The Best Thing You Can Do for Your Karma (2024)

By now the word “Karma” has joined the few Sanskrit terms to enter the English language. The complexity of Karma as a spiritual concept hasn’t gotten very far, however. In the West “good karma” and “bad karma” are about as far as most people’s understanding goes. Vaguely karma is treated much like the Biblical injunction, “As you sow, so shall you reap.”

If you take it seriously, however, karma represents an entire worldview. This worldview can’t be generalized as Eastern spirituality. It is much more about the role of consciousness, holding that consciousness is innate in creation. The basic principles of a consciousness-based worldview aren’t specifically Eastern or Indian. Its scope is universal, because nothing less than the total operation of the mind, including awareness at every level of Nature, not simply human awareness, is at stake.

Karma fits into these larger principles, which can be succinctly described. Understanding them gets us far into the problem of what to do about so-called bad karma. I’ll state these principles in their most personal form.

  • Existence is on your side.
  • Invisible forces support your evolution.
  • The light of awareness can heal.
  • Infinite possibilities exist in consciousness.
  • Bliss consciousness lies at the core of existence.
  • There is inherent meaning in your life.
  • You are woven into a grand plan overseen by higher consciousness.
  • Your worth is infinite.
  • The ideal life is to live in your dharma, which means living your true self.

“True self” is a term I’ve adopted to talk about the Atman or higher self in the Vedic vision of life. It pertains to the unchanging identity that exists in you at a deep level of awareness. Your true self wants to make contact. It does this through what is known in Sanskrit as Swarupa, which I’ll roughly translate as “the pull of the self.” The pull of the self is what makes people want to grow and evolve, to discover who they really are, and to reach for higher aspirations.

Karma is the chief obstacle to hearing your true self. The problem comes down to memory. You have a memory because memory is a fixed trait of awareness generally. The memory of your past actions enters with you at birth, according to the doctrine of karma, giving you a basis for your life as you grow up. Karma is an essential part of a consciousness-based worldview, even if the term isn’t used. Karma is nothing more than memory in action, and your actions today are hugely influenced by actions you’ve taken since birth, for good or ill.

Karma tends to come in patterns, which links it to habits that everyone develops. A habit is just a memory you can’t shake, and usually don’t want to. Being able to read is a lasting habit, for example, and on the other side so is the habit of overeating or having a short fuse. As we all know, bad habits are hard to break, but bad Karma is even harder. They stick with us at a deeper level of awareness where the impressions of the past (known as Samskaras in Sanskrit) act like microchips storing information and generating signals to guide behavior.

It isn’t necessary to accept this description, because in the larger scheme of things, karma is unfathomable. You can’t trace any karma back to its source, and the impressions left by past actions are often indelible. That’s a wonderful thing if your karma is to be a great musician or mathematical genius, two traits that tend to show up very early in life. It’s a bad thing, however, if a child shows tendencies that later ripen into criminal behavior.

The key question, then, is how to counter your karmic patterns some other way. Does a consciousness-based worldview include a safety valve, escape hatch, or saving grace that nullifies karma? In the Indian tradition it does, in the form of Dharma. Dharma comes from a Sanskrit verb that means “to uphold,” which is the key. Consciousness is set up in human awareness to uphold a better life, in fact, an ideal life. If you are in your dharma, unseen forces will support your existence, despite the influence of past karma. Dharma acts here and now.

The only way to test this proposition, which sounds absurd to anyone who accepts the current scientific worldview, is to pursue your dharma. Joseph Campbell was aware of this when he coined his famous advice, “Follow your bliss.” To be in your dharma feels much better than being out of your dharma. Campbell was an expert in mythology, his chief field, but he also had a deep understanding of Eastern wisdom traditions, as reflected in the following quotes.

On following your bliss:

“If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living.” This quote emphasizes the importance of aligning your life with your intrinsic passions and desires.

“Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.” This encourages embracing the unknown and trusting that your path will unfold as you follow your deepest calling.

On the hero’s journey:

“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” This highlights the importance of self-discovery and living authentically.

“Your sacred space is where you can find yourself over and over again.” This emphasizes the need for introspection and connecting with your inner self to find your true purpose.

“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” This encourages openness and flexibility, acknowledging that our true path may not be what we initially envisioned.

On finding meaning in life:

“The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.” This speaks to finding harmony and purpose by aligning with a larger force than oneself.

“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.”

In a handful of quotes, Campbell perfectly describes the first principle I mentioned about the consciousness-based worldview: Existence is on your side. On the opposite side of the coin, the actions that take a person outside their dharma don’t feel blissful and often feel bad.

Your Experiences Are Not Dharmic When…

  • You feel dissatisfied with your life.
  • You are bored with your work and consider it unfulfilling.
  • You feel anxious or depressed.
  • You run into setbacks, obstacles, and resistance in a frustrating pattern.
  • You find the world threatening.
  • Your mood is generally pessimistic.
  • You get little love and give little love.
  • You dislike looking at yourself clearly.
  • You don’t find much purpose or meaning in things.
  • You dream of a life very different from yours that you’d like to escape to.
  • You’re tired of the struggle it takes to survive, much less thrive.

There’s a lot to consider here, but the essential thing is to know that there is a worldview where your ideal life is not only possible but awaits you. Testing such a worldview is the whole point of being on the path, however you define that term. Dharma counters karma. When you discover that this axiom applies to you, the result can be life-changing.

DEEPAK CHOPRAMD, FACP, FRCP, founder ofThe Chopra Foundation, a non-profit entity for research on well-being and humanitarianism, andChopra Global, a whole health company at the intersection of science and spirituality, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation. Chopra is a Clinical Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of California, San Diego, and serves as a senior scientist with Gallup Organization. He is the author of over 90 books translated into over forty-three languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. Chopra has been at the forefront of the meditation revolution for the last thirty years. His latest book,Quantum Body co-authored with physicist Jack Tuszynski, Ph.D., and endocrinologist Brian Fertig, M.D. TIME magazine has described Dr. Chopra as “one of the top 100 heroes and icons of the century.”

The Best Thing You Can Do for Your Karma (2024)


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