Is involvement through karma yoga the way to go deeper into spiritual life?
Swami Satyananda: In the pursuit of day-to-day life, the attitude towards karma has become purely materialistic. Every time one thinks about spiritual life, it is in terms of renouncing karma. However, it is a mistake to separate spiritual life from active life. Sri Aurobindo said, “It is an error to think that spirituality is divorced from life.” The moment an aspirant wants to become spiritual, he wants to slowly renounce his participation and involvement in dynamic life, and that is a serious mistake. It is important for people to understand the necessity of karma, of experiencing a dynamic life of physical work and spiritual realization. Yogis who shy away from karma are ignorant and their efforts will not bear fruit. This is a fact.
Karma is the essence of life and moksha, liberation, is based on karma. Yoga should be able to compensate for the negative effects of karma: the fears about the after-effects of karma, the worries, physical fatigue, reactions of frustration and disappointment, the pains and pangs of old-age, leading to issues such as senility and disability – it should all become inconsequential and redundant. Arjuna wanted to shun karma, but throughout the eighteen chapters of the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna counselled, exhorted and prepared him to fight. He enlightened him on the precepts of yoga and Brahma vidya, transcendental knowledge.
Karma yoga is a dynamic expression of existence, and it is in keeping with the laws of nature. It must be remembered that karma is the law of each and everything in this life. Everything is moving: the sun is moving, the stars are moving, the earth is moving, the cosmos is moving, the galaxies are moving and the air is moving twenty-four hours a day. It has been said in the Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Vasishtha that karma yoga is the way to realization. The central theme of these texts is that everyone must work physically and mentally, and not try to retreat from work that is lying at hand.
No one can live without action. One keeps creating karma as long as one is alive. Karma yoga is a necessary part of life. It is as necessary as eating, talking or walking. Nature has created karma as a scheme for a person’s evolution, an aid towards knowing the behaviour and deeper stages of the mind, and through the mind to achieve spiritual awareness.
Cessation of the turmoil in the realms of consciousness and establishment of a state of balance is yoga. But how can this balance be achieved? Can one be relieved of confusion by doing nothing and sitting idly? Can one get rid of samskaras by the cessation of action? No, it is not possible. It is essential that whatever life one lives, in whatever form one lives, that way of life must be used as a means to achieve spiritual life and gain spiritual knowledge. Whatever action is done under the influence of one’s destiny, desires and circumstances guides one’s future life and destiny, which eventually create one’s consciousness and samskaras after rebirth. Based on this principle and procedure, one must know how and why to do karma. Karma yoga is the starting point in order to know the various dimensions of life.
Can the various actions of life aid spiritual evolution?
Swami Satyananda: The action one is committed to in this life helps in the discovery of consciousness. While eating, drinking, sleeping, yawning, laughing, joking, smelling and doing the physical, sensual, mental and emotional activities of life, one can maintain constant awareness of the inner luminous spirit. Whether one accepts it or not, the spirit is within. The centre of human consciousness, of human existence and of existence everywhere is the atma, the self, and one is that self!
Sri Krishna says that it is possible for a householder, an army commander or a farmer to awaken the spiritual self and have the vision of the eternal being, the experience of samadhi or of great tranquillity. Arjuna asked, “How is it possible? The whole day one has to work for one’s family, and one has passions and emotional obligations. A human being has so many personal, social and economic obligations. Is it possible to make spiritual progress and attain the supreme state of life with all of this?” Krishna replied point blank, “Yes, it is possible, irrespective of the external life in society, which changes from time to time.”
Five hundred years ago the situations were different to today. Five thousand years ago the social, cultural and economic conditions were different, the demands and expectations of a human being were different. But whatever the situations may be regarding education, profession or marriage, they do not pose any problem to one’s spiritual growth. Even if one has to go through various experiences in life in order to full psychological, physical and emotional demands, one can go ahead with it. Every stage of life is part of the great evolution.
No phase of life should be condemned as they are all phases of consciousness and not devoid of consciousness. Anyone who condemns the life of another, whether a householder’s life, a sannyasin’s or even a drunkard’s life, is creating a sickness in the mind. Sri Krishna says that whether one is sick, great or helpless, all are different points of evolution, different corners of the great picture. This is the philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita. One may live anywhere and do anything, but one should be sincere in one’s aspiration for spiritual life, that’s all.