Wednesday, 20 January 2010


A quick background to the series of posts that I am going to be writing over the next couple of days:
For the last week I've been participating in the Inner Engineering Program run by the Isha Yoga Foundation. If you find the work that Isha is doing in the areas of environment, rural rejuvenation, prisoner rehabilitation and education worthy of your support, you can vote for them on Chase community  giving here before the 22nd of January 2010.

Apart from the initiation into the Kriya, the program also included a discourse on certain basic aspects of life pertaining to the inner well being of each individual. Over the last 7 days we've discussed "the business of happiness" (as our teacher put it). We've explores a new way of looking at ideas such as responsibility, desire, reaction, action, freedom and karma. In this and the next few posts, I am going to set down my understanding of what was said and some of my experiences in applying the same over the last week.

Karma was one of the last things we talked about. But I am going to being with Karma. I am beginning here for two reasons: a) Understanding Sadhguru's explanation of Karma and how we create it made everything else fall into place much better. b) Before this program, and even more so after it, I think Karma is one of the most misused words.

Karma is commonly understood in two ways or contexts. First, as action or duty that one must perform as a part of one's place in society and the world. The other denotation of Karma, and the one commonly used when talking of the Hindu way of life refers to the "good" or "bad" deeds credited to your spiritual account. According to commonly understood Hindu philosophy, Karma is what determines the fate of an individual. The depth of Karma and its mystery lies in the fact that the accumulation of Karma is said to transcend lifetimes (if you are a believer in multiple lives that is. If you don't, hold on till I am done with this piece. Karma can still count. The cynic in me insists on this disclaimer.)

Now here's an alternative way of looking at Karma offered to us in these seven days: Karma is conditioning. Conditioning through experience and education. Let me delve a little deeper into what is meant by conditioning here. The human brain processes sensory information through four processes: cognition, recognition, sensation and reaction. For example, when the eye perceives a flower, the brain first cognizes that it is seeing something. Then from previous experience it identifies or recognizes it as a flower. This recognition then produces a sensation of pleasure or pain, pleasantness or unpleasantness based on the stimuli. Lastly, the brain reacts to the sensation and goes on to store the experience of the stimuli in a particular category based on the reaction. It then uses this reaction as a reference point for how to react to the same stimuli at a later date.

A baby is born without any preconceived notions. As it begins to experience the world through its sensory faculties, cognition, recognition and sensation occur automatically in the human brain.These three processes are essential for the survival instinct to function and to protect the physical body. The fourth process, that of reaction, is part voluntary and part involuntary. Reaction begins as an involuntary function as we categorize experiences as "I like this", "I do not like this", "I love this", "I hate this" and so on and so forth. As this habit of reacting becomes more and more innate, we begin to confuse sensation with reaction. Sensation is a physical response that is essential to judge whether a stimuli is conducive to life or not. Reaction on the other hand is our response to that stimuli.

Constant categorization thus, creates in us a pre-conditioned response to situations and stimuli that follow a certain pattern. This building of a library of pre-conditioned or pre-determined responses is the accumulation of Karma. What it prevents one from doing is to see the uniqueness of each situation and it is this inability to see a situation free from the prejudice of a prior experience that creates a determinism in the way we lead our live. Karma.

As we grow older and more aware of our inner capabilities and of the control we have on ourselves, we have the option of not accumulating this Karma. By learning to experience and respond to every situation without the response becoming a rigid rule. Learn from the past but let it not be a determinant of your every future action. Situations may be similar but are never quiet the same. Making love to the same person twice is hardly the same experience is it? The path to Freedom then, lies in being able to see this uniqueness of every situation and every moment and giving oneself the knowledge of the various ways in which one can respond and the flexibility to respond differently each time.

I'll stop here for Freedom in another post in itself.

No comments: