Ayurveda Day 3: Karma

Today was another great class. I am really enjoying this course as I am finding that what I am learning are things that I have either inherently known from growing up, or are lessons I have learned since my car accidents on healing and lifestyle. I am not getting the answers to everything, but rather realizing that I already have the knowledge within me and merely need to remember or uncover it. It’s edifying and humbling.

We learned about Karma today.

Before I talk about that word, I need to talk about words themselves.

I get defensive when people misuse terminology. It’s not one of my finer traits. Especially when it comes to something that I identify with strongly. For example, I hated being called a chef when I was an apprentice cook. Chef was a title to me, like jedi master. I was merely a padawan learner. It wasn’t something I threw around lightly to impress people (and indeed all my fellow cooks introduced themselves as a chef when they were far from it in my eyes). I felt I eventually earned that title (a story for another day) and now ironically after retiring from cooking I correct people when they say I was a cook. No, I am truly a chef now. I have a complicated ego.

The word karma is a loaded word to me, like yoga. To be perfectly honest, the way Indian culture is made into a business in the west has really given people a misconception. Yoga isn’t about fitness. Only the highest trained yogis do the asanas (poses) that everyone in a lululemon outfit is obsessed with doing. Yoga is about inner peace. Yoga is just a way of being, of living, of thinking, of acting. Meditation is such an important part of yoga, but is an afterthought on everyone’s quest to have the perfect body. Don’t even get me started on Bikram Hot “yoga”.

In a similar way, people misunderstand Karma. But I should be clear in stating that Indians are probably the worst at misunderstanding it.

When we think of Karma we think of good karma and bad karma. Do good things, reap good karma. Do bad things, reap bad karma. A simple belief that exists in other religions as well. But this is a fallacy. It is a belief people have in order to help them feel better about a seemingly random and cruel existence.

There is no good or bad Karma. Karma is a fundamental force of existence. Like gravity. Karma is a law of nature: The law of causality. Cause and effect, action and reaction. We as humans like to label things as good or bad, but like the zen story I told yesterday, what in one moment can seem good can easily in another moment seem bad. It’s all a matter of perspective. Indeed, there is no good or bad, just as there is no good or bad karma. The actions we take will either create harmony in ourselves or disharmony in ourselves. That is it. Karma isn’t some score sheet you keep in order to get into the kingdom of heaven or the afterlife or be reincarnated better or some other such desire.

Karma is just a reminder that the actions we take have consequences. And for a person on the road to self discovery, they will see that their karma has an immediate effect on their health and is not always manifested in some external consequence.

Stress is the underlying cause of our health imbalances. It aggravates our tendencies and causes us suffering. If I worry constantly, my karma will be that I might get an ulcer. Another way of saying that is that if I worry constantly, the result of that worry might be that I get an ulcer. Karma is a word, a scientific word, misused in the same way people think the Higgs Boson is the “God Particle” (it was actually called the goddamn particle because it was so elusive).

So the next time you think of Karma, don’t polarize and think in terms of right and wrong, and stop keeping score. Instead, look at every action you make, every word you say, every thought you have, every emotion you feel, and ask yourself “Is this in harmony or disharmony with my true self?” We gain nothing through disharmonious actions but illness and suffering. Live a harmonious life and you will find peace.

I will end with a quote about karma from my professor:

“The effect of medicine is temporary, the effect of lifestyle is eternal!” – Dr. Marc Halpern

With gratitude,

S

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