Karma can be changed. Your destiny is in your hands

This article continues the previous post on the Illusion of Free will.   Free will, as we commonly understand it, is an illusion because the personality which drives our will is fixed and makes predictable decisions.  Furthermore, we are unaware of the invisible Forces of Nature (Prakriti) which impinge on our consciousness and compel us to act in pre-determined fashion.   It is only when we expand in consciousness and gradually unite with the Divine through Yoga that we begin to experience the true nature of free will, for then our will becomes aligned with the will of the Supreme.  True freedom comes with True Knowledge.

Karma is nothing but the will of the Spirit in action, consequence nothing but the creation of will. What is in the will-power of being, expresses itself in karma and consequence. When the will is limited in mind, karma appears as a bondage and a limitation, consequence as a reaction or an imposition. But when the will of the being is infinite in the spirit, karma and consequence become instead the joy of the creative spirit, the construction of the eternal mechanist, the word and drama of the eternal poet, the harmony of the eternal musician, the play of the eternal child.

-Sri Aurobindo. The Supramental Manifestation, Karma Will and Consequence

Man’s future is always in formation

Modern science has shown us that the weather few days from today can be known because there are satellites which provide images of cloud formations over the horizon.  In the same way, man’s future is always in formation and is visible to the awakened occult eye in the higher planes of consciousness.   The Universe is  not inanimate but conscious; it records our actions and provides feedback to us for our psychic growth through the mechanism of Karma. This Karma gets recorded in the form of inchoate formations in the higher mental worlds.  These formations get fleshed out as they descend through the various planes of consciousness until they materialize at the appropriate time as events in the physical world.  The picture below shows a man (represented by a smiley face) first setting up some future Karma in the mental world due to his actions.   It shows how, as the Karma descends through the vital and subtle-physical worlds, it gets fleshed out and altered as a result of  his further actions.

(For more on these higher planes of consciousness, see Cosmology)


Karma is formed by our actions and descends through the various planes of consciousness

Karma can be changed!

In the previous centuries, seers in India had the ability to predict the future but unfortunately, this made the proletariat fatalistic and prone to inertia (“It is God’s will!“) because somebody forgot to mention that everything in the future is not always completely formed but can be changed.  How can Karma be changed?  It can be changed in three ways

  1. In our ordinary consciousness, this can occur due to the action of our will.  The thoughts we bear and the actions that we undertake every day get registered in the higher mental and vital worlds.  This gives us the capacity to counteract and alter the future.  A sincere repentance, a firm action of will or a renunciation of a bad habit can alter the course of our life.
  2. There is also the action of Divine Grace, either directly or through the action of a Guru, which can annul future Karma.
  3. A Yogi who has expanded his/her consciousness into the higher planes  is capable of countermanding  Karma by consciously battling the Karmic formations in those worlds.  This is what Sri Aurobindo & The Mother termed the determinisms of the higher planes.  This aspect is discussed further in the passages below.

The Mother of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram (Mirra Alfassa) discusses below the first and second modes of changing Karma:

When one does not repeat one’s past mistakes, the divine power, the power of the divine Grace, abolishes their consequences – their karma – in the being. But as long as mistakes are repeated nothing can be abolished, because one re-creates them at every minute. When a person has made a serious error, say, a serious mistake (it can be serious or not, but we are concerned primarily with the serious ones), such mistakes have their consequences in life, a karma which has to be exhausted. The divine Grace, if you call upon it, has the power to abolish that karma, to cut short the consequences – but the Grace can only do this when you, within yourself, don’t begin all over again, when the mistake committed is not renewed. The past can be completely purified and abolished, on condition that one does not keep making it into a perpetual present.  The past can be cleansed to the point where it has no effect of any kind on the future, but only on condition that you stop the wrong vibration in yourself, that you don’t reproduce the same vibration indefinitely.

(Mother’s Agenda, June 2 1961)

In this passage from the book Adventures of Consciousness, Satprem explains the effect of the determinisms of the higher planes

A great deal has been written about determinism versus individual freedom, but the problem is too often seen from the wrong perspective. It is not a question of freedom versus determinism, but of freedom and many determinisms. We are subject, Sri Aurobindo says, to a series of superimposed determinisms–physical, vital, mental and higher–and the determinism of each plane can change or cancel the determinism of the plane immediately below it. For instance, good health and a given life-span in a person can be modified by the vital determinism of his passions or various psychological disorders, which in turn can be modified by the mental determinism of his willpower and his ideal, which can then be modified by the greater law of the psychic, and so on. Freedom means to move to a higher plane. And the same applies to the earth, because the very same forces drive the individual and the collective.  As individual meeting points of all these determinisms in matter, if we are capable of rising to a higher plane, we automatically help change all the lower determinisms and give the earth access to a greater freedom, until the day when, with the help of the pioneers of evolution, we can lift ourselves to a supramental plane, which will change the present destiny of the world as the Mind once changed its destiny around the Tertiary Era. And in the end–if there is an end–perhaps the earth will attain the supreme Determinism, which is supreme Freedom and perfect accomplishment. Through our work on consciousness, each of us contributes to resisting the fatalities that assail our world, and acts as a leavening agent for the earth’s freedom and divinization. Indeed, the evolution of consciousness has a supreme meaning for the earth.

(Satprem, Adventures of Consciousness, Chapter 9)

This is a more expansive answer by the Mother on this paradox of Karma versus free-will.

Question : Is there then no real freedom? Is everything absolutely determined, even your freedom, and is fatalism the highest secret?

Mother: Freedom and fatality, liberty and determinism are truths that obtain on different levels of consciousness. It is ignorance that makes the mind put the two on the same level and pit one against the other.

Consciousness is not a single uniform reality, it is complex; it is not something like a flat plain, it is multidimensional. On the highest height is the  Supreme and in the lowest depth is matter; and there is an infinite gradation of levels of consciousness between this lowest depth and the highest height. In the plane of matter and on the level of the ordinary consciousness you are bound hand and foot. A slave to the mechanism of Nature, you are tied to the chain of Karma, and there, in that chain, whatever happens is rigorously the consequence of what has been done before. There is an illusion of independent movement, but in fact you repeat what all others do, you echo Nature’s world-movements, you revolve helplessly on the crushing wheel of her cosmic machine. But it need not be so. You can shift your place if you will; instead of being below, crushed in the machinery or moved like a puppet, you can rise and look from above and by changing your consciousness you can even get hold of some handle to move apparently inevitable circumstances and change fixed conditions. Once you draw yourself up out of the whirlpool and stand high above, you see you are free. Free from all compulsions, not only you are no longer a passive instrument, but you become an active agent. You are not only not bound by the consequences of your action, but you can even change the consequences. Once you see the play of forces, once you raise yourself to a plane of consciousness where lie the origins of forces and identify yourself with these dynamic sources, you belong no longer to what is moved but to that which moves. This precisely is the aim of Yoga, – to get out of the cycle of Karma into a Divine movement.  By Yoga you leave the mechanical round of Nature in which you are an ignorant slave, a helpless and miserable tool, and rise into another plane where you become a conscious participant and a dynamic agent in the working out of a Higher Destiny.

This movement of the consciousness follows a double line. First of all there is an ascension; you raise yourself out of the level of material consciousness into superior ranges. But this ascension of the lower into the higher calls a descent of the higher into the lower. When you rise above the earth, you bring down too upon earth something of the above, – some light, some power that transforms or tends to transform its old nature. And then these things that were distinct, disconnected and disparate from each other – the higher in you and the lower, the inner and the outer strata of your being and consciousness meet and are slowly joined together and gradually they fuse into one truth, one harmony. It is in this way that what are called miracles happen. The world is made up of innumerable planes of consciousness and each has its own distinct laws; the laws of one plane do not hold good for another. A miracle is nothing but a sudden descent, a bursting forth of another consciousness and its powers – most often it is the powers of the vital – into this plane of matter. There is a precipitation, upon the material mechanism, of the mechanism of a higher plane. It is as though a lightning flash tore through the cloud of our ordinary consciousness and poured into it other forces, other movements and sequences. The result we call a miracle, because we see a sudden alteration, an abrupt interference with the natural laws of our own ordinary range, but the reason and order of it we do not know or see, because the source of the miracle lies in another plane. Such incursions of the worlds beyond into our world of matter are not very uncommon, they are even a constant phenomenon, and if we have eyes and know how to observe we can see miracles in abundance. Especially must they be constant among those who are endeavouring to bring down the higher reaches into the earth-consciousness below.

(Collected Works of the Mother Vol 3, Question and Answers, 28 April 1929)

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27 thoughts on “Karma can be changed. Your destiny is in your hands

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  6. Kastoori

    Hello, thank you for the article above. I have spent many days crying over past mistakes that I made when I was very young. Up to this day, I have not been able to forgive myself and I am constantly punishing myself. I really hope one day, I can forgive myself and heal completely….

    1. Sandeep Post author

      Glad it helped.

      Some lines from Savitri on the topic:

      His fate within him shapes his acts and rules;
      Its face and form already are born in him,
      Its parentage is in his secret soul:
      Here Matter seems to mould the body’s life
      And the soul follows where its nature drives.
      Nature and Fate compel his free-will’s choice.
      But greater spirits this balance can reverse
      And make the soul the artist of its fate.
      This is the mystic truth our ignorance hides:
      Doom is a passage for our inborn force,
      Our ordeal is the hidden spirit’s choice,
      Ananke is our being’s own decree.
      (Sri Aurobindo. Savitri, Book VII, Canto I)

      In man a dim disturbing somewhat lives;
      It knows but turns away from divine Light
      Preferring the dark ignorance of the fall.

      (Sri Aurobindo. Savitri, Book IV, Canto II)

      A prayer, a master act, a king idea
      Can link man’s strength to a transcendent Force.
      Then miracle is made the common rule,
      One mighty deed can change the course of things;
      A lonely thought becomes omnipotent

      (Sri Aurobindo. Savitri, Book I, Canto II)

  7. Sandeep Post author

    This is a Q&A with the Mother Mirra Alfassa which throws further light on the question of changing Karma.

    Question: You have said here that we are “tied to the chain of Karma”, but then sometimes when the Divine Grace acts, that contradicts..

    Answer: Completely, the Divine Grace completely contradicts Karma; you know, It makes it melt away like butter that’s put in the sun.

    That is what I was saying just now. What you have just told me is another way of speaking. I was putting myself in your place and asking: There you are, if you have an aspiration that’s sincere enough or a prayer that’s intense enough, you can bring down in you Something that will change everything, everything – truly it changes everything. An example may be given that is extremely limited, very small, but which makes you understand things very well: a stone falls quite mechanically; say, a tile falls; if it gets loose, it will fall, won’t it? But if there comes, for example, a vital or mental determinism from someone who passes by and does not want it to fall and puts his hand out, it will fall on his hand, but it will not fall on the ground. So he has changed the destiny of this stone or tile. It is another determinism that has come in, and instead of the stone falling on the head of someone, it falls upon the hand and it will not kill anybody. This is an intervention from another plane, from a conscious will that enters into the more or less unconscious mechanism.

    Question: So the consequences of Karma are not rigorous?

    Answer: No, not at all. In all religions there are people who have said that, who have given such absolute rules, but I believe it was in order to substitute themselves for Nature and pull the strings. There is always this kind of instinct that wants to take the place of Nature and pull the strings of people. So they are told: “There is an absolute consequence of all that you do…. “It is a concept necessary at a given moment of evolution to prevent people from being in a completely unconscious egoism, in a total unconsciousness of the consequences of what they do. There is no lack of people who are still like that, I believe it is the majority; they follow their impulses and do not even ask themselves whether what they have done is going to have any consequences for them and for others. So it is good that someone tells you straight, with a severe look: “Take care, that has consequences which will last for a very long time!” And then there are others who come and tell you: “You will pay for it in another life.” That, however, is one of those fantastic stories But it does not matter: this also can be for the good of people. There are other religions which tell you: “Oh! If you commit that sin, you will go to hell for eternity.” You can imagine!.. So people have such a fright that it stops them a little, it gives them just a moment for reflection before obeying an impulse – and not always; sometimes the reflection comes afterwards, a little late.

    It is not absolute. These are still mental constructions, more or less sincere, which cut things into small bits like that, quite neatly cut, and tell you: “Do this or do that. If it is not this, it will be that.” Oh! what a nuisance is this kind of life. And so people go mad, they are frightened! “Is it like that or rather this?” And they want it to be neither this nor that, what should they do? – They have only to climb to a higher storey. They must be given the key to open the door. There is a door to the staircase, a key is needed. The key, as I told you just now, is the sufficiently sincere aspiration or the sufficiently intense prayer. I said “or”, but I do not think it is “or”. There are people who like one better and others, the other. But in both there is a magical power, you must know how to make use of it.

    There is something very beautiful in both, I shall speak to you about it one day, I shall tell you what there is in aspiration and what in prayer and why both of them are beautiful Some dislike prayer; if they entered deep into their heart, they would find it was pride – worse than that, vanity. And then there are those who have no aspiration, they try and they cannot aspire; it is because they do not have the flame of the will, it is because they do not have the flame of humility.

    Both are needed. There must be a very great humility and a very great will to change one’s Karma.

    Voila, au revoir, my children.

    (Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 5, pp 91-93)

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  9. ipi

    Teachings of the Maharshi

    If anything comes your way, by reason of prarabdha (destiny based on the balance sheet of past lives) you can’t help it. If you take what comes, without any special attachment and without any desire for more of it or for a repetition of it, it will not harm you by leading to further births. On the other hand, if you enjoy it with great attachment and naturally desire for more of it, that is bound to lead to more and more births.”

    The only freedom man has is to strive for and acquire the jnana which will enable him not to identify himself with the body. The body will go through the actions rendered inevitable by prarabdha and a man is free either to identify himself with the body and be attached to the fruits of its actions, or to be detached from it and be a mere witness of its activities.”


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  12. mike

    “And then there are others who come and tell you: “You will pay for it in another life.” That, however, is one of those fantastic stories But it does not matter: this also can be for the good of people.”

    l’m not quite sure what The Mother means here. l might have missed the point somewhere. l can see that karma isn’t a punishment or reward per se, but a lesson to help us grow out of lgnorance. l’m not sure what ‘those fantastic stories’ are – unless She’s referring to myths created by the religious in order to control the laity; like they always have.
    Supposedly, from all the accounts l’ve read, karma does affect our future lives. Perhaps it’s just the implication of the word ‘PAY’ that’s wrong.

  13. mike

    l think The Master explains karma in a few lines here, from another thread:

    “We continue to exist in a quagmire until our consciousness learns the intended lesson, at which point the quagmire itself vanishes.”

    1. Sandeep Post author

      Those are not Sri Aurobindo’s words but my words :-) There is another post which summarizes Sri Aurobindo’s views on the matter

      l’m not sure what ‘those fantastic stories’ are – unless She’s referring to myths created by the religious in order to control the laity; like they always have.

      The Mother is referring to the theosophists, Buddhists and others who advocate an inflexible and strictly reciprocal model of Karma.

      1. Mike-3

        “The Mother is referring to the theosophists, Buddhists and others who advocate an inflexible and strictly reciprocal model of Karma.”

        Was it not Sri Aurobindo who said that there was a demon with mental force plotting behind the theosophical society, or something like that?

        “They (refering to vital beings taking posession of people) get supported. But these are not strong beings. Really strong beings are those that are behind world-movements, like Theosophy ; they have not only vital force but mental power.”
        Can be found in your “On suicide, euthanesia…..“article. I am not sure what to make out of this statement though.

        1. Sandeep Post author

          It is not easy to reconcile and integrate all the remarks Sri Aurobindo made over the years on Theosophy. Ultimately, we just have to follow our path and forget the rest.

          In a letter to his brother Barin in 1923, he didn’t think his sister Sarojini had the capacity to practice Integral Yoga under his guidance but he was not averse to her studying Theosophy (“Make it plain to her that the Yoga I am doing is now too much difficult for her. Her coming here would be waste of time and money…I have of course no objection to her turning to Theosophy if she is drawn that way.” CWSA vol. 26, Autobiographical Notes, p 351).

          In another exchange in 1936, he said Madame Blavatsky “was an occultist, not a spiritual personality. What spiritual teachings she gave, seemed to be based on intellectual knowledge, not on realisation.” (CWSA vol. 35, Letters on Himself and the Ashram, p 183)

          There is an exchange on 10 Dec, 1938 where he is recorded as saying:
          Dr Manilal: What do you think of Madame Blavatsky?
          Sri Aurobindo: She was a remarkable woman.
          (Nirodbaran, Talks With Sri Aurobind, vol. 1, p 20)

        2. Sandeep Post author

          A response by the Mother on the general nature of secret societies may be pertinent to this question. The original question is not known.

          Mother: The historic part of the papers seems to be true. The founder must surely have been acquainted with the Kaballah and with some mystics of Asia Minor. The original appears to have been written in Latin with adjuncts of Hebrew words (probably taken from the Kaballah). But the Osiris-Isis part looks to me like a more recent addition which came in something like 50 or 60 years ago.

          The whole thing is from its origin a very well-made, a very strong and elaborate mental formation, powerfully designed to catch hold of certain vital elements and forces (both outside and inside the individuals) to rule and use them and through the vital to exercise a partial power over the physical.

          Formations of this kind are numerous; they translate upon earth into secret societies. I have met many of the kind, more or less ancient, more or less powerfully organised, but all of a similar type. They are not, in their nature, spiritual. If there is any spirituality in them, it comes not from the formation itself but from the presence, in the society, of one or several personalities with a spiritual character and achievement.

          (Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 15, p 31)

  14. Sandeep Post author

    For the faithful, the patient, the hermetically pure, all the important things in this world — not life and death, perhaps, which are merely words, but the important things — work out rather beautifully.

    (American novelist J.D. Salinger)

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  16. mike

    l believe Sri Aurobindo once had a meeting with Blavatsky. l remember reading it somewhere. He said she tried ti influnce Him but it didn’t work.

    1. Sandeep Post author

      Not Blavatsky, but her successor Annie Besant. This is the excerpt

      Nirodbaran: You once spoke about Ramakrishna’s and Vivekananda’s influence in your life. Was it this you meant?

      Sri Aurobindo: No. I referred to the influence of their words and books when I returned from England to Baroda. Their influence was very strong all over India. But I had another direct experience of Vivekananda’s presence when I was practising Hathayoga. I felt this presence standing behind and watching over me. That exerted a great influence afterwards in my life.

      In regard to the sounds, I am reminded of another experience. It was when Annie Besant invited me to see her. I heard, during the whole time of the meeting, the noise of thunder in my ears. I believe she was trying to throw an influence on me and my being was violently throwing it back.

      (Nirodbaran. Talks With Sri Aurobindo, Vol 1, 10 JANUARY 1939)

  17. ipi

    Nothing we think or do is void or vain; Each is an energy loosed and hold its course…
    We reap the fruit of our forgotten deeds.
    -Sri Aurobindo

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