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Karma and Action!



If Karma is nothing but the result/effect derived and influenced by the three layers of memory, which gets manifested through actions, then what is an Action?


An action is a physical expression of a mental process. This process can be conscious or subconscious, which is part of consciousness that is usually suppressed. It is information that we are not actively aware of in the moment, but can influence us nonetheless, such as the information that we have gathered through our senses but without awareness.


Imagine us engaged in an intense conversation with someone and an old lady passes us by. We might see her but not necessarily ‘notice’ her. However our brain stores information about that old lady in our subconscious mind and it is available for recall if we try hard enough. Things that come back or make sense upon reflection are all rooted in our subconscious mind.


Apart from our conscious and subconscious mind, there is another level of consciousness, which is our unconscious mind where our repressed information is stored. Information pushed so far back that it is no longer (almost) available for retrieval and from this place is where one of the two forms of an Action predominantly stems from. A ‘Reaction’. An action that is instinctual and operate autonomously.


What’s stored in our unconscious mind comes from years of evolution and also typically takes

root when we are fairly young, when our mental capacity and judgment is seriously limited.

For better or worse, Reaction is something that drives and compels our behaviour.

This form of action, is rather primitive and has an evolutionary significance.


Our unconscious mind stores the primal, instinctual thoughts which we cannot deliberately access. We human beings are innately programmed for survival. Anything we perceived at a particular time as commensurate with survival is programmed and inbuilt so we do not have to use our conscious mind to react to danger. It happens automatically, which is what we call as instincts.


We are disengaged from a conscious process like reasoning, logic etc when faced with a threat, so be it physical, mental, or emotional. Imagine our ancestor walking in a forest and a lion takes a fancy to him and makes a move at him, now you not gonna sit back and think, hmm should I run away, which direction to run etc etc. Your instincts kicks in and you either make a run for it or you just fight back. This very much applies in the modern world as well. If we are driving and a truck comes right at us, we automatically swerve, hit the brakes or the accelerator depending which direction it is coming from. This inbuilt mechanism is a life saver in a host of situations and quite handy. Without these instinctual reactions we would get overwhelmed and simply freeze, so our unconscious mind intervenes and comes to our defense.


It is rather paradoxical that whatever predispositions we were born with could work as a

life saver and yet a lot of the repressed thoughts, emotions, memories can have a

detrimental effect on how we think, behave and ‘Act’.


Our behaviour is driven by these unconscious forces that form our beliefs, patterns and subjective reality and most if not all of these manifest into a ‘Reaction’ involuntarily. Our body perceives any stress, so be it physical, emotional or physiological as a threat and will continue to make us react just as it would when a lion chases us. So its inbuilt within us to mostly react and sadly modern lifestyles is only accentuating and enhancing this unconscious driven process and the downside to this reactionary mode of function is we let emotions without reason drive us forward. We do not have much control over our actions as it comes from a place of defense.


In a conflict between our unconscious mind which kicks in when it perceives something as a

threat to our survival and conscious mind, the clear winner most of the time is our unconscious

mind. Given the amount of stress we are constantly exposed to it is a no brainer which

system has the upper hand and hence our reactionary behaviour.


However, there is another form of action called a ‘Response’. This is the kind of action that is done with the engagement of our conscious mind. The one which is often the least used. This process requires awareness coupled with self control. It is more thoughtful and it contains cognition. It is guided more by reasoning and logic rather than emotions and instincts. In doing so we listen, we think, we reflect and then we act or in other words we ‘Respond’.


There is a lot of value in responding. Yes it takes a lot of effort and we need to exercise a good dose of self control (which is pretty taxing on our brain, it literally needs to use a lot of energy to exercise self control, esp if we resist it) so its easier to let our unconscious and subconscious mind drive our actions but the upside to practicing responding as opposed to reacting is, it slowly influences our unconscious mind as well. Doing this on a regular, long term basis will fundamentally change the connection between our limbic and cerebral cortex systems by making the bond stronger, which is usually rather weak due to differences of their evolution; thereby changing the very way we feel/think/act/respond etc both physically and mentally.


Our limbic system acts as a bridge between our reptilian brain, where our instincts come

from and the cerebral cortex where our reasoning and logic comes from.


A response is still an action nevertheless only done consciously. Just because we are taking time to think before acting out need not necessarily make it the right action. We can take the time out to think what I should do but if our reasoning, intentions, motivations etc are misplaced, we might still respond the wrong way. I suppose this is where our sense of morality comes in, and the process of reflection before action, hopefully would help us take the 'right' action, which is determined by a lot factors some of which I already discussed earlier.


Now what is moral and what is immoral, what is right and what is wrong is debatable not to mention knowledge of morality without the right intention or a will to apply it, will not lead to a right action. Just like Duryodhana, whose problem wasn't about knowing what is right or wrong, his problem was he didn't care much for it nor was he willing to do something about it unlike Arjuna who asked Krishna what can he do about it and hence Bhagvad Gita..


So If Karma is driven by memory and manifests as an action, then what exactly is the Law of Karma? What does it mean its his/her Karma? How do we harness Karma? That’s coming up..


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