Karma is the notion that action and reaction are essentially fused as one -the effect is the fruit of the seed/cause. One cannot exist without the other. Everything that occurs in space time is the result of a former cause and likewise, everything that occurs in space time is also going to be the cause of a result to come.
“Sow an action reap a habit, sow a habit reap a character sow a character reap a destiny.” Therefore, according to the law of karma, we are each in complete control of our own destinies.
Our mental thoughts are said to be “primary karmas” because they are where our motives originate…making them the most powerful. This is why in yoga we aim at gaining control of our thoughts above all else. “Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodaha” (Yoga is the stilling of the mental mind fluctuations.)
Nonetheless, karma also exists on the level of words and deeds constituting the law of action and reaction, which consists of three subdivisions:
Sanchitta Karma: Karmic seeds accumulated from past lives waiting for the right conditions to sprout.
Parabdha Karma: Karmic seeds germinated at birth. The only way to exhaust this type of karma is via experience.
Agami Karma: Seeds that we sow now and will have to deal with in the future.
The idea of reincarnation exists to support the long term suspension of karma (the notion that karma is spread out over multiple lifetimes). The long term suspension of karma exists so that immediate results do not hinder our free will…but rather bear fruit only when the conditions are proper -when a specific lesson, acceptance or understanding is ready to be learned. In this way, karma is used as a tool that helps us to grow, evolve and come to understand the universal laws.
It is said that the best way to create positive karmic seeds is through the practice of karma yoga. Negative seeds can be suppressed by taming rajas and tamas (which is what the practice of yoga supports) and positive seeds can be cultivated through maintaining a sattvic environment in the mind. In this way we can learn to exert self effort.
In Vedantic text it is claimed that once a being reaches liberation he is free from all karma. If then, the effect of liberation (the shattering of maya and the experiencing of truth) also entails a shattering of karma, is must follow that karma was never real in the first place…it too was all part of maya. Once spiritual liberation is attained and the previous truths of one’s reality are subrated by this new knowledge, the notion of karma essentially becomes void. For this reason it is said that karma is merely a predecessor to aid the individual in “right thought and action”, which are necessary for spiritual evolution and liberation. Like sattva, its purpose then is to function in the realm of maya as a psychological tool or guide toward liberation.
Ultimately, the yogic philosophy denotes that karma will help us move from individual life to cosmic life allowing for the evolution of the soul. This cannot be done in one lifetime so for this reason there is reincarnation, where the soul’s evolution goes from pravritti (source to creation, towards the realm of existence, the one we are in now) then reverses back to nivritti (creation to source, towards the realm of silence and potential) and finally to a jivanmukti or a liberated soul. The realm of the liberated soul is the balancing or cancellation point between to pravritti and nivritti. It is as if we, as individual souls, bounce from every side of a circle before we realize that all we have to do to stop experiencing all of the chaos and extremes is to just stop bouncing.
“Death is the question that nature puts continually to life and her reminder to itself that it has not yet found itself. If there were a siege of death the creature would be bound forever in its imperfect form. Pursued by death he awakens to the idea of a perfect life and seeks out its means and possibility.” Sri Aurobindo.