The Yoga Sūtra 2.12

क्लेशमूलः कर्माशयोदृष्टादृष्टजन्मवेदनीयः॥

kleśa-mūlaḥ karmāśayo-dṛṣṭādṛṣṭa-janma-vedanīyaḥ.

The womb of karmas (actions and reactions) has its root in these obstacles (ignorance, egoism, attachment, hatred, fear of death), and the karmas bring experiences in the seen [present] or in the unseen [future] births.


The journey of life is like a series of interconnected rides. Birth initiates the first spin on the carousel, introducing us to this carnival of existence. However, the adventure doesn’t stop with just one ride. Rebirth is the subsequent cycle, a continuation of the cosmic journey. It’s as if the universe hands us another ticket and says, “Round two, let’s go!” This isn’t a random sequence; it’s guided by karma, our actions shaping the quality of our subsequent rides. Positive deeds can earn us special tickets for a smoother experience on the next cycle, while missteps might result in a bit of a bumpy ride. Life, according to yogic philosophy, unfolds as a profound interplay of cause and effect, with the prospect of reincarnation (Saṃsāra) adding an extra layer to the play of life (Līlā).

The term ‘karma’ originates in the Sanskrit root ‘kr,’ meaning ‘to do’ or ‘to act.’ Karma is intricately linked to the notion of action and the subsequent consequences stemming from these actions, encompassing thoughts, words, and deeds. While the law of karma itself isn’t fatalistic, it is occasionally misunderstood at its core. Some individuals attempt to balance their karma by deliberately seeking the pain they may have caused. Karma itself isn’t good or bad; however, our collective perspective clearly defines certain actions as unwholesome while others are viewed as wholesome or neutral. Consequently, self-punishment can result in unfavourable karma, perpetuating a cycle of creating events that lead to suffering (Duḥkha).

The concept of rebirth and reincarnation can be deep and multifaceted but a simplified way to understand is to consider your previous life as everything that occurred in the past, encompassing previous days, years, breaths, and even bodies. As each moment fades away, a new one is born. Embracing the notion of another life after this one, akin to another breath following the current one, offers an overall positive perspective. Ancient yogic texts, such as the Vedas and Upaniśads suggest that we have undergone multiple births before fully establishing ourselves in yoga.

“The choice we have is to consciously partake in the construction of our reality or to remain the victim of fate (really unconsciousness).” – David Life

Becoming more aware of our actions (and the results of them) in the present, is the practice of a Jīvanmukta – someone who is liberated while living. Progressing towards becoming a Jīvanmukta not only heightens our awareness of present actions but allows us to investigate the past actions that have got us to where we are and any future actions of which to avoid or pursue. Through our sādhana (spiritual practice that leads to enlightenment) the mind sharpens to the extent that we can dissect and comprehend our karmas, which are then to be destroyed by our awareness of them.

Our karmic imprints of each thought, word and action are known as a saṃskāra. By being aware of these imprints the challenges of life begin to make a little more sense and the need for constant questioning lessens, reducing distress when things do go downhill.

“Good karma is freeing yourself and others; bad karma is hurting yourself and others, it’s as simple as that.” – Ajahn Brahm

Practicing compassion and forgiveness towards all beings is an excellent way to create good karma. Having a plant based diet and lifestyle is immensely good karma too. That’s why it’s most important for a yoga practitioner to get established in this compassionate lifestyle. Some yoga practitioners have that as their main practice. Compassion for all beings is the highest yoga. We can’t expect good karma in our future if we live this life from the pain and suffering of other animals. It’s very easy nowadays to practice veganism and trying it doesn’t hurt. Following a moral code, living intentionally, free from selfish desires is in the yoga practice a lot more than standing on your head or bending backwards.

To deepen our understanding of karma, there is a divide between three main kinds of actions: ‘ Saṃcita Karma,’ the accumulated karma or stock; ‘Prārabdha Karma,’ karma from this lifetime, and ‘Āgāmi Karma,’ our output or how we work out our karma in this life. With that in mind, we become very responsible for our actions. Instead of turning to a higher being that solves problems for us, we take responsibility and act, instead of wasting our time with blame.

When things in life go our way, we like to take most of the credit for ourselves. However, when things go wrong, we blame others or even ask a divine power why this is happening. Life sometimes feels very unfair, and karma brings in a sense of justice. Isn’t it that sometimes we get blamed for something we haven’t done and even punished? Aren’t we very easy to get upset when this happens and ask ‘why us?’ How about the times when we aren’t getting blamed or punished for something we have done wrong and not get caught? Wouldn’t it be fair to then also get upset and ask for punishment? As funny as this sounds, there is a certain truth to it, and life seems to be quite fair after all. I always think that way when I get a parking ticket or a speeding fine. ‘I didn’t break the law! I was certainly driving according to the speed limit’ (at least that’s what I’m telling myself). ‘How unfair, now, I need to pay a fine for something I haven’t done.’ Of course, I don’t consider the ten times I’ve actually broken the law and not been caught as unfair. I feel like even though things sometimes go really wrong for us, there’s some justice present. Thinking this way makes it more likely to accept karma and work with it instead of fighting it. It certainly helped me to stop blaming others and the world.

With all this in mind, we think about all those poor beings out there suffering from sickness, poverty, war, captivity, exploitation and death. What is their karma? Why is this happening and why do they suffer? Do they really deserve all this? An old saying is ‘If you focus on hurt, you will continue to suffer; if you focus on the lesson, you will continue to grow.’ If we ever experience hunger, it will be unlikely that we walk past a being who’s hungry. We understand their hunger and we will try to reduce their pain. Everyone would choose a more compassionate diet and lifestyle over actions that hurt and harm others if we would know how painful it is to get exploited. This is the practice of compassion and a way to create positive imprints in this life.

Sometimes it takes us lifetimes to learn. It is said that the Buddha would talk about that there are two kinds of people on the path to enlightenment, some are like wood that is dry and easy to spark; they understand after the first lesson, and others are still wet and first need to experience some heat to dry out before being enlightened. Sometimes we have to experience something over and over again before we can finally be free of it. This is the cycle of saṃsāra, life and death; getting out of it is the final goal of yoga.

Life is like a recipe; everyone gets different ingredients and a different kitchen to cook in. It isn’t the ingredients nor the kitchen that makes a good cake, it is how much love and care we put into it. Some people can make the most remarkable cakes out of nearly nothing and with an old kitchen; these are the true heroes and heroines of the world. While others have the best ingredients and most modern kitchens and their cakes can taste empty and pale. Some people have all the best ingredients, born into a rich family, going to the best university, then getting into drugs and becoming lazy and ending up in jail. Others are born poor and sick and with family tragedies, but being a delight for themselves and the world, serving unconditionally the good causes. It isn’t at all the conditions we are born into that determine our lives but what we make of them.

As the old saying goes ‘You reap what you sow.’

– Dean Galip