Three Aspects of Karma Yoga

From Yoga Chakra, Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

The purpose of inner yoga or antaranga yoga is to manage traits that are inherent and genetically-embedded in your personality and nature. In the yogic tradition these personality traits are known as six associates who are born with you when you take birth. These companions remain with you until your last breath. They give rise to your nature, mindset, personality, habits, traits, and character and they make you what you are right now.

Overcoming the six friends

Who are these six friends? Kama, desire and passion inherent in every life form – even a newly born baby has desire, nobody is free from it; krodha, the aggressive drive; lobha, greed, emphasizing the need; moha, delusion, infatuation; mada, arrogance, self-assertive identity; matsarya, envy, jealousy towards other people who are more successful or better off than you, the comparative mindset. These are the six qualities of life that are born in the mind itself at the time of birth. You can see this in the behaviour of children too. You can identify which trait is highlighted at any particular moment: they may be volatile, aggressive, dynamic and unstoppable, expressing their krodha; they may be envious of every other child who has something in their hand, and go and snatch it away and slap them. These traits build human nature.

They are not traits that you can rectify through parental influence or through education in school or college. There is no induction of thoughts that can help you to balance the negative output and the projections of these traits. These traits form your personality, and they are related to karma, action, jnana, knowing, and bhavana, feeling. Karma, jnana and bhavana become an integral part where these six associates express their power, as it is in karma that you realize how much aggression, greed, drive, need, jealousy and envy you have. Karma highlights these subtle traits of your personality. Similarly, thinking highlights the subtle traits of your personality, not the senses, body, muscles, abdomen, lungs or heart. The intellect highlights these traits and the emotions express these traits.

Every action, thought and emotion in one way or the other expresses the intensity of the six traits at different times. Sometimes the intensity may be less, sometimes the intensity may be more. Thus, through inner yoga, through karma yoga, bhakti yoga and jnana yoga, you manage the effects of these six traits.

In outer yoga, hatha yoga, raja yoga and kriya yoga, you develop and cultivate sanyam, control, and in inner yoga you manage the inner traits that make up your life, nature, personality, your aspirations and ambitions, your tamasic and rajasic nature. Since in these three yogas we are dealing with traits that are subtle and invisible in life, yet we all respond and react to them, they constitute the inner yoga.

Karma yoga (3 stages)

Antaranga yoga begins with karma yoga, as nobody can be without karma. Karma is the main foundation and stay of life. The classical definition of karma yoga is that it leads you to immunity to karmas. One can define karma yoga in many ways, however, what is the purpose according to the yogis and the yogic scriptures? The purpose is not something conjured up by your intellect.

The first purpose of karma yoga is atmashuddhi, self-purification: Yoginah karma kurvanti sangam tyaktvatmashuddhaye – “Yogis perform karma, with objectivity, for self-purification.”

That is the first philosophy of karma yoga, to attain self- purification. Now, self-purification is a broad concept. It is not something that you can identify as, ‘If I do this I will be purified.’ One has to work on identifying all the different components within this broad canopy of atmashuddhi; relationships, associations, expectations all play important roles. You must identify all these things, including your needs, ambitions, strengths, weaknesses. To attain self-purification, every aspect of your nature has to be monitored and managed. It is not enough just to say that through karma yoga you attain atmashuddhi. You have to identify the areas of atmashuddhi: emotional shuddhi, intellectual shuddhi, sensorial shuddhi. All these are different types of shuddhis.

Atmashuddhi also relates to an important word: objectivity. You have to understand objectivity not from the perspective of attachment or detachment, but simply as knowing. When you know then you manage the responses of either attachment or detachment in a better manner. Whether you are attached or detached does not matter. Therefore awareness of objectivity, in relation to your actions, leads to self-awareness, harmony, inner balance, or purification.

Attainment of atmashuddhi leads to the second stage of karma yoga, akarta bhava, the feeling of ‘I am not the doer. I am an instrument which is being played by an invisible hand and I do the bidding,’ ‘Let Thy will be done.’ Karta is the idea of doership, ‘I am the doer’, while akarta is not having the idea of doership, ‘I am not the doer.’ When the concept dawns in life that you are not the doer, you simply become the medium through which actions are performed. Akarta is when you are not the doer, enjoyer or experiencer of the karma and the karma is not a binding agent. When there is karta bhava, ‘I am the doer’, then karma binds you. When you are an instrument which is being played, then karma does not bind you and this leads to naishkarmya siddhi, freedom from the effects of karmas. This is the third aspect of karma yoga.

Naishkarmya siddhi is the attainment of karma yoga. You develop immunity to karmas, people, situations and the environment, and remain connected with your own peace and comfort. Every moment of your life becomes a new moment that you live with one hundred percent awareness. Nothing is a routine anymore; even if you have to sweep the same street every day for twenty years, it does not become a routine. Every

day what you do is done as if for the first and the last time in your life and you give your best. Every moment leads you to a new experience of participation and involvement in karma, yet it frees you from the suffering that comes when you identify with karma. When this stage awakens, at least thirty percent of the darkness of the six associates becomes less.