[This is a transcript from “Reincarnation, Karma and Samskaras” (1976) by Pandit Usharbudh Arya, who later became Swami Veda Bharati. Thank you to Michael Smith for providing this.]
Going back to the subtle body and reincarnation, we understand by now that the human personality is an envelope for the spiritual life-force. The force does not change; the envelopes change. Therefore, I was never born. I shall never die. What will happen is that I will come into a fresh body; incarnate, into flesh. I'll put on a new envelope of flesh again, re-in-carnation. But I was never born. I shall never die. I cannot imagine a time when I was not. I cannot imagine a time when I shall cease to be. I came into a tiny something of sperm and ova, and they became fertilized. I remained there, so they grew. I lent them my life, radiating it throughout their bodies. So it became a fetus; it became a child; it became a woman; it became a man, remained a woman or a man. I shall go my way. This body will be dead. It will be cremated. It will be buried. It will be disposed of, but I shall remain. Now I have put on an envelope of mental personality. That mental personality rests in my subtle body. We understand by now what the subtle body is. It is not a body shaped like this. It is a composition of various forces around my being. My eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, my pranas, my mind, my faculty of intelligence and discrimination, all of these are finer than the physical body, but grosser than the pure Spirit.
So in this subtle body we have what we call the karmashaya, the storehouse of karma. What is the storehouse of karma again? It is that aspect of ourselves into which all our actions, all our experiences are stored as the residue of experience. By now we understand that every moment we are forming an ever-new personality. At this very moment that you are sitting down, you are adding certain factors, certain elements to that personality. You are doing your karma. Sitting here listening, you are doing your karma. Lying down, sleeping, you are doing your karma. What karma are you doing? You are doing tamasic karma. One-third of the sum total of your life, one-third of the sum total of all your impressions and experiences for a lifetime is sleep. So that is why the yogis try to reduce their sleeping hours. It's very hard, I tell you, but they do try to reduce.
So, all of this karma is gathered there. Now how does the karma operate? The kind of person you are, that kind of circumstances you attract to yourself, that kind of magnet you become. If you want to change your circumstances, change your personality. If you want to change your situations, change your personality. Changing the actions externally will not help. A total transformation of personality is required. If you are not loved; therefore, become loveable. It's as simple as that. How do you become lovable? By changing your karma. By changing the sum total of your personality through your thoughts, through your words, through your actions, what you absorb, what you give out. Your situations, surrounding, circumstances, relationships, everything, comes to you in a given form because of the potential of the forces inside you. What you are, that you will draw to yourself.
You can ask, "How does it happen?" This is where the karma philosophy is different from the system of reward and punishment. Yoga philosophy does not believe in reward and punishment. The term we use for this is ripening (vipaka) of the seeds and the fruits. The seeds you have sown in the soil of your personality ripen and bear some fruit for you. That is why the Bhagavad Gita says, (Sanskrit) "Whatever your thoughts are, that verily you are."
How is it that we draw those circumstances to ourselves? Do the Gods stand over our heads waving their sticks and say, "I'll beat you if you don't believe in this and this manner?" No, that is not so. There is one thing in you (one of the four aspects of mind) that is called the buddhi (the faculty of discrimination). Buddhi has two faces: an intellectual face outward and an intuitive face inward. Now if I cover the mirror of my mind with black soot, will it reflect light? It will not reflect light. If I cover it with tamas, will it give me clear directions in traffic as to how I should move, how I should go? It will not do that. If it is colored red with rajas, the direction it will give will be a rajasic direction. If it is covered with sattva, the direction it will give will be a sattvic direction. So the texts say that according to your karma you start your momentum in a different direction. And when you come to a crossroads where you have to make a decision, your colored buddhi becomes like that. You reach that kind of conclusion.
A sattvic person placed in a certain circumstance and a rajasic person and a tamasic person placed in the same circumstance will draw three different conclusions and will take three different directions. The sattvic person's direction will lead him to happiness, joy, and success and love. A rajasic person will excite, agitate, create conflicts, create schisms, create differences and divisions and divisiveness for himself and for everybody else, bringing a lot of struggle, intrigue, conspiracy, all of that. And for a tamasic person, nothing will happen. He will just sit there, a dullard, and say, "What can I do? I can't do. I'm stuck. I can't move. I'm depressed. I'm finding no direction. The light isn't shining. Where is that light you speak about? It just doesn't happen. Nothing happens.” The tamasic person remains stuck there.
So buddhi is the key to your circumstances. Keep your buddhi clear. Add those things to the sum total of your personality which will make your personality a sattvic one, a clear one, a pure one, so that when the time comes, right things can reflect in it and lead you in the right direction. Although you say at that time, "I'm making a free choice," the choice is not free as you think. It is a result of the whole momentum you have given to your personality. You could not do otherwise. Krishna said to Arjuna, "Arjuna, you don't want to fight, but even then, what today you don't want to do, you will soon find yourself doing.” So your nature will drive you to it. So people say, "I'm not getting along well here, let me go elsewhere. I think that will solve the problem.” But in any situation, there are two factors: the other person and you. So half of that situation you are still carrying with you wherever you go, and that half will find its complement. Only your mind will have become much more confused because of that escape. You're not getting along well with one girlfriend or with one boyfriend, so you drop away and say, "I think I'll go to California for six months and forget the whole thing." You go to California and find yourself in exactly the same confusing situation. You will find a relationship that complements your personality because your choice is determined by the kind of person you are. And what kind of person are you? You are whatever you have added to your personality through your karma. This is the whole mechanism of karma. So karma is not fate. A lot of times people use the word karma as if it was predestination, as if it was fate and they say, “What can I do? My karma is like that.” Predestination is a doctrine in which you can do nothing against that destiny. In the doctrine of karma, however, you can change your personality. What you have done so far will remain there, but you can change the sum total from this moment on.
We have spoken of three kinds of karma: prarabdha, sanchita and kriyamana. Prarabdha actions are the ones already initiated, meaning initiated in a previous life. Put it this way, this present life of mine is a life after death. People ask me, "Do you believe in life after death?" Of course, I am in a life after death. And I am also in a life before birth – my next birth. So I'm living the life after my last death and the life before my next birth.
Now, there is one principle: For every action in one direction, there is a reaction in the opposite direction. This is Newton's third law of motion, the first rule in aerodynamics: For every action in one direction, there is an equal motion in the opposite direction. Spiritually, the law is for every action in one direction, there is a reaction in the opposite direction. There are certain laws which apply to all sciences. I call them cosmic laws. And the Law of Karma is one such cosmic law.
Now, let's say that at this time I am a very bad man. I go and blind somebody in his eye. It's a cruel deed. I have hit him, I have hurt him, and I am here quite sound and very well and happy and healthy. Now what happens is that that action boomerangs. How does it boomerang, how does it create a reaction? In my subtle body is my eye-consciousness, my potential for sight, and I relate to all eyes in the world from that potential. It is not possible for me to relate to anybody's eye except from that eye-consciousness. So when I resolve upon blinding somebody in the eye, I first put tamas in my eye-consciousness. I block my eye-consciousness. Through that action that went outward something happened first inward. My eye-consciousness in the subtle body became covered with tamas, with darkness, with a negation. You would say then, in that case, I should immediately go blind. The doctrine of karma answers "no," because there is a also a previous momentum of other actions because of which I shall enjoy continued good eyesight. And that momentum toward good eyesight has to be exhausted; that karma cannot be cancelled, so I'll continue to see. But when I blinded somebody, I also set into motion a new cycle in the wheel of karma. I gave it a new direction. I added a new factor of darkness into my personality. I have blocked my own inner spiritual eye-consciousness.
Now when a person is dying, what happens? He's moving from his house. When you are moving from your house, what happens? You lived in a house for twenty-five years, and you start clearing the place and you see the old broken-down doll. You see a kerchief you had lost ten years ago. You find a shawl you thought you had given away. You see chairs with three legs. You say, "My God, I didn't know all these things were lying here in my basement and in my attic." So in the basement and the attic of your subconscious, in the basement and the attic of your karmashaya (the storehouse of karma), all this is lying from a whole lifetime. You often see when people are dying, that sometimes they say all kinds of strange things, and others say, "Well, he's talking nonsense. He's losing his senses." He's not losing his senses. He's making quite enough sense to himself. At the hour of death, your entire life comes before you like a cinema screen, the whole sum total comes forth. Everything that was lying hidden, you come face to face with it. The kind of life you have led, that kind of death you will have. And the kind of death you have, that kind of next rebirth you will have. So the shell of your physical body is left behind, but your subtle body goes with you with the sum total of the entire karma wrapped up in it. So there is a dictum that whatever a man's last thought is, that will be his next birth. So somebody raised a question in Esquire magazine in a very sarcastic article several years back and said there were some ladies sitting down discussing that if a person's last thought was of his pet cat is he going to be born a cat? And the answer is "no." The question is: What determines his last thought? Your next birth is determined by your last thought. But what determines your last thought? The sum total of your life is your last thought, is the act of packing and going away.
So this sum total now determines three things for your next life. These three things are called jati, ayus, and bhoga. The species in which you should be born is jati. Ayus is the life span you will have in that species, in the number of breaths. And bhoga is the kind of pain and pleasure that will come your way during that life span in that species. If, for example, my last life had in the sum total of the karma, let's say, half and half of good and bad, then I have a fairly good chance of being born a human being. Not a very high class human being, not a very wise human being, but a human being – how long would I live, and during that life according to the momentum given from the past karma, what sort of pains and pleasures and circumstances I would have. Now this is known as prarabdha karma, something already initiated even before you are born in this life, already initiated from the past life – the momentum that you bring into your present life from a past life.
When the Indian astrologers, for example, prepare your chart, . . . Did you know our names in India are given on the basis of astrological combinations? Even here some initiate names are given from the moment of initiation. Not many, I don't do that. There's somebody else I've taught to do that. The moment of initiation, the astrological combination of that time determines the first syllable of the name. But leaving that aside, they will write and say this, at the time of this person's birth, this was the planetary combination, this was passing through this phase, it was in the third sector of the phase. He has already gone through the previous two sectors of this phase in his previous life. So something is already initiated and comes into you when you are born. What kind of family you will be born in, what kind of parentage you will have, what karma your brother has, what karma your sister has, what karma you have, the combination of all those factors put together makes a family. What is a family but the collective karma of so many souls brought into balance. In this circumstance through you, your brother will receive this fulfillment of his karma, and through him you will receive this fulfillment of your karma. All the circumstances are put there, that's called prarabdha. Some people are born congenitally blind. Why? The scientists will say, well, because of something hereditary, something in the cells, something in the chromosomes. I say that answers how, but not why.
Question: How can a very short life be explained?
It is the same thing. That was how much you had to finish, that's all. That was what you had to give to others. That was what you had to take from others, no more. Your debt is paid. To them, their debt is paid to you. If you caused a great deal of emotional unhappiness to somebody in this life, you will have to pay it back, there is no escape. You will pay it back. So just don't cause unhappiness. Don't cause unhappiness. That debt will come back and visit upon you. You will say, "That's really hopeless now! Something I can't even remember, and I have to suffer for it." Number one, thank God you don't remember. The painful memories of one lifetime are more than enough that you can handle. If you could remember all the painful memories of all the relationships of all the previous incarnations, you wouldn't be able to bear it. Reincarnation is also a purging. Let the momentum exhaust itself, but do not create a new memory, because each memory creates a momentum. So forgetting is a way of stopping that momentum. Don't try to remember your past lives. There is no reason for you to go and visit all kinds of mediums to find out what you were the last time, what your husband was, and what he did do to you that you had to be stuck with him, and so forth. Because each time you awaken a memory, you create new momentum. So wiping off the conscious memory in the process of reincarnation is a karmic blessing. You would say then, "Do I have no other recourse then? Do I have to keep suffering and blame my previous karma?" The answer is the second category of karma which is sanchita, which is the karma you have gathered in this life so far. And the third category, kriyamana, is the karma over which you have control now about your choices. So some karma you brought from the past life, some karma you have gathered in this life up to now by your choices, and some karma you can start gathering at this very moment. I am speaking these words. I'm gathering karma. I am completely free to do my kriyamana karma now and leave the chalk and walk away. You have the same choice. So you want some things in life. Then channel your personality. You want to know what your life will be like, check on your sanchita karma. What have I gathered so far? If you don't like what you have gathered so far, you have recourse in the kriyamana karma. Decide from this moment on to gather right things into the sum total of your karma and work on a five-year development plan: "Five years from now I want to be this kind of a person, and I want to be in such-and-such kind of situation." Add those kinds of things to the sum total of your personality, plan it out, plan your action, plan your thoughts, plan your words, plan your tendencies, plan your attitudes, plan your handling of circumstances and take control of yourself, and you will change the momentum.
Now nature has a way of balancing itself. By those very acts with which man has threatened the extinction of other species, he has also threatened the extinction of himself and the reduction of his own number. So somewhere the balance will strike. If you will not control yourself, some forces will control you. There are mechanisms in nature. Certain animals need so many acres per individual of the species. Whenever the number reaches higher than that, either they stop reproducing or they just destroy the weaker ones, or something happens. You see that happening in history. Civilizations have been destroyed through causes unknown to those civilizations. Did Augustus Caesar or Julius Caesar ever think about how the Roman Empire would end? The forces are outside your control balance if you do not control your own forces. You made this country go so fast and have cars and this and that and everything at a grand time. Now forces outside your control are forcing all of us to cut down on the energy consumption, slow down the car, find new ways of transportation. Something has got to happen. There is one simple principle: Whatever you want to avoid getting from others, take it upon yourself by your own choice. If you know you are going to be robbed, give it away beforehand. You will at least have the happiness of having given something away. And if you are robbed, then you lost the thing and you don't have the happiness.
The doctrine of predestination means that God might say, "Thou shall be a robber." Therefore, in this life you are a robber. But, actually, this karmic destiny you have made yourself. And you can make a further destiny for yourself from now on because nobody else is in control of it. People ask, “Can you change your past karma?” With an average person it is very difficult, but you can do a number of things with it. You can diminish its force by using that experience for a change of attitude, by using that experience as a means for your growth. You can even impose certain expiations on yourself so you don't have to go through that karma involuntarily. Sometimes there are mantras, and you will get a certain mantra, and you have a series of accidents, but you won't get hurt. Or a number of such things will happen in a very short time. Many things that would have to happen over a number of years will all accumulate within a period of six months, and you’ll say, “What's happening to me?” So there are many different ways of handling that karma. There are certain mantras, certain expiations, certain other ways. And then slowly, just as through your meditation, you gather the strength to withstand the ill effects of a bad karma. You can also reach a point where sometimes the gurus take over your karma too.
[This article was also published in the November 2020 edition of the AHYMSIN Newsletter.]