YOGI TIMES ARTICLE: FEBRUARY 2007
Yoga, Ayurveda and the Law of Karma
By: Peter Malakoff
One night in Bangkok, I had dinner at a wonderful restaurant at a table set on a concrete platform, right next to the wide, calm Chao Phraya River. As I ate, all of a sudden large waves splashed against the bulkheads where I sat, some even wetting my table. The waves had come as if out of nowhere. But, where did they come from? I looked out across the river and almost a mile from where I sat, far in the distance, was a large boat, which had passed several minutes ago. The wake from that boat was only now splashing on the shore.
Some waves we expect and can foresee. Some waves come from seemingly ‘out of nowhere’. All waves, according to the law of karma, are the results of actions we have done in the past (a past that includes many lives). The actions may have been forgotten, like a boat long gone down the river, but the effects of those actions will eventually show themselves in our life, splashing up unexpectedly. As many (or all) of our actions bear the fruits of future suffering, what can we do to be free of this?
According to the Yoga sutras, future suffering can be avoided.
“Heyam Dukham Anagatam”
"The suffering that has not yet come can be avoided" – Yoga Sutras II:16*
An important distinction made here is between the suffering that has already come and suffering yet to come. We cannot avoid the suffering that has already passed or is already present. Let me give you an example:
As an Ayurvedic consultant, I see many people who come to me with some kind of disease. I often say to them that there is nothing we can do about the disease they presently have; it is a completely appropriate result of what they have been feeling, thinking, doing and eating. What we can do something about is creating and acting for another result. What we can do is to create balance or health. In this way the symptoms will go away and the suffering that has not yet come can be avoided.
We cannot escape the law of karma, though we often try ineffectually, to oppose it. One of the ways we do this is to remove a symptom instead of removing the cause- similar to the classic metaphor of‘ putting the cart before the horse.' Here is another example:
When I was a child I had tonsillitis. My tonsils became so inflamed and painful that I was given an operation and they were removed. For the Western doctor who treated me, the definition of health was the absence of disease, so he removed the ‘diseased’ tonsils. He had my best interests at heart, but he did not conceive how the creation of health would lead to the spontaneous disappearance of tonsillitis. He did not know how to create a situation that would produce health, outside of removing my tonsils. He gave no advice to my parents or me on diet or lifestyle. The doctor thought and acted as if the tonsils caused the disease, instead of being the symptoms of it. Clearing up the confusion between cause and effect is fundamental to right action in any field. If we don’t know what the cause is, how can we cease creating the effect?
Our western, knee-jerk approach to almost everything is to do something about the problem or symptom. It is virtually hardwired into our western culture and, with the advance of technology it seems more feasible. In some instances, it is possible to remove or treat only the symptom and modern medical technology has given great aide to millions of people by doing just that. But we must not let that approach blind us to investing our energy and attention in avoiding the problem in the first place. The western way is that trouble that is here can be gotten rid of or removed. The approach of the Vedic culture is that the trouble that is not yet here can and should be avoided.
The removal of my tonsils did not create health in my life. As with the side effects of so many treatments of western medicine, it caused other complications. Indeed, so prevalent is this type of complication, that the third leading cause of death in America today, after heart disease and cancer is Iatrogenic- caused by medical treatment itself.
In America 95% of the clients I see are sick, due to wrong diet and lifestyle. And, just as in India, the diseases are completely appropriate to what they are eating and doing. The law of karma seems to work everywhere, perfectly.
In India I studied with an ayurvedic doctor. He told me of patients who came to him, saying, ‘Doctor, your herbs have helped me so much. I want to get some more.’ He would ask them if they were practicing the diet he had given them. If they said, ‘No’, he would get angry and throw them out of his office, telling them it was what they were eating that had caused their problem in the first place. They must change their diet or never come back again. They must remove the cause to avoid the future disease.
Ayurveda and yoga philosophy have a distinct view of the world and offer a unique understanding and approach to disease and suffering; Ayurveda is not primarily directed towards symptoms. Yoga is not primarily about suffering. Ayurveda always seeks to create health and in the process remove the symptoms born from of a lack of it. Yoga lays out the path of union with the Divine and says that to one who has attained the state of yoga, all suffering ceases.
“Heyam Dukham Anagatam”- The suffering that has not yet come can be avoided. In this one yoga sutra, the law of karma is acknowledged and the direction for right action is indicated.
“It is crucial to understand and to gain the conviction that the laws of cause and effect govern the universe and all beings. Milarepa (a great Tibetan yogi) said that he had been able to dedicate himself totally to Dharma and attain enlightenment in a single lifetime because of the conviction he had in the laws of karma.
– Khyentse Rimpoche, Tibetan Yoga Master-Teacher of the Dalai Lama
Peter Malakoff has been involved with Vedic Studies for the last 35 (as of 2018- 46 years) years. He became a teacher of TM in 1972. In 1976, he received a scholarship to study with Buckminster Fuller and received his BA in Religious Studies from UCSB in 1978.
Peter recently complted his Ayurvedic studies in India at Kalidas Sanskrit University in Nagpur with Dr. Sunil Joshi, an Ayurvedic Physician. He lives in the San Francisco area where he has established an Ayurvedic teaching and consulting practice.