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Article CIV: Burning Off Karma

"Whose doings are all devoid of design and desire for results, and whose actions are all burnt by the fire of knowledge, him, the sages call wise." Bhagavad Gita (IV:19)

Karma can be translated as action, and in Vedanta, karma is one of the most universal paths to enlightenment. By orienting one's action to the Divine, one can realize the Divine within. The ultimate perfection of action is enlightenment itself. Selflessness and nonattachment are two considerations, which can help align one's action with the path to enlightenment. Selflessness dissolves the ego, and allows one to realize the infinite Divine, which pervades all space. Nonattachment frees one from transient joy and sorrow, which are dependent upon objects and situations. Thus nonattachment allows one to experience eternal peacefulness and blissfulness, rooted in the Divine and independent of all material existence or circumstance.

Other approaches to ideal action are by finding guidance from God as a deity or by finding direction from the Divine compass within. Through worship and devotion to God as deity, one can be guided to perform action to move along the path to enlightenment. Similarly, through meditation and contemplation, one can be directed by the Divine within in order to perform ideal action. In fact, one need not believe in God at all to perform ideal action and ascend toward enlightenment. Dependent on one's tendencies and qualities, belief in God may facilitate the path. Regardless of one's beliefs, ideal actions can propel one to enlightenment.

According to the law of karma, one's current state of existence is dependent on impressions from past action. (The impressions of past action are specifically referred to as samskara, but can also be referred to as karma.) However, the law of karma does not imply fatalism. If one's past action determines one's present state, then one's present action will determine one's future state. Certainly, present action is also influenced by impressions from past action, but those influences can be minimized by aspiring for ideal action based on the framework of Vedanta.

Ideal action gradually leads to the dissipation of the impressions from past action and the dissipation of the influence those impressions hold on one's current action. As those impressions and influences are burned off, one's actions can be centered on the Divine within. In this process of karmic cleansing, one's tendencies may persist, but one is no longer controlled by those tendencies. Instead one's experiences begin to arise from the Divine within, which results in greater peace and bliss every step along the way to enlightenment. Instead of being controlled by your impressions from past action, you can be in control of your own actions and experiences. In other words, burning off karma implies the following: you control your karma rather than your karma controlling you.

East-West Counseling & Meditation -- Modern Psychiatry Integration -- Himalayan Philosophy -- Penn & Stanford Medicine
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