A few days ago, one wandering Sadhu came to visit our Yogashram, the Rajnandgaon school of Yoga in M.P., India. He had travelled all over India, visiting and staying in many different Ashrams, but I noticed his surprise at seeing our unique way of life and spiritual sadhana here. From the first waking-up bell in the morning at four a.m., to the last minute before retiring at night, there is never an idle moment, or time wasted on useless pursuits. For us, the day never seems long enough to complete the endless work of maintaining the Ashram, whether cleaning, cooking, gardening, teaching or official work. All the most difficult and mental tasks are taken up with joy by the Ashram inmates, who view this work as an integral part of spiritual life.
After observing us at work for a day, this Sadhu bade leave of the school acharya, Swami Yogeshwaranand and touching her feet respectfully said:
"I would like to spend more time here, but I am afraid if I worked like all of you, I would never have any time to practice Yoga".
Such is the misunderstanding regarding the relationship between Yoga Sadhana (practices for physical, mental, psychic and spiritual upliftment) and karma (action, and the fruits resulting there from). Most aspirants are under the impression that to practice sadhana, they will have to forsake their karma (or vice-versa). This mistaken idea is often expressed by those householders who approached a Sannyasin or Yoga teacher with the remark 'How do you expect a person like me with a big family and busy life to find time for Yoga'.
Karma and Yoga are not enemies, they are in fact brothers, who, when combined together, form one of the most suitable spiritual pathways open to the common man, Karma Yoga. There is no escape from Karma for any embodied being and it is certainly never the purpose of Yoga to make one neglect one's Karma in the form of daily duties and responsibilities.
The first step in this sadhana is awareness, mindfulness. Work done automatically, without awareness, is just work, but work done with total attention becomes in itself a flowing, spontaneous meditation.
What is the experience of this meditation? To give an example, I was working in the kitchen once and my mind was filled with various mundane thoughts and useless chatter. A sharp pain suddenly brought me out of my day dream as I added a piece of finger to the salad. Having suffered as a result of absent mindedness, I remembered about our gurus teaching "Be always alert and fully aware whatever you may be doing." I then centred complete concentration around the action of cutting vegetables and washing them carefully and removing insects. Not only was the quality of the work greatly improved, but after sometime there came a definite change in consciousness. All other mental "noise" ceased and there was only awareness of that action which was taking place at the moment. I began to feel as though "I" was no longer cutting vegetables but only that my body was carrying out the work as something separate from me. I became an impartial witness watching the whole process as like some drama or play of nature. All this time the work was going on, cooking, talking, digging in the garden, etc., and the feeling of being only a spectator remained. I realized at that time that we work because we must, it is the inherent nature of this body and mind to be ever active. But at the same time there is something which remains ever aloof from this drama, unaffected, unchanging, filled with profound peace and bliss.
To practice this kind of meditation it is not necessary to sit quietly in a yogic posture with eyes closed. The only thing necessary is your own awareness, to become mindful of each and everything which you are doing, and then concentration becomes a spontaneous process.
It is written in Bhagavad Gita: "Yoga is complete efficiency in action". Through awareness, efficiency develops, improving the quality of any work which you undertake. Also through awareness concentration comes and finally the one pointed flow of consciousness, known as meditation, which can flow on, side by side, with all activities, trials and difficulties of worldly life.