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The second level of karma, that it is our intentions and motivation that affect the outcome of our lives, seems quite similar to cognitive theories in psychology. Cognitive psychology focuses on the nature of our thought, and problems often arise when we are trapped in a series of automatic thoughts that create problems for us. In other words, when we view the world negatively, we react in negative and maladaptive ways. Similarly, our past karma influences the karma we create for the future. If we think and act in negative ways, we create negative karma, but it is also true that if we think and act in positive ways we create positive karma. Cognitive therapy resembles much of what is written in the East about recognizing the cause-and-effect pattern that our karma traps us within. Successful cognitive therapy is something like enlightenment: when we realize the truth of what we are doing we have a chance to break that pattern and move in a healthy direction.

Discussion Question: Karma refers to the cosmic law of cause and effect, the idea that our past actions will someday affect our current and future lives. Do you believe this, and can you provide any examples of this happening to you?

The Three Principles of Creation

Would it be possible for us to avoid or circumvent the law of karma by remaining inactive? Sometimes many of us do just want to get away from everything and everyone. However, social withdrawal is often an early sign of psychological distress or mental illness, suggesting that this is generally not a healthy action. According to Yoga, all nature is composed of three aspects called the gunas : rajas , tamas , and sattva . According to Krishna, as recorded in the Bhagavad Gita , the three gunas “bind to the mortal body the deathless embodied Self” (pg. 158; Mitchell, 2000). Rajas (born of craving) binds us to action, tamas (born of ignorance) binds us to dullness, and sattva (untainted and luminous) binds us to knowledge and joy. Only through faithful Yoga practice can an individual transcend the gunas and achieve unity with God. Only then will the individual be free from any attachment to action and free from the law of karma.

Another important and practical question that arises from an understanding of the three gunas is: what should we eat? In America we generally associate being vegetarian with practicing Yoga or being a Buddhist. But is there a good reason for this? Everything is made from the three gunas, but in different proportions. So we might say that a hot, spicy dish like Gang Garee from Thailand (a personal favorite) is predominantly rajas. Heavy food, with a thick sauce or gravy is predominantly tamas. Fruits and vegetables, however, are lighter and more refreshing; they are predominantly sattva. So a vegetarian diet should increase the relative amount of sattva in our body, thus making us a better person. This is just like the old saying: “You are what you eat!” This goes beyond diet, however, since diet only directly affects the body. What about the mind? Everything we take in is comprised of the three gunas: words and ideas that we hear, music, the emotions expressed by people we spend time with, and so on (Vivekananda, 1955a). It is important not only that we eat well, but also that we spend time in relaxing and healthy environments, associate with good people, and generally try to cultivate a life that moves more toward sattva than the other gunas.

Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, Personality theory in a cultural context. OpenStax CNX. Nov 04, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11901/1.1
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