Karma Cleansing: A Balinese Tantric Perspectives

Karma cleansing is one trend that is based on eastern spiritual traditions. Many individuals also claim to be able to help other individuals in cleansing their past karma to live a healthier, happier, and wealthier life. Various methods were used, ranging from meditation practices to the use of crystal stones and amulets. I’m not criticizing any of those things, just want to invite you to discuss “karma cleansing” from the perspective of Balinese spiritual teachings.

The first thing that needs to be clarified is, there is karma, and there is karma-wasana. Karma is life itself; what we think, feel, and do, and every breath that we take, all that is karma. Consequently, as long as we are alive, then we will continuously produce karma. Then, there are wasana (samskaras), i.e. the various impressions that arise from every karma. The text entitled Wṛhaspati Tattwa put it this way; doing karma is like filling vinegar in a jar, and wasana is the smell of vinegar that lasts even after the vinegar runs out and the jar has been cleaned.

Mentioned in some traditional Balinese texts that karma-wasana can be burned away. In fact, the purpose of yoga is to burn karma-wasana. The Yogi who has burned all his karma-wasana is free from the cycle of karma – in other words, attain spiritual liberation.

The fire used to burn karma-wasana is called the Śiwa Fire (śiwāgni). In this context, the word śiwa refers to a state of consciousness, not a deity. That is, what is capable of burning karma-wasana is Śiwa Consciousness.

Śiwa Consciousness is the opposite of personal consciousness – one is the consciousness that is pure and free from clinging tendencies, while the other is ego-constructed. Another term for this consciousness is called sphaṭikajñāna (Crystal Clear Consciousness).

Thus, burning karma-wasana with the Śiwa Fire means establishing a pure and tendency-free consciousness. Of course, this is not an easy task, because human life is filled with instinctive impulses, emotional tendencies, motivations, and other traits. Because it is not easy, it is only natural that the process of yoga and achieving this final goal can take several ages. In other words, karma cleansing by a single purification ritual might not work.

However, the theory from this text can be adopted to help us deal with various daily challenges. For example, to reduce mental pressure and stress due to various problems that exist in life. And prevent those things to define our life by creating thoughts, feelings, and behavior based on ephemeral feelings and situations.


The ups and downs of our lives are caused by the various “karmic left behind” or emotional impressions produced by the things we do, feel, and think; when we meet and interact with someone, when we eat something, when we see, hear, or visit a place. All of that gives birth to its own emotional impressions.

The stronger the emotional impression that remains, the thickest its impressions. That is why the things we remember most are either very pleasant or very sad things, and that is why we find it hard to forget people we hate or love so much. Moments and people that carry a strong emotional impression, will always stay. That would be unfortunate if what settles is an event or person that gives rise to negative emotional impressions (hate, sadness, revenge, fear, inferiority, and the like).

All these emotional impressions are colors that stick to the crystal of our consciousness. Eventually, our crystal consciousness no longer becomes crystal-clear but is colored by karma-wasana.

How to break away from this cycle?

A text entitled Dharma Śūnya (The Way of Nothingness) advises, “be in between the two (ri pantaraning rwa mungguha kita).” Life is shaped by duality; good-bad, happy-sad, right-wrong, and so on. And it has become a natural human urge to be among one of them; obsessed with pleasure and hated sadness; want to be right and not wrong; want what is good and reject all that is considered bad. The more extreme we are between one of the poles of duality, the greater the emotional turmoil it causes. Finally, the greater the wasana that is generated, the stronger the karmic impulse that is caused.

Learning to be in between the two is learning to be neutral. Neutrality like this makes emotional turmoil more stable. Like water in a pool, if the turbulence on the surface has calmed down, then what lies underwater can be seen clearly, also the moonlight can be perfectly reflected. Likewise, if we position ourselves between the two, then we can see things more clearly, and then we can react to them more wisely. 

By positioning ourselves between the two, we prevent ourselves from being carried away by the reactive impulses of past karma-wasana (past emotional impressions). In addition, it also prevents the creation of new karma that this urge causes.

But again, even though it’s easy to write and read, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to do. Since the human mind is the result of years of construction, reshaping it will take time and effort.


It is said that the Fire of Crystal Clear Consciousness (sphaṭikajñāna) will burn the good and bad results of karma (śubhāśubha-karma) in the past, present and future karma. As already mentioned, karma is life itself—meaning we can’t help it, we will continue to do karma as long as we are alive. Even though karma cannot be stopped, the wasana generated can be managed. It is like, when sailing on the high seas, the direction of the wind cannot be controlled, but the position of the sail can be adjusted so that we keep moving towards our destination.

Past karma cannot be erased. It has happened and has been imprinted into the records of life. But the wasana can be eroded little by little with Crystal Clear Consciousness, so it’s not to become “destiny” that determines the direction of our lives.

But how exactly is Crystal Clear Consciousness burning past karma?

Crystal Clear Consciousness (sphaṭikajñāna) is the opposite of egoistic consciousness (ahangkāra). The executor and commander of the ahangkāra is the discursive mind – i.e. thoughts full of wishful thinking about good-bad, right-wrong, shame-proud, pleasant-painful, and so on. Hence, sphaṭikajñāna is equated with consciousness free from inner discourse (tutur tan pangĕnangen).

It is the task of the mind to continue to make discourses; conceptualizing what is good and bad, what is appropriate and not, what should and should not be done, and so on.

Where does our mind know this conception and dichotomy? From the learning process.

The mind is a natural learner. We learn about various concepts from the family, from social interactions, from cultural backgrounds, religions, and even from books. The mind is not only able to remember various existing concepts subconsciously but is also able to map out new concepts from the experiences.

Experience is the best teacher, the saying goes. But experience does not always teach goodness. Sometimes there is a wrong inference process in seeing what is experienced. This is what usually triggers trauma – when the experience is seen as a “lifelong threat” when it could be just a momentary joke.

When we experience something, we will consider it a good experience because it is in accordance with what the mind imagines. Or we would consider it a good experience if it represents what is socially conceived of as good. If what happens is an experience is not what is expected, unpleasant, and not in accordance with social conceptions, then we will feel ashamed, even disgusted by the experience.

It is from these thoughts that we have what is called śubhāśubha-karma, good karma and bad karma. So, what is called good karma and bad karma are not absolutely good or bad, but what we perceive and conceive as good and bad. When the assumptions and concepts change, so do the ideas. In other words, śubhāśubha-karma is mostly personal (though it also has social and universal aspects).

For example, a manager fired several of his employees to save the budget. He felt that he had done bad karma for cutting off the source of income of the employee family. Sometime later, the budget savings made his business thrive, meaning he did good karma to himself, his family, and all employees who were still working. On the other side, some employees who have been fired have gotten better jobs, and some have successfully started their own businesses. So, the manager has done even more good karma. 

In this example, the boundaries of good and bad karma are simply a matter of thought-formed concepts. And concepts can change as the flow of information received by the mind changes. So that what was previously considered bad can become good, and what was previously considered good may later be considered bad.

Karma is fixed (eg: fired his employee). However, the wasana generated by that karma can change and continue to be dynamic as long as new information is entered and processed in new ways. At first, karma gave rise to wasana in the form of regret and helplessness, then it gave rise to pride and gratitude.

But what if the boss never realized the progress of his former employee? Of course, wasana didn’t change – he would still see the karma as a mistake he had to make, and regret for the rest of his life.

The point is, no matter what we do, our minds will never stop making “good-bad” conceptions of what we do or don’t do. We will continue to think of karma as good/bad because we believe it is good/bad; this belief is the result of the formation of old concepts that have been embedded before. From this explanation, of course, it can then be understood why when the discursive mind is stopped and the clarity of consciousness is firmed, the good and bad karma-wasana will evaporate.

But of course, understanding this concept should not be done blindly. Because while there are personal factors involved (in this case, our conception of good and bad), there are many other factors that make up the complexity of karma-wasana and life. But at least, in this article, we can understand how our mind play role in shaping śubhāśubha-karma and how the mind c be used to “burn” it.

The problem is, in terms of “good or bad” we never really know the exact boundaries. It may be that we feel we are doing good/bad karma, but do other people (or God) perceive it as such? Or do what you think is good/bad now, will still be good/bad in the future?

So training yourself to silence inner discourse regarding good and bad also means rejecting the absoluteness of inner discourse, learning to position yourself that we don’t know. And it could be that learning to b”don’t know” is a way to be not deceived by the intelligence of our own mind – which often uses its intelligence to torture us.

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