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Karma—The Memory of Life

By Sadhguru Email By Sadhguru
November 2012
Karma—The Memory of Life

The word karma evokes different types of understanding in people’s minds. Karma means action. Action is on many different levels. There is physical, mental, emotional, and energy action which we can call karma. If the action sinks deeper than these four dimensions, then we call it kriya. So both karma and kriya mean action, but karma is that kind of action which leaves a residual imprint or impact upon the system. This means that the memory and chemistry of that action remains. Kriya is a type of action which imprints itself on a completely different dimension and begins to dismantle the karmic residue that has accumulated in the system.

Karma is of many kinds, many different layers and many different dimensions. The actions that your father performed are working and kicking up within you in so many different ways, not just in your situation, but in every cell in your body. Many of you may have noticed that when you were eighteen or twenty, you rebelled completely against your father or mother, but by the time you were forty or forty-five, you began to behave just like them. You speak, act, and even begin to look like them. That is a hopeless way to live because if life is going to repeat itself, if this generation is going to behave, act, live, and experience life in the same way that the previous generation did, then this is a wasted generation. This generation should experience life in a way that the previous generation never even imagined. Not by doing something crazy, but the way you experience life should be taken to the next level.

But karma is not just yours or your forefathers’. The first single-celled little piece of life, that bacteria or virus’ karma is also acting up within you today. In a normal-sized body you have approximately 10 trillion human cells. But in your body, there are over a hundred trillion bacteria—you are outnumbered one to ten! Just upon your facial skin, there are 18 billion bacteria. Aren’t you glad you’re not seeing them?

So a significant percentage of you is actually bacteria. And the kind of bacteria that you have carries a certain behavioral pattern depending upon what kind of bacteria your forefathers had. The way the bacteria behave in your body and in some other body is very different and depends upon this memory. So you inherit even the bacteria with a certain quality. They also carry a certain karmic content and behave and make the quality of your life in a certain way. So karma is not about something good or bad that you did. Karma is the memory of life. The very way the body is structured is because there is memory of life right from that single-celled animal to every other form. It is a medical fact that within your brain, there is a reptilian brain which is almost the size of a crocodile’s brain. Now do you understand why you go snapping at everybody?

If you try and sit for twelve hours a day and meditate, initially it will look like a great fortune, but within a month you will go nuts. If you cross that madness, you will cross everything, but most people give up when the madness arises within them because it is not easy. This is a primal cry of your father, your grandfather, your forefathers, and the goddamn bacteria. All of them will scream to find expression; they will not keep quiet. You can obliterate all of them, but it is a hard path which needs a lot of sadhana. Or you can distance yourself from them—let them scream but you are not bothered because you don’t hear. These are two different ways, but you cannot ignore them because they throb in every cell in your body.

So to distance yourself from all that takes a lot of work, or it simply takes devotion. If you have to do it by yourself, it takes work. If you want to ride the grace, there is no work but you will not be in the driver’s seat. So you either learn to drive—which involves many risks—or an expert driver will drive and you can sit and doze off in the back seat. As long as you get there, what does it matter how?


Named one of India’s 50 most influential people, Sadhguru speaks before millions annually around the globe, including to prominent leadership forums such as the United Nations, the World Economic Forum, TED, and the World Peace Congress. From ground-breaking yoga programs to projects for rural communities and the environment, Sadhguru’s Isha Foundation (www.IshaFoundation.org), serves as a thriving model for human empowerment, which is reflected in the Foundation’s special consultative status with the UN.


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