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Is Karma Punishment?

February 18 2007

A Jaya Kula reader asked if we will be punished by Mahasiddhas or other accomplished beings if we do something inappropriate. First, we must understand that experiencing some result in our lives as punishment at the hands of other beings can only happen within the context of dualistic experience and linear time. This is the View of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

If we are established in nondual View, we can see the possibility of holding the View that we are being punished. This appears to us as part of the play of manifest life. But we do not actually hold the View of punishment. We suffer less from a feeling of separation, fear, and victimization.

However, we know firsthand that the world works in a certain way. From one important perspective, every bound action creates a result. This is karma. Until we are totally realized, more realized than even a Mahasiddha, we know that we are still operating in the field of karma.

Karma is natural law operating at the level of dualistic experience. At the same time, karma is an effect of the continuity of Reality. If you splash in a pond, the water of the entire pond will respond by moving.

If we are in a relatively ignorant or bound state, we experience the movement of the water as something outside of ourselves, and perhaps unrelated to us. Only in this state can we feel we are being punished.

If we are in a more open state, we understand that karma is nothing but responsiveness in a state of continuity.

When we are established in this knowledge, we know that any result in our lives is due to the responsiveness of Reality as a whole. Particular beings may arise and play their part in that total responsiveness, like waves in an ocean. But our View should be that Reality is responding to us appropriately according to our actions and real situation, not that we are being punished by another being. This is the condition of taking 100% responsibility for our conduct.

Another fundamental aspect of this View is that no matter what is happening, Reality is communicating in a way that has the possibility of opening us to greater Self-recognition. Every moment is this compassionate communication, even so-called punishment.

We are all inappropriate in our actions. This is the same as saying that we are not yet Self-realized. We should not be hysterical about it.

We want to relax more deeply, not bind ourselves more. Instead of becoming morose or hysterical about our relative ignorance, we try to develop discrimination and sensitivity to the times. Sensitivity to the times means discerning the activity in a moment that takes advantage of that moment’s opportunity for greater relaxation and realization.

Slowly, as we practice, we relax and gain more sensitivity to the world. At some point we are able to “hear” the instructions of the world letting us know how to act and not act.

In fact, we are already hearing those instructions. If we eat a pint of ice cream after a big meal, we will likely get indigestion. We have been communicated to about the inappropriateness of our actions. If we are in a tense situation with another person, and we relax and respond with natural kindness, the other person may relax, too. We have been communicated to about the appropriateness of our action. The whole world is like this. One big communication in every moment without exception.

The fundamental question in each moment is: Are we going to listen and follow, or are we going to let the momentum of habit move us temporarily toward states of greater tension and entanglement? Are we going to take the short way or the long way?

If you have not developed this world listening capacity yet, you can rely on Guru, on the teachings of the Masters, and on the expertise of traditions such as Ayurveda that teach us how to “go with the flow” toward Self-realization. The world provides you with many compassionate supports, and you should make use of these.

Even with support, you will make mistakes. A mistake only means that you will inevitably act out of a habit pattern that temporarily creates greater tension. When you start to gain more clarity about this process, and about the total responsivity of the world, it can, at one stage, cause you to fear taking any action at all.

But understand that devotion and constancy to the process of discovering your real situation, and being responsible to that will overcome any mistakes. This world is full of compassion and grace. Surrender to your devotion and longing for realization, wherever it leads you, because it will inevitably lead you home.

OM Shanti,
Shambhavi