“Karma is just action and reaction; the reaction part is in the unconscious. Karma is everything remaining in your subconscious mind. It’s just energy stored up from the past, all very ancient. When you release, you are freeing yourself of more karma from the mind.” (Seretan, 2008, p. 50).
“We had to have done everything to get this low, so who cares what is there?” (ibid.)
SESSION 28: KARMA
For those who are here for the first time, our method is one of question-and-answer. The reason why I use question-and-answer is that I find it to be one of the very best methods of discovering truth. The most effective teaching is individual teaching rather than group- or mass-teaching.
The knowledge or truth we’re after cannot be picked up intellectually; it cannot be gotten from books. Were it possible to get it from books, we would all have it, for we certainly have books. Instead, I find that the only really effective teaching is accomplished when the teacher gets the pupil to really experience the answer. Only when one experiences the answer can one understand. This experience is also called realizing. So, do you have a question?
Q: I’d like to know a little more about how karma works and why it works. I’d like to know what puts it into effect, what starts the wheel. In your book you mention that it’s the thought.
Lester: The word “karma” is a Sanskrit word meaning action. Its general use means action and the reaction to the action. Other explanations are cause and effect; what you sow you reap; what you give out comes back to you.
Karma is initiated in thought. . . . When we [have] a desire, we want something. The desire initiates the thought of wanting something. Wanting something causes us to act to get that something. That something does not satisfy us, and therefore the desire increases. That goes on and on and on, and we become bound by desire, never able to satisfy it. If our desires [could be] satisfied, we would have no desires, right?
Q: Would you say that again?
Lester: If our desires [could be] satiated or satisfied, we would soon lose all our desires. They would soon be satisfied and we would have no more.
Q: Which is the state which we should attain?
Lester: Yes: we should attain the state of no desire, no longing. Then we are happy always.
Q: I understood you to say that karma is a law of action and reaction and could be [not only] a punishment for a wrong deed, [but] a reward for a good one.
Lester: Creating things we don’t like we call punishment. Creating things we do like we call reward. Creation is initiated in the mind. The mind doesn’t know good or bad—it just creates. When we create things that are distasteful to us and we don’t take responsibility for the creation, we say we’re being punished.
Let me get back to the question of what karma is. To every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. It’s called the law of compensation.1 It is initiated in the mind. Every thought we have creates a vacuum, and nature immediately moves to fill that vacuum. The pace at which nature fulfills it is also determined by our thought, and every thought is initiated by a desire. Since a desire is not real. but is an assumed lack, an assumed agony of need, it can never be satisfied, and it actually becomes stronger the more we try to satisfy it. The only way we can be happy is to let go of all desire; then we become perfectly contented.
Q: So it takes the two [to create karma]? The thought alone without desire won’t do it?
Lester: Without a desire, would you have a thought?
Lester: Correct. You wouldn’t have any thoughts without desire.
Q: Well, there are intellectual desires, aren’t there?
Lester: Yes, but they are desires. Otherwise, there would be no thought. You desire to be heard; you desire to communicate with people. It might not be a desire for ice cream, food, for things that the body needs, but it might be a desire for approval. So, desire initiates the whole cycle.
Way back in the beginning, it started with a thought of lack. Then there was a desire to fill the lack. The desire caused thought, the thought caused action. Since the action does not fulfill the desire, we increase the desire and action, keeping it going until we are spinning in an endless cycle, with satisfaction impossible. All our present thinking is initiated by something from the past. Our total feelings now are all from the thoughts and actions of the past. So, all thinking now is motivated by something that has already happened. Action and reaction go on and on that way and we are caught. It’s almost impossible to have an original thought anymore, every thought being based on past thoughts.
Q: So it all started way back when?
Lester: It’s beginningless and it’s endless. I’ll take you a step higher. Let us look at the example of the rope being mistaken for a snake. You’re walking along the road. There’s a rope on the ground and you think it’s a snake. Karma is in the realm of the illusory snake. When did that snake begin and when will that snake end? So long as you think it’s a snake. It’s beginningless and it’s endless, because in reality it never was: it was always a rope. If you are in karma, it is a forever thing. If you are not in it, it never was. Does that make sense? Karma is beginningless and endless. Hence it’s impossible to work out karma. Some schools of metaphysics teach that you must work out your karma. While you’re trying to work it out, you are creating new karma for the future, so it’s impossible to work it out. Well, what can we do? Awake from the illusion and see the truth! See the rope as a rope! Once [you see it’s a rope], the snake is no more. When we see the truth of our being, all this action and reaction turns out to be a dream illusion. And because it is an illusion, it cannot touch us any more.
Q: Didn’t you say we become the observer? I understood that the cycle still must be performed, regardless of enlightenment. Is that correct?
Lester: No. Once your understanding is full, from that moment on, there’s no more karma. When I say, “Be the witness,” that is still in the realm of duality, witnessing the duality, but it’s a giant step forward. It’s a method of letting go of the ego-sense of being the doer. It’s a mode of behavior that’s very conducive to growth. However, when you are fully realized, you’ll look at the world and you’ll see only a singular oneness in everything and everyone. And you’ll see that it is all nothing but your very own Self. And the Self is only the Self. So, what happens to the world is that you see it as it really is. You see it as the rope instead of seeing it as the snake. Then you are out of karma and there is no more karma. Now, what is a little confusing to you is statements that have been made at different levels of approach. Things at one level seem to contradict things at another level. However, when the truth is seen, all contradictions vanish. So, from the highest point of view, when you see who and what you are, there is no karma. When you see your real Self, there’s only beingness. Action and reaction are only apparently going on.
Q: One of the big things with any human, and I know I’m no different, are thoughts of sex. This is quite a strong force. How does one deal with this?
Lester: It’s one of the most difficult things to transcend. However, it’s possible and it’s relatively easy to do it once you recognize that all that joy you are seeking through sex you can have all the time, but much more, once you’re out of the trap of desire. That’s why I say, “Get to the higher place where, in order to have sex, you give up joy.” Then it’s an easy thing to let go of. Meanwhile, moderation is the best guide.
Happiness is only your very own Self; happiness is your basic nature. You don’t need anything external to have it. But you think you do because you’ve covered over this happiness with layers and layers of limitation—I must have this to be happy; I must have that to be happy. And this has been going on for a long time. But the more that you see who and what you are, the less desires will have a hold on you.
Q: You have shown the way or method for me, by which I have realized that there is something greater than sex. I have now realized that sex is actually a giving-up of something, a giving-up of a higher feeling for a lesser feeling. It’s much easier to understand in that light.
Lester: Sex will keep you earth-bound; it’s necessary to get above it. Having sex will not prevent you from moving toward realization, but while you are enmeshed in it you are a slave to it and can never get full realization. You are making the physical thing the joy, and it isn’t. The real thing is that you are that joy, only a million times more so! As high as the feeling is that you get from sex, you can go way, way beyond that feeling in joy and have it twenty-four hours a day. And it is this unlimited joy that you are really seeking, but you sacrifice it for sex.
Q: When we realize that we shouldn’t have done something, can we correct it by doing the opposite?
Lester: Well, if you’re doing the opposite, you’re involved in action again, creating [another reaction] for the future.
Q: You just have to be desireless?
Lester: Yes, that’s it. Being desireless, you will see who and what you are. You’ll see that you’re above all this illusion of karma and then it can touch you no more. You can mentally undo karma by mentally undoing desire. Karma is caused by desires that remain in the subconscious mind; dropping desire drops all thoughts of it. If you take desire out of the subconscious mind, the seeds of karma are no longer there. This is the fastest, the very best way of undoing karma. If you want to undo karma, do it mentally. Why experience it again and again and suffer it? If you let go of things mentally, you let go of them forever; then you don’t have to experience them. As Jesus said, “Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already.” The act originates in the mind. Every negative thought, every bad thought we have creates karma that we don’t like, and we call it bad karma. If people only knew this! It doesn’t matter whether we carry out the act or not, the seed is sown in the thought.
This Session was recorded in Los Angeles on September 16, 1965.
1. From Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay, “Compensation.”
What we go through is determined by what we have gone through. This is the law of compensation or karma. In-between physical bodies we choose a certain part of what we have been through to go through the next time around. We set up similar situations, hoping that this next time we will transcend them. You always get another opportunity—ad infinitum. – Lester Levenson
“Before anyone comes into a life, he observes the balance of karma, and he observes how it is, and he sees what aspects of his karma would be worked out best in this particular situation and this particular balance of karma. His spiritual masters might give some suggestions to help him figure out what he wants to accomplish in this life, but no one is ever made to go into a situation he absolutely abhors. It’s generally done by a consensus of opinion between the person and his spiritual masters. He won’t like many aspects of the life in particular, but the majority of the life will be something he can handle, and these extra things he’s not too fond of are looked upon as spiritual challenges, something for him to accomplish and to work for. How well he handles these things that he doesn’t care for is one of the things that helps him work off some of his karma.” (Cannon, 1996, p. 56)
The following quotes were gathered from various sessions.
When bad karma makes us so miserable with negativity that we change our bad karma to good karma, that turns out to be a golden chain instead of an iron chain. But freedom is above karma.
Whenever we move up, something happens to test us. What actually happens is that we subconsciously feed ourselves more karmaic reactions [events that we hate] because we have become stronger and can face it. [The law of karma is that we attract whatever we hate and we repel whatever we want. – Editor]
Karma is nothing but the accumulated past habits of thought that are going on subconsciously.
Karma is the conglomeration of all the subconscious thoughts running you. Get rid of these thoughts, quiet the mind totally, and there is no karma.
Where is karma? It’s in the world of illusion.
Karma and reincarnation are part of the illusion and have no part in the reality. Past lives should not be gone into as it is playing with the unreality, making it seem more real.
You can’t change what the body will go through; that was determined by you by prior action. However, you can choose not to be that body, but to be your Self.
Get to accept karma. The idea that you can fight it is contrary to accepting it. If you accept it, your fears, frustrations, tensions, miseries, etc., are alleviated and you are no more holding on to things by attempting to avoid them. Since there is nothing you can do about it, you just let it be. Everything this body is going to go through, it will go through. Understand this and remain as you really are—free.
Examine karma and you will discover that karma and destiny are one and the same.
The ego doesn’t like to hear that it doesn’t have free will, but the ego itself is a product of karma.
If action is being done without attachments and aversions, there is no karma being created.
Acts performed with no interest in the fruits thereof produce no karma.
Once you reach the state of non-attachment, you can enjoy the world without creating any karma.
How can an infinite Being be subject to karma, karma being an extreme limitation?
It is when we rise above karma, good and bad, that we move into being our real Self.
The fastest way out of karma is to grow.
Karma comes to an end when I recognize that it is all in my mind and I am not my mind.
All actions that the body will perform you have already concluded before it came into existence. The only freedom you have is whether or not to identify yourself with the body and its action. If an actor plays the part of a king or a beggar, he is unaffected by it because he knows he is not that character. In exactly the same way we should carry out our part in the world, and whether we are king or beggar, we should be unaffected by it, knowing that we are not that character but are a grand and glorious being, our very own infinite Self.
Cannon, Dolores (1996). Between Death and Life: Conversations with a Spirit. Bath: Gateway Books.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo (1841). “Compensation.” download
Levenson, Lester (1993). Keys to the Ultimate Freedom: Thoughts and Talks on Personal Transformation. Phoenix, Arizona: Sedona Institute. ISBN 0-915721-03-1
Seretan, Stephen (2008). Lester and Me. download