The 11 Karmic Spaces, Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati

Karma has fascinated me for decades now (yikes, I’m getting old), so the offer to get a review copy of Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati’s new book ‘The 11 Karmic Spaces: Choosing Freedom from the Patterns that Bind You‘ came as a welcome surprise.

Unfortunately, the book isn’t as much about karma as you’d think. The book is mainly about escaping the patterns we get stuck in. Useful stuff, but not very metaphysical. In fact, Bhagavati insists that karma does NOT apply to every accident we get into – just like I’ve often said in fact, basing myself on Blavatsky and Buddhism. Unfortunately my (Tibetan Gelugpa) Buddhist teachers don’t agree. They insist that every accident, every detail of our lives, IS ruled by karma – even as we do have the power to clean our karma every moment, thus rescuing free will.

I guess this is where Ma Jaya agrees with my teachers and with me, I guess: the realization that however stuck we may seem to be, we DO have the power to change our lives. Ma Jaya gives tools for that transformation.

That’s where I get stuck writing this review: I did not try her exercises. While I can read about all spiritual paths the way I always have, I don’t have emotional room in my life for the practice of more than one path.

This book reminds me of all the strengths and weaknesses of the interfaith paradigm. Ma Jaya is basically a Hindu in her approach: her teachers are Hindu, her concepts are psychological and Hindu. Her practical exercises are psychological and Hindu. Her examples and references are Buddhist, Christian and Hindu. On average I guess that makes her a Hindu, but in a story about herself in the book she makes it clear she’s really not bound to labels about herself. I can respect that. However the result is a path without a goal.

About that path: it does seem altogether wholesome. Ma Jaya stresses love, compassion, wisdom, finding a sense of humor, getting out of the cycle of abuse, feeding the homeless (aka service) etc. When it comes to living your life in this world right now, I don’t think there could be a better guide.

But it’s not for me. Perhaps my issues with Ma Jaya’s approach are clearest in the chapter I think is best and worst in this book: the chapter on intent (p. 131). I quote:

We know we can use positive intent to visualize happiness and bring it towards us. However, intent becomes a karmic space when the ego gets between the thought and the action.
Over time, unfulfilled intentions build up, getting heavier and heavier until they block movement, or something’s missing, but you don’t know what. Your life just feels stale. You have lost the ability to live in the moment.

Sure, that’s true. It’s the reason why Tibetan Buddhists make such a big deal about only taking vows you can keep. In their cleaning rituals they have us promise to abstain for negative actions and thoughts for only as long a time as we can manage: whether it’s merely a minute, a week or a lifetime. Setting intentions and then not keeping them sets a bad habit – as anybody knows who has NOT kept their new years resolutions. The question is though, how to get out of that pattern without giving up on yourself. The answer is, for Ma Jaya, to set manageable intentions and act on them NOW. Literally: clean that closet now, not after lunch.

So what’s the big deal, why am I still uncomfortable with this path? I seem to agree with everything in there. The issue is Bodhicitta – not that I think Ma Jaya doesn’t have it, but that she doesn’t teach it. Bodhicitta is the highest possible intention one could possibly set: the intention to help save all beings from the rounds of rebirth, and to gain enlightenment for that purpose. Talk about promising something you’re not sure you can keep. And yet, without such a high intention, what is it all FOR? Ma Jaya doesn’t give the answer. She doesn’t really explain karma either. However, she does teach a path that may just help you transform your life.

One thought on “The 11 Karmic Spaces, Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati”

  1. Ma Jaya can talk doctrine with the best of them, but mostly she chooses not to. People these days read practical self-help books, and Ma goes where people are.

    I see people all the time who feel a vague dissatisfaction with their lives, but who have not committed themselves to a spiritual path, or even realized that anything “spiritual” will help them. So, to me, the genius of Ma’s book is that it wraps some powerful teachings in with a lot of self-help material, some of which might seem shallow to someone who’s looking for esoterica. Then the last chapter takes it all to a deeper level, and is really the heart of the book. That’s when we realize that this book actually offers a modern path to liberation, unlike self-help books.

    It will be unfortunate if your more knowledgeable readers discount Ma’s book before getting to the last chapter, but that’s the kind of choice we always get with Ma, who has said, “I had a choice, to live the
    scriptures or to teach the scriptures.” She chose to live the scriptures and invite us along.

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