Spiritual Practice in the Kali Yuga – Working With Your Speeded Up Karma
“It’s not what you planned, but this is your life.”
That’s a quote from Jack Kornfield’s latest book A Lamp in the Darkness: Illuminating the Path Through Difficult Times, which I’ll be reviewing at BellaOnline soon, and which also applies well to this blog. I’ve had a lot of plans for this blog – to port it to a new platform, incorporate it into a new website, change the name, the logo, you name it – and none have quite worked out as planned. Which is fine! It will happen in its own time. But for now, I am itching to blog again. So without further ado…
The Kali Yuga is the last of four stages of time in the cycle of yugas written about in ancient Indian scriptures, and it is the Yuga that most Hindu and Buddhist lineages place us in now (a notable exception was Swami Yogananda – founder of the Self-Realization Fellowship – and his teacher Sri Yukestwar, who placed us in the Dvapara Yuga instead.) I’ve written about the Kali Yuga from a Buddhist perspective before, and also included some thoughts on it in relation to current 2012 theories in an older post, so I am not going to repeat all that, but here’s the basics: In Indian scripture the Kali Yuga is a period of darkness and disintegration that lasts many thousands of years (some say 432,000) and prepares the world for a rebirth at the start of the next cycle. It is said to be a phase of gradually increased violence, greed, dishonesty, addiction and chaos. Spiritual light and experience become harder and harder to access, leading to an increase in religious conflict. Established social and economic structures break down, leading to an increase in social and political turmoil.
Needless to say, in our post-9/11, economically-challenged times, many people are seeing the connections. But it’s not actually that part of the descriptions of the Kali Yuga that interest me. Instead, it’s another aspect that is often mentioned – that in the Kali Yuga, time speeds up, or more precisely, karma speeds up. As Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo, an American lineage holder in Tibetan Buddhism, says in her essay Vajrayana and the Kali Yuga:
“This time of Kaliyuga is extremely contracted. Karma is thick. It isn’t spread out and dispersed over a great, long field. Rather, it is drawn in. It is a time of contraction, and karma ripens much more quickly than it used to ripen…”
This speeding up is often given as the reason for the incredibly accelerated pace of technological change in the last century. It is like we are living closer to the center of a black hole – time is spiraling faster, and things come to fruition much faster. However, there is also more risk – the difference between driving a car at 100 mph vs. 25 mph. On the personal level, this has a lot of implications for spiritual practice, and it’s these that I find the most interesting, and wanted to share here. I think regardless of your religious beliefs, some themes here will resonate.
Embrace the Challenge
First of all, what does it mean that our karma ripens faster? It means any energy momentum present at any level of our being – whether initiated through action, thought, or emotion – in this life or a past one, is more likely to surface. This can make life feel very intense – it is not a ‘hang-out’ lifetime. You will be forced to confront yourself – especially if you are consciously a spiritual seeker, as that intent itself creates a karma that speeds everything up even more.
On the one hand, this can be tough, and I have seen a lot of people lose heart on their path over it. Especially in this age of law of attraction teachings, people can begin to feel like they are doing something wrong when life is challenging. But the truth is – and this is often mentioned in Vajrayana Buddhist writings in particular – this intensification makes this an exceptional time for spiritual practice, because the fruits of your practice are also sped up and magnified. If you are willing to confront yourself, if you are willing to face your shadows – and conversely your own gifts – you will move deeper into the light/Source/Tao/God (whatever words you wish to use.)
The key is embracing the challenge, and not losing heart. This is really the first level of advice for spiritual practice in the Kali Yuga – truly embrace challenges as opportunities for growth, not hindrances. That sounds very cliche – it is the theme of many, many spiritual books – but as we all know, in real life it is much harder to put into practice than we might think.
Update and Integrate
A second big implication of this type of karmic condensation and intensification, is that all of our thoughts, emotions, and even physical sensations are magnified. I think this is partly why law of attraction teachings have been so popular recently – we can sense this magnification. For those of you familiar with the chakras, it is like all our lower chakras are magnified – we are very consumed by our physical, emotional and mental energies (1st, 2nd and 3rd chakras.)
The complication is everyone else’s energies of this type are magnified too, and we are all one big web of energy. We are bound together to a greater degree than ever before, and just as the internet has led to an unprecedented level of global connectivity and changed the way history is playing out, so this level of energetic connectivity also has entirely changed our mode of being. It is extremely difficult to feel just yourself, your own energy being, without the impact of others. We are bombarded by energetic forces and stimuli, and we take on much of it.
What this means for spiritual practice is that some things that traditionally worked, might not work anymore. Contemplative practices in particular, especially those that rely on long periods of meditation and/or solitude, are an example. I have seen so many people give up on meditation for this reason – they feel that even after years of practice they are never achieving the ‘silent mind’ they have read about in classic texts. Such experiences are a great gift when they happen, but insight can happen in a second – in less really. This is the gift of inquiry teachers such as Byron Katie, Eckhart Tolle, Gangaji, Adyashanti and others – communicating a new relationship to our mind that is not just about formal sitting meditation, prayer, or contemplation. I think meditation and inquiry work best in combination, and that everyone can benefit from a sitting practice, but releasing expectations around this is key.
So this is really the second big recommendation for spiritual practice in the Kali Yuga – update your practice, and integrate it with the realities of your daily life. Don’t rely exclusively on traditions and models from the past to motivate and drive you. It’s often said that ‘your life is your practice’, so really make this true – don’t keep thinking your life needs to be different, change your relationship to it instead. Every great spiritual tradition grew out of the realities of its time, and we are each part of creating this ourselves for this day and age.
Awaken and Use Your Subtle Sense
That being said, many classic Eastern traditions posit that formal chakra meditation and/or energy work is particularly helpful in the Kali Yuga – this is found in many kundalini yoga and Vajrayana Buddhist texts. This is because the energy intensification and connectivity of this period causes so many energies to become absorbed and trapped in our physical and energy bodies. We need to surface and release these energies partly for our own health, but also in order to get cleared out to the point where we are then just dealing with ourselves, and our own thoughts and emotions (which is more than enough.) Also, we need to work a little harder to move energy up out of our lower chakras into our heart and above – the chakras that allow us to connect with love, authenticity, expression, intuition and spiritual insight more deeply. Explicit energy work can do that.
As for what constitutes energy work, it is many of the practices that have gained in popularity in recent years – chakra meditation, reiki, acupuncture, energy healing modalities, Akashic record reading and karmic clearing, etc. Chanting meditation and sound harmonics are also good ways for working with ourselves on an energetic level, because they work directly with vibration. Yoga, tai-chi, qi-gong and other mind/body movement and exercise modalities that are founded on a knowledge of subtle anatomy are especially powerful and useful too.
Related to this is the need for just good old fashioned ‘clearing out’ – engaging in exercise and activities that release stress and related energies. Aerobic exercise always fits the bill in this regard, as does spending time in nature, and any contact with water (from a shower to meditating by a lake or ocean.) Of course, dietary cleansing routines can also be useful, although it’s important to do them in a healthy, balanced way.
So this is the third and final recommendation for spiritual practice in the Kali Yuga – find energy modalities you can work with to clear yourself out, release built-up energy ‘gunk’, and move energy up into your upper energy being. Don’t view energetic purity as your end-goal (an impossibility anyway, but nevertheless a trap some can fall into), but instead view this work as an integrated part of your overall lifestyle and practice.
There is so much more I could write on each of these, but for now that will have to do. Perhaps you can add your own thoughts – as always, I welcome questions, comments, and your own recommendations (and have missed them!)