Author: Kay Balnares
The concept of Karma is defined in the Bhagavad Gita as the “universal law of action.” Action is essential to life, and no person is free from some form of action. Nor is the universe separate from the person, and no person is separate from the universe. According to the Bhagavad Gita, any action is Karma, for example, breathing, seeing, hearing, tasting, feeling, smelling, walking, and/or talking. And all of these actions create vibrations that then contribute to the Universal Energy pool.
Karma Yoga is defined as the “discipline” of action, and involves self-less action performed to the best of one’s ability with awareness, and without attachment to any specific outcomes. The importance of the karma yoga action is not necessarily in the action itself, but the intention of self-less service to others. As Swami Sivananda states, “There is no menial work in this vision. In the light of Karma Yoga, all actions are sacred.” Karma Yoga is where the head, heart and hands work together in harmony. Being the yoga of action, Karma Yoga is also a practical tool that can be applied in all aspects of our daily lives, and is complimentary to deepen yogic practices.
The Bhagavad Gita a states, “the world is bound by selfless, not selfish, action, “ and therefore to act selflessly is considered to be a liberating action to free us from attachments, desires, fears and anger – which are all symptoms of the ego.
Karma yoga is, therefore, a useful tool in expanding our awareness, and opening us to the possibilities that lie beneath the ego, something there is great need for in today’s society, so much of all the unnecessary suffering in the world being caused by ego.
The Dalai Lama describes today’s society as
“Beset by forces preventing development, increasing tendencies towards exploitation, greed, lust, consumerism, incessant manipulation of opinions that reinforce course urges; increasing divides between rich and the poor; disease and obesity; a ridiculous emphasis on economic profit as if this could be the only goal of breathing. The ego is responsible for conventional thinking with a focus on personal welfare, satisfaction and an attitude of everyone for themselves.”
But meeting material and superficial desires does not attain happiness and peace of mind – far from it.
A concentration on personal desire causes even greater stress, anxiety, depression, disease and instability. The more emphasis there is on self, the more the misperception of reality and the bigger picture. Karma yoga provides freedom from these distortions by exposing our inner conflicts and mental blockages. Working selflessly and being totally absorbed in intention and action itself may also be used as a form of meditation. It is here that one can be an observer of any anger, emotion, fear and thought patterns that may arise. It is here that one can get to know their egocentric mind, and begin a process of deepening their own awareness and consciousness to effect their own thoughts and actions. This may be a confronting and challenging process, but deserves (and requires) perseverance and patience. It must be acknowledged that the egocentric mind is a normal part of being human, and that it takes work to undo a lifetime of learned characteristics that prioritize satisfying personal needs. But becoming aware of our own limitations and egocentric characteristics is an important step in liberating us from ignorance.
A focus on karma yoga must remain true to the intention of selfless service and action. A key factor in diminishing the ego is removing the “I” and the “self” entirely from the action. To see the self as but an instrument in the higher processes and the universal energy that allow us to act. To acknowledge and accept that there is a power much more supreme, also gives less power to the ego and identification with the self. Mahatma Ghandi is a great example of the path of selfless service and its relationship to the expansion and deepening of consciousness. Gandhi spent decades dedicated to this practice, and believed that spiritual realization could be reached through the act of service. It is improbable, however, that every person can follow such a path. In reality, people must continue to work and earn a living to provide for themselves and their families. This is where it is crucial to realize that the action of selfless service can occur every day of our lives, an only requires the willingness and good intention to do so.
The practice of karma yoga does not need to be a daunting task. Yoga is a science of balance and union of the body, mind, and soul, and karma yoga invokes all three components with action. It requires the use of the head, heart, and hands, and provides us with the opportunity to harmonize our lives by deepening our awareness. This in turn connects us to our conscience and develops our ability to function in the world, to benefit others, and ultimately to serve a higher purpose than one solely focussed on the limited self.
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