If a man puts on geru clothes and shaves his head, this does not mean he has any of the qualifications or attributes of the saints whom he purports to follow. Such a person may not have the least tinge of self-sacrifice. He may do a little charity and feed some poor people for the sake of name and fame. He will write to newspapers about his charitable act in the name of a correspondent. He will eagerly watch the newspapers to check whether his name is published or not. He will be restless till he sees his name in the papers. Such a man is called a pseudo karma yogi. The world now abounds with such karma yogis.
A rich person gives a donation of several thousand pounds to a university out of his reserve fund of a hundred thousand. He builds a temple and puts his name on the marble slab in front of the temple in bold letters. This is not karma yoga. This is pompous advertisement for acquiring name and fame. On the other hand, an ordinary labourer who earns a few shillings from the sweat of his brow may offer his money in charity by feeding a few starving or sick people, and may himself starve on that day. This is real self-sacrifice. This is real karma yoga.
Many aspirants prefer to do some pleasant work, some writing, some collection of flowers for puja, arranging books in the library, some typewriting, some kind of supervision and management work, etc. They dislike works such as drawing water and hewing wood, cleaning dirty utensils, washing clothes, sweeping, cooking, cleaning bedpans and nursing the sick. They consider these works as menial. They have not tried to understand the real spirit of karma yoga and Vedanta. They need rigorous discipline and training.
I will put these pseudo aspirants to carrying the motion-buckets of the sick for a year, washing plates for another year, and sweeping the room and washing the clothes of the sick the third year. Then alone will they become real aspirants. Then alone will they be ready for the commencement of meditation.
In olden days, Madura in South India was ruled by Pandian kings. One of the Pandian kings spent two lakhs of rupees in doing worship of Lord Soma Sundareshwar in a certain year. He had a great deal of ego. He thought: I am a great devotee of Lord Shiva. I have spent a large sum of money in the worship of the Lord. Thousands of brahmins, sadhus and the poor have been fed. I have given rich presents to brahmin pandits. There is no king who is so pious as myself.
Lord Shiva appeared in his dream that night and said: O king! Do not be proud of your piety, devotion and charity. I am not pleased with you in any way. Wherever there is pride, there cannot be any real devotion and holiness. Just go and see my humble devotee, the woodcutter, who lives in a small hut on the banks of the Vaighai, and who offers to me a little kheer (sweet rice dish) made of broken rice and a little black sugar on Mondays. Learn from him what real devotion is.
The king was greatly vexed. The next morning he proceeded to see the woodcutter. He asked the woodcutter: How do you worship Lord Shiva? The man replied in a meek voice: O king, I earn two annas a day. I spend one anna for my food, from which I distribute nine pies in charity and save three pies daily for my own use. Every Monday I prepare a little kheer with some broken rice and black sugar and offer it to Lord Shiva. Whenever I cut wood, I always repeat Shiva, Shiva, Shiva. I always remember Him. This is my devotion to the Lord. I do not know anything else.
The king was very much pleased with the humility, simplicity, loving nature, devotion and purity of the woodcutter. He erected a small building for him and made arrangements for his food till the end of his life. He learnt many practical lessons from the woodcutters life and in turn became a real, humble devotee of Lord Shiva. He destroyed his pride, vanity and egoism.
Be sincere at heart if you tread the path of karma yoga. Do not run after the shadowy toys of name and fame. Name and fame are illusory. They are mere vibrations in the air. This world is unreal. Care not for little perishable things. Care for the everlasting reality only. Do constant selfless service silently with thoughts of God and bhava within, and realize the indwelling presence. Become a true karma yogi.