Humans are social beings. Our relationships directly influence our happiness and health. There are numerous studies showing that people with a supportive network of loving relationships live longer and are healthier. At the same time, most relationships also challenge us. If you ask any manager what the biggest challenge in their job is, they will likely answer 'people'. And these are people that the managers aren't even emotionally involved with. The relationships with people we truly care about can be a great source of joy and support, but likely also cause us heartbreak and worry at times.
First-time parents are often astonished at how directly their own mood and behavior is reflected in the behavior of their toddlers. It is very visible in toddlers, but it happens in all relationships.
Relationships mirror us and challenge us to grow in our self-awareness. Relationships play an important part in our human experience and are an essential pillar that helps us build a happy and fulfilled life.
Background reading: The 6 pillars of a happy life
The relationships in our lives aren't accidental or arbitrary. Yoga philosophy teaches us that we have reason and purpose in our lives. The people we are in a relationship with (a friend, boyfriend, father, mother, sibling etc) have a reason for being in our lives and we have a reason for being in their lives. We are bound to each other by karma.
Relationships do not exist randomly, but exist due to karmic bonds. Relationships balance our karma by giving us sadness or happiness.
What is Karma in Relationships?
Karma can literally be translated as ‘action’. It refers to the law that every action has an equal reaction. This reaction can either take place immediately or at some point in the future. Yoga philosophy is characterized by the notion of infinity, implying reincarnation and rebirth. Therefore, these karmic reactions operate across lifetimes. Good or virtuous actions will have good karmic reactions and bad or vicious actions will have bad karmic reactions.
These karmic reactions are always tied to another soul that has a karmic account with us. Any action results in karma being created with another soul. Therefore, karma creates karmic bonds and greatly influences the relationships we engage in during many lifetimes.
With every intentional action, we create karma. Intention and action are intricately linked.
Imagine that you are driving your car at night and it is raining heavily. You are a little late for your appointment and while you are driving you check and fix your hair in the overhead mirror. You have taken your eyes off the road for a moment and at that moment a cat runs into the street in front of your car. As your attention is diverted you don't see the cat in time - you run over the cat and she dies.
Another scenario: You are driving your car at night and it is raining heavily. You see a cat crossing the street in front of you and choose to accelerate. You intentionally hit and kill the cat.
Last scenario: You are driving your car at night and it is raining heavily. You can't see very well and therefore you slow down and focus on driving very carefully. Suddenly a cat runs into the street in front of you. You immediately hit the brakes. Unfortunately, the car has too much momentum and you run over and kill the cat.
In all of these scenarios, the outcome is the same: the cat dies. In the third scenario, however, you did not intend to kill the cat and you did your duty by adapting your driving to the challenging circumstance. You do not collect negative karma from killing the cat.
In the first scenario, you also did not intend to kill the cat, but you had neglected your duty of driving with care. You would collect some bad karma for the death of the cat.
In the second scenario, you intentionally killed the cat and will therefore reap the full negative karma of this action.
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Karma operates across lifetimes. It results in an endless cycle of birth and rebirth, with the consequences of actions in past lives coming back in the present life. As long as we have karma, we are born again.
According to yogic philosophy, it is possible to liberate from this cycle. In fact, the liberation from the circle of life and death is the ultimate goal of yoga. The eight limbs of yoga philosophy provide us with practices such as the Yamas & Niyamas (moral codes & observances), as well as meditation with which we can balance our karmic account and become free of the circle of life and death.
You cannot choose the karma that you are carrying with you from previous lifetimes or from earlier in this life. But you can choose your actions in the present and the future.
Karma, dharma & relationships
Karmic bonds present us with a variety of relationships in each life. Every relationship we engage in is in fact a duty, which is also called dharma. Some of these relationships (duties) we get by birth. Others we choose.
Yoga philosophy teaches us that doing our duty to the best of our ability is essentially what we must do to balance karma. Relationships are duties that we get due to our karmic accounts. Identifying your duty in your relationships helps you make the right choices in how you engage in the relationship.
In different phases of life, you will have different close relationships with people around you. In our youth, most of us have a strong karmic bond with our mother. She is in the first circle of our karmic net. As you grow older you might have balanced most of the karma between you and your mother and now enter a close relationship with a partner who earlier was a distant friend. Your mother moves to the farther circle of the karmic net and your partner moves into the closest circle, as now you have to balance more karma with her.
This is how all the relationships in our lives evolve and keep evolving over lifetimes.
Important features of karma in relationships:
- all relationships must be a two-way street
- there are priorities in your duties.
Your first duty is toward your own growth. An abusive relationship must not be maintained due to a perceived ‘duty’. A one-sided relationship neither. Sometimes a person in your life has such a destructive effect on you that you must cut them loose and trust that your karma will be balanced in another life.
Sometimes people ask me if soulmates exist. Yes, they do - but not in the romantic sense that most people understand the concept of soulmates. All the people in our lives are soulmates, as our souls are bound to each other by past karma.
Yoga Philosophy Guidelines on How to Find Lasting Happiness in Relationships
- Understand your role properly in existing relationships.
- Understand your expectations from the relationships.
- Decide how would you like all your important relationships to be (relationships are like a garden).
- Take personal responsibility in all relationships.
- Choose new relationships carefully.
- Avoid finding faults.
- Resolve issues by looking for the cause.