Karma yoga is undoubtedly one of the most practiced of the many yogas in the Hindu religion. Unlike hatha-yoga which primarily concentrates on the physical well-being of a human, or bhakti-yoga which aims for a spiritual realization of God, karma yoga joins both the physical and mental aspects of Hindu philosophy to produce a single concept.
The root of the word Karma is the Sanskrit Kri, literally meaning “to do.” The essence of karma relies heavily on action, it theorizes that past actions reckon consequences and affects one’s position and progression in life. Western philosophers such as the Greek Epicureans believed the sole purpose of life was to live for the happiness of themselves. On the contrary, Eastern philosophy professes the ultimate goal to not live for pleasure, but to be one with knowledge. This philosophy goes hand in hand with karma, because it is through the complex “wheel of karma” that knowledge is reached.
What is Karma Yoga?
Karma Yoga is one of the four paths of Yoga; with the remaining three being Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga and Jnana Yoga. Each of them reflect a different temperament or approach to life, but their end goal is the same: to unite our souls with Brahman or God.
Karma Yoga purifies our hearts by encouraging us to engage in selfless actions, regardless of their possible outcomes. It focuses on the actorless deeds; i.e. surrendering our ego and becoming an instrument for the Lord to work through. Therefore, we focus solely on the work. We are able to engage in an activity that does not mean anything to us personally and whose outcome does not affect us. This selfless service brings us freedom from sorrow and fear.
Unavoidable Actions: Binding or Liberating?
To practice Karma Yoga we will first have to come to terms with the concept of inevitability.
Action is unavoidable. Every time we set our mind or our bodies into motion, we are doing a deed. It can be as fleeting and unconscious as blinking or breathing; or deliberate, such as helping someone or going to work. All actions can be either binding or liberating.
What we do has the power to bind us to Samsara —the cyclicality of life. This occurs when we act moved by a selfish purpose or for personal gain, in short, with the expectations of fruits. This is binding Karma. In contrast, when we act in selflessness, as an instrument of the divine and without expectation of fruits; Karma becomes liberating and therefore is Karma Yoga.
How to practice Karma Yoga
We fool you not, achieving absolute selflessness can prove difficult at times. In a society that places values on the doings instead of the beings, there is ceaseless pressure on us to prove that we are worthy. We go on rampages pretending to help people through handing out money; or we take up volunteering just for the sake of stroking our ego. There are so many deeply ingrained misconceptions about selflessness that navigating smoothly through Karma Yoga might seem impossible at first. With that in mind, here are six anchors to help our journey:
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How you carry out your actions is as important as the actions themselves. When we are fulfilling our duty you must give ourselves entirely to it, with utmost dedication and devotion.
This is core of Karma Yoga and what defines if our action is binding or liberating. Whatever we do, our motive must be pure and you must not pursue any action in hopes of reaping its fruits.
Man generally plans to get the fruits of his work before he starts any kind of work. The mind is so framed that it cannot think of any kind of work without remuneration or reward. A selfish man cannot do any service. He will weigh the work and the money in a balance. Selfless service is unknown to him.
Do your duty
Duty is a natural part of human life. We all have responsibilities in the different environments we are part of; be it our work, family or community. As we said before, Karma Yoga is the Yoga of action. Therefore, to practice Karma Yoga we must know and embrace the duties we have in all these environments.
Do your best
This entails acquiring the knowledge and proficiency necessary to carry out our task. Once we do this, we will turn ourselves in onto succesfully performing the action and reaching its goals; without thinking about who will benefit from it.
Give up results
One of the biggest challenges of becoming a Karma Yogi is learning to accept the outcomes of our deeds equally. Consequently, we must remain neutral in times of success and failure alike. Remember, no single individual controls the results; God is the doer, not we.
Furthermore, we must strive to detach ourselves from the type of job itself. No job is superior or inferior to another. We are also not the sole instrument and God could choose to work through someone else for a task. Therefore, we must be ready to leave our job if necessary.
Follow the discipline of the job
We should appreciate our job for its teachings. There is always a new skill you can learn. Each job has different requirements from us, be it in terms of experience, emotional imput, concentration, etc. They allow us to further know ourselves and what we can give.
Benefits of Karma Yoga
Karma Yoga is a clear example of “when you give, you receive”.
On a spiritual and emotional level, Karma Yoga encourages the birth of a positive outlook in life. Hatred, egoism and jelousy are replaced by love, selflessness and sympahy. We acquire a sense of community and oneness; eventually, we realize we are in everything and that everything is within us.
On a psychological and physical level, exercising Karma Yoga relieves people from stress and anxiety. When we focus on the work instead of the results, we relieve ourselves from worry and expectation. At the same time, living in the present actually allows us to do a better job. Finally, this translates into a lower chance for depression and cardiovascular diseases.
If this article sparked your interest on Karma Yoga, please check out our Yoga Retreats.
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