Yoga means union. Any science is fruitful only when we can apply it in practical l i fe. Karma yoga builds the gap between “dhyana (meditation)” and the practical living. It teaches us how to bring the principles of meditation into our day to day life and show the path of right living to the world. Real teaching is to live the right way.
Karma yoga is to shift from self-centredness to selflessness. Karma yoga is to perform actions in a responsible way. It is to realise that “freedom” means the “the power to do what is right” and not simply “to do what you want”.
Karma yoga is the yoga of action or work; specifically, karma yoga is the path of dedicated work: renouncing the results of our actions as a spiritual offering rather than hoarding the results for ourselves.
As we mentioned earlier, karma is both action and the result of action. What we experience today is the result of our karma—both good and bad—created by our previous actions. This chain of cause and effect that we ourselves have created can be snapped by karma yoga: fighting fire with fire, we use the sword of karma yoga to stop the chain reaction of cause and effect. By disengaging the ego from the work process, by offering the results up to a higher power—whether a personal God or to the Self within—we stop the whole snowballing process.
Whether we realize it or not, all of us perform actions all the time since even sitting and thinking is action. Since action is inevitable, an integral part of being alive, we need to reorient it into a path to God-realization. As we read in the Bhagavad Gita:
All of us tend to work with expectations in mind: we work hard in our jobs to get respect and appreciation from our colleagues and promotions from the boss. We clean our yards and make them lovely with the hope that our neighbours will be appreciative if not downright envious. We work hard in school to get good grades, anticipating that this will bring us a fine future. We cook a splendid meal with the expectation that it will be received with plaudits and praise. We dress nicely in anticipation of someone’s appreciation. So much of our lives is run simply in expectation of future results that we do it automatically, unconsciously.
This, however, is a perilous pattern. From a spiritual viewpoint, all these expectations and anticipations are Trojan horses that will bring us misery either sooner or later. Misery is inevitable because our expectations and desires are unending and unappeasable. We will live from disappointment to disappointment because our motivation is to gratify and enlarge the ego; instead of breaking the bonds of karma, we are forging fresh chains.
No matter whether we are devotional, intellectual or meditative by temperament, karma yoga can easily be practiced in tandem with the other spiritual paths. Even those who lead a predominantly meditative life benefit from karma yoga, for thoughts can produce bonds just as effectively as physical actions.
The secret of perfect karma is to dedicate the fruit of each action to the supreme consciousness or God. This is the simplest way to remain detached and remain stable in every situation.
Just as devotees offer flowers and incense in their loving worship of God, so can actions and thoughts be offered as divine worship. Knowing that the Lord exists in the hearts of all creatures, devotees can and should worship God by serving all beings as his living manifestations. To paraphrase Jesus Christ: What we do for the least of our brothers and sisters, we do for the Lord himself. “A yogi,” says the Bhagavad Gita, “sees Me in all things, and all things within Me.” The highest of all yogis, the Gita continues, is one “who burns with the bliss and suffers the sorrow of every creature” within his or her own heart.
Jnanis take a different but equally effective tack. They know that although the body or the mind performs action, in reality they do no work at all. In the midst of intense activity, they rest in the deep stillness of the Atman. Maintaining the attitude of a witness, jnanis continually remember that they are not the body, not the mind. They know the Atman is not subject to fatigue or anxiety or excitement; pure, perfect and free, the Atman has no struggle to engage in, no goal to attain.
The point of all the types of yoga is to spiritualize our entire life instead of compartmentalizing our days into “secular” and “spiritual” zones. Karma yoga is particularly effective at this since it won’t allow us to use activity as an escape. By insisting that life itself can be holy, karma yoga gives us the tools of everyday life to cut our way to freedom.
Everything we do, say or think, gives rise to an effect, which in due time will return to us, in full accordance with this law of consequence. What we call “luck” is the result of our earlier good actions, and what appears to us as misfortune is merely the repercussion of past negative actions.
Therefore, the events of our future do not arise coincidentally, but are actually caused by the effects of our previous and present actions. In this way our destiny is predetermined by our Karma. Just as the destination of an arrow released from its bow is fixed and predictable, unless its course is diverted, or corrected by another event. In the practice of “Yoga in Daily Life”, positive thinking, wisdom and selfless service, we can lessen and alter the outcome of our Karmas and gradually guide our destiny towards the positive.
Our present situation is a result of our past deeds and our present actions will determine our future. Once we understand this, we can no longer blame anybody else for what happens to us, but rather accept responsibility for ourselves.
There are two types of Karma:
• Sakama Karma – selfish actions
• Nishkama Karma – selfless actions
Selfish thoughts and actions deepen the duality between “mine” and “yours”. Being selfless however, leads us above and beyond the limit of our little ego, to the unity of all beings. Sakama Karma binds us to Chorasi ka Chakra (the Wheel of Death and Rebirth). Nishkama Karma frees us from this.
In India, the rain, the tree, the river and the Saint are all regarded as symbols of selflessness. Rain comes for the benefit of all – humans, nature and animals equally. The tree offers its shade to all that seek shelter and yields its sweet fruit even to those who hurl stones at the tree to knock the fruit down. The river is also there for everyone. The deer quenches its thirst in the same river as the tiger and a Saint gives his blessing to all without distinction.
Nishkama Karma is the way to avoid creating new Karma and may even resolve earlier Karma. To offer understanding, forgiveness and help are the selfless actions that liberate us from the cycle of Karma.
In the essence of it:
“If you can joyfully involve yourself in any activity it is karma yoga. If you are doing with great effort it is only karma, not yoga” – Happiness is the proof of being a yogi and karma yoga is the path.