Karma is a much misused term that can lead to a lot of misunderstanding. It is often thought of as a metaphysical merit and demerit system that determines our fate, either in this life or, for those who believe in reincarnation, in the next life. Karma is actually the Hindu and Buddhist view of causality in which good thoughts, words and actions lead to beneficial effects while bad thoughts, words and actions lead to harmful effects.
We should think of Karma as an energy that we are creating in every moment through our actions. The energy we create, both now and in the future will affect us and also have an impact on others. It has nothing to do with reward or punishment but is more about taking responsibility for our actions and understanding the impact that they will have.
Karma is about doing the right thing in the present moment, just because it is the right thing. In order to do the right thing, we need to be mindful in the present moment so that we are able to reflect on the potential consequences of our thoughts, word and actions and exercise self-control. By doing so we are able to improve the quality of our lives and the lives of others. According to Iyengar, if we treat others well, life will be pleasant and agreeable for ourselves and others and our actions will bring a real social benefit.
As yogins, we are trying to make sense of life, our personal life and the wider world. The concept of karma sheds light not only on how our personal thoughts, words an actions have wide-reaching effects for others but how they shape the nature of our individual personalities. Every action we take has an impact and, over time, these impacts condition our minds to think or act in certain ways. Each action is like dropping a stone into water and creating ripples, so that our thoughts, actions and words have an ongoing impact on the person we become. If we do the right thing in any present moment and experience its effect, we are conditioning the mind to think or act in the right way. Over time, through being mindful of our actions, we may shed negative habitual patterns that have been causing harm to ourselves and others and replace them with more positive patterns.
Creating good karma begins then with being mindful. A mindful presence in the moment allows us to move away from actions that are prompted by habitual negative patterns and replace them with right thoughts, words and actions. We become mindful through the practice of yoga. Yoga cultivates in us the distance and objectivity we need to see our habitual patterns of thinking and the motivations that underpin them. Through yoga we develop a reflective mind, that sees more clearly and helps us to identify the right things to think, say or do in any given moment. The path to good karma begins, therefore, with our yoga practice.