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Yoga Sutras For Modern Day Life: Do You Believe in Karma?

 Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 2:12- Our actions and their consequences, Karma, are influenced by the Kleshas. You may see the results of your Karma during this life or the next.

Defining the Sutra

5 Kleshas

  1. Ignorance (avidya)
  2. Ego (asmita)
  3. Attachment to Pleasure (raga)
  4. Aversion to Pain (dvesa)
  5. Fear of Death (abhinivesah)

Keeping the Kleshas active has consequences. They affect your present life and the next.

Modern Day Application

Lets talk about the elephant in the room, future lives. What I know for sure is that I have no clue what the afterlife holds. Science has proven that we cannot be created or destroyed and that we continue to exist in some other form. What that form is, I don’t know. The idea that, we will come back and continue to work out the results of our actions, is not any more far fetched than any other hypothesis on the afterlife. It is actually quite reasonable.  If everything is always changing form, taking another body is taking another form.  The energy, or karma, to which we are attached, comes back with us.  Again, I don’t know if this is true. I am just saying, I can see how it could be.

One of the ways that yogis attempt to prove that past lives are real is through the presence of abhinivesh, the fear of death.

Many Westerners don’t believe in reincarnation. They feel it’s all over once we die. But the yoga philosophy reminds us that all our knowledge comes through experience. Without experience, we cannot understand or learn anything. Even books can only remind us of something we have experienced in the past. They help kindle a fire that is already in us. The fire must be there first for the kindling stick to kindle it.

For example, have you ever experienced a sapadilla fruit? It is abundant in Bombay in certain seasons and is very soft and tasty. But even if I spent three hours explaining a sapadilla fruit and how it tastes, you are not going to understand it because you have never experienced it. Knowledge comes only through experience. If you allow a baby to crawl on the table top, as it comes to the edge and is about to fall, it will yell. Why? Out of fear of falling and dying. How can fear of death come into the mind of a baby? He can only fear death if he has died before.

Some might say, that’s just instinct. But what does instinct mean? Yoga says instinct is a trace of an old experience that has been repeated many times and the impressions have sunk down to the bottom of the mental lake. Although they go down, they aren’t completely erased. Don’t think you ever forget anything. All experiences are stored in the chittam;  and, when the proper atmospheres is created, they come to the surface again. When we do something several times it forms a habit. Continue with that habit for a long time, and it becomes our character. Continue with that character and eventually, perhaps in another life, it comes up as instinct.

Many of you might play the guitar. When you first learned, you might have even marked the notes right on the guitar to get the proper finger position. Each time you played you check to see which string should be manipulated. But after a few months you became proficient and could even talk to someone and play at the same time without looking or thinking about it. How? The experience became habit, and eventually the habit became your character. Probably, in another birth, you might easily pick up guitar playing without much effort. Don’t people say, “”oh she’s a born guitarist?”

In the same way all of our instincts were once experiences. That’s why the fear of death exists.  We have died hundreds and thousands of times. We know well the pain of death. And so, the moment we get into a body, we love it so much that we are afraid to leave it and go forward because we have a sentimental attachment to it.

Some people have old, old cars, say a ’43 Dodge. Even if you offered them the latest model Dodge they wouldn’t want it. You may even say,” your car is no good anymore. You’re blocking the road by driving it at 10 miles an hour when everybody else is going 55. You need to get a new one”. The motor vehicle department may even take it away by force and throw it into a junkyard, but the owner will sit by it, crying and lamenting. Attachment to the body is like attachment to that car.

God’s government regulations say that if your old body is taken away by force, they must give you a new one. Many people do not know this and cling to the body even when it gets old and dilapidated. That constant clinging, breaking away, clinging again, breaking away is why we are mortally afraid of death. It is another klesha based on ignorance of our true nature. So all these Kleshas, whether dormant, feeble, intercepted or sustained should slowly be gotten rid of. Only then are we ready to go further.

-The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali translation and commentary by Swami Satchidananda


Why It is Important

Even if you don’t believe in past or future lives,  taking responsibility for your actions,  puts the power into your hands. If you set something into motion, you can stop the motion.  If you believe in reincarnation, you just have a longer span of time to work with! It would seem that people who do not believe in reincarnation, need to work even harder because you only have one shot at a decent life.  If you believe in hell, you should work even harder because not only will you have suffering on earth in this body, you will have it for the rest of eternity.





Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail shanna@ashtangayogaproject.com.

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