Satsang at Ganga Darshan

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Is there a difference between seva and karma yoga?

Seva and karma yoga are two different things. Karma yoga is learning how to harmonize the day-to-day activities, behaviour and attitudes, and finding your inner peace while performing all your duties and activities. Seva is serving others with compassion and with the best you can give. Both seva and karma yoga are taught in the ashram.

What is karma yoga? Karma means action, and everyone is subject to karma; one cannot live without activity. It is a process which is subtle, physical, and continuously happening, being performed by the senses, the mind, the emotions and also by the spirit. Yoga is harmony, integration, so when yoga is harmonizing and integrating all the dimensions of performance and action, that becomes karma yoga.

What does it mean to harmonize and integrate the actions? We all perform actions for different reasons and each action is guided by an attitude. Two people can have different attitudes to the same job. One can think the job is a burden, the other that it is a joy. Although both people are performing action, the attitude changes the properties and quality of the action. Which one is able to understand karma? The person who sees it as a joy is in a better position to appreciate the particular karma and to ensure that it is being done with their total heart, understanding and feeling, whereas the person who sees the job as a problem will not be able to give his or her one hundred percent to that action. When one is able to look at all jobs equally, with the same feeling, when one is at total ease with a job, whether working at a desk or cleaning the toilets, and there is peace of mind, then that is karma yoga. You have attained harmony in your actions. This harmony is between mind and body, the body and senses performing the actions and the mind encouraging that action.

Karma yoga works at the attitudinal level, trying to change the perception of selfish activity into selfless activity. It tries to change the influence and effects of the activity from being self-oriented to universally oriented. This attitude has to be applied not only logically but in action. Karma yoga is connecting with activity, not going above the activity, because then the ego comes in. The ego says, "Oh, why should I do that? Others can do it!" In karma yoga the attitude of selflessness becomes more dominant. By nature karmas are selfish. When the word yoga is added to karma, it changes the quality from selfish to selfless. For this reason, it is said that selfless karma is karma yoga.

Seva is different. There is no word in English that really defines seva. Service is not seva. Seva is serving and helping others with compassion, serving not for personal gratification but to uplift others. Seva is not meeting your own aims, but offering that service as a homa, as an offering in the yajna of life. Seva contains the best there is in you. When it is offered to another being and it contains your best thoughts and feelings, your love and affection, sympathy and compassion, then that action becomes a blessing in disguise to uplift another being. That is seva.

In the ashram both seva and karma yoga are taught. Many people who come to study yoga are totally unused to the concept of karma yoga and find it an effort, a struggle. If we tell them, "This is your duty", they say, "I have not come here for that, I have come to get my degree, I have come to educate myself." There is a rejection of karma yoga because they see it as hard physical labour. But once they understand the process of karma yoga and how it helps to change their own perceptions and attitudes and to develop their own creativity, in the course of time they begin to like it. By the time they leave the ashram, they are heart and neck deep into karma yoga.

This experience of karma yoga is taken to another dimension in Rikhia, where karma yoga becomes seva. Those who can understand that process become further inspired and motivated. Then seva becomes a way of life. Living for others becomes a way of life, not living for oneself.

That is the difference between karma yoga and seva. In the ashram, initially, in order to deepen the experience of karma yoga, one has to add the component of seva yoga. First you practise karma yoga then you move into seva. You continue to do the same jobs, whether typing letters or working in the kitchen, but the attitude, the idea, changes from karma yoga to seva. Then you see the beautiful canvas that karma yoga and seva yoga together can create in the life of an individual.

—December 18, 2002

How can one distinguish between action and inaction, and how can it be understood through intellect, through logic?

Action is being the participant and inaction is knowing that you are not the doer. According to philosophy, inaction does not mean becoming blind, negating or turning away from action. Inaction means that you become the witness of your actions and realize that you are not the doer, not the enjoyer. The emphasis is not on inaction but on becoming the witness of the activity, with the realization that "I am not the doer."

If I am not the doer, then who is the doer? Is God the doer? Is the self the doer? Are the samskaras and karmas influencing our idea of doership? Is our ego the doer? The answer is very simple and has been given in the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and the other scriptures. We are under the influence of maya. What is maya? Maya is identification with the ego principle.

That is the simplest definition of maya. It is the ego which creates our realities. This is where a concept, an idea, takes a practical form because the ego then determines how you will act. In anger the ego determines that your actions will be volatile and aggressive. In hatred, jealousy, greed, envy, affection, sympathy, in everything, it is the ego that decides how you are going to behave. This totality is maya.

Under this influence we are definitely going to pass through phases of interpreting the aspect of action in different ways, in relation to karma, in relation to our mental, sensorial and cultural conditionings. This is very difficult to understand because there is a psychology governing each person. One is continuously performing, acting, the kriya aspect. Kriya is loosely translated as action, but kriya is an ongoing momentum. Just as when you dive into a river the current helps you to swim, similarly when you throw yourself into action it is the current of action, the kriya, which then propels you. Throw yourself in the pool of anger or hatred and see what kind of kriya propels your thoughts, your motivation, your actions at that time.

So, becoming the drashta, the witness, and then eventually controlling the karma leads to the state of inactivity in action. That is the state of God today, on this date, at this time. He is totally inactive and all the action is happening. Look at your spirit. Your spirit is inside, totally inactive, and yet all the actions are happening through the agency of the mind and the senses. Just as the spirit is inactive, God is also inactive. In order to allow God to function you have to deactivate the senses, external and internal. Two eyes see duality, one eye sees unity. When one eye sees unity and it opens, then everything which is the cause of duality is burnt out.

When the eye of unity is closed and the eyes of duality are open, then one is subject to maya, one is subject to karma. The human effort is to move from their influences, which hold one down, to experience greater and higher qualities by learning how to manages one's ego, which becomes the first manifestation of maya as an individual experience.

—March 10, 2003

How can we apply pratipaksha bhava?

Pratipaksha bhava has been defined in the Yoga Sutras as thinking of the opposite quality in relation to the attitudes one develops and expresses in day-to-day situations. Attitudes such as envy, jealousy and competitiveness all lead to the development of a particular type of human expression, which involves a change in the total personality. Jealousy, for example, begins as an idea, but you begin to feel an emotion, which is termed 'jealousy'. In the experience and expression of that jealousy your logic and intellect, manas and buddhi, are involved. You continue to brood over the same thing. The indriyas, the senses, are involved, finely tuned to respond to that situation. Your performance is influenced; how you act, behave, think and express yourself changes.

As the envy which developed as an idea becomes the predominant nature of the mind, it will give rise to altered states of perception. That jealousy can turn into animosity. It can change the entire personality so that one is geared up and ready to ensure the downfall of another person. In this way changes happen in the psychology of a person, in the emotions, logical understanding and behaviour.

Pratipaksha bhava, developing the opposite quality, is ensuring that you are not influenced and affected by that strong feeling, sentiment or emotion. If there is aggression, in your mind you develop friendship. You don't have to interact with the person you consider your enemy, but in your mind, in your sentiments and understanding, that person can cease to be an enemy and just be an ordinary person. The result of pratipaksha bhava is becoming free from the influences of a negative trait by developing a positive trait.

How can pratipaksha bhava be applied? By trying. If you fail, it is an achievement for the simple reason that you tried! If you succeed, it is your crowning glory - you achieved! Applying pratipaksha bhava has to be done with the right understanding, with dispassion, detachment and discrimination. Viveka and vairagya, discrimination and dispassion, develop the sattwic nature, which expresses itself, not in the form of self-rebuke and guilt, but in the form of encouragement.

—March 3, 2003

What should I do with anger when it comes? I tend to repress my anger and get depressed often, not knowing that I am angry. Intellectually I understand that my feeling of sadness may come from unexpressed anger, but how can I express it?

Anger is a violent reaction. It may be the outcome of any issue, major or minor. But in the state of anger, which has clouded your understanding, perception and logic, which has altered your body chemistry so that you are sweating and trembling, your face is flushed, your blood pressure is high and your breathing is shallow, you have subjected yourself to a violent expression of an emotion. That emotion is a reaction.

Generally one thinks about the anger only after one has expressed it. Very few people think while they are angry. If you reflect upon the nature of your anger and analyze the cause of the reaction, then continued performance of this awareness will eventually develop the time span of awareness, and then even at the time of feeling angry you will be aware of that anger and be able to alter it.

As sadhana, one should practise antar mouna. In antar mouna pick a cause of affliction and go to its source. You will find that the affliction you are feeling is a reaction which can bring up different kinds of emotions - sometimes anger, sometimes frustration, sometimes just feeling hopeless. Witness that.

Suppressed anger is the worst form of anger because it means restriction of emotional expression. People who cannot express emotions have psychological hang-ups of one type or another. That psychological hang-up becomes their personality, their nature, their attitude. Again the solution is to witness the suppressed anger in meditation. Mantra helps to bring out the suppressed anger. Once you are able to bring to the surface of your mind the reason for your unhappiness, and you have enough mental clarity to work to improve that reason, you will find a change in the intensity of the aggression and anger.

—March 3, 2003