Have you ever heard someone say, “You only get what you deserve”? Hearing this bit of karmic wisdom, your mind starts scanning its contents for bad things that have happened to you in the past, and immediately lays the blame on you for all of it: “It couldn’t have happened to me if I didn’t have it coming.”
“Nothing can happen to you (or for you) that you don’t have coming.” “You can only get what you deserve.” Such statements, while minimally useful to some, are virtually useless, even harmful, to most. Though they have a grain of truth to them, they are incomplete, and can take you on a journey through a kind of self-battering, and seriously impede your spiritual development.
Dharma – Law. The established nature, character, peculiar condition or essential quality of anything.
Karma – Action. From, kri, meaning ‘to do’. One’s destiny or fate, following as effect from cause.
The Dharma of Karma - The law of cause and effect: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Over the past few years, inspired by a passage in Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, I have been giving a lot of thought to the workings of karma. In this particular passage, the immortal Babaji is sitting around a fire with his disciples, when he picks up a burning brand and touches one of the disciples on his shoulder, burning him. Stricken with horror, one of the company asks him why he did it. Babaji explains that he did it to rid this disciple of his karma to die a horrible death by fire, and precedes to lay his hand on the burn and heal it completely.
This got my attention. What happened to “equal and opposite”? How was a small burn, lasting only a short time, going to short-circuit this fellow’s karma to die a horrible death by fire? This could only mean one thing: I had to rethink my understanding of karma.
I thought about throwing a ball against a wall, and how the ball never seems to come back quite the same way—it comes back, but usually at an angle and at a lesser velocity. I thought of boomerangs and other things, and there always seemed to be a good possibility that a reaction could vary.
How does this relate to us and our karma, and what changes the reaction?
When we take responsibility for our actions, we have thrown the ball, we have created karma. Karma doesn’t care if an action is good, bad, or neutral, it will still bind us. But we care because we don’t want bad things to happen to us, so we try to do the right thing.
A few years ago, I realized that a decision I had made a long time before in the name of doing the right thing, had been a terrible mistake. I had made this decision believing that nothing bad could happen if I didn’t have it coming anyway, and took a terrible risk. The outcome was not only harmful to me, but it enabled the other person involved to continue harmful behavior, which was harmful to him, and to those whom he would harm.
I spent years afterward listening to my mind accuse me with, “You only got what you deserved”. This seriously handicapped my sadhana with self-denigrating thoughts and beliefs of unworthiness. This is not humility, it is negative reinforcement, the most powerful and effective means of growing the ego.*
Taking the Blame
Don’t let this happen to you. If someone socks you in the jaw, it’s on him. Do not let people tell you that you must have had it coming—you don’t really know this for certain—and not to blame. Even if you do have it coming, if he hit you, that’s on him. He is responsible for that sock on the jaw, it was his action, his choice. Not yours. So don’t take it on. Surely you have enough of your own karma? And consider this: the act of taking it on creates more personal karma.
What affects, or changes, the returning trajectory, the reaction, is us—all of us. Because we are all interconnected, what one of us does affects the rest of us to greater and lesser degrees. These variable effects alter the karma of every one of us, helping or hindering our forward movement toward happiness and fulfillment. Understanding this inspires us to follow fundamental principles for successful living° so that we not only serve ourselves in removing obstacles and oppressions, but we serve everyone else as well, at the same time.
Yoga teaches that all action occurs in nature, and that what we really are is not nature and does nothing at all. What we really are is divine. We acquire karma because of our ignorance of this Truth, but when we realize Truth directly, we become free of the influences of karma.
Now we see through a glass darkly, but then, face to face.
—1 Corinthians 13:12
Having surrendered all actions (to God), the embodied one sits happily, the ruler in the city whose gates are nine (the physical body), neither acting, nor causing action.
— Bhagavad Gita, ch 5, vs 13.
* The word ‘ego’ is used to indicate the sense of oneself as the doer of action, from the Sanskrit, ahamkara, ‘I do’.
° ‘Successful living’ – The first and most important of these principles is ahimsa, non-injury. All other principles and teachings hinge on it. (See Ten Keys to Success and click on Learn more.)
- In an online course, Mental Yoga will give you the skills needed to neutralize anything.