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The Mysteries of Karma

A person consists of desires and as his or her desire so is his or her will,
And as his or her will, so his or her deed.
What deed he or she does so he or she shall reap.
Brihadaranyaka Upanishad IV4.5

Even as I have seen, they that plow iniquity,

and sow wickedness, reap the same.
Job 4:8

The merciful man does himself good,

But the cruel man does himself harm.
The wicked earns deceptive wages,
But he who sows righteousness gets a true reward.
He who is steadfast in righteousness will attain to life,
And he who pursues evil will bring about his own death.
Proverbs 11:17-19

Do not judge, and you will not be judged;

and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned;
pardon, and you will be pardoned.
Give, and it will be given to you.
They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together,
and running over.
For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.
Luke 6:37-38

Whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap.

Galatians 6:7

He which sows sparingly shall reap also sparingly;

and he which sows bountifully shall reap also bountifully.
2 Corinthians 9:6

To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction:

or, the mutual actions of two bodies upon each other are always equal,
and directed to contrary parts.
Sir Isaac Newton

And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth.
And his disciples asked him, saying, “Master, who did sin, this man, or his
parents, that he was born blind?”
Jesus answered, “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents:
but the works of God should be made manifest in him.”
John (9:1-3)

Contrary to popular misconception,

karma has nothing to do with punishment and reward.
It exists as part of our holographic universe’s binary
or dualistic operating system only to teach us responsibility
for our creations—and all things we experience are our creations.
Sol Luckman

Karma is a funny thing.

My Name Is Earl

Most people have some familiarity with the Vedic concept of karma. Many such exotic
concepts entered the consciousness of Westerners during the Romantic period of the
1800’s. The countercultural revolution of the 1960’s reintroduced the use of these spiritual
and philosophical terms, and the New Age Movement has continued the legacy. More
recently, the award-winning television series My Name Is Earl has contributed to making
karma a household word. (However, most people use the word karma [English—action]
when they are actually talking about karmaphala—the results of one’s actions.)

Fewer people are familiar with the concept of dharma. There was the television series
Dharma and Greg that ran from 1997 to 2002. More recently, there was the “DHARHA
Initiative,” a secret project on ABC’s Lost. But dharma just hasn’t been as catchy as
karma. The Indian concept dharma is a fundamental principle found in the same central
Asian philosophies that brought us karma. In fact, the notion of dharma may be even more
fundamental than that of karma. In comparative religion, the religions that originated on
the Indian subcontinent are referred to as the dharmic religions.

Karma and dharma are terms used by adherents of religions originating on the Indian
subcontinent, but similar beliefs can be found in almost all religions. Karma is the principle
that one will experience the consequences for one’s behavior, and dharma is the principle
that one has certain duties to perform or roles to fulfill in life. At a deeper level, dharma
refers to the essential truth of a being as well as the essential truth of all being. In short,

The Vedas, Vedanta, and the Upanishads

Karma, dharma, and the other topics discussed here are found in Vedic philosophy or
Vedanta. Vedanta is a philosophical system that concerns itself with such topics as the
nature of reality, the meaning of life, states of consciousness, and life after death. This
philosophy is derived from the ancient scriptures called the Vedas. The Vedas are the oldest
of the Hindu scriptures. The four Vedas (Rig-Veda, Sama-Veda, Yajur-Veda, and Atharva-
Veda) appear to have been written by 500 BC. Vedanta refers to any of the philosophies
based on the four Vedas. Vedic refers to anything based on the Vedas such as Vedic
astrology or Vedic medicine. Vedanta comes from a combination of Sanskrit words veda
and anta. Veda means knowledge, and anta means end, conclusion, essence, or core.

Vedantic is also used to refer to the spiritual traditions and the schools of philosophy based
on certain parts of the Vedas called the Upanishads. The term upanishad is a Sanskrit word
meaning to sit near, beneath, or below. Upanishad suggests sitting at the foot of someone
listening his words or stories.

There are a total of 108 Upanishads, but only eleven are accepted as divine by all Hindu
groups. They are: Aitareya, Brhadaranyaka, Isa, Taitteriya, Katha, Chandogya, Kena,
Mundaka, Manduaka, Prasna, Svetasvatara. The Kausitaki and the Maitrayani are two
additional Upanishads that are quite popular.

Vedantic philosophy emphasizes Self-realization, that is, union with Brahman, or ultimate
reality, by transcending the limits imposed by self-identity. The meaning and nature of the
sacred syllable aum are said to be explained in the Upanishads. Tat Tvam Asi, meaning That
thou art, is said to be the essence of the Upanishads.

Other central Asian traditions including Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism share much with
Vedantic philosophy, but they do not consider the Upanishads and the Vedas as sacred
texts. That is, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism are not Vedic religions. However, they all
stress the importance of dharma and karma. Together with Hinduism and Brahmanism,
they are referred to as Dharmic religions as opposed to the Abrahamic religions (Judaism,
Christianity, Islam, and Baha’i), the Taoist religions (Taoism, Confucianism, and
Shintoism), and the aboriginal religions of the native Americans, Africans, Australasians,
and Pacificans.


The Sanskrit word dharma (dhamma in Pali) is derived from the Indo-European root dhri
or dher, meaning that which holds. Dharma is that which holds together both this world
and the people of this world. Dharma also means to uphold, maintain, support, nourish,
sustain. The Atharva Veda states that This world is upheld by dharma (Prithivim dharmana
dhritam). Dharma is that which nourishes and sustains the universe.

The word dharma was first written in the oldest Sanskrit text the Rig Veda, where it refers
to the laws that underlie the universe, matter, life, mind, and consciousness. According to
the Rig Veda and other early Vedas, dharma could only be experienced by sages. These
sages were expected to pass down their understanding of dharma to laymen through
mantras and other religious acts.

In the Bhagavad-Gita (3102 BC), Krishna described dharma as the righteousness that
sustains the world order. Krishna also explained that dharma implies that everyone has a
unique path to follow in order to uphold righteousness and find personal salvation.

Dharma is an essential concept in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. In
Hinduism, dharma initially referred to performing specific acts and rituals described in the
Vedas and Upanishads. Additionally, it refers to living in accord with codes of conduct also
prescribed by these same sacred texts. Dharma is used in reference to an individual’s
obligations with respect to caste, social custom, civil law, and sacred law.

According to Buddhist tradition, dharma refers to the teachings of the Buddha and to one’s
knowledge of or duty to live by the code of conduct described by the Buddha. Dharma also
refers to the minute elements from which all things in the material universe are made,
somewhat similar to what we now call atoms.

In both Hinduism and Buddhism, dharma refers to the principle or law that orders the
universe, to individual conduct that conforms to this principle, and to the essential nature
of a thing. In both religions, dharma means religious truth and the eternal truth that
assumes a special form in every thing, person, place, and situation. It is often translated as
the nature, character, essence, or essential quality of something. There are numerous special
dharmas. Special Hindu dharmas usually refer to individuals with particular social or
religious duties. Special Buddhist dharmas usually refer to various aspects of the Buddha’s

Dharma affects one’s future in both this lifetime and future ones. Either living life
according to the dharma or according to one’s own dharma results in good karmaphala.
Failure to act according to dharma results in bad karmaphala. Dharma affects the future
according to the karmaphala accumulated. One’s dharmic path in the next life is the one
necessary to bring about and fulfill the conditions created by past actions or karma.

Then, there is adharma. Loosely translated, adharma means irreligiosity. Adharma is

anything contrary to the laws of existence. Adharmas are those actions which are contrary
to the individual’s dharma. Whatever facilitates spiritual growth is dharma, and whatever
impedes spiritual growth is adharma.

Living a righteous life, i.e., following a dharmic path, means being committed to the four
virtues: (1) austerity (tap); (2) purity (shauch); (3) compassion (daya), and (4) truthfulness
(satya). Living an unrighteous life, i.e., following an adharmic path, means acting on the
three vices: (1) pride (ahankar); (2) contact (sangh); and (3) intoxication (madya). Blind
faith without regard for spiritual understanding is considered to be adharma. Faith
combined with spiritual understanding is called sudharma. Adharma is also considered to
be an imbalance among the three gunas, the three primary cosmic forces responsible for all
material manifestations.

The Karmas

Karma is generally classified as one of three major types: day-to-day karma (kriyaman
karma), stored karma (sanchit karma), and destiny or fate (prarabdha karma). A fourth
and rarely mentioned form of karma (agama karma) refers to the actions that one is

planning to perform in the future. To a large extent, agama karma is included in the first
three basic types of karma. There are also numerous other smaller categories of karma
including niyatam karma, nitya karma, naimittika karma, kamya karma, nishiddha karma,
and prayaschitha karma.

Kriyaman Karma

According to the Vedic philosophies, every action will result in a reaction, every cause will
have an effect, and every effort will have its destiny at the appropriate time. When the
effects or results of an action manifest in the present moment or lifetime, they are referred
to as kriyaman karma.

Kriyaman karma is sometimes referred to as day-to-day karma. Kriyaman karmas are the
thoughts, feelings, words, actions, and experiences that result from one’s previous
sanskara-based thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and actions. We experience these results
either immediately or at some time soon during the present incarnation. For example,
smoking a cigarette (action) may ease feelings of anxiety (kriyaman karma); drinking a
glass of water (the action) results in quenching one’s thirst (kriyaman karma).

Of the three major forms of karma, kriyaman karma provides the point, avenue, or
opportunity for the expression of free will. Mindfulness, or conscious awareness of one’s
immediate kriyaman karma, allows one to exercise free will by detaching from one’s
actions and their results and by consciously redirecting one’s thoughts, behaviors, and
destiny. Karma yoga is the practice, discipline, or way of life, most frequently advocated for
resolving, controlling, or exhausting kriyaman karma.

Sanchit Karma

There are certain kriyaman karmas which do not appear instantaneously or immediately.
In fact, most kriyaman karmas remain unconscious and unresolved, awaiting the most
opportune and appropriate future times to manifest. The effects, reactions, or responses of
an action that do not occur immediately are referred to as sanchit karma.

Sanchit karma is the term used to refer to the totality of one’s karma that has resulted
from one’s thoughts, feelings, words, actions, and experiences in all previous lives. For
example, smoking cigarettes may result in heart disease or some form of cancer many years
later; drinking water will result in perspiration and urination hours later. However,
sanchit karma generally does not manifest during the lifetime in which it was created.
Thousands of lifetimes may occur before an individual is ready to resolve or exhaust some
particular sanchit karma.

If one creates and accumulates much more new karma during a particular lifetime, the
new karmas become part of the previously accumulated sanchit karmas. Instead of
decreasing the total balance of sanchit karmas at the end of each birth, his or her sanchit

karmas are increased, and the cycle of birth and death continues without any hope of
attaining liberation for many more lives to come. As long as any form of karma or
sanskara remains, the individual is bound to take on new births. If all sanchit karmas are
exhausted before leaving the present body and no karmas remain, one becomes completely
free from the cycle of birth and death, a goal of human reincarnation.

Prarabdha Karma

In each lifetime or birth, a small percentage of sanchit karma manifests. Prarabdha karma
is the portion of sanchit karma that is predestined to manifest in a particular lifetime. A
person’s particular type of body, his gender, parents, spouse, children, wealth, class, creed,
race, sex, environment, etc. are all determined by these prarabdha karmas. Prarabdha
karma is also referred to as destiny, fate, fortune, or luck.

It is said that no one can leave his or her present body until he or she has fully enjoyed,
suffered, and exhausted the prarabdha karmas chosen for that particular lifetime. As soon
as the prarabdha karmas are fully exhausted, the individual immediately becomes free of
his or her body and receives a new body to exhaust new prarabdha karmas.

There are three kinds of prarabdha karma: 1) ichha; 2) anichha; and parechha. Ichha
prarabdha is prarabdha with desire. Anichha prarabdha is without desire. Parechha
prarabdha is prarabdha due to others. In the Advaita Vedanta tradition, a Self-realized
being is free of ichha prarabdha, but continues to experience anichha and parechha

Additional Karmas

Nishkam karma refers to selfless or desireless action. That is, nishkam karma is any action
performed without expectations regarding its results or rewards. Nishkam is the central
principle of karma yoga as described in the Bhagavad Gita. Nishkam requires that the
action be performed with detachment and mindfulness, and its practice leads to calmness
and equanimity. Nishkam karma belongs to the guna or quality referred to as sattva or

Niyatam karma is karma that results from performing one’s (usually a male) societal
obligations. Niyatam karma is of two kinds: (1) Nitya karma refers to performing everyday
routines; and (2) Naimittika karma refers to performing one’s duty on special occasions.
Additionally, there is Kamya karma that results from evoking cosmic power or a deity in
order to obtain a specific desire. Nishiddha karma results from performing an immoral act.
Prayaschitha karma is karma accrued when one repents of one’s actions.

All karma can be judged as dridha, adridha, or dridah-adridah. The English meaning of
dridha is set, fixed, unrelenting. Therefore, dridha karma is said to be set or fixed. Human
effort cannot change dridha karma. However, under some circumstances divine
intervention can change dridha karma. Adridha karma is not set or fixed. It may be
changed with a little effort. Dridha-adridha karma lies in-between. It can be changed but
only with great effort.

Dridha, adridha, and dridha-adridha karmas can be pleasurable or painful, good or bad.
Such subjective judgments are independent of the degree of fixity. These qualifications--
dridha, adridha, and dridha-adridha—are most often used in regards to prarabdha karma
and especially in the practice of Vedic astrology. That is, prarabdha karma may be judged
as dridha prarabdha karma if there are many indications pointing to the same conclusion.

Karmaphala, Sanskara, and Skandha

Sir Isaac Newton has long been considered to be a founding father of the West’s scientific
tradition. Western science is particularly indebted to Newton’s laws of physics. One such
law states that, for every act or action, there is an opposite and equal reaction.

Metaphysicians describe a similar spiritual law with respect to human behavior. This
spiritual law is a major tenet of the Vedic religious traditions of south central Asia. It holds
that all human acts, actions, activities, thoughts and emotions produce at least one, if not
many, reactions. These reactions must be balanced by future acts, actions, thoughts, or
emotions in order to re-establish harmony in the universe and liberate the individual who
was the source of the original disturbing action. Many Westerners, who have embraced the
Vedic religions or similar metaphysical traditions or principles, refer to this spiritual law as
the law of karma.

The Sanskrit word karma (kamma in Pali) is most accurately translated as act, action, or
activity in English. Many, well-intentioned Westerns often use the word karma when what
they are actually referring to is either karmaphalas or the sanskaras. The karmaphalas are
the results of acts—physical, emotional, or mental.

Few people born outside the Indian subcontinent have heard of sanskaras. The term
sanskara is used in two different contexts. Sanskaras can refer to certain ceremonial rites of
passage, which begin before birth and end with death. Sanskaras also refer to dents in one’s
soul, created by one’s actions. These dents are said to perpetuate or attract the very
circumstances that led to their formation in the first place.

Sanskaras are the imprints left behind on the spiritual body by one’s actions. The most
literal English interpretation of sanskara is impression or dent. The Vedic belief is that
every thought, image, sensation, feeling, emotion, judgment, and action of an individual
leaves an impression or dent in or on that person’s character or personality. If you imagine
the soul to be a round or oval sphere, sanskaras are dents and scratches on what would
otherwise be an otherwise smooth surface. Experiences in this lifetime and in previous ones
create impressions on the soul or subconscious mind. These imprints color one’s
perceptions, responses, and states of mind. If one repeats these experiences, the scratches
or dents become deeper.

According to the Vedas, the impressions left by our deeds are continuously assimilated in
the chitta as sanskaras. The chitta is the subtle core of the mind. It is similar to the
unconscious mind, and it directs the conscious mind. The sanskaras from earlier lives
accumulate in the chitta and shape our character in this and future lives. The chitta carries
with it our sanskaras until it is refined through spiritual progress.

Every action—mental, emotional, or physical—creates sanskaras. One’s sanskaras attract

life situations congruent with their original nature. In other words, sanskaras attract
conditions which would normally strengthen the tendencies to act in a manner that
originally produced the sanskaras. Old, accumulated sanskaras motivate the personality to
make similar poor choices. And even as the old sanskaras are growing, new sanskaras
appear from poor choices made in new circumstances. Thus, the individual is continually
accumulating both old and new sanskaras, which in turn drive the personality.

Vedic philosophy states that one’s sanskaras shape or form the character of one’s
character or personality, including the lower part of what is often referred to as the soul.
The personality projected by the lower mental, emotional, and physical bodies during a
particular lifetime is determined by one’s sanskaras. At death the sanskaras remain intact
in the lower part of the soul. They influence the body, personality, and circumstances of the
next birth.

One’s sanskaras constitute the biggest limitations facing living beings on the earth plane.
The dents or impressions of the sanskaras color or distort one’s experiences and modify the
physical body, its senses, its functions, and those of all the etheric, astral, mental, or other
lower spiritual bodies. Unconsciously, one’s sanskaras define the kind of reactions one has
to everything. The sanskaras distort the individual’s beliefs about himself, the world, and
the future. It is through our sanskaras that our karmaphalas find us.

The Vedic concept of sanskara is similar to the Buddhist concept of skandha. Skandhas are
bundles or aggregates that categorize human experience and that lead to the continuance of
existence. Five skandhas are identified in Buddhist teachings: (1) form, matter, or the
material body; (2) sensations or feelings; (3) perceptions or cognitions; (4) mental
formations, volition, or predispositions; and (5) consciousness. The aggregates are subject
to continual change and have no true permanence. The individual person or ego is a
temporary combination of these aggregates. The skandhas are considered to be the cause of
future suffering. Clinging to the aggregates leads to identification with a false sense of self
and continues the experience of suffering. Detaching from the skandhas through
mindfulness reveals their essential emptiness, extinguishes suffering, and ends in liberation.

Like the Vedic sanskaras, the skandhas in Buddhism perpetuate a sense of continuation
from one moment to another and from one life to another. Although the aggregates change,
they maintain a sufficient degree of similarity to create this sense of continuity. The fourth
category of skandhas—mental formations (samskaras or sankharas)—is especially similar
to the concept of sanskaras.

Sanskaras are also very similar to the terms schemata, cognitive distortions, and core beliefs
as they are defined and used in cognitive therapy and similar Western psychotherapies.
These sanskaras, dents, or distortions become positive feedback loops or self-fulfilling
prophecies by directing the individual to focus on similar ideas, sensations, emotions, and
actions and by distorting dissimilar experiences so that they are congruent with the
particular sanskaras.

Without conscious awareness and choice, one’s sanskaras direct one’s present and future
thoughts, perceptions, emotions, words, and actions. In order to fulfill the cravings,
graspings, and fears of the mind, the influences of our sanskaras keep our minds focused
on maya (the material world of illusions) and imprisoned by samsara (the endless round of
birth, death, and rebirth).

Thus, one’s sanskaras direct the individual toward similar experiences or re-create them
and strengthen the very nature of one’s sanskaras. In turn the new, but similar or
congruent experiences deepen or strengthen the dents or impressions, and thereby attract
even more congruent experiences. Eventually, these patterns develop and strengthen into
habits, traits, temperaments, and personalities.

We begin our conscious process of enlightenment and the end of samsara when we
renounce our habitual sanskaras and the dissatisfactions they produce. As one grows in
consciousness, he becomes increasingly aware of the presence of divinity and makes choices
based on this awareness. The negative aspects of one’s sanskaras diminish. One’s negative
sanskaras are replaced by qualities such as peace, calm, equanimity, love, compassion, and

Destiny and the Five Niyamas—the Fivefold Cosmic Order

Vedic philosophy recognizes five forces that influence one’s destiny: (1) dharma niyama; (2)
utu niyama; (3) bija-niyama; (4) karma niyama; and (5) chitta niyama.

Dharma niyama (also called dhamma niyama and dhammaniyama) refers to the laws of
nature, especially in terms of birth, life, and death. All things are subject to change and are
in states of fluctuation. This is the norm. Dharma niyama is the sequence that all natural
phenomena undergo. It refers to the way all things arise, exist, and then cease to exist. All
beings experience birth, aging, sickness, and death.

Utu niyama (also called irthu niyama and utuniyama) refers to changes in the natural
environment which affect physical/material objects. Utu niyama includes the effects of
climate, weather, temperature, heat, wind, rain, and seasonal changes. It refers the effects
of light, darkness, water, soil, and nutrients. It refers to the growth of trees, the blossoming
of flowers. Like dharma niyama, it refers to the ways things decay, decompose, and

Bija niyam (also called bijaniyama and biija niyama) refers to the germinal order or genetic
inheritance. It is what might be called the laws of heredity.

Karma niyama (also kamma niyama and kammaniyama) refers to the consequences of one’s
actions and moral order. It is the natural law pertaining to human behavior and to the
process of actions and their results. Karma niyama especially emphasizes one’s intentions
underlying one’s actions.

Chitta niyama (also citta niyama and cittaniyama) refers to the workings of one’s mind or
one’s personal psychology. It especially refers to one’s mental and emotional reactions to
one’s experience. Of the five niyamas, chitta niyama is the one niyama over which one can
exercise free will and personal choice. Changing one’s reactions is the beginning of
changing one’s destiny.

Vedanga and Jyotish, the Science of Light

In Vedanta philosophy, there are six auxiliary disciplines used to understand and interpret
the Vedas. These disciplines are referred to as Vedanga, meaning member of the Veda. The
Vedanga are: (1) Shiksha—phonetics and phonology; (2) Chandas—meter; (3)
Vyakarana—grammar; (4) Nirukta—etymology; (5) Kalpa—ritual; and (6) Jyotish—

Jyotish, or Vedic astrology, is one of the tools used in the practical application of the Vedas.
In English, Jyotish translates as the science of light. The rasi chakra, or natal chart, is said
to describe the individual’s personal and physical characteristics, financial position,
relationships, academic achievements, past lives, health, spousal happiness, disgrace and
illnesses, spiritual attainments, occupation or means of livelihood, freedom from misery
and gain, divine knowledge, and moksha or the state of existence after death. Spiritually
speaking, the birth chart is considered the blueprint of the individual’s soul and/or
personality during a particular lifetime. Interpretation of the birth chart or charts (in
jyotish several charts are calculated from the birth chart, each one represents a particular
aspect of the person’s life) become more refined when placed in the context of sanskara and
karma. Vedic astrologers look for special planetary combinations called yogas. Over 1000
such yogas have been defined or identified.

Belief in reincarnation is espoused by most Western astrologers. It is an essential part of

Vedic, Buddhist, and Tibetan astrology. Jyotish considers the birth chart to be a symbolic
map of one’s prarabdha karma. That is, the birth chart reveals the karma that the
individual intends to resolve or exhaust during this particular lifetime. The birth chart
indicates the prarabdha karma that the individual has brought with him or her into this
lifetime. Some of the prarabdha karma will be difficult or painful. Some of the prarabdha
karma will be special strengths, talents, and opportunities that will assist the individual
during the present incarnation. The natal chart indicates the disha, or direction, the
individual should take in order to further his life journey.

Timing is of special interest in Jyotish. The birth chart indicates when the individual
should face a particular aspect of his or her prarabdha karma. These periods are called
dasas—Sanskrit for state, position, or condition of being. Each dasa is a period during
which a particular planet influences a person’s life. The nature of the dasa is determined by
the prarabdha karma symbolized by the dasa’s ruling planet. Taking on issues or actions
before the time is right can lead to failure and strengthen the sanskaras. The individual’s
sanskaras strengthen, and he or she becomes increasingly bond to the unreal. On the other
hand, avoiding or failing to confront the sanskaras when the time is right has much the
same effect. Because of its background in sanskaras and karma, Vedic astrology is also
used to prescribe the best actions to be taken in order to exhaust the prarabdha karma
without creating new karma for future lifetimes.

There is an interesting correspondence between resolving past karmas and many schools of
Western psychotherapy. It may be said that both change the past or, at least, change the
impact of the past or how one thinks about the past. Both seek to redeem the past. In the
Vedic traditions, human experience is viewed as fluid, impermanent, and illusory,
possessing no degree of reality. These characteristics describe not only the present, but the
past and the future as well. When one develops insight into the nature of a particular
sanskara or karma and then resolves it, exhausts it, forgives it, and lets it go, the sanskara
or karma is no longer active in the present in a harmful way. It is also no longer an active
harmful influence in the past. The past conditions of ignorance or illusion that gave rise to
the sanskara or karma are resolved as well.

In many forms of Western psychotherapy the client faces and resolves the past conditions
or hindrances that have resulted in current limitations and suffering. The client perceives
his or her past from an entirely new perspective. The client redefines his or her past
experiences and becomes aware of disowned aspects of the self which enabled the client to
survive his or her past pains.

Additionally, the client becomes capable of manifesting the previously disowned parts in
the present and future when they are needed. The successful resolution of psychological
traumas and impasses also increases the client’s experience of peace, calm, equanimity,
love, compassion, and kindness, experiences similar to exhausting sanskaras in the Vedic

Atman Jnana—Self-Realization

Atman or atma is usually translated as Self. It refers to the essential self or individual soul—
the most spiritual or highest aspect of an individual. The atman is said to be of the same
substance as what is called Brahman—the omnipresent, unchanging, infinite, ultimate
Reality from which all things spring. The atman possesses the same qualities as those
possessed by Brahman. Most Vedantic schools of thought equate the atman with Brahman.
Some schools teach that there is a separation between the atman and Brahman.

Some texts use the term atmanjiva or atman jiva (also jivatman) when referring to an
individual entity. Either way, the atman is distinct from the ordinary, ever-changing,
worldly ego. The atmanjiva is a composite of pure consciousness and our sanskaras—the
deep impressions that go with us. Consciousness rides in a vehicle that is constructed of the
sanskaras that go with us after physical death and from life to life.

Neo-Theosophists refer to atman as the fifth principle of man. According to Theosophy, the
reincarnating ego consists of the atman-buddhi-manas (self-spirit-mind), the three highest
principles or bodies.

The ultimate goal of Vedantic philosophy is the attainment of atman jnana—Self-

realization. The Sanskrit expression atman jnana is usually translated as knowledge of the
atman or self. Knowledge of the Self must be experiential. That is, the knowledge of the Self
cannot be gained by listening to a teacher or by reading about it from a text. Teachers and
texts are helpful, but they do not constitute personal experience of the Self. The process of
Self-realization is said to start with avidya or ignorance and end in vidya or wisdom or
knowledge of ultimate reality. According to Vedanta, it was spiritual ignorance, or our
ability to ignore our true nature, that allows us to forget who we are and journey in the
physical world unaware of the many levels of consciousness and of the reality of the

There are many paths to the Self-realization. In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna described
three such paths—karma yoga or the yoga of perfect actions, bhakti yoga or the yoga of
perfect devotion, and jnana yoga or the yoga of perfect knowledge. Karma yoga is
described as the science of attaining communion with the Ultimate Consciousness by the
path of actions. Bhakti yoga is described as the science of attaining communion with the
Ultimate Consciousness by the path of devotion. Jnana yoga is the science of attaining
communion by the path of the intellect. Self-realization is not confined to one religion,
philosophy, practice, or school of thought.

Theravada Buddhism views the atman as the false belief which leads to suffering and
samsara. Theravada describes the belief in an eternal, unchanging Self as a form of
ignorance that keeps one from reaching enlightenment. However, Mahayana Buddhists
view the atman as the true Buddha Self or principle which is experienced as bliss in the
Mahaparinirvana state.

Many equate C. G. Jung’s individuation, Roberto Assagioli’s psychosynthesis, and

Abraham Maslow’s self-actualization with Self-realization. This would depend on their
definitions of Self. All three (C. G. Jung, Roberto Assagioli, Abraham Maslow) were
transpersonal psychologists who were quite familiar with Vedantic and other Asian
religions and philosophies. Walking the line between spiritually-oriented transpersonal
psychology and materialistic-oriented, academic psychology, their definitions of Self tended
to vary and were often vague. It should not be assumed that the psychological processes
described by Jung, Assagioli, and Maslow are identical to atman jnana—Self-realization—
the ultimate goal of Vedas. However, if the Self is defined as the atman of Vedantic

philosophy, these processes might be equated with Self-realization.

Advaita Vedanta--Nondualism

Advaita Vedanta is an ancient and very popular school of Hinduism. Advaita refers to the
philosophy of non-dualism. In Hinduism as well as in many other schools of the major
religions, God is viewed as omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, eternal, unchanging, and
without cause. The universe and the self are impermanent, periodically appearing,
dissolving, and appearing again. Only God is permanent and real while the self is an
illusion. However, it is ignorance, or advita, that creates the illusion of separateness.
Ignorance also creates the illusion of jiva-atman or separate souls. In nonduality (Advaita)
God and the Self are one and the same. Jnana, or knowledge/wisdom, leads to Self-
realization, i.e., realizing that the Self and God are one. God and the universe are not two,
are not dual. God is pervasive throughout reality and manifests as a range of ever-higher
gradations of consciousness and/or being.

In Advaita, a Self-realized person is called a jivan mukta or jivanmukta—a liberated soul.

He or she has attained nirvikalpa samadhi. He or she is free of ichha prarabdha, but not
necessarily free of anichha and parechha prarabdha. He or she is liberated from rebirth as
a human being.

Advaita has been interpreted as a form of pantheism, that is, that God is all or that God is
the sum total of the universe and the natural laws of the universe. However, Advaita is
interpreted today as a form of panentheism, that is, that all is in God, that God exists and
interpenetrates every part of nature and extends beyond as well. In Advaita God is
generally viewed without attributes, that is as impersonal or without a personality.
However, on the Vyāvahārika or pragmatic level, Advaita acknowledges God as the
Supreme Lord, the creator and destroyer of the world. God is both immanent and