimming upstream, attempting not to go downstream, and you continue going downstream at 18 miles an hour.  

Or you could try to speed up by swimming the extra two miles an hour in a river which is already moving faster than you can swim.  And you just exhaust yourself and don’t really get to the ocean any faster.  

[13:45] Getting Back in the Flow Through Vedic Meditation

Anyway, how do you get in that kriya flow?

We do this through meditation.  When we practice Vedic meditation, the mind settles down into its own least-excited state.  And in that least-excited state, we are as if touching the factory reset button.  In that least-excited state, our desire to either slow down evolution or speed up evolution is brought to a state of quietude.  

When you come out of meditation, you find that you’re spontaneously able to, and you feel charmed to, move in the direction of greater evolution.  And because of this spontaneous movement towards that which is more charming, after the mind has transcended thought, transcend means to go beyond, after we have learned how to step beyond thought, coming back into thinking and action, as a result of having de-excited ourselves, we’re coming back into action from that place of the least-excited consciousness, state.  

That least-excited consciousness state is one with the total quiet intent of Nature’s own intelligence.  When we return back to activity from our least-excited state of ‘Being’, we’re going to be more in the center stream of evolution.  We’re going to be more in the kriya and our actions are not going to engender karma, the binding effect, moving to the sides of the mainstream of evolution, which causes suffering.  

And so the whole idea here is that we move out of the karma zone and get into the kriya zone.  Move away from friction and into the speedy flow of evolution.  So the speediest flow of evolution is to live inside that kriya zone.

[15:36] Every Day, Twice a Day

How do we get our consciousness aligned with kriya, cosmic intent, cosmic activity, rather than individually-created karma?  We have to transcend every day.  So then, we establish ourselves in Being, through twice daily practice of Vedic meditation.  You settle yourself into that quiet state, and then you come out of meditation and kriya begins to take over your activity and your thinking and actions.  

And then by the end of the day, some of that has worn off and we may be getting back into the karma zone again.  So sometime late afternoon, early evening, we sit down for another session of Vedic meditation.  We step beyond thought again, and we move into that deep, inner silence.  And from there again, we flow back into activity in the kriya zone.

So kriya doesn’t mean non-action.  Kriya means exactly the appropriate action at the appropriate time with the appropriate force that engenders maximum speed of evolution.  And when you’re living in that kriya zone, what it feels like is it feels like frictionless flow.  So this is a very educational set of ideas.  The distinction between karma and kriya.

Jai Guru Deva.

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