Blog: One
by Lapis

Karma & Reincarnation

Everything you need to know is here in the moment. Now is all that ever mattered and all that will matter. Now is where the power to create good karma and change the affect of past karmas resides. Every moment offers you an opportunity to move closer towards enlightenment."

Date:   6/20/2005 8:46:38 PM   ( 18 y ) ... viewed 2001 times

Taken From

Part One

"The Doctrine of Reincarnation and the Law of Karma"

Through this series we will look at the Doctrine of Reincarnation, the Law of Karma, the fear of death, the obstacles to enlightenment, and how to overcome these.

The Buddhists and Hindus believe the universe is illusion (maya). Brahman projects this universe. This illusion is what we live in here on earth, as opposed to the ultimate reality or union with Brahman that we attain when we reach enlightenment.

One way to understand this illusion is if you imagine an empty glass. There is air inside the glass, and air outside the glass. The air is the same, it is merely separated by the glass. The glass represents illusion or maya. God or Brahman is the air outside the glass, and Atman or our individual Self is inside the glass. The only thing that separates us is the illusion that we are separate.

The Doctrine of Reincarnation dictates that within this material universe, it is the nature of our individual soul or "ego-sense" to struggle slowly upward toward self-realization. We create our present predicament in order to work through our karmas, and then it is we, ourselves, who must change it. We cannot blame anyone for our situations - they are a result of our actions, and the fertile ground for our lessons and evolution.

It is believed we evolve from the inanimate to the animate, from the vegetable to the animal, the animal to the human, through many, many births, deaths and rebirths. The Atman, or the individual soul, is within the stone no less than it is within the human being. During this journey towards enlightenment and self-realisation, each of us is subject to the Law of Karma. When the soul is within the human mind-body, the individual ego can know its real nature, balance it's karmas, and then be liberated from the cycle of reincarnation.

The Law of Karma is the law of action and reaction, or cause and effect. Our desires and our actions regulate the speed of our progress. If we do good actions, we progress more quickly. If we do hurtful, unkind actions, we will have much more karma to work out and progress more slowly.

There are three kinds of karma. Agami karma is the karma we are creating now. This is the result of mental and physical acts performed by one in the present life, the fruits of which are to be reaped in the future. Prarabdha karma is karma created in the past. This is the portion of karma that was stored-up from past lives, which has begun to bear fruit in the present life. Sanchita karma is karmas created in the past lives, which are waiting to come to fruit in a future life for us to work through.

Throughout our lives we are continually being presented with situations in order for us to work through karmas that we have created in our past. At the same time we are continually creating new karma for our future. Death and rebirth do not interrupt this process. When we are reborn, we are presented with everything we need to do our work - a body, mind, character and surroundings. These reflect our karmic situation for this lifetime. Whatever the situation we come into, it is reflective of what we need to learn and work through.

If you believe in the law of karma, you have know and understand that you have created your current situation. And you are also totally capable of doing the necessary work to change it! The karma being built up by doing good deeds and kindness may modify or cancel out negative karmas of the past. So focus on spening your energy on performing positive actions.

Dr. Wayne Dyer, a well-published psychologist is the United States, sums up beautifully how we have circumstances for learning, and the ability to create change. He says, "Everything is as it should be. That doesn't mean you can't change it, because then it is also as it should be."

We have guidelines all along the way, but we choose our path of evolution. We choose how involved we will become, and how many side-trips we will take, and how quickly we will progress along the path to enlightenment. Gary Zukav, author of "The Seat of the Soul" says, "The decisions that you make and the actions that you take… are the means by which you evolve. At each moment you choose the intentions that will shape your experiences… These choices affect your evolutionary process. If you choose unconsciously, you evolve unconsciously. If you choose consciously, you evolve consciously."

Gary Zukav's book is rich with helpful information about our path to enlightenment. He reminds us that it is the personality that feels anger and hatred, and passes judgement or manipulates others. But also, the personality is loving and compassionate. What is important to recognise, is that love, compassion and wisdom do not come from the personality, but rather, they are experiences of the soul. Your soul's natural state is one of compassion and love. You are repeatedly given the opportunity to allow your soul to shine through you, rather than have the personality without the balance of the soul's loving presence.

So how does karma work? Karma is created and balanced by the activities you undertake and how you respond to the circumstances that unfold before you. If, for example, you take advantage of someone, this creates some negative karma, and at some point this karma must be worked out. This is known as karmic balance, where action and reaction are complete. If you cannot be objective in this situation, and do not understand that the experience of being taken advantage of is the effect of a previous cause, and that this experience is necessary to bring to completion the cycle of karma, then you will likely react from a personal point of view rather than respond from the point of view of the soul. If you react with anger or try to take revenge, these responses create more karma, another imbalance of energy, which in turn must be balanced.

So our reaction to situations can either BALANCE out the past karma, or CREATE additional karma to be worked out! You can begin to see how important it is to take responsibility for our actions and try to live consciously as we move through the circumstances of our lives. We need to remove the judgement from the events in our lives and seek the opportunities to balance the effects of our previous actions.

Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood, commentators to Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, help us to see the Doctrine of Reincarnation in a positive light. They say, "Although it may seem as though the Doctrine of Reincarnation is grim and heartless, it actually indicates a profoundly optimistic belief in justice and order of the universe. If it is we - and not God or our parents or fellow humans - who make our present predicament, then it is we who can change it. All we need is the courage and determination not to give up the struggle." What a wonderful gift of self-empowerment we have been given!!

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Karma and Reincarnation,

Part 2 Fear of Death

Let's assume for a moment that after we pass away, we have to come back. We reincarnate. (That's not so hard to do, is it?) If we get to keep coming back life after life, then what is this "fear of death" so many people have? Shouldn't we be used to it? What is so scary if we just turn around and come back?

Perhaps we have this fear because death is a painful experience for us. Perhaps we somehow, instinctively, have a deep-rooted or subconscious memory of the death experience from the past deaths we have been through.

Chapter 2, verse 9 in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras refers to this. "The desire to cling to life is inherent both in the ignorant and in the learned (ignorance being a "lack of knowledge").

This is because the mind retains impressions of the death experience from many previous incarnations."Often we have heard people say that when we die we see our life flash before our eyes". Well, the yogi's believe that it is more than just a "flash", but rather we enter a time of reassessment of our entire life, and possible ALL of our lifetimes!

In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad it says, "There are two states for man - the state in this world, and the state in the next; there is also a third state, the intermediate state between these two, which can be likened to a dream. ... "While in the intermediate state, a man experiences both the other states, that in this world and that in the next;... When he dies, he lives only in the subtle body, on which are left the impressions of his past deeds, and of these impressions he is aware. ..."

Therefore, that intermediate or in-between state being referred to is a "reassessment time". The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad goes on to say, "He foresees both the evils and the blessings that will yet come to him as these are determined by his conduct upon the earth, both good and bad, and by the character in which this conduct has resulted. Thus it is that in the intermediate state he experiences the second state, or that of life in the world to come."

So this intermediate state is a place where we can take a look at our past deeds along side the consequences they have produced for us to work out in the next rebirth. In essence, we see what we have made of ourselves.

At this moment we must face, without any escape, not only our wonderfully pleasing actions towards others but also any wrongdoing or mistreatment of other people. For some of our actions we would feel shame, remorse, and sadness in varying degrees. This review of our lives is why some of us have this instinctive fear of death, even though we cannot consciously remember the death experience. It is not the actual separation from the physical body, but rather the growth we undertake during the time before rebirth.

Only the illumined saint is absolutely free from fear of death, but as we grow in spirituality, our death-fear will gradually diminish.

Now, when I first looked at the doctrine of reincarnation I felt as many people do, that this is a grim and heartless process to go through. Painful! I felt fear and dread at the prospect of it. That fear has given me the impetus to want to "clean up my act", so to speak! I don't want to feel pain and remorse when I review my life's karma, and I don't want to be unconsciously causing pain to others.

Now I view this "intermediate state of review" as a great opportunity to take a look at what I really have to do when I come back - to make the most of my time in a human body so I can get to work on those past karmas. If I have to come back, then why not take really good notes and make sure next time I do it right!

In the ISA Upanishad we are offered a prayer to assist us at the time of death.

"May life go to immortal life, and the body go to ashes. OM. Oh my soul, remember past strivings, remember! Oh my soul, remember past strivings, remember! By the path of good lead us to final bliss."

This is a prayer for our soul to remember our deeds and to remember our lessons, so when we return, we aren't starting from scratch.

We are so very capable of making each and every lifetime everything we want it to be. We can truly dedicate our energy towards spiritual growth and kindness towards all others. Paramahansa Yogananda said, "Seek spiritual riches within. What you are is much greater than anyone or anything else you have ever yearned for."

So how do we do this? First, it will help us to understand the obstacles in our spiritual path. Then we will look at the tools available to us to overcome these obstacles.

Part 3, Obstacles to Enlightenment.

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Karma and Reincarnation,

Part 3 Obstacles to Enlightenment

It is important to note that there are some well-defined obstacles to enlightenment in Patanjali's yoga sutras. These obstacles are considered to be the cause of all our sufferings, so they merit some discussion. In the Yoga Sutras, Chapter 2, verse 3 it is stated, "These obstacles - the causes of man's sufferings, are ignorance, egoism, attachment, aversion, and the desire to cling to life." So let's talk about these obstacles, and gain some understanding of how they can hinder our journey to enlightenment.

Obstacles, according to Juan Mascaro, are "the negative effect which follows an act of positive disobedience or ingratitude towards God". When we do a negative action - say you steal from someone - who pays? Who hurts? Of course we hurt the person we stole from, the person that our negative action was focused against, but who else hurts? Atman, our own true nature hurts. We pay the price. Karma dictates this, that we are only hurting ourselves because for every action there is a reaction. It always comes back.

Unlike the legal system, there are no great karmic lawyers who can get you out of this one. When we "sin", or create these negative karmas, we most certainly have no choice but to face the results of them.

The consequences of the action of stealing may not be obvious at the time, but the stealer has hurt his/her soul. Now they have to face the spiritual consequence - more karma to work out.

When judgement has been clouded by these obstacles to enlightenment, in this case probably by the obstacle "attachment" to the object that was stolen, the person has stumbled and hindered his/her progress on the spiritual path.

When we erect these obstacles against the enlightening of the Atman, or individual soul, we are slipping into the confusion of identifying the Atman with the ego. If we want to reach enlightenment we must not take our "sins" too lightly. If we do, we get lazy.

Juan Mascaro warns against us saying to ourselves, "After all, I'm really the Atman, and I have millions of lives ahead of me - as many as I want. I'll get around to knowing my real nature sooner or later. What's the hurry?" In our laziness we choose later instead of sooner, and continue to create more and more karma that we have to continue to work out.

The spiritual consequences for our actions are unavoidable. No matter how big or how small our negative action is, we now have to work out the negative karma that has been created.

Bearing this in mind, it becomes obvious that we need to begin to weigh our actions and ask ourselves "Will this action create good karma or negative karma?" This may sound rather simple to do, but believe me, at times it is very hard to tell. Even our laws become confusing. We must listen to our conscience, our intuition, the depths of our soul and really ask the question. "Will this action create good karma or negative karma."

First Obstacle: Ignorance, or lack of knowledge, is the cause of all the other obstacles. The other obstacles are egoism, attachment, aversion, and the desire to cling to life. These are all powerful tendencies that drive us to ever-recurring acts of what one may call "sin". These obstacles grow out of our ignorance of our soul. They are the result of desire, pride, rage and fear.

This makes sense. One can see how desire and pride relate to egoism, attachment, and the desire to cling to life. Rage and fear can result from aversions to people, things and situations.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 18, Verses 20-22, it says, "When one sees eternity in things that pass away, and Infinity in finite things, then one has pure knowledge. But if one merely sees the diversity of things, with their divisions and limitations, then one has impure knowledge. And if one selfishly sees a thing as if it were everything, independent of the ONE and the many, then one is in the darkness of ignorance".

Ignorance is a misunderstanding of one's real nature. If you identify with yourself as "this body" or "this mind", and not the Atman within us, then you dwell on the outwardness of things. Our ignorance of our soul and the soul in others, our ignorance of what is truly "Real", blocks us from that union and inner happiness that we are so deeply seeking.

Second Obstacle: Egoism is that attachment to the body and mind. When our ignorance denies the Atman within us, we give way to the ego to develop and take control. Instead of aiming for eternal life, we cling to and devote our energy to our physical life, which is only relatively enduring. Instead of going for true happiness, we accept that which is temporarily pleasant.

We believe people will like us better if we are taller or slimmer or nicer looking or have more money. But none of these provide true happiness. When we treat others with a true depth of kindness and honesty, with a genuine love for them, this is when they will know deep within themselves that you are a true friend.

Of course there are those who will pass judgement with regards to our appearance, but it is our ego that is troubled by this. And it is our ego that passes judgement upon others.

The Kena Upanishad states, "When we no longer identify the Atman with the senses and the mind, knowing the Atman to be Brahman or God, the wise become immortal". So, what is being said here, is once we stop this false identification of the ego where we believe that we are the senses, the body and the mind, then and only then can we know that the true seer is Atman, our soul.

This is when the ego no longer takes credit for being so wise, but rather knowing that it is the soul that carries all the knowledge and wisdom of truth. So let the ego step aside and let your soul shine through.

When we have grasped this true inner essence of ourselves and let go of everything else, there comes the paradoxical instant in which we realise we have it all. Gwen Randall-Young says, "We let go and we gain. We release and we embrace. All is in divine order."

Third and Fourth Obstacles: Attachment is that which dwells upon pleasure. Aversion is that which dwells upon pain. We are not capable of being impartial towards anyone or anything that we are blindly attached to or that we regard with disgust or aversion. Even as we are tied to those things that we love too much, we also are tied to those things that we hate or fear.

In our lives, lessons keep presenting themselves over and over again, until we get it. Have you ever noticed this in your life? In psychology, we have heard how people who have been abused in their childhood will often become an abuser, or find themselves in an abusive relationship. Many times they will move from one abusive situation to another, or repeat the cycle of abuse within the same relationship.

This is a pattern, a samskara that must be replaced - the unlearning process of changing samskaras will change your way of life. If we can become observers of our problems, we can become less attached. Then it releases the problem. If we don't become detached from the problems and let them go, we will react to them based on old patterns of behaviour. We don't learn the lessons so they will continue to present themselves over and over again. If we resist or hide from facing those lessons, and don't take the time to ask ourselves, "What is it I am to learn from this?", we will continue to be offered the gift of those circumstances again and again, until we get it.

Have you ever heard the statement, "You can't change someone else, you can only change yourself"? It is very true. If you want to change old habits or samskaras, you must become detached, let go. Then and only then do you change. And what a freedom!

Non-attachment doesn't mean we don't care. It is quite the opposite. It is to be at peace. It is acceptance. You no longer need to force solutions because you are not attached to the results. When you force solutions on problems, you only create new ones.

It is very hard to let go of attachment and aversion. One of the most effective ways to do this is to live in the moment. Be Here Now. Dr. Wayne Dyer suggests we "live every day as if it were the LAST day of our life", so every incident in every moment is deeply, deeply appreciated!

Be open to the possibilities offered in every situation. If you live in the past and hold on to your personal history from past situations that are no longer helpful, then you never get the opportunity to experience this moment for what it is. Everything is then seen through past information - maya, illusion. It is judged by your past experiences and you have totally missed what it REALLY is. Personal history can keep you from experiencing the Now. Then you miss the lesson so it must be presented again.

On the other hand, if you are a person who continually lives in the future, always wanting what you do not have yet, then you are either attached to what you don't have or have an aversion to what you do have. Nothing is ever enough. Again you miss the moment. You miss the blessings of the present, the beauty of Now. Life is passing you by. The lessons are presented, missed, and must come again.

Everything you need to know is here in the moment. Now is all that ever mattered and all that will matter. Now is where the power to create good karma and change the affect of past karmas resides. Every moment offers you an opportunity to move closer towards enlightenment.

Deepak Chopra offers us help with acceptance by the affirmation, "The whole universe is as it should be. I will not struggle against the whole universe by struggling against this moment. I accept things as they are, not as I wish they were." When you can remain open to all points of view and are not rigidly attached to any particular one, nor have tremendous aversion towards another, then you will be open to learning what the lessons presenting themselves are trying to teach you.

Gwen Randall-Young says, "A more peaceful state begins to develop when we realise that everything outside of us is only the scenery, or the context, in which our growth unfolds. Understanding this allows us to maintain a state of detachment in which we release any need or desire to control individuals or situations. In detachment we can be like the light, bringing objectivity and clarity to situations. When we remain attached, then we move into the dark side, creating shadows which may block awareness." When faced with attachment or desire towards an object, ask yourself, "Why do I really desire that object? What permanent advantage should I gain by possessing it? Would its possession help me toward greater knowledge to freedom? Seriously weigh your attachments against your spiritual journey.

The final obstacle, the desire to cling to life, stems from the fear of painful memories from past deaths. In that transitory state between death and rebirth we see those karmic debts that remain to be worked out, and any new ones we may have created. This can be painful, knowing how a tendency in our character has produced the same situation over and over, and we must come back to face it again.

In the Bhagavad Gita the Hindu concept of rebirth is summarised. "As a man casting off worn-out garments, taketh new ones, so the dweller in the body, casting off worn-out bodies, entereth into others that are new. For sure is the death of him that is born, and sure the birth of him that is dead; therefore over the inevitable thou shouldst not grieve."

The desire to cling to life is one of the greatest obstacles to enlightenment. To cling to life is to cling to normal sense-consciousness, meaning we are still identifying with the body and the mind, and shunning the superconsciousness of the Atman.

Remember the prayer and repeat three times:

Om trayambakum yajamahe

Sugandhim pushtivardhanam

Urvarukamiva bandhanan

Mrityormukshiya mamritat

Translation: May we worship Lord Siva, who is fragrant and nourishes well all beings. May she liberate us from death for the sake of immortality as easily as the ripe cucumber is released from the vine.

Would this not be the nicest way to move from this physical world into the next? As easily as the cucumber is released from the vine!

Be peaceful about death. The moment you think that you are more important than death you find yourself going to extremes in order to avoid it. Then you have forgotten the fact that you are one with everything. Be peaceful about other people's death. We will miss them, but only due to the pull from the obstacle "attachment".

As we grow in spirituality, we will let go of our egos. We will reduce our negative karmas to be worked out and increase that karma which is good. Our lives will become more pleasant with less suffering, and our death-fear will gradually diminish. It is a part of life that we cannot avoid.

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Karma and Reincarnation:

Part 4 Overcoming the Obstacles

In the last section, part 3, we looked at the five obstacles to enlightenment - ignorance, egoism, attachment, aversion, and the desire to cling to life. If you take a moment and put them in order of priority for you to personally deal with, you can see which of these obstacles is the greatest challenge for you. Which is the least challenge for you?

To overcome all of these obstacles we must meditate. We must go inward to commune with the Atman, to live daily from that inner peacefulness. Meditation changes our life to one where we begin to respond to life's circumstances instead of reacting to them. Meditation gives us time to contemplate the real meaning of the events of our day. It allows us the opportunity to function from our soul rather than from our mind. It slows us down to the point where we are able to think about the events presented in our day and weigh each action against our karma.

Ask yourself as you enter new situations, "Will this hinder my growth towards enlightenment and give me negative karma to work out, or will it move me closer towards enlightenment, creating only good karma."

Along with our meditation, we can look to the Yamas and Niyamas as tools for overcoming these obstacles. Once we see how the yamas and niyamas can assist us with an obstacle, meditation will strengthen our resolve to overcome it. Juan Mascaro in his commentary for "How to Know God", offers us some direction. He says, for example, that non-attachment is absolutely necessary for us to reach self-mastery. It is freedom from desire. He says our thought waves can either be drawn to the objective world (the will to desire) or toward true self-knowledge (the will to liberation). Therefore, the practice of Non-attachment is necessary.

Yamas and Niyamas: The spiritual disciplines we are to practice are the Eight limbs of yoga (the more traditional meaning to Ashtanga Yoga - asht (eight) anga (limbs). These 8 limbs are:

Yamas and
Niyamas (moral restrictions and observances),
Asana (postures),
Pranayama (breathing),
Pratyahara (withdrawal from the senses),
Dharana (concentration),
Dhyana (meditation), and
Samadhi (self-realisation).

Of these, we will look very thoroughly at the Yamas and Niyamas. By working with these on a very personal basis, we can establish personal tools to enable us to truly make the most of this lifetime. These are the avenues for us to become involved in our spiritual ascension.

The Yamas and Niyamas are universal rules of moral conduct for society to transcend boundaries such as race, creed, colour and nationality. James Hewitt, author of "The Complete Yoga Book", explains that they are "ethical disciplines that ensure the Yogin is approaching the serious business of Self-Realisation in a suitable frame of mind". They provide the purification that is essential for your training in yoga. The process of changing samskaras or old habits and creating new ones is effectively accomplished through living daily in accordance with the yamas and niyamas. By getting involved now we are assuredly working on the perfection of these inner qualities.

We must believe that we can attain perfection in the yamas and niyamas. All of us are at a different place with them, some of us not really paying a lot of attention while others may be quite dedicated to them. Once you learn to incorporate each one of them as part of your own individual sadhana in your daily life, they can keep you living in the moment as you weigh each of your actions against these guidelines. They can be tremendous indicators for you in assessing your growth or progress towards enlightenment. Have patience in your practice to break old habits. Be disciplined and persevere. Don't be afraid to look at yourself. Self-acceptance on all levels of growth is needed to change the old patterns.

The 5 yamas from Patanjali's yoga sutras consist of

Satya, Truthfulness
Ahimsa, Non-Violence
Asteya, Non-stealing
Brahmacharya, Moderation of sexua| Energy
Aparigraha, Non-Possessiveness

Satya is Truthfulness in every respect of one's daily life. This means truthfulness in thought, word and deed. How do we practice this? Be honest. Try not to tell any lies, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem to you. Be less attached (one of those obstacles) and you will be able to be more honest. We can be more truthful when we practice detachment towards situations.

I once read a wise statement, "If you always tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything." Ever find yourself in that position where you told a story and changed some of the details in order to avoid some embarrassment, or for some other reason? Sometimes you told the story one way because it wouldn't matter, and other times you told it with the details altered. Before long you couldn't remember who you told what, so it became difficult to keep your story straight!

Shakespeare spoke of always telling the truth in the play Hamlet. "This above all, - to thine own self be true; and it must follow,...thou canst not then be false to any man." Are you honest with yourself? Do you sometimes deny yourself your feelings? Does your ego prevent you from being honest with yourself? Or does fear prevent you from being honest with yourself or others? If you cannot be honest with yourself, how can you possibly expect to be honest to others? Own up to your feelings, assert yourself, give constructive feedback. Be honest, without ego and attachment. (Be aware to tailor your honesty with ahimsa, non -violence).

Take a look at how you are living Satya, or truthfulness. How are you living truthfulness, and how can you do more? How can you make truthfulness a constant way of being in your everyday life? Be honest, and be realistic. Write down how you live satyam now, and how you will continue to grow in truthfulness. You can choose to practice to be truthful for a full day, in every thought, word and deed that you do. To be truthful to every person you encounter.

Ahimsa is non-violence. Violence rises out of fear, anger, ignorance, restlessness, selfishness. The practice of non-violence is accomplished through compassion, love, understanding, and patience.

Swami Sivananda says to "Love all". Mahatma Ghandi said "Ahimsa is not merely a negative state of harmlessness but it is a positive state of love, of doing good even to the evil-doer. But it does not mean meek submission to the will of the evil-doer: it means the putting of one's whole soul against his will. Working under this law of our being, it is possible for a single individual to defy the whole might of an unjust empire, to save his honour, his religion, his soul, and lay the foundation for that empire's fall or its regeneration."

So non-violence is not just avoiding killing, but also a positive compassion for all sentient creatures. It is that unconditional love spoken of in so many yoga texts. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad has a wonderful description of unconditional love.... "...It is not for the love of creatures that creatures are dear; but for the love of the Soul in creatures that creatures are dear....It is the Soul, the Spirit, the Self, that must be seen and be heard and have our thoughts and meditation. When the Soul is seen and heard, is thought upon and is known, then all that is becomes known."

We are capable of this. Look at how Mahatma Ghandhi fulfilled this. He said, "I hold myself to be incapable of hating any being on earth. By a long course of prayerful discipline, I have ceased for over forty years to hate anybody. I know this is a big claim. Nevertheless, I make it in all humility."

Wow! What a great attitude towards other beings sharing this earth!! This approach to non-violence must also includes self-love -- believing in our own worthiness. We can be our worst critics. We say things in our mind about ourselves that we would never consider saying about or to another person! This too, is an act of violence.

Non-violence must be practiced in thought, word and deed. In our daily life, we can practice non-violence just by becoming more accepting of other people's ways. Say only good, kind things, and if we think some negative thoughts towards someone else, we must make the effort to change those thoughts into ones of understanding, acceptance, or detachment towards that person's actions. Remove the judgement from our thoughts or the need to control, and we immediately can let go of negative words or conversations about others.

Some people practice non-violence by eating only vegetarian food. But what about those of you who are not fully vegetarian? Perhaps you could eat vegetarian food once a week, so it becomes a conscious practice of non-violence towards living creatures. What about the idea from the Buddhists that the violence isn't just the killing of animals, but also the killing of plants and vegetation? If we move to the INTENT behind the actions we can move into a more spiritual place with it, and we can still progress. Say a prayer for the gift of the food and its nourishment each time you eat. Waste none of what you have taken.

If the person moves from the idea of hunting for sport to hunting for providing the basic food for his/her family, then a different value is placed on that life and the intent of hunting changes. Change is often made in increments, and each increment must be appreciated and honoured. Gary Zukav, in his book "Seat of the Soul", suggests we approach and regard Life with an attitude of reverence. When we work toward becoming reverent or believing in the holiness of all Life, then our tendencies toward harming others and other forms of Life diminish. Mr. Zukav says, "The destruction of human Life, plant Life, animal Life, and the planet would be considerably diminished, or would cease, if there were an active principle of reverence within our species. ...although we are engaged in evolutionary processes that require personal learning, that does not authorize us to destroy Life while we are learning."

Take no participation in gossip. Gossip is an action of violence and it hurts the soul. You can make that a goal for a day or a week, and soon what happens is you are always aware when you say unkind words. It becomes integrated. It becomes a habit to notice. Proverbs 12, verse 18 says "Thoughtless words can wound as deeply as a sword, but wisely spoken words can heal." Work at letting go of any anger and replacing it with compassion, giving the situation another chance to be peaceful instead of restless and annoying.

Now take a moment to ponder and write down how you currently practice non-violence or ahimsa, and what can you do to further develop this quality within you.

Asteya is non-stealing. You can relate this very much to truthfulness. How can you steal and be honest? And what is stealing? It is not just the physical aspect of stealing that matters. What about taking credit for something you didn't do? Stealing someone else's ideas and not acknowledging where they came from?

Can you honestly live with integrity knowing you have taken from someone, whether it is an object of little value or a thought or idea? Making copies of copyrighted cassette or video tapes, photocopying books without permission, borrowing money and never paying it back, being given too much change at the store and not saying anything.

All of these actions are tallied up and kept on record for your future karma to work out. To improve your practice of non-stealing you can really take a look at the Golden Rule to guide you on this one..."do unto others as you would have them do unto you".

Take a moment to think about what you "take" that does not belong to you. Is there another way you can manage? Can you give credit to others who have taught you what you wish to share?

Brahmacharya: Most of us think of brahmacharya as related to celibacy, for the conservation of powerful life-currents and their transition into vibrations of psychic energy. But let's simplify brahmacharya. Brahmacharya is self-restraint, or leading a well-regulated life. It is moderation, the middle ground.

The path to enlightenment lies in that thin line between opposite extremes. The middle ground is balance. In the movie "The Little Buddha", Siddhartha overheard a musician talking to a student about tuning the sitar. "If you tighten the string too much it will snap, and if the string is too loose it won't play. The music is in between." Siddhartha realised that in his life as an ascetic he was living in the extreme, trying to overcome the needs of his body instead of acknowledging them.

So one end of the scale is suppression and the other end is indulgence. The place in between is moderation. Moderation is Brahmacharya. It is also non-attachment. Balance. We need to live moderation in how much we eat, how much we sleep, how much we work, how much we perform asanas, how much we have sex, how much you do anything. We can be caught in the extreme with all activities, just as workaholics or alcoholics find themselves caught.

What about sex and brahmacharya? According to James Hewitt in the Complete Yoga Book, celibacy is not asked of the "householder Yogin", the family person practicing yoga at home. Instead, it is expected that he/she will utilize sexua| union to intensify and heighten their spiritual life. Lovemaking can become an act of Yogic contemplation, taking on some of the qualities of the sacred rite that it becomes in Tantric Yoga.

Hans-Ulrich Rieker, author of "Yoga of Light", explains that it is not as important to withhold potency as it is to know how to manage it, and above all, how to transform it into spiritual potency. Celibacy without the transformation of the preserved potencies only forces them to find their own outlet, mostly where it is least desired. Celibacy of mind must precede celibacy of body in order for one to be in natural harmony, for yoga is the economy of forces, not the repression of nature. The brahmin or monk will most likely choose a path of celibacy, but for those of us who are householders, we have the freedom to draw on both ways of harnessing the sexua| energy. At times we may choose chastity to focus the libido for spiritual ends, and at other times choose to deepen sexua| relations with our partner in the spirit of Tantrism.

The key, with regards to moderation, is to find that balance where you are not controlled by the powerful sexua| energy, but rather utilizing it for your spiritual growth. Perhaps you can measure your spiritual progress somewhat by noticing how much you concentrate on the physical pleasure instead of the mystical expansion of consciousness.

You can't live peacefully in the extremes. It is far too much attachment to the senses. Letting go of egoism, as well as practicing non-attachment will give you moderation in your life. So take a moment to look at how you move towards moderation in all aspects of your life. Where are you peacefully in balance? Where do you feel out of balance, and without peace?

Aparigraha is non-possessiveness. Aparigraha does not mean the absence of all possessions, but rather to not cling to them. To not crave unnecessary things.

The yogin is expected to reduce his possessions to a reasonable simplicity. This counters our Western approach to accumulating wealth, which is a sign of success. The yogis have a very different concept of what the goal is in this physical life!

Wayne Dyer says, "When you always want more, your energy is gone into that, not into self growth." We can spend extra hours working to make extra money so we can have two cars, or a bigger house, or more appliances. But how much of this do we really need? Are you trying to fulfil wants rather than needs? What could possibly be more important to have than our inner peace and enlightenment?

Take time to meditate. Take time to love and be with your family. Let go of the need to "have" everything. There will always be more to attract our senses, so our challenge is to try to live with less.

Do you find that you are you jealous in your nature? Do you trust your loved ones and not try to possess them? Do you try to control your children, your spouse, or your co-workers? What is the balance between control and giving guidance? These people are all individual souls on their own journey and need the space to grow at their own pace.

Take a moment and think about how you can do with less. What could you give away and do without to simplify your life? What are you possessive about? Detachment and letting go of the ego will help us with aparigraha. Take a look at how you can live non-possessiveness in your life.

Continued… Niyamas

Karma and Reincarnation: Part 5

Overcoming the Obstacles:

In Part 4, we discussed how the 5 yamas of Patanjali's yoga sutras assist us in overcoming the obstacles to enlightenment, so let us move on to the 5 niyamas, and see how they assist us too.

Saucha is purity, both internal and external. Purity of body, mind, speech and discrimination. So first let us look at the physical. We must remember that we are not this body or mind. The body and mind are gifts for us to use during this lifetime to assist us in our growth spiritually. Treat your body with the kindness it deserves.

Keep your body clean as the temple for your soul. Keep your environment clean as the temple for your body. Extend this into the earth's environment and keep it clean for the temple of all living creatures. We have tools to do this...even referring back to moderation in all things will help us to eat well, sleep well, exercise well, relax well. This will help us to live cleanly internally and externally.

Referring back to non-violence will remind us how to extend reverence to our environment and ourselves. Do your asanas and kriyas, follow yogic dietary guidelines and eat sattwic foods, meditate. Internal purity, or purity of the heart and mind, is considered to be of greater value than external purity.

Swami Vivekananda says that mental purity is obtained through the virtues mentioned in chapter one, verse 33 of Patanjali's yoga sutras. This entails the process of changing old vrittis or thought patterns through friendship, mercy, gladness, and indifference. (indifference meaning that we are "unaffected" by pleasure or pain, but having an "evenness of mind"). He says, "We must have friendship for all; we must be merciful towards those that are in misery; when people are happy we ought to be happy, and to the wicked we must be indifferent. If an object is good, we must be glad; if an object is evil, we must be indifferent. These attitudes will make us peaceful. If a big wave of anger comes over us, how do we control it? By raising an opposing wave. Think of love. Love is the opposite of anger. Every reaction in the form of hatred or evil shows that we are not able to control the mind. We lose our mental power. Every time we restrain thoughts or actions of hatred or anger and replace them with love and compassion, there is so much good energy stored up in our favour that energy will be converted into higher powers. We do not lose anything by restraining ourselves, in fact we gain infinitely more than we suspect."

Wayne Dyer says that "even those people who irritate and hurt us are here for a reason, and we have lessons to learn from them. They are part of our spiritual family."

How do you, or can you practice saucha or purity with your body? What practices can you incorporate for treating your body as the temple for your soul? What about your environment? Make notes about what you do, and what you can do better.

Santosha is contentment or cheerfulness. The root word from santosha is "tush", meaning "to be pleased". Santosha is the cultivation of calmness and equanimity of mind. Accept what is and make the best out of everything. Juan Mascaro describes santosha as "Having contented acceptance about ones lot in life, untroubled by envy and restlessness." Cultivate an attitude of gratitude and joyfulness.

"Yogins should be cheerful and uncomplaining", James Hewitt says. And it is true. The more you practice cheerfulness, the easier it becomes. If you walk into a room where people are laughing and having fun, and you are grumpy and annoyed, the whole vibration in that room can become heavy. It spoils the good energy. So try to always carry that attitude of cheerfulness wherever you go, and you may turn someone else's day of sadness to one of joy!

Rumi, the Sufi poet, wrote "Today is a day of great, great joy." Every day IS a day of great, great joy, and can be started with this awareness. Try to remember it throughout your daily activities. Mother Theresa says, "A joyful heart is the inevitable result of a heart burning with love." You simply cannot be dark or unhappy if your heart is burning with love.

A friend of mine was standing at a counter in a Bakery waiting for service. He stood there and stood there, waiting for someone to help him. But the clerk was in the back busily doing whatever she needed to do. He thought about getting angry and calling for some assistance. Instead, he just waited patiently. When the woman finally arrived at the counter he gave her a smile, acknowledged how busy she was, and placed his order. In that moment he could have ruined her entire day by getting angry. Instead, he chose to smile and be cheerful, and he made her day. He made a choice to be cheerful. And it is a choice for each one of us in each moment. Happiness is available to you in every moment.

Proverbs 17, verse 22 says, "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine." It can heal you, just by making the effort to be happy instead of sad or gloomy. Ramana Maharishi said, "Pleasure and pain are aspects of the mind. Our essential nature is happiness..." James Hewitt in the Complete Yoga Book talks about how all the Yogic disciplines foster contentment and those peaceful qualities of character seen in persons who had been practicing Yoga for some time. This is how you can develop and practice cheerfulness and contentment. Give away smiles cheerful thoughts in abundance. Practice reverance towards others. Choose a cheerful attitude as opposed to a negative approach to life's circumstances. Don't you think that if we all did that it could change the world? Firmly root contentment into your life.

Tapas is austerity or self-discipline. This refers to strength of character and the resolve of determination to pursue daily practices. Swami Sivananda says "Egolessness and selfless service are the greatest forms of tapas. Humility and desirelessness are the greatest forms of austerity". Karma yoga is selfless service, which grounds us in desirelessness and helps us to be humble. It cultivates a state of letting go of the ego. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Life's most urgent question is, what are you doing for others?"

There are endless possibilities for the practice of karma yoga, and the result is removing those obstacles of attachment, aversion, and egoism. Austerity can include such disciplinary practices like fasting or having a meager diet. It is "doing without", or doing with the minimum. It is very related to the yama, Aparighraha, or non-possessiveness. A moderate austerity trains the will and develops the body and mind for the highest yogic practice.

The Bhagavad Gita warns against excessive asceticism and self-mortification. Lord Krishna says in the 17th discourse, verse 5: "Those men who practice terrible austerities, fools who torture the powers of life in their bodies and Me who dwells in them; know that their mind is in darkness." So again we must acknowledge that enlightenment is not in the extreme, but rather in between suppression and indulgence. Moderation. Practice with discipline. Have resolve and enthusiasm to be disciplined. But don't become a fanatic.

How can you establish Austerity in your life? Can you do more selfless service for others? What sort of disciplines can you more firmly establish into your life? Should you fast, or "do without" something for a period of time to work on desirelessness as a discipline? How can you be more humble? Practice Tapas.

Swadyaya is spiritual study. Spiritual study would include the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita, as well as other highly regarded texts on yoga or those related to your spiritual journey. Swadyaya also means the deep reflection on what is read. It includes self-study towards the true knowledge.

Swami Vishnudevananda was always quite adamant to us in the yoga retreat that we could not waste our time at reading novels or going to useless movies. He would only allow us to go to a movie if it was based on spiritual lessons. He felt that it was important to do that spiritual study every day, to root and ground ourselves in spiritual thoughts and wisdom. We must be discriminate in what we take in as "light" entertainment, or read as popular fiction. These encourage and misguide us to drift into a relaxed reverie so that the mind becomes dark and impure. If we want to develop the mind towards sattwa, or purity, we must not dabble in areas that will draw us away. Proverbs 16, verse 16 says, "It is better - much better- to have wisdom and knowledge than gold and silver."

For inspiration, many places offer prayer retreats, where for the entire weekend you can contemplate scripture and meditate on the inner meaning of the passages. These retreats can help one be inspired to continue to study daily on their own. Many churches, ashrams or bookstores offer daily readings. Swami Venkatesananda broke down the verses of the Bhagavad Gita in his book "Song of God" into daily readings for 365 days a year. He put his detailed commentary below each daily passage. This is a wonderful way to begin your day with spiritual study. Inevitably, awakening your mind with pure, spiritual thoughts will change your day!

If you teach yoga, you can study texts to find spiritually inspirational readings for your students. It is always nice to finish a yoga class with an inspirational reading. This practice draws you into your spiritual texts in order to share the knowledge. The reciting of a mantra is also regarded as spiritual study as it keeps you focused on God. You can use your mala beads to assist your repetitions and increase them gradually, to help maintain your spiritual focus. As mentioned earlier, you could also reduce the recreational reading you do and limit how much time, if any, you will allow your mind to participate in that. Try to incorporate this practice of Swadyaya or spiritual study into your lives.

Isvara Pranidhana is surrendering to God or the Divine Will. This is the final niyama. In order to accomplish this, one must let go of the ego. This is a huge task. The ego is a source of frustration, dissatisfaction and tension. The ego is inflated with its own importance. In order to let go of the ego, we must learn to trust in the Self, the Atman, the centre of wholeness of being.

The ego is the obstacle that holds us back from enjoying the riches in life. If we are afraid to say we are wrong or have made a mistake, we miss the opportunity for growth and learning. That fear comes from the ego. Our ego is what makes us desire and want more and more material things. If we can become observers of situations, and try to grasp the karmic lessons from them rather that try to control situations, then we are more likely to find ourselves surrendering to the Supreme.

Iswara is the Supreme Being, the recipient of devotion. We can melt the ego through the path of Bhakti Yoga, the yoga of love and devotion. That fire of devotion is so powerful in moving one to surrendering to God! You must let go of the ego in order to love God and to serve God fully, without putting your own desires first. You must recognize your purpose, to be as one with God, as opposed to the material purposes we so often get caught up with in our earthly life.

James Hewitt states that Jnana Yoga is also a path to help us move to Ishwara Pranidhana or surrender to God. We can whittle away the intellect through the study of the Vedas, recognizing what is Real and what is unreal, therefore removing the power of the ego.

Raja Yoga will still the mind's restlessness through the practice of meditation. As we become more peaceful within, the union with God is ever closer and we can surrender. The individual soul and the Supreme Being become one as we surrender our ego and let our true nature come through. The mantras "I am Thine, all is Thine" or "Thy will be done" are mantras for self-surrender. Self-surrender helps us to transcend the ego, which is so resistant to surrender.

So, through Bhakti, Raja, Jnana, or Karma Yoga one can find a path for surrendering to God. One can cultivate faith, dedication, sincerity, and patience in order to transcend the ego. You must accept that what you have in life is a product of your karmic unfolding. You must cultivate love and devotion to Ishwara through those around you. Can you learn from this how to create positive karma through your surrender, love and understanding of the Supreme? Can you practice karma yoga and humble yourself, allowing your ego to be set aside? In what ways do you choose to develop this acceptance of "Thy will be done"?


We have taken a look at how the 5 obstacles to enlightenment are alive and well in our personal life, as well as how we are living, and can live better through the Yamas and Niyamas - the moral and ethical disciplines of the 8 limbs of yoga. So now that you have personalized these Yamas and Niyamas imagine how you can incorporate them into your daily to help you on your journey to the goal of yoga, enlightenment.

Work with overcoming the obstacles, focusing particularly on those that are challenging for you. Practice with conviction one of the 10 yamas and niyamas each day. Gradually you will have incorporated them all, every day. Remember that James Hewitt said the Yamas and Niyamas provide the purification that is essential for your yoga.

Swami Sivananda spoke of how the 8 limbs of yoga lead us to Samadhi, or enlightenment. He says, "The purificatory Kriyas of Hatha Yoga and asanas ensure health of the body and free it from ailments. Pranayama revitalizes the vital sheath. Withdrawing the senses(pratyahara) and arresting their outgoing tendency, and the practice of Concentration strengthens the mind. Meditation achieves the blending of the intellect and intuition, rendering the intelligence intuitive. Samadhi illumines the soul and reveals the Self by piercing the veil of ignorance.

"This is Yoga, the perfect system of self-culture. No one can embark on this noble enterprise however, without first preparing the vessel. Purification and self-restraint, or observation of the codes of right conduct [the yamas and niyamas] ensure proper preparation. One who has not controlled his senses, who is not truthful, kind, compassionate and pure can make no progress in sadhana. Energy escapes through all the avenues of his body. His vital sheath is debilitated; his mind is extroverted; his intellect is dull; and his soul is permeated with darkness. Meditation for such a man is only a dream. Without ethical training no progress on the spiritual path is possible."

If we can live adhering to these Yamas and Niyamas we can transform our karma so what we create is only good, and karmic debts are paid. Meditate regularly to stay focused on these moral values. Enlightenment is a karma-free state. We can reach this when we are left with only good karma. By living these codes of right conduct we can reduce significantly the number of incarnations we must go through simply by virtue of the fact that we are creating less and less negative karma. Make the Yamas and Niyamas the foundation for the rest of your yoga practice. Make a choice not to ignore the Golden Rule. Rise above the obstacles as they present themselves.


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