Karma is the expression of the rule of perfect justice within us. It is the law of the cosmos reflected in the microcosm. There is nothing arbitrary or punitive about it. It is universal law and inevitable fact. No success can be attained without understanding the law of karma, and most of the human beings in this world follow the path of karma consciously or unconsciously. Those who know that the path of karma is like worship of the Lord perform their duties skillfully, selflessly, and lovingly.

Many people are confused about the definition of karma. When something adverse happens, they say, “It’s my karma.” Actually karma cannot be classified as good or bad. The word karma comes from the Sanskrit root kri, meaning “to do.” Any movement one makes is called action or karma. One had done, one has been doing, one is doing, one will do; all the actions done in the past, present, and future are called karmas. No one disputes the law of karma: “As you sow, so shall you reap.” No religion in the world disputes this; neither do atheists. The law of action and reaction is accepted universally. Cause and effect, the twin laws of life, are inseparable, just like the two sides of a coin. One cannot escape from this inevitable law. No matter what happens, one has to follow it. There is no one who was ever born on this earth, no living creature, who has not followed this law. Karma is the universal law that cannot be avoided by anyone.

These karmas of past, present, and future can be described by the symbol of a bowman. The arrows a bowman has already sent toward the target are called past karmas, those arrows he is holding in his hand to  send are called present karmas, and those in the quiver on his back are called future karmas. One cannot do anything with past karmas unless he is fully enlightened. With knowledge of the Divine, the enlightened ones create the fire of knowledge that burns all the bondages created by past karmas. That is possible, but unless one has that ability, he has to reap the consequences of his past karmas. We cannot escape from that, but the present and future are in our hands.

Those who become aware of the law of karma do not miss this opportunity. They try to discipline themselves and direct their actions to the Divine only. The present shapes the future. They lead life from moment to moment, making it a beautiful poem and a joyous song. They enjoy life and create a new magnificent future for themselves by understanding the present life, rather than pondering over their past actions and brooding upon the deeds they have already performed. The force of the past definitely affects the present, but why should one waste the present in brooding on the past? Those who understand that what has happened in the past has happened, and decide to discipline themselves in the present, make the present glorious and create a better future. The past is the past, and the greatest of all filters in life is called time. Casting your eyes toward past actions while living in the present is a misuse of time and energy. The past can never be recalled, though the memories of the past remain stored in the unconscious. We are still here and we can make our future. Everyone can make good use of the present and the future regardless of what happened in the past.

Editor’s note

This is an excerpt from Choosing a Path by Sri Swami Rama, published by The Himalayan Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy of the U.S.A., 1998.