Search & Read
Your Karma Is up to You
Morry: Hello, Ram. Thank you for replying to my questions. Sorry I did not get back to you earlier… sometimes some ideas need quite a while to sink in. I realize Vedanta needs to work its way slowly but persistently over a reasonable period of time. It seems it’s like bits and pieces getting straightened out as experience happens in daily life. To whole picture of truth paints itself over time, as there is a lot to nail down. No need to eliminate experience, as it actually helps uncover ignorance. Would you say that’s correct?
Ram: Yes, indeed. You can’t eliminate experience anyway, so you should use your experience as the raw material for your spiritual work. Spirituality is not about transcending experience – because you are always beyond experience – but about removing the obstacles to your appreciation of yourself as the self, which always show up in the form of experiences.
When you say “eliminate experience” you are obviously referring to unacceptable experiences. If you are practicing self-inquiry, you look at the experience and you try to figure out why you cannot accept the experience. The resistance to a particular experience is rooted in some kind of expectation for a different result. But the result of one’s actions – which is what your experiences are – is not up to you, so the cause of the resistance is sourced in a misunderstanding of the nature of reality.
Or the experience is teaching you how certain actions that flow from ignorance of the nature of the dharma field or your own nature produce unwanted results, and by extension how to avoid those actions in the future.
Morry: Our previous email conversation has gotten quite lengthy and messy, and I am not sure it’s a good idea to quote any of it and make an even bigger message. I would just like to ask you new questions that have arisen this summer and that I haven’t been able to completely resolve myself.
Looking at my everyday experience, I notice I still don’t feel happy or free, even though I have told you in our last conversation that most of my worries and anxieties were gone. Why would that be? What would you say?
I may have found a part of the answer: I have realized a problem in my use and application of Vedanta. I have been listening to your videos and reading your book daily and obsessively for a year, agreeing on all counts to what you are saying (it just makes so much sense). But I seem to fail to apply the tools in my personal life. I think I have understood that I need to reflect/contemplate and prove the logic of what you are saying in my own head instead of simply creating a belief in Vedanta. Would you say that’s correct? The beliefs had some calming effect, but in the long run their effects wear out, they don’t free you, and that is why I still feel somewhat trapped. So instead of just watching and watching, I need to sit and do the work, basically. Right?
Ram: That’s correct, Morry. Vedanta is not a bunch of ideas to be believed in. It is not a religion. First you have to hear the truth and then you need to look at your mind moment-to-moment and apply the truth to what appears in it – as it appears. The practice of Vedanta is called jnana abyasa, which means “the practice, or application, of knowledge.” You know from the teaching – and perhaps from some epiphanies – that you are whole and complete, actionless awareness. And you look at your mind/ego and you see that it does not seem to appreciate this fact, so it needs to be educated. If you let it think and act from its own idea, it will continue to produce unwanted karma, so you correct it and then act out of the right idea. The mind’s thinking patterns are sourced in ignorance, so they are going to be more or less the mirror opposite of the truth. When it wants something that will not serve you spiritually, you need to say no to it and give it the reason why. This is where Vedanta comes in. It gives you the spiritual logic you need to teach yourself to conduct your life from the standpoint of your true nature. It is not easy, Morry. Ignorance is persistent. It will not just tuck its tail between its legs ands slink off into the night when it is confronted with the light of Vedanta. It will show its fangs and fight, so the short answer to your question is “yes.”
Morry: For example, I haven’t really been practicing karma yoga religiously. Yes, I understand the logic of it and that the results aren’t up to me. But I noticed I often still unconsciously want things to be different, even though it’s sometimes subtle. Is the practice of karma yoga something that should be going on 24/7 for any kind of action that is initiated, no matter how small? I need to know if this practice is to be ongoing so that every minute, every day, the dedication is going on. For example, I am about to do some laundry, which feels like a burden and totally repetitive. Should I talk to myself and say, “Okay, God, you need clean clothes, and when I clean these clothes, it cleans myself of my ignorance”? I notice the activity then becomes quite soothing… Another example: I am walking to go to work. Should I be like, “I am walking for you, God, because when I walk it gets me closer to you.”
Ram: Yes, absolutely. Every little action should be consecrated. I am attaching a PDF file called Karma Yoga, the Cat’s Pajamas that will help you with it. It was written by one of my disciples who has had tremendous success with karma yoga. Karma yoga is actually just knowledge, insofar as when you really understand that the results are not up to you and you are very clear that you only want freedom, it does not need to be “practiced” in the sense that you have to “do karma yoga.” It automatically defines your relationship to the doer and to action.
Morry: I have always been a rebel, at odds with just about everything in our materialistic society. I have realized through reading your book that this is totally useless and contrary to happiness/freedom, so I have dropped it. Occasionally, I still notice traces of it though. One example is having a job. Even though I see my work as a contribution, it is difficult for me to get up every day to the sound of an alarm clock, very tamasic and head for an eight- to nine-hour workday. In the back of my mind, I have always wanted not to work, to be a part of the job market, but that is not my karma. I just got back from my two-week vacation (went to southern Spain) and find a bit upsetting the idea of having to work another 50 weeks before I can take time off again. Talk of a life, it’s like being a slave. How could I neutralize all those concerns about work? Some part of me understands that my actions are governed by an unconscious force and that I am actually not responsible of them, but the suffering associated with it is not fully removed.
Ram: Well, in this case karma yoga probably won’t work, because the power of the ideas that support your participation in that madness have never been questioned. For example, you say it is not your karma to be apart from the job market. Ram says, “How do you know that it isn’t your karma? Who decides that it is your karma? Did karma itself come to you one fine day and say, ‘It is your karma to work like a slave in a boring, meaningless environment’?” You have control of your karma, actually.
Morry: When I was seventeen I got fired from a job because I made a good suggestion to my boss. He said, “You’re fired. You are not paid to think.” I thought about it a lot and looked at all the people who had regular boring jobs just to pay the rent and I thought, “Fuck this. I am not going to do it.” And I never did. I made money on my own with my wits, and I lived without money and it did not matter, because I was free of that overwhelming pressure that grinds away your spirit when you surrender to the system.
So in this case inquiry should accompany karma yoga. Why do I believe that I need to subject myself to this madness? It is killing me. For what? Do I really need to do this? Isn’t there another way?
James: I don’t know how bad your dissatisfaction is, so I can’t say whether karma yoga will work. On the other hand, if you really are a prisoner then the only way out is by accommodating yourself to the situation and karma yoga is the best way to do it because you get two valuable results instead of one. You get the security and you get yoga, the spiritual benefit, which is relief from a dissatisfied mind. I would say, however, that since you have found that it works and you know you have been inconsistent that you stick with it and apply it more diligently on a thought-by-thought basis as you go about the business of life.
Morry: Work and school have been creating unhappiness for me for quite a while now; after a regular day at the office, my body and intellect are totally numb. It seems all the demands of the day take their toll on me. I have tried hard, different tools and techniques to reduce or avoid this, but haven’t found relief. Lately I have even become fed up with trying to actually change my state. I think I will have to accept this tamasic energy. Trying to change it is adding another layer of dissatisfaction. In fact in my experience, trying to change the gunas doesn’t make my gross body feel lighter and just seems to add more shackles. Fortunately, I think my intellect is able to maintain enough sattva to discrimate. It’s mostly the body that feels heavily tamasic and even dead sometimes! Not pleasant.
Ram: Yes, the tamas is part of the environment. You are part of the environment. You get tamasic. There are only two solutions: change the environment or change your attitude toward it. I think you are right about trying to change your state of mind. It is just rajas, dissatisfaction. See if you can take the dissatisfaction with the karma yoga attitude. See if you can find reasons to be satisfied in that environment. There are people who love this kind of environment. How do they see it? It may be that they do not have the need for freedom that you have, so they see it as an opportunity to get what they want. So they stay upbeat and participate.
I invite you to consider your statement “work and school have been creating unhappiness for me” and figure out what is wrong with it.
Morry: Last but not least, one major point of dissatisfaction is living with chronic daily pain (headaches). In one of your discourses, you explain we’d better “take the things we don’t like and find something to like about them.” I realize in my case that I have been fighting for the last five years to get rid of my chronic headaches to no avail. Most doctors have told me that I have to learn to accept it. But I find difficult to be grateful for anything in life because of that headache. I don’t think I did anything to deserve this and it’s a BIG limitation to have that uneasy, painful feeling at the very heart of your soul, day and night. In fact I have often thought that life is totally unenjoyable when you live in a state of constant physical pain. You are always looking for a way to relieve that pain. To some degree, I would be willing to let go of my life, if that was going to solve the problem. I really don’t know what to do with that one. The pain has brought me a lot of introspection, but overall it just makes me feel miserable and uneasy in the present moment.
Ram: I am so sorry to hear this, Morry. If I was in your shoes I would drop out and go back to the basics. It sounds like your life is terribly complicated. I think the way you have been approaching life is causing these headaches. I am not sure that a simple change of attitude toward your work is going to do the job. What use is a job and all that stress if you are in pain all the time? It is quite possible that anxiety for the results is so internalized that it has become completely unconscious and therefore not really amenable to the subtlety of the karma yoga approach. I think if you just dropped out and learned how to live a very simple life, a life in which the small daily actions you do take care of you, the headaches will go away. One reason I feel emboldened to give this advice is that you said you were a rebel. I agree with you that rebellion is not good. But the cause of your sense of rebellion bears scrutiny. Why did you rebel? Was there a good reason? I think there was. It was not a reason that you perhaps understood at the time you began to rebel, but there is a good reason to feel rebellious and that is because what you rebelled against stinks. It is not the truth. You can’t fix it by rebelling, but the impulse is good. You have this nature because you are in touch with your true nature, the self, and the self knows what bullshit is. It does not like it one bit. If you sell out and give in you are going against your nature. The kiss-ass people who thrive on the bullshit do not have the same nature as you. They are not in touch with their ever-free true nature. They have a secondary nature – it is called svadharma – that is suited to security or pleasure or virtue or any of the various things that samsara has to offer, so they are not in conflict with society. Yes, they have their problems – but they like society and its twisted values because it is a way they can fulfill their desires. When you sell out you do not know that you are selling out. You think you are just being realistic or practical – and you are according to the values of samsara – but you actually begin the struggle with your real nature at that time. You create a conflict and this conflict manifests in any number of ways, one of which is physical. It is very difficult to notice the connection between the pain and the cause because it is so deeply buried in the past. I believe if you could get a more basic simple lifestyle the headaches would go away, unless of course the anxiety samskara is so strong that you feel anxious because you are living a simple life!
Morry: All in all, even though it’s a beautifully constructed universe, I realize I want nothing do with it. Ha, ha!! Lately my love of truth and my desire to be free have grown and I am getting a lot less interested in gaining relative knowledge or transient experiences… I am confident that with knowledge I will realize that I am the freedom that I am seeking.
Thank you for your time, and all the best to you, Ram.
Ram: You will find what you are seeking. I like your positive attitude in spite of your suffering.
~Much love, Ram
Morry: Hello, Ram. Your response to my message was profound and brought old and uncomfortable issues to light. You hit right on the sore spot… Please allow me a couple of days to reflect and answer back.
All the best to you, Ram.