Karma Yoga

(Source: Collated from Various Sources on the Net)

Karma Yoga is the path of ‘action’, of putting in 100 percent effort, without being attached to the outcome. Karma yoga can be applied to everything you do: from the most trivial, ordinary tasks to greater, more challenging works. When action is performed selflessly, with full focus and attention, it brings fulfillment and freedom. Acting without being attached to the fruits of one’s deeds – this alone can lead to union with the Self, which is the goal of yoga.

Action of some kind or the other is unavoidable. You cannot keep quiet without doing anything. What binds you to phenomenal existence or Samsara is not the action but the idea of doership and enjoyership. Karma binds when it is done with a selfish motive, with the expectation of fruits. But when action is done without the expectation of fruits, it is liberating. If you act as an instrument in the hands of the Lord, as a participant in the cosmic activity of Nature, without expectation of fruits, that Karma will not bind you. Karma, then becomes Karma Yoga. Work unselfishly. Feel that you are only an instrument and that the Lord is working through you. Surrender the actions and their fruits to the Lord. You will be freed from the bonds of Karma and enjoy peace.

The practice of Karma Yoga prepares the aspirant for the reception of knowledge of the Self. It makes him a proper Adhikari (aspirant) for the study of Vedanta.

Two things are indispensably requisite in the practice of Karma Yoga. The Karma Yogi should have non-attachment to the fruits of actions. He will have to dedicate his actions at the altar of God with the feeling of Ishvararpana. Non-attachment brings freedom from sorrow and fear. Non-attachment makes a man absolutely bold and fearless. When he dedicates his actions at the Lotus Feet of the Lord, he develops devotion to God and approaches Him nearer and nearer. He gradually feels that God works directly through his Indriyas or instruments. He feels no strain or burden in discharge of his works now. He is quite at ease. The heavy load which he felt previously on account of false notion has vanished out of sight now.

The intention when practicing karma yoga is to give selflessly for the good of others without thought of one’s self or attachment to the results of one’s actions. Acting in this way is considered the right way to approach service and it is said to purify the mind.

Karma yoga is relevant to all yogis because, to some extent, everyone must undertake some actions during their lifetime. By practicing karma yoga, all of these actions, even the most mundane, can become part of one’s spiritual path. Practicing karma yoga also means to fully accept one’s dharma, or life’s duty, and to let go of selfish desires. In doing so, one sublimates the ego.

Volunteering one’s time and effort is often used as an example of karma yoga, but, actually, all of the actions one undertakes can be karma yoga. It is considered the attitude to the action, rather than the action itself, which makes something karma yoga. This means acting with the right motives, in the right way, to the best of one’s ability, but surrendering attachment to the outcome.

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.

“Don’t hanker after the fruit”, says the Gita. However, it also insists that you should act with full energy and skill. The action of the person who acts without desire should be much better than that of the person who acts with desire. The latter is attracted to the fruit, and a part, much or little, of his time and attention will, of course, be spent on thought and dreams of the fruit.

Vinova Bhave, Krishna said that only work come in your jurisdiction and not the result (Karmanyevadhikaraste ma phaleshu kadachana). At the same time, it is evident that no work remains fruitless. It will give either positive result or negative. It is the positive psychology by which we learn to be happy. By focusing on only work we can give 100% of our concentration. It is the desire of a result that comes in the way causing anxiety. Whenever emotions are intense, it causes distraction and work is hampered. Krishna also emphasizes to focus on the present not on past or tomorrow. It is the similar to give up the desire and result. Expectation of a result is future of the work done in the present. We should not forget to plan for future because planning is present. Work is worship-the statement is perfect in its meaning when we do not think that which work is great and which is not.

Flow of work as explained in positive psychology can be only understood by understanding karma yoga when we become indulged in the given work. It is intrinsic motivation secondary to the pleasure we gain by just doing work, which is higher state of concentration. Attainment of yoga leads to salvation. Although, meaning of salvation does not matter, but it matters if we get a taste of flow in work.

The doer is that part of the ego that takes credit for accomplishments and blames others for (or laments) failures. The doer brings the feeling that we are the agent of action. It is the sense that we are in total control, that we are making it all happen—envisioning, planning, and executing the different aspects of our lives.

The feeling of doership is based on the misperception that we are the body and mind. When, in fact, we are not the body and mind, but the owner of both. That part of us that never changes but is constantly aware of all changes, that Awareness itself is who we are.

Karma Yoga teaches us that the sense that “I act” is a sort of illusion, and so are the consequences of “my” actions. But, as long as this illusion persists we are bound by karma. Upon enlightenment, actions are experienced as simply arising spontaneously, without an ego identity.

In Sanskrit, the affirmation na ham karta means “I am not the doer.” Hari karta means “the Supreme Consciousness is the performer.” I, as an individual, do not exist; I have merged myself into the Divine Consciousness.

In the Zen tradition of archery, the limited egotistical condition is expressed in a very suggestive way: When there is no award expected, the archer acts with calmness and lucidity; when the award is gold, the archer’s mind and body shake.

Bhagavan Ramana says in Talk 41 (Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi) that one should give up the sense of doership in order to be free from the bondage of birth and death. Bhagavan is saying that karma pertains to the body/mind. If we give up the sense of doership, the karma will go on or drop away. Either way, it is not our concern.

The doctrine that Bhagavan Ramana is explaining in Talk 41 is known as karma yoga. Karma yoga is outlined in detail in the ancient and sacred Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita (Song of God). It is in the Bhagavad Gita where Bhagavan Krishna teaches Arjuna that while actions cannot be given up, one can give up the attachment to fruits of the actions and forge the path to freedom.

Bhagavan Krishna’s message to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita is extremely subtle and beautiful. Sri Krishna tells Arjuna to act as necessary according to dharma (duty), but surrender all fruits of action to the Lord. “In this way, you will not incur any sin,” Krishna tells Arjuna.

Sages like Bhagavan Ramana teach us that our bondage and misery is due to identification with the ego. Because of this strong identification with the ego/mind, we experience pain and pleasure, joy and sorrow according to our actions and our attachment to the results of those actions. Hence Bhagavan Ramana echoes the Bhagavad Gita and says that if one gives up the sense of doership, karma (actions) will go on automatically until their force is spent and then these karmas will drop off. By giving up the sense of doership, we allow our remaining karma to work itself out without creating new karma.

Here are just a few verses from the Bhagavad Gita that directly pertain to the teachings of karma yoga as taught by Sri Krishna.

Treating pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat alike, engage yourself in your duty. By doing your duty this way you will not incur sin (BG 2.38).

You have jurisdiction over your respective duty only, but no control or claim over the results. The fruits of work should not be your motive. You should never be inactive (BG 2.47).

Therefore, always perform your duty efficiently and without attachment to the results, because by doing work without attachment one attains the Supreme. (BG 3.19).

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