The Purpose of Karma Yoga

From the teachings of Swami Satyananda Saraswati

The mind is evolving from the crude material of prakriti, nature, which is composed of the three gunas, sattwa, rajas and tamas. This mind has three faults, mala, impurity, vikshepa, distraction and dissipation, and avarana, veiling or ignorance. The faults of the mind are inborn and the major hurdles in spiritual and mundane experiences. Impurity of mind can be managed through karma yoga.

The mind

Every individual has been structured, but is not able to structure the deeper mind. When one sits for meditation, everything can be seen, and the mind does not stay quiet even for a single moment. The mind is distracted; one thought is overshadowed or crossed by another thought. Sometimes there is so much confusion in the realm of the mind that a sensitive person may go insane. One perceives so many thought currents passing through the mind, and each contradicts the other. The schizophrenic, neurotic, and psychotic attitude can be found in the minds of each and every person.

When one faces a disaster in life everything explodes. Until the crisis, one goes to nightclubs, picnics, and everything seems to be nice. However, it all blows up when the difficulty comes. The negative states of mind, like fear, anxiety, doubt, neurosis and psychosis, are expressions of the latent impurities. They are triggered by the deep samskaras, impressions, of the mind, which are its impurities.

People are groping in the dark. They try to understand the secrets of life using the mind – the most incapable tool they have! The mind is not purified; it is a sick mind, and one tries to dive deep into reality with this sick mind.


One doesn’t reach the highest experience just by closing the eyes and trying to control the mind. If the mirror is not clean, it is of no use polishing one’s face! Purification of the self is the first rung in the ladder of spirituality, and it begins when one develops the spirit of karma yoga.

Purity of mind is not ethical purity or some arbitrary standard of thought. It is not morality, religion, or thinking good about others. Atma shuddhi, purity of self, means that the mind is free from the influence of samskaras and prakriti, the manifest universe. What happens when the mind becomes pure? Clarity, purity and concentration arise. When one cleans the mirror, one’s face can be seen. If one doesn’t clean the mirror, one’s face cannot be seen. By karma yoga one’s personality becomes purer and purer, day by day, until one experiences unbroken peace of mind.

Mental balance is of two kinds. One kind is the psychological process in which a person tries to maintain balance of mind for good health, good relationships, a good home and society. He maintains a compulsory mental balance externally, because he knows that it is good, although everything may be totally imbalanced and in turmoil internally. The second kind of balance is attained when the purification of mind takes place by a constant, relentless and prolonged process of elimination of karma. That purification results in real mental balance.

Role of karma yoga

Impurities are embedded in the mind and cannot be seen unless one is confronted by certain situations and events. Supposing one never becomes angry, but when confronted by a particular situation, one experiences anger. This means anger, jealousy, greed and passion are embedded in the personality. Therefore, the personality has to be cleared of these impurities.

In karma yoga people have to involve themselves in many situations. They cannot practise karma yoga alone; they have to practise with people. While practising karma yoga they experience many trials, failures and accomplishments, as their real personality comes out. People realize that they have attachments, desires, jealousy, anger, violence and passion. They have a weak mind; they are nervous, cannot take failure, handle victory or become accomplished. The whole personality is exposed during the practice of karma yoga. When practising karma yoga, they can realize and understand their nature, personality, samskaras and weaknesses. They cannot realize these problems without exposing themselves to karma yoga.


What happens if a person takes a purgative? He will go to the toilet ten, fifteen or twenty times, and everything comes out. Similarly, there has to be some catalyst which excites the karma. Passion, anger, jealousy and greed are karma. These are examples, but there is a long list of karma. Does one release this karma, or does one go to the grave with it? Can one attain samadhi with this karma, with this passion, greed and anger? No, one has to take a purgative! The karmas with one’s wife, husband, children, the good or wretched friends are expelled by the purgative.

This has to be the attitude in life. Then passion is not passion; nothing is maya and nothing is worldly. Why does a person marry? To transcend passion. Why does a person amass wealth? To transcend greed.

Those who do not practise karma yoga, but only retire to a monastery or a forest to practise meditation, cannot know the influence of their samskaras. They meditate for years and years, but nothing happens. They go to one level, stop there, and cannot go any further. When karma yoga is not practised, either in the family or in the ashram of the guru, and the spirit of karma yoga is completely absent, nobody is able to purify the chitta, the mind.

Animal nature

Actions expel the instinctive, animal nature of man. In the human structure, there exists an animal nature in the form of habits, manners, desires, instincts and unconscious impressions. There is an animal instinct in man due to desires and samskaras, which is called the natural tendency. Due to this, man neither knows himself nor can he be liberated from his bondage. This animal nature in man can only be expelled by performing actions. When a spiritual aspirant does not practise karma in the light of karma yoga, the long held suppressions do not find proper expression and the personality can not be integrated. Karmas are a necessary and integral part of the process of self-illumination.

By doing actions for a long time, the accumulated karmas are exhausted and the personality becomes freer to carry on with the higher schemes of spiritual life. The aspirant will find out through self-analysis that karma means not only the simple daily routine or duties, but also the force of desire that motivates them. Karma expresses thoughts, desires and deep-rooted ambitions, which otherwise would have remained embedded and dormant in the personality for a very long time.


When one begins the purging of karmas, the psychological problems that one undergoes do not have to be treated. One should let them be. If there is fear, one has to face it and not try to eliminate it. The more one tries to remove it, the more one suppresses it. If one has passions, one should not suppress them through religious morality and a puritanical attitude. One should let them be and express them! If one has hatred and jealousy, one should not say it is bad; it may be both negative and positive but it is within. It has not been imported but is a part of one’s personality and is coming out like a boil. When it is time for it to come up, one should let it come! Why suppress it?

Why should one go to a doctor and talk about one’s mental problems? He will just ask countless questions. One may get better or not, but this is not the correct approach. There is nothing in life which has to be cured, though everything has to be expressed. A person without fear, jealousy, hatred, desires and passions would be an idiot!

A person becomes fearless and transmits fearlessness to others only in the sattwic state. He is not afraid of anyone and nobody is afraid of him. He is loving, charitable and compassionate and has no enemies.

The inner garden

Another purpose of karma yoga is to deal with the inner life. In a garden, one digs the earth, sows the seeds, adds manure, removes the weeds and watches over one’s creation even to the extent of night vigils. This is simply a reflection of what one is doing internally. There is a wild, uncultivated garden within the mind, which grows weeds and thorny bushes. These plants don’t allow any flowers, fruits and beautiful plants to grow, so one has to clear them out.

What happens when one sows good seeds, good samskaras and karmas, in this garden? The little animals that live in the forest come out at night and undo the work that has been done during the day. What are these animals that come during the night? The first is desire, the second frustration and the third attraction to sensual life. Therefore, it is said in the Upanishads, “Do not sleep by night.”

The inner life, the inner garden, has to be carefully tended and watched over in exactly the same way as one takes care of the garden.