Updated: Nov 21, 2020
Karma and Krama are Sanskrit words which both arise from the root Kr which means to do. Karma however refers to all action, Eknath Easwaran, translator of The Bhagavad Gita, defines it as 'something that is done'. Krama is more specific, it means performing an action in an orderly planned way, usually with a specific goal or intention. The opposite is Akrama which relates to something done poorly, in a haphazard manner or an unjustifiable way.
The Bhagavad Gita, one of the most well known Indian scriptures, is a guiding doctrine of wisdom which illuminates how we can live well by achieving mastery over ourselves. The Gita was one of the first books I read when the idea of becoming a yoga teacher began to take seed. Written over 2000 years ago, the knowledge it offers up seems just as, if not more so relevant to contemporary life - in-particular how we act and the effects of our actions and in-actions.
Arjuna is one of the two central characters and he is a man of action, a warrior. His duty or dharma is to act. Krishna, as his friend and charioteer, becomes his teacher, answering his questions, clarifying his confusion and guiding him towards understanding how he must act and why. The Gita is a story of two warring families vying for the throne; one good and just and the rightful heir, one hmmm maybe not so much. To settle the argument both sides meet on the battlefield. In the moments before the battle is due to commence however Arjuna rides out with Krishna between the two assembled armies and is hit by the magnitude of what is about to take place. Confronted by the prospect of slaughtering friends and family he loses his warrior nerve, puts down his weapons and declares that he will not fight.
The law of karma states that all action has a cause and an effect. Each action has a consequence - in fact several consequences, which are either the result of one action or arise from previous actions - past karmas. We reap as we sow and what we do comes back to us...eventually! We can't always see the connections between our actions and the results but from a karmic viewpoint everything that happens to us is rooted in something we once did or indeed something we once thought or said which are also considered actions. Karma implies that we are in control of our fate and that by following the Buddha's advice "do good be good" our lives will be perfect. In reality believing and accepting the laws of karma isn't easy - why do bad things happen to good people and vice versa, how far back does karma go? Take Maria in the Sound of Music: (Warning: by performing the action of clicking on the link below you accept full liability for any karmic repercussions, incuding but not limited to the realisation that you will not get the next 3.23 minutes of your life back!)
Transaltor of the Gita, Eknath Easwaran suggests that rather than seeing Karma as punishment we should view it as a guide that we can learn from - a teacher helping us understand how we can act better in order to enjoy our lives more and enhance those of everyone and everything around us by acting selflessly, without selfish motives and for the benefit of all. Krishna says: "You have the right to work, but never to the fruits of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work in the world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself - without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat. For yoga is perfect evenness of mind." (2:47-48) We perform all our actions without the expectation of gettting something in return for our hard worl - we let go of our fixation on the goal.
Patanjali's Yoga Sutras' echo this sentiment: "Abhyasa vairagyabhyam tannirodhah" practice with non attachment enables the mind to be still. By relinquishing the obsessions with a goal we realise two really important things: firstly, we avoid the disappointment that comes froms not achieving the goal, we stop grasping either to get something we like and feel validated by or avoid something we don't want and feel we don't deserve and secondly, we pay closer attention to each step along the path. By practising each action diligently we are more likely to arrange the steps in a kramic way: logically, thoughtfully, consistently with intention. We are then actually paying close attention to the cause of karma; the 'how' which will, most likely, ultimately result in achievement of the goal, why? because 'the cause is what causes the effect'! Oh and as an added bonus of paying close attention to each action is that the more we determined and calculated our focus is the more we learn and grow and that knowledge can be applied to other tasks.
When we rush headlong towards a goal our sight soars above the mundanity of the actions required to get us there; as our enthusiasm for achieveing takes over and propels us forward we risk rushing through, missing out vital steps; perhaps not tightening a bolt, leaving out a vital ingredient or neglecting to warm up and loosen a joint, risking injury and set back. Keeping steadfast focus throughout and giving equal attention to each step also means we avoid the risk of falling at the final hurdle -failure robbing us when success is just a whisper away.
How might we take this to its' practical application within our yoga practice? Seated in meditation we first let go of the goal, whether that be to sit completely still; to still the mind and release distracting thoughts or, to balance the breath, maybe even to achieve enlightenment. Instead we apply all our efforts to focus on how we are sitting: connecting the sit bones to the mat, lengthening the spine, sitting up straight, relaxing the arms and hands, finding good alignment for the head and neck, relaxing the jaw and the eyes, turning the gaze inside . Once these steps have been completed we commit focus to the breath, just the breath: inhale, exhale, repeat whilst all the time monitoring the earlier steps, taking care not to slump in the back or shoulders - then, we simply allow our work to work without expectation or judgment.
The same principles can be applied to our asana practice, designing a particular sequence in logical steps, each designed to lead us closer to our final intention or to develop our knowledge and understanding of yoga and ourselves. Following this process doesn't mean we give up on the goal, we are still moving towards it but now our eyes and hearts aren't spontaneoulsy drawn towards the prize but are fully focused on the road that will lead us there. We surrender to the likelihood that along the way we may need to make some fuel stops, we might need to stay over in a hotel or turn round and come back home for a while. We might wake up and realise we've been going down the wrong road and have to look for another but as we begin to develop understanding we realise that all the steps we've already taken will strengthen and speed our next journey.
The photo montage shows the final steps towards Pincha Mayurasana. The journey actually began a lot earlier with the planning of the physical prepartions and modifications and the mental ones. It is still very much a journey for me - I have yet to find the shradda required to kick up without the safety net of the wall!
References and Inspiration for this post taken from:
The Bhagavad Gita - introduced and translated by Eknath Easwaran published by Nilgiri Press
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali - translation and commentary by Sri Swami Satichiananda (Integral Yoga Publications) Sutra 1:12.
Work and It's Secret - podcast Kali Mandir: https://kalimandir.podbean.com/e/work-its-secret/ these beautiful and often humourous satsangs take place in a hindu temple in Californina (link orignally provided by Claire Misssingham.)
Claire Missingham Yoga - https://claireyoga.com/ Claire first introduced me to the concept of 3 stage kramic sequencing for vinyasa flow which I now frequently use as the foundation for my own class plans.