Epigenetics, a branch of biology which studies how a human being’s behaviors and life experiences impact their DNA, and therefore can be passed on from generation to generation, is being explored by scientists today. However, in the yogic perspective, the influence of the past goes way beyond our ancestors, to the very first life form on the planet. In this article, Sadhguru explains the meaning of karma, a term long used and misused in different contexts. Explaining how very deep rooted its influences are, he also shows a way to get a “handle” over the complex structure that it is.
Sadhguru: Karma means action or the imprint of action which remains within us. The actions that your father performed are working and kicking up within you not just in your situation, but within every cell in your body. It is not so easy to get rid of your parents! You may have noticed that when you were eighteen or twenty, you completely rebelled against your father or your mother, but by the time you are forty or forty-five, you begin to speak like them, act like them, and even look like them. That is a hopeless way to live because if this generation is going to behave, act, live and experience life just the way the previous generation did, this is a wasted generation. This generation should experience life in a way the previous generation never even imagined. I don’t mean you should do something crazy on the street, I mean the way you experience life can be completely altered. It can be taken to the next level of experience.
But karma is not just yours, your father’s or your grandfather’s. The first life form, that bacteria or virus, that single-celled creature’s karma is also acting up within you, even today. Even the kind of bacteria you have in your body carries a certain behavioral pattern depending upon what kind of bacteria your parents or grandparents had. So, all the grand ideas you have about yourself, all the grand ideas you have about your person are very false. This is why we told you, it is all maya, because the way things are playing within you is such that almost everything you do is controlled by past information.
If I tell you, “You don’t need to do anything, we will take care of you. Just sit and meditate twelve hours a day,” initially it may look like a great fortune, but after a month’s time, you will be going nuts. If you cross that madness, you will cross everything, but most people give up when the madness arises within them. They will freak and try to run away because it is not going to be easy. This is a primal cry of your father, your grandfather, your forefathers and the goddamn bacteria. Millions of lives, all of them will scream to find expression. They want to have their say. They will not let you go free just like that. You cannot ignore them because they throb in every cell in your body.
“Does it mean to say I am hopelessly entangled?” Entangled for sure, but not hopelessly. From being a pashupata – a composite expression of animal nature, starting from that single-celled animal to the highest one – there is a possibility of becoming a pashupati. “Pashu” means life, “pati” means the Lord, the Lord of all life – one can leave all this behind and transcend.
This must be understood, karma is not your enemy. Your unawareness of what is what, is your enemy. Karma is the memory of life. You are able to build this body the way it is built only because there is memory of life, right from that single-celled animal to every other form. The basis of your existence right now in the physical body is your karma. If all your karma is taken away, this moment you will shed your body. It is like pulling the plug on you. Karma is the glue, karma is that which has cemented you to the body.
You don’t have to change your body or your mind, what you need to do is find where the handle is. Right now, if you sit in the car, you seat-belt yourself. The seat-belt is a good thing, it could save your life. But suppose you seat-belt yourself in such a way that you cannot open it when you want to, this becomes your prison. When you get into the car, you close the door. It is a good thing. But suppose you got into the car and you cannot open the door, it is terrible. You just have to know where the handle is. Then, even if you have a mountain of karma, there is no problem.
The problem has come not because of karma, the problem has come because you got entangled in it, you got enmeshed in it. If a little distance comes between you and your body, between you and your mind, then whatever the karma, it has no impact on you. You can still make use of it to be embodied and live, you can still maintain a certain individual character but it does not become a binding, it becomes a stepping stone.