Karma yoga is an attitude. People think it is work yet along with work there is an attitude. The way in which one does one's work is determined by the attitude towards it. If one has a good attitude then the work is good but if the attitude towards the work is not right then one will not have any interest in doing it. It is this attitude towards work that is managed through karma yoga.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna talks about karma yoga and defines it in a manner that is simply viewed as (2:47):
Karmanyevaadhikaaraste maa phaleshu kadachana;
Thy right is to work only, but never with its fruits;
However, Krishna did not say only this sloka in the Bhagavad Gita, for he continued (5:11):
Yoginah karma kurvanti sangam tyakva atmashuddhaye.
Yogis perform actions for the purification of the self.
When there is equanimity in the face of success and failure, when gain and loss are both taken in the same manner with balance, when one is affected by neither defeat nor victory, there is purification of the self, atmashuddhi. Retaining one's mental and emotional clarity during the performance of actions leads to the purification of the self. This is the true description of karma yoga.
One can say about karma yoga that it is about doing one's duty, about not desiring the fruits of one's action, however it is just a topic for lectures without practical application. The practical aspect of karma yoga is that one should try to be balanced in the face of success as well as failure. The person who succeeds in this attempt attains the state of purification of the self, unaffected by karmas, not too dejected nor too elated. The person knows the true purpose of the work being done.
Dejection and delight both are a result of a selfish connection with the work. If there is selfish interest and expectation, the possibility of dejection is inherent within it. If there is selfish interest and expectation happiness will also be experienced. However, if one is free from dejection and elation, loss and profit, one has as a consequence a calm and still mind which inspires one to move ahead and progress in life.
The upliftment of a person lies in achieving happiness, peace and plenty. If happiness, peace and plenty are the goal of life then that is a selfish interest, a desire which gives birth to a selfish attitude. If one can work without this selfish attitude and carry out one's duties properly then happiness, peace, success or plenty come one's way regardless.
The concept of karma yoga is not external performance but the attitude and the awareness which one has while interacting in life and with society, and with one's own ability to perform.
Raja yoga and hatha yoga are specific practices. Bhakti yoga and karma yoga are attitudes. Through these two practices and attitudes one is able to transform the body, mind, emotions and actions, and awaken the creative potential with each of these four aspects. One is able to fulfil the purpose of life for there is no limit to one's growth, development and success.
This has been the sankalpa of Swami Sivananda and Sri Swami Satyananda: through the medium of yoga one can create an easy and simple way to fulfil one's aspirations and move ahead on the path of goodness, divinity, attainment and creativity.
21 September 2014, The Railway Officers Club, Delhi, India