Karma Yoga

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

There is a statement in the Bhagavad Gita (5:11): Yoginah karma kurvanti sangam tyakvatatmashudhhaye – 'Yogis perform karmas by becoming detached, with the purpose of attaining self-purification.' The first condition of karma yoga is that you have to be detached from your performances, your activities. How does one detach oneself from the performances and activities?

There are two things which propel and inspire karma. One is vasana, desire, and one is dharma, the appropriateness. Vasana karma or the desire karma is always prominent in everybody's head: I perform my karma to please myself and to show others that I am also capable of doing it. A list is made for the Symposium, as an example. Ten people are in this area, cleaning here, ten people are in that area, organizing things there, ten people are in that area, doing something else there. Now, in all these people who are working, all in their respective areas, if somebody thinks, 'Oh this is very boring, I wish I had something more stimulating to do'. That is vasana karma. You are looking at your karma, at your participation with the lens of your desire, stimulation, 'This is too boring, I wish I could do something more exciting'. The second is the dharma karma: 'My name is on the list. The list fulfils a purpose, I am part of that purpose, let me do the best I can'.

Three levels of karma yoga

When you are happy and when you have accepted the situation and when you are expressing your creativity in that dimension, that is dharma karma. However, when you are doing something and you dislike it and you want to go away from there, and do something more exciting, that is vasana karma. It is this vasana karma which does not allow purification to take place. As long as the vasanas, expectations and desires are there, there won't be atma shuddhi. When you become part of the whole scene accept it and are free mentally from any thought and idea, then that karma will lead you to purification. You are in tune; you are in harmony with that particular action.

That is the first level of karma, according to the Bhagavad Gita: attainment of inner purification by involving oneself in action. That involvement of action is combined with dharma and not vasana, not desire. Having the ability to become part of a bigger whole, a bigger picture is one level of karma.

The second level of karma is balance, naham karta – I am not the doer. Recognizing that I am not the doer, I am only a medium through which my creativity is expressing itself to lead to its final conclusion. I am not the doer; I have not done it. I have done my best, and everything is left to the higher powers. The idea of non-doership is the second component of karma yoga. Self-purification was first, non-doership is the second.

The third is the naishkarmya siddhi, contentment with or without karma or action. In Sri Swamiji's life, we have seen all the three stages. When he was in Rishikesh, he was involved, like all of us, in hard, physical work, which allowed him to experience atma shuddhi. When he came to Munger and did the yoga work, he dedicated it to his guru, it was not his achievement; non-doership, akarta bhava came here: I did it because you have commanded me; now that command is over, my obligation is over, Hari Om Tat Sat. How many people can do that? Can anybody just walk out from an institution and not look back?

He did it, for he had akarta bhava, the feeling of not being the doer: It was my guru's mandate, he inspired me, it was his strength and grace which allowed me to do this. It is his vision. I am dedicating this to him'. That is the akarta bhava, being the non-doer, the second stage of karma yoga. In Rikhia we see the third aspect of karma yoga, the naishkarmya siddhi, where he became free from the karmas. In Sri Swamiji's life we see all the three stages of karma yoga – effulgent.

This is something which you need to understand: the principle, theory and intent of karma yoga. Do not look at it as hard work, working in the sun, working in the cold, working in the rain, working in difficult conditions, or working in comfortable conditions, feeling happy, feeling elated, feeling dejected, feeling distracted. These are not the conditions which allow karma yoga to become real in life.

If you can think for one month that by doing this, whatever I do, I shall keep in my mind the attitude that I am going to purify myself, I am going to balance myself, I am going to organize myself, then whatever you do, keeping that focus, you will see that by the end of the month, you will have achieved what you have set out to achieve. You just have to try it for one month. Then next month pick up the second one. Third month pick up the third one. You may not be able to complete your hundred percent journey, but at least five percent glimpse you will have into what is the intent and the experience of karma yoga.

21 October 2018, Munger Yoga Symposium