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The Nature of Karma -what it is and how to interact with it


Anahata Yoga Retreat is excited to announce that Sannyasi Shivani Howe, Karma Sannyasin, co-founder and Spiritual Director of Ishtadev Niwas Ashram (Canada) will be leading a full weekend retreat at Anahata Yoga Retreat this February:  THE NATURE OF KARMA – Understand Your Patterns to Change Your Life. Here she unpacks the different takes on Karma, depending on the lens one sees life through.


For some, Karma takes on a hue of luck. Bad luck or experiencing something that is sensorily unpleasant is considered the result of bad karma. Good luck or experiencing something sensorily pleasant is the result of good karma. This puts the notion of Karma in the realm of dualistic fate. Where we bounce from good to bad and back again like a pinball haphazardly bouncing around the table moving solely by the initial jolt of momentum until it falls through the hole. Oh well, try again next time.

To others, karma takes an air of being a superstitious mysticism that can be skirted or manipulated.  Where we believe that a talisman worn or carried; a specific gem in a ring, or a specific mala, can have enough vibrational effect as to redirect or lessen the harshness or any challenging karma coming our way, or amplifying any beneficial karma coming down the pipeline of life.  

While I do believe that a talisman used to stimulate a sense of Divine Remembrance in our thought patterns can be incredibly helpful, I am wary that wearing a gemstone alone can change the lessons destined for our digestion in this lifetime.

Which leads me to a yogic perspective of Karma.

Life is seen as a spiral of experiences that keep the momentum of human consciousness propelled in either expanding or constricting circles. This momentum, in Yogic terms, is known as Karma, Samskara, Vaasana and Dharma.  

Karma is both the root action, and current re-action to the stimulus of this moment. Just as a seed starts in the ground at the beginning of a plants life, yet is also found as the end of its life within the fruit of the plant. Karma is both a cause and an affect.

These seeds hold impressions or Samskaras as to what its innate nature is. These impressions or echoes of memory are not anchored in the present moment but can span lifetimes like waves that form way out at sea eventually making their way to shore. They are frequencies of innate knowing seated in Truth or in varying degrees of ignorance that form into beliefs. Eg. Fire will always burn us.  

A Vaasana is an impulse towards an action that will prove the Samskara to be correct. It is that feeling in us that makes us reach out our hand towards, and into, the flames – like moths to a flame, we see no other choice but to reach out. The impulse to prove the Samskara correct is born out our human tendency that confuses Samskaric memory with Truth.  For the truth is; Fire will not always burn us.  

Dharma is an expanded awareness, that in the face of the Vaasana’s pull to act a certain way, stops and asks, “Does it though?  Can I interact with fire and not get burned? Is there another way? Another reality I have not experienced yet?” and dares to try something different.

Dharmic awareness starts to tease apart this braid of habitual behaviour between action, impression and impulse. It starts to see and witness each aspect play out and eventually consciously chooses how to respond towards Truth and away from ignorance. To choose to put our hands close to the fire for warmth and not into the fire resulting in suffering and pain. 

This dharma, or awareness of right action, allows each moment to come into clarity and inserts an opportunity for a new frequency/behaviour to ripple forward. Changing the pattern of waves. This, in turn, changes the frequency of the karmic seed, with a new impression imprinted on it, it evolves, and then the cycle starts again.

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