By Wes Annac, Editor, Karma Yoga Daily
Imagine you’ve experienced a spiritual awakening. Maybe you’ve realized you are more than your body, and this has motivated you to change your life. Maybe your awakening is less metaphysical and more practical. You’ve realized you have a purpose and you now want to do something good in your short time on this planet.
Fortunately, spirituality and self-improvement can be whatever you make of them. Countless paths are available, but most people recommend you create your own path in which you incorporate the best ideas from each one.
As we’ve been learning, karma yoga is one such path that borrows from various beliefs. Hailing from Hinduism and the Bhagavad Gita, karma yoga is a unique path focused not on constant prayer or meditation, but on service as a form of worship. By helping others, we serve God.
To me, this sounds much better than going to war over religion. It also eliminates the notion that we should renounce activity or spend all our time in meditation. As Sri Krishna tells us, there is no freedom in refraining from being active:
“Freedom from activity is never achieved by abstaining from action. Nobody can become perfect by merely ceasing to act. In fact, nobody can ever rest from activity even for a moment. All are helplessly forced to act, by the gunas.” (1)
“Activity”, he tells us, “is better than inertia. Act, but with self-control. If you are lazy, you cannot even sustain your own body.” (2)
According to Sri Yukteswar Giri, we should find some way to help others while we’re here.
“So long as you breathe the free air of earth, you are under obligation to render grateful service. Only he who has fully mastered the breathless state is freed from cosmic imperatives.” (3)
We cannot completely give up action, Sri Krishna tells us, but we can give up our expectation of what comes out of it.
“No human being can give up action altogether, but he who gives up the fruits of action is said to be non-attached.” (4)
We’re always doing something. Even when we’re lazy, we usually watch TV or do something else that negates meditation. We may not do much, but we’re still doing. Karma yoga teaches that we can use this constant activity not in self-centered ways, but to help others. Through our efforts, we can connect with a higher power that will show us we’re on the right track.
Sri Krishna encourages us to work but remain unattached.
“Do your duty, always; but without attachment. That is how a man reaches the ultimate Truth; by working without anxiety about results. … Your motive in working should be to set others, by your example, on the path of duty.” (5)
When the ego is out of the way, he tells us, we lose our attachment to the fruits of our work.
“He whose mind dwells Beyond attachment, Untainted by ego, No act shall bind him With any bond.” (6)
According to Paramahansa Ramakrishna, since giving up activity is impossible, we should use it in service to the highest ideals.
“All, without exception, perform work. Even to chant the name and glories of God is work, as is the meditation of the non-dualist on ‘I am He’. Breathing is also an activity. There is no way of renouncing work altogether. So do your work, but surrender the result to God.” (7)
Ramana Maharshi tells us that action and knowledge (as in spiritual knowledge) are not at odds.
“As there is no rule that action should depend upon a sense of being the doer it is unnecessary to doubt whether any action will take place without a doer or an act of doing.
“Although the officer of a government treasury may appear, in the eyes of others, to be doing his duty attentively and responsibly all day long, he will be discharging his duties without attachment, thinking ‘I have no real connection with all this money’ and without a sense of involvement in his mind.
“In the same manner a wise householder may also discharge without attachment the various household duties which fall to his lot according to his past karma, like a tool in the hands of another. Action and knowledge are not obstacles to each other.” (8)
Zarathustra tells us that if you’re “awake” or aware of how you can serve, then giving even a little is better than giving nothing at all.
“One who gives of the little he knows to those who are fit for it, is more acceptable than the one who knows but neither helps nor benefits deserving persons.” (9)
It’s not enough to know the truth or repeat the prettiest-sounding spiritual phrases. The real work is to share the most important, helpful, and meaningful lessons the spirit has taught you. Your audience will be anyone who’s receptive. There’s no sense forcing your ideology onto those who don’t want to hear it, but if you look hard enough (especially on the internet), you’ll find your tribe.
Let’s remember that sharing your truth is one of many ways you can practice karma yoga. Your options are limitless, and if you struggle to find your outlet, I’d recommend waiting for a sign that shows you what you can do.
It could be anything, such as a phone call from a loved one who needs someone to talk to. However insignificant it might seem, it will mean the world to them. Helping people see the light in big and small ways, one person at a time if necessary, is the essence of karma yoga. The point is to try. Yours doesn’t have to be the greatest or most helpful service as long as you make an effort.
Jiddu Krishnamurti encourages us to “distinguish not only the useful from the useless, but the more useful from the less useful. To feed the poor is a good and noble and useful work; yet to feed their souls is nobler and more useful than to feed their bodies. Any rich man can feed the body, but only those who know can feed the soul. If you know, it is your duty to help others to know.” (10)
For the unenlightened who, like me, have just started on this path and have little wisdom to share, plenty of other options are available. Don’t give up feeding the poor just yet.
We shouldn’t misinterpret this quote, as Krishnamurti made it clear that a rich man giving food to the poor is still “a good and noble and useful work”. He’s saying that real spiritual wisdom is rare. It’s not something everybody has, and since we can’t buy it, it slips past even the richest among us. Finding it is like discovering food in a village full of starving people. How could you not share it?
This is one reason many say karma yoga is a responsibility. We do it because we’re driven to do it. We know that wisdom is in short supply and we feel obligated to share the little bits we’ve received. We don’t want to be worshipped as gurus, but to do our share, iron out the wrinkles in our karma, and show the spirit some love.
Continued in part 4 soon.
- Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood, trans., Bhagavad-Gita. The Song of God. New York and Scarborough: New American Library, 1972; c1944, 44.
- Ibid., 45.
- Paramahansa Yogananda, Autobiography of a Yogi. Bombay: Jaico, 1975, 119.
- Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood, trans., Bhagavad-Gita. The Song of God. Ibid., 120.
- Ibid., 46-7.
- Ibid., 121-2.
- Swami Nikhilananda, trans., The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, 1978; c1942, 113-4.
- Sri Ramana Maharshi, Spiritual Instruction of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. Eighth Edition. Tiruvannamalai: Sri Ramanasramam, 1974, Chapter 2, Question 23.
- Duncan Greenlees, trans. The Gospel of Zarathushtra. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1978, 10.
- Krishnamurti, At the Feet of the Master. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1974; c1910, 26-7.
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