klesha karma vipaka ashayaih aparamristah purusha-vishesha ishvara
Bouanchaud: God is a supreme being free from all causes of suffering – from actions, their consequences, and all latency.
Desikachar: God is the Supreme Being whose actions are never based on misapprehension.
Swami J: That creative source (ishvara) is a particular consciousness (purusha) that is unaffected by colorings (kleshas), actions (karmas), or results of those actions that happen when latent impressions stir and cause those actions.
Well, this week we’ve got a doozy of a topic to tie into: God, karma and the kleshas. Last week, we pursued the idea that ONE of the routes to the state of yoga – union with the <insert your definition of God here> Cosmic Consciousness – could be achieved through devotional worship. Quick review: Patanjali argues that it’s one route, not the exclusive route, although we suspect he thinks it the best route. Fair enough, let’s take that assertion to be true, just for the sake of argument, a working hypothesis, if you will.
If we’re going to be devoted and worshipful of this God-concept (ishvara in Sanskrit), it probably helps to know what is meant by “God”. Again, and I’m sure you’re getting used to this but the explanation itself needs a little ‘splainin’ to get past. Bear with me.
Concepts we need to have straight before this make sense are Ishvara, kleshas, and karma. Ishvara we covered last week and is the concept of Supreme Being, defined however in whatever religious/spiritual/wisdom tradition you have chosen to adopt. In 12-step recovery programs, this is frequently referred to as the “Higher Power” or for the really hip, “HP”. This, of course, is a source of continuing mirth to Canadians and other members of the Commonwealth as the term “HP” also refers to a brand of steak sauce made in Britain. The humour is largely lost on our American brethren but I digress.
Kleshas we tackled briefly a while back. These mental afflictions, stubborn impurities of the mind are: ignorance, attachment, aversion, ego, and the fear of death. Time for a quick review of where we are in the Sutras so far: the state of yoga is defined as the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind. These fluctuations are the result of these mental impurities – the five kleshas. These kleshas are formed through karma – they are one of the consequences of our actions.
Let’s back up one with this karma stuff because it’s probably one of the most misunderstood concepts in Eastern philosophy. First of all, what is karma NOT? Karma is not fate, as it is often translated. My late mother, God rest her, would have understood the concept karma in a heartbeat because she employed it so often raising two teenage daughters. After some episode of foolishness, my sister and I were often lectured with the infamous phrase “Behaviour has consequences, young lady!!”
And there you have karma in a nutshell. Behaviour has consequences. Consequences may be mild, moderate or severe. They can be immediate, mid-term or long-term and if you subscribe to theories of reincarnation, really long term. These consequences flow impersonally out of the action. The metaphor used to describe it is one of an archer launching a large volley of arrows into a distant target. Some of those arrows will land quickly; some will fly further and land in the mid-range. At some point, if we had the use of stop-time photography, we’d be able to take a snapshot where some of the arrows had landed and some were still in mid-flight towards the target. We won’t know the exact position of where the arrows will land but we are certainly that they will land eventually. The arrows could land in the target (good consequence) or in the cow pastured in the field behind the target (bad consequence). All we really know when the flight of arrows is launched is that they will land, sometime in the future. It’s nothing personal about the archer or the observer. Landing is what flying arrows do. It’s a natural, impersonal consequence of the action.
For human actions, it’s not so clear cut. I think we’ve all had instances in our lives where we’ve regretted an unintended consequence of previous actions. We meant to do the right thing but we didn’t fully foresee all the potential consequences of our actions. We may not always be conscious or aware of the consequences of what we do. The consequences may happen immediately – if I drop my water glass on the floor, the glass will break, sending shards of glass throughout the kitchen. If later I step on one of those little shards, it may become imbedded deeply in my foot and irritate the tissues. If this festers long enough, I might have to go to the doctor because as a diabetic, I’m prone of things like gangrene, etc. Yes, I know, it’s getting just a little farfetched here, but you see how this works. When I was inattentive and accidently knocked my water glass off the table, i didn’t foresee my leg being amputated yet we can still see the cascade of consequences.
I build my own karma through my actions. My life, as it stands right now in this very instant, is the result of a bazillion conjillion decisions and actions that I have undertaken in the past 47 almost 48 years. Some of those I have come to regret; some are cause of celebration. Like everything else, it’s a mixed bag. What is for certain is that i cannot change any of my past actions. What is done is done. My only recourse for remedy is my actions right now. I cannot change the path of the arrows launched yesterday but I do have some control over the arrows shot today. And if I’m conscious and wise, I’ll be able to pick better arrows — ones with good consequences attached to them and leave the ‘bad arrows’ in the quiver.
Okay, now back to God… In this aphorism, God is defined as a being/entity/consciousness that is without kleshas or karma attached to its actions. Yeah, I can’t imagine it fully either. It’s beyond comprehension to envision what it would mean to fully appreciate every nuance and potential ripple of consequences that might arise out of an action, including all the intervening or moderating influences. The colourings of the kleshas, which affect perception and understanding, no longer exist. This Being is pure, unfiltered, uncoloured Consciousness that understands EVERYTHING in its intricately interwoven essence.
Wow, now there’s a tall order.
And bhakti yoga is the route of joining with this Supreme Consciousness through acts of devotion and worship. This is the path of mysticism and contemplation. There’s no surprise that we find the expression of such ideas here. After all, this is chapter one of the Yoga Sutras, the one entitled “Contemplation”. In many respects, this entire chapter is a very Bhakti “flavoured” text.
Not given to the messy mutterings of the mystics? I can sympathize. I’m not a bhakti
yogi myself. There are other paths towards union or the state of yoga and they are dealt with later in the Sutras. I think for me, the important thing to remember is that this is one path and it’s a valid one for those who are inclined towards it. In other words, I need to shut up and respect it as a valid choice for some of my fellow travellers. It doesn’t have any intrinsic attraction for me but that does not make it wrong.
This isn’t the last word that the Sutras have on the definition of God, but that will have to await another day.
In the meanwhile, thanks for reading and Namaste,