The Karmic Sandwich

By Acharya Shambhu

In the prior posts of Opening the Heart and Deeper Understanding of the Ego, we explored the intellect, ego, and mind. The ancient nondual Tantric masters provided us with a map which describes simultaneously the contraction of Consciousness (descent of Consciousness into form) and expansion of consciousness (rising from form in Consciousness). The map contains 36 levels, with Consciousness the highest at 1. In Sanskrit, these layers of creation are called tattvas, meaning “that-ness”. Over time we will discuss all the 36 tattvas, but for now let’s direct the magnifying glass at the middle of the ladder.

Most human beings function below the level of ego with limited capacity to look up. Ego and mind are considered levels 15 and 16 respectively, i.e. ego and mind are 15-16 levels removed from Consciousness. Levels 1-14 are extremely well obscured by the gravitational pull of the ego. The ego reinforces our limited identity, keeping us stuck at the middle of the ladder – we are literally stuck in no-man’s land. Let’s discover which tattvas sit on either side of the ego (i.e. below and above the ego), what that means in terms of our daily experience, and what we can do to begin to look up.

Stuck between a rock and a hard place

Below the cognitive inner organs (mind, ego, intellect), sit the lower 20 layers depicted on the chart below, which represent the gross and subtle elements, the powers of perception, and the powers of action. Nathaji (Swami Khecaranatha) guides us,
In terms of our spiritual growth, we seek to internalize the energy contained on these levels in order to transcend the misunderstanding that our interaction with material life is something outside ourselves.

The ancient inner scientists appropriately called the organs of action karmendriyas (karma means action). Through our self-willful actions, using the organs of action (our words, the acts we perform with our hands using our ability to move around with our feet, our reproductive abilities), we could hurt other people, creating karma in the process. Unfortunately, we so often use our free will to perform actions that bind us, reinforcing the concealment from our Divine nature. These actions are choices we make on a moment-by-moment basis. It is always a good idea before we say something or do something to consider: first, out of what place are we about to act from, and second, what could the ramifications of our actions be?

Above the cognitive inner organs sits nature (prakriti). Nature is where the objectification of consciousness happens with the end result being the Universe as we know it, from a grain of sand on the beach to the countless galaxies. Prakriti is the amazing expression of the Divine, the choice of the Divine, out of the bliss of its own existence, to choose to conceal itself in creation in order to feel the joy of finding itself again and again. Scripture describes this as the play of Consciousness.

Prakriti does not just encompass the material objects of creation, but also the non-material objects of creation, i.e. the objects of our imagination from our dreams and our mind-created stories. So, Prakriti creates both external and internal objects. The essence of Prakriti is what are called the three gunas, the three qualities that make up nature: sattva (light, harmony, virtuous, positivity, purity, clarity), rajas (activity – both bad and good, energy, passion, egoism), and tamas (darkness, inertia, chaos, apathy, violence, delusion). The gunas pervade all the layers below Prakriti ¬¬– we can determine that based on our own experience of people and places, sometimes we sense light or activity or inertia in various proportions of the three gunas. We can also detect the three gunas in our mind-created stories. For example, a common raja tendency is to keep the mind active to a point where we are always trying to achieve something in the world and are constantly planning our next move.

The Karmic Sandwich

Rudi used to say that karma is a shit sandwich we don’t have to eat. I borrowed that yummy metaphor to illustrate the karmic sandwich. As human beings, we feel both much external and internal friction. We feel friction externally as we engage the field of objectivity (other people, objects, and situations) – our ego meets other people’s egos in the process of trying to find a sense of accomplishment by pursuing money, career, etc. Internally, in our minds, we may struggle with our own self-worth and wonder what to do or not do in order to feel better about ourselves. Using the organs of action, we act out in the world from our patterns and create consequences from our actions. Endless causes and effects, both from ours and other people’s actions, interact in what I call the field of activity, creating the state of the world as we know it. We all run karma sandwich food trucks, competing who will create the best tasting karma sandwich!

Nondual scripture talks about the three veils of duality, “I am separate,” “I am different,“ and “I am the doer.” “I am different” relates to the perpetuation of duality by reinforcing our sense of individuality in the field of objectivity through our ego. “I am the doer” is an outcome of our self-serving actions in the field of activity. Both veils are an outcome from the primal veil, “I am separate.” The illusions of doership and differentiation can only exist because of the illusion of separation.

Ultimately, we understand that we have to stop acting out of our own will to free ourselves from all veils of duality, but in this discussion, we are concerned with karma, which results from the friction between our ego and the fields of objectivity and activity. Burning our karma frees us from the veils of “I am different” and “I am the doer.”

Tattvas 12 36

Repetition of Patterns Sustains Karma and Creation of New Patterns Creates Karma

Understanding our own patterns is important as they represent our karma, which we must burn to find our freedom. Karma is the repetition or creation of patterns created from willful, self-serving actions which reinforce our limited understanding and bind us from knowing God. Nathaji insightfully says,

We try to have an outlet for all this pain, compression, tension, and pattern—and generally this means reaching out and doing something to somebody else. In this state of pain and confusion we are not concerned with freeing ourselves. We are simply trying to relieve the pain at whatever cost, and so we generate karma, the inevitable result of our self-serving actions.

Repetition of patterns reinforces our karma: Pattern -> Contraction -> Tension:
• Pattern of self-absorption -> we contract when we do not get what we want (job, money, etc.) -> we express that contraction as tension in the form of negativity: “Life is not fair,” or being pushy in life, or mowing over people to get what we want.
• Pattern of self-rejection -> we contract when we perceive we failed in something -> we express that contraction as tension by blaming the situation or people for our perceived failure, thereby externalizing our excuses.

Creation of a new Pattern creates karma: Tension -> Contraction -> Pattern:
• If we allow ourselves to become tense and keep contracting over the same thing, we create a pattern.

If we truly wish to grow, the last thing we want is the creation of new patterns. Instead, we must focus on uncovering existing patterns and dissolving their grip over us. We develop greater self-reflective capacity by surrendering our patterns as they arise.

Looking Up - How Do We Free Ourselves from Karma?

Nathaji and Rudi give us the following eloquent guidance about how to deal with karma. There isn’t much I can add to their wise words.

1. Functioning from the heart allows us to create enough perspective to see karma as it approaches around the bend. From this perspective, we choose not to engage karma in the first place, by using our discriminating awareness (tattva 14 from the chart above). Rudi advises,

A deepening spirituality allows you to avert potentially negative situations. As you work to surrender spiritually you become more sensitive to your karma, your life patterns. The word karma could be loosely translated as fate, the effects of past actions. By being sensitive to our fate, we can recognize the danger of a potential situation and not enter into it. A man who is wise enough or evolved and sensitive enough to see the buildup of an event can avoid or minimize its negative aspect.

2. The highest action is non-action. Be still and act from a place of clarity. Nathaji reveals,

Find that stillness of awareness. This is the platform from which we can make truly conscious choices. My advice is that when you are not in a place of stillness, don’t make any choices, and don’t spew negativity and tension onto the people who love you. When we are reactive, we either end up apologizing later, or we justify ourselves by saying, ‘You deserve it . . . it’s your fault!’

Open and surrender until you find stillness inside. Otherwise the effect of our action is the creation of karma. This is not something we can postpone doing until some future time, thinking, ‘I am not yet strong enough.’ It is always now, in this moment, that we must be willing to let go and be changed. We are either growing or not growing. When we doubt and second-guess, it is just a sign that the ego is trying to grip us.

3. Digest the energy of the karma in the flow or simply let go of it in our consciousness. According to Kundalini practices, the inner mechanism comprised of the chakras and the sushumna, contains lifetimes of impressions from patterns, contractions, and karma. These impressions clog our inner system, inhibiting the flow of higher energies and consciousness. Put differently, we can think of patterns, contractions, and karma as energies that are not in motion. This is intuitive when you think about it – what is really self-identity? It is a static idea, a creation of our ego, of who we think we are. Its nature is stagnation, that is, energy not in motion.

Nathaji explains,

Creating flow exposes our karma. What is revealed are all the patterns of self-absorption and self-serving that we have created in this and past lifetimes. Those patterns are the coalescence of all our tensions, attachments, contractions, and resistance. That is what forces us to repeat the same thing, over and over again—usually projected at the world and the people in it. This is how we create karma.

The bumper sticker about karma reads: You Did It, Now Undo It. We must free ourselves from our karma. In order to do that, we have to work in the place from which the karma was created—but by relating to the dynamic as an energy field and not as a particular circumstance. When we find ourselves in a karmic relationship, we have to separate from the specifics of the engagement. We do this by recognizing that there is a pattern of energy in that situation which is trapped on the merry-go-round of our life. We understand what part of us created it, and ask, ‘How do I free myself of it?’ Freeing ourselves doesn’t mean saying, ‘Okay, bye,’ and walking away.

We can’t just walk away from our karma. We can’t escape it, nor should we want to, because there is tremendous energy and freedom available to us in liberating ourselves from karmic patterns and relationships. So many times those dynamics are really powerful and really painful. If we are conscious, our karmic relationships will expose extraordinary limitations within us. If we are unconscious, we always believe our tensions and our contractions are someone else’s fault!

What people do to us is their karma; how we react is ours. As this torrential flow of flow is released within us, it exposes all misunderstanding, all limitation. We don’t beat ourselves up because we have misunderstood. It’s better to embrace our misconceptions so that we can be clear of them. We don’t get involved and dramatic, but instead accept any revelation with an openness that expresses, ‘This is part of my limited understanding of the truth of life and I want it to be exposed. I want to burn it up in the fire of Consciousness.’

Rudi reveals,

To fulfill past karma, it is essential to gather the energies of the past into our consciousness and then to empty our consciousness of them.

We Must Free Ourselves from the Energy Bound in Our Ego-based Stories and Develop the Capacity to Penetrate through Concealment

In my experience, it has been important to get quiet and do self-inquiry to become aware of my mind-created stories. However, the minor details of our stories are not important. It is our energy, bound by those stories, that we must free as fuel for our growth. I think it is important to know why we close, just as it is important to understand the energies of the ego. Yet, we have to keep our practice simple: every moment we are presented with a binary choice of either to open or to close.

We should learn to consume our contractions as they arise. We can do that in the heart and/or stillness and/or in the flow. Otherwise, by the time we are finished analyzing why we closed, the energy of the contraction might be gone until some future time when it will resurface again. We will progress faster when we choose to open no matter what, despite the pain, because behind the pain of letting go of our carefully constructed self-identity, absolute freedom reveals itself.

Exercise – shedding of ego/identity into awareness
Do Exercise 1 from the Opening the Heart blog until you experience a sense of deep stillness.

1. As we tune into the heart and as we let go of whatever arises in the heart, our deeper discriminating awareness begins to see thoughts as they begin to arise.
2. Notice that there is a revving of energy, an impulse, before the thought takes form.
3. As we stay in that level of awareness, we begin to have the insight that the initial impulse is simply the pulsation of the heart. It is only our ego that takes that impulse and molds it into form, i.e. thoughts and thought constructs, to reinforce our separation from our own heart.
4. Fall deeper into the pulsation of the heart. Let go of your sense of identity.
5. Allow a deeper opening to take place, a simple presence, a sense of being, where you have melted completely in pure awareness.
6. Be patient with this meditation, allow pure awareness to reveal itself.

“Karma is a shit sandwich you do not have to eat.” Swami Rudrananda