Karma and Dharma

From Karma and Karma Yoga, Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Through the fine-tuning of our nature, through the practices of yoga and fine-tuning of our karmas by cultivating a balanced attitude and awareness, we learn how to flow in life with ease and grace, understanding and wisdom. That learning is known as karma yoga. It is harmony of karmas which are performed unconsciously, subconsciously and consciously through the body, mind and ego.

One learns from all the different exposures one receives. When you are able to confront the exposures and crises that you come across in life in a positive way, it becomes a learning process. The aim is to follow the human dharma, not contradict it. When you follow the human dharma, when you flow with ease and grace in life, when you cultivate understanding and awareness, then you are free. If you don’t follow your dharma and don’t apply your jnana, wisdom, then karma will bind you.

Karma fructifies only when it is attached to dharma. Therefore, to harmonize karmas, know the human dharma first. Human dharma is the inherent responsibility. When karma and dharma unite, the karma changes, it becomes kartavya, duty. To perform a karma as duty, it is necessary to attach it with dharma. The word ‘dharma’ is not being used here in the sense of religion; dharma is our natural responsibility. To come to terms with karma, make duty the primary component and not the karma. Attach yourself with responsibility as in that there is a beautiful union of karma and dharma. With this union, everything flows naturally, the plans get made, the actions are performed, the results come about and life progresses.

When you look after your home and family, educate your children, you do it as your duty, the feeling of kinship makes you constantly aware of what’s going on. If something goes wrong, you are immediately involved and see that involvement as your responsibility. If two members of the family are fighting, you go and tell them, “Don’t fight,” and see it as your responsibility to do so, you don’t see it as karma. Therefore, any karma that brings out the dharma through which harmony and a positive environment are created is duty. This duty is to be connected with all five types of karma.

If you are able to see all that you do in life not as karma but as kartavya, then you are a karma yogi. Thus, to become a karma yogi is as simple as perfecting karma. How? Become like the tree which will give its fruits irrespective of who climbs up to pluck them, who throws a stone to bring them down or who cuts the tree to pick the fruits. In every condition, the duty of the tree is to give fruits. Nature always follows duty and a human being follows karma. Nature looks upon everyone equally, but a human being holds himself as primary on the basis of karmas. When duty is followed everyone receives equal importance.

The simple way to become a karma yogi is to connect the karmas with dharma. If you want to become a karma yogi through sadhana, if you want to progress by calming the dissipations of your life, then come to terms with the four aspects of the mind, manas or rational mind, buddhi or intelligence, chitta or memory and ahamkara or ego, in which the biggest adjustment has to be made with ego.

The last block is the ego. The ego causes the maximum pain, because it makes you aware of yourselves, it makes you aware of your position, your name and fame. It takes us to the peak level of the experience of our self. And it is this ego that binds a person to the karmas and makes them turn away from dharma. That is why we are not able to see a karma as responsibility, but think of it as a burden. And the ego is fed with desires.

To manage the ego, it is necessary to come to terms with oneself. For as long as there is ego, you will continue to react to your environment. In reaction, only the negative conditions of the mind will be expressed. There will be continuous action and reaction in life and conflicts with others. You will react to what others say or do and then go and try to trouble them in turn. Until the ego is tackled, you cannot come to an agreement; when there is no ego, an agreement is reached and karma turns into karma yoga.

Go on following the human dharma, don’t allow the ego to raise its head, get to know the circumstances, thought processes and needs of others, and even as you work for your own welfare, strive to work for others’ growth also. These are the signs of a karma yogi and this is an internal process through which one can make the character pure and calm.

So, when we add the word ‘yoga’ to ‘karma’, it means acquiring the ability to observe, understand and flow with ease and grace through life by cultivating immunity to the sensitive nature of the mind and sensitive expressions of the ego, the aggressive behaviour of the ego. We try to make our actions positive, liberating, constructive and perfect. This is the whole process of karma yoga.

 18 March 2012, Paduka Darshan, Munger