Can we overcome our karma?

Devotee: I have a question about reincarnation. We learn that we are the product of our heritage, surroundings and education and that we also have free will. We also learn that there is reincarnation. So my question is, what traits do we have from our ancestors and parents, and what do we bring with us from our previous incarnations?

Guru: Well, I’ll answer it very carefully. Take my life as an example. In my last incarnation, I was born in India, and I had Indian parents. I was very much a Hindu, I was a Swami in Swami Ramakrishna’s order, as Swami Brahmananda. You might ask me where I was born this time. I was born in Sri Lanka, grew up in Britain, and now I’m in Switzerland. This Idea that you must belong to a particular country to carry its traditions because you are born now is not guaranteed. It depends on your karma.

Karma means the causes and effects that you set in motion now. So you also have free will to choose in what direction you are going as a human being, whether to be positive or negative. Karma controls your life. If karma controls your life, you may well ask me, “Where is free will?” Free will means you can choose between that which is positive or negative. You have free will to say to yourself, “I don’t want to go in a negative way of life but a positive one.” You have free will, by paying your karma, to go and seek the grace and help of the divine. Nothing is permanent, even karma is impermanent, because the divine can untie the knots that we have tied from one cycle of birth to another.

Now I will explain in detail what it’s all about. As long as you are outside the kin of the Lord, the Lord you know, you are governed by karma. That is why Christ said, “Suffer unto me, come to me, through your suffering you will discover me. When you have discovered me, you are liberated, and you will not suffer the consequences of your actions. You will be pardoned for your sins. You will be liberated in this life only if you surrender totally to God.”

This is the catch twenty-two phrase. If you don’t surrender, then you are governed by karma. You will have to pay your debts. That is why we say to people, “Okay, you are going to suffer, you are going to suffer the consequences of your actions.” Karma is there, and it’s governed by the nine planets. The nine planets control everybody’s life, and they are totally outside of God’s command. That is the law, which has been set out very clearly. God doesn’t interfere with whether or not you are going to be born with blue eyes or grey eyes or whatever. The law makes you born like that and in the set of circumstances in which you will live.

The law is going to say what sort of parents you are going to have. The law says whether you are going to be successful or not and whether your parents are going to provide you with all that you require in your life and more. The law also governs your birth, death, marriage and everything.

The Divine can untie the knots of our karma

But you have the ability to say to the law, “I know I have a strange feeling this is my life, and there are so many influences that now I wish to change so I go to the divine.”

That is why when somebody is suffering from a problem we say, “Don’t worry, come, we will go to the Divine Mother and ask her to untie the knots we have tied from one cycle of birth to another, that make us suffer the consequences of our actions.”

Freedom is there for you, make the decision. The Lord is the silent witness. He witnesses everything we do, everything we want to do, and what we aspire to do and ultimately we suffer the consequences of our actions.

I understand how patriotic people are. Nationalism. I can understand. Because of nationalism, we have the Tigers (the Tamil Tigers) in Sri Lanka. They are killing each other (the Tigers and the Sinhalese). I met some of them one day and I said to them, “Friends, do you understand what you are doing? You believe that you are a Tamil, but I don’t believe you are a Tamil. By some quirk you were born as a Tamil. What guarantees that in the next incarnation you are going to be born as a Tamil? I promise you, you won’t be. And so whom are you going to fight next time? You will be an Irish terrorist. Or a Middle Eastern terrorist or whatever. 

I remember taking Swami with me to Sri Lanka. As we entered Sri Lanka he said, “Gosh Guru, I belong here, I know Sri Lanka. I feel at home in Sri Lanka, I do not belong in Britain. You ask him when you see him how he feels about being in Sri Lanka. You have pulsating in your veins not just one country but experiences of many countries, many religions, many backgrounds, and many associations. This is what I have brought with me. 

I will give you another example of that experience. When I first left Sri Lanka, I was on the ship and I saw our ship sail away with Sri Lanka fading in the far distance. I was a young boy, a young man, not a boy, and I said to myself, “Now I am growing up. I have never even washed a handkerchief in my life, now I have to change my whole outlook.” As I turned around I saw the Cardinal of Sri Lanka standing beside me. He said, “My son, I see that you have left home. Let’s get together and have a chat. That we did and we became good friends because he understood what I was saying to him. When I went to the Vatican, he agreed to travel with me to Rome. One day we wanted to visit the Colosseum and see all the ruins. We were together and he said, “We’ll get a guide.” I said, “No, I will take you around the Colosseum and Rome.” He said, “But you don’t know anything, you must have read about it.” I said, “No, I have been here. I know what happened in Rome during the time of Christ. I was involved in some of what was happening here and I will give you every detail as I go along,” but it was too much for him.

At the end of it, he looked at me and he said, “You are a very strange young man.” I said, “That is pulsating in my veins, I know it.” I am now not a Roman but a Sri Lankan, but I belong to the world. This is what the problem is. Nationalism puts blinkers on us. Of course you must be proud of your heritage now. You have a background and protect it as you go along. It is your duty. It is my duty not just to protect Sri Lanka but to protect all of humanity, not one just nationality. My family is the universal family. I am here to protect the best in every nation. Love, compassion, understanding, service to life. That is my job. I know how difficult it is.

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