How to Become a Karma Yogi

Swami Sivananda Saraswati

Karma yogins should have a copy of the Bhagavad Gita always in their pocket. The Gita is the touchstone on which you should evaluate all your actions. The Lord Himself gives a beautiful definition of yoga: Yogah karmasu kaushalam – Yoga is efficiency in all actions. Karma yoga is an art. The greatest of karma yogin, Bhagavan Sri Krishna Himself, has taught you the art of karma yoga in the Bhagavad Gita.

First you should understand the divine law. No embodied being can remain even for a second without performing some action or other. Therefore, the man who, merely restraining the organs of action, sits quiet, apparently doing nothing, is a hypocrite; mentally he is roaming about all over the world. This is not inaction; he has not attained that supreme state of absorption where all actions automatically drop off.

Law of cause and effect

Then you should understand the great law of cause and effect. Every action that you perform produces some effect at a future date. If it is a virtuous action, you get a pleasurable effect. If it is a vicious action, you reap a bitter harvest. But the fact remains that these actions perpetuate transmigration. Neither action, nor mere inaction is therefore karma yoga. What then is karma yoga? The Lord explains it in a conundrum — action in inaction, and inaction in action. It is puzzling, but the Lord has explained it beautifully in the Gita, nimittamatram bhava, says the Lord, 'Be thou My instrument'.

It is the Lord's power that is working through your body and mind. However, the illusory, self-arrogating principle in you, the little 'I', comes forward and says, 'I have done this.' The Lord smiles and says, 'All right, if you have done this, then enjoy its fruits also!' The man is bound! He has got to enjoy the fruits of his actions, and therefore he has got to take birth again and again.

On the contrary, if you work sincerely with the bhavana, the feeling that 'The Lord does everything, this body, this mind, even this 'I' – are all His instruments', then karma has no vessel in which to accumulate. A bucket of water thrown over a wide fat surface will spread itself and disappear, but if it is poured into a vessel, the water will accumulate in it. When you have the attitude that the all-pervading Supreme Lord does everything, whom will those actions affect? There is not the 'I' crystal to which these actions could cling. Therefore, they get dissolved.

Egolessness – a requisite

Some people imagine that a man cannot be egoless and at the same time active. They think egolessness is synonymous with inertia or tamas. No, the egoless man is the most dynamic. The egoistic man is driven to action by his own petty individual will. The egoless man who works as an instrument in the hands of the Lord is prompted by the supreme will of God. The individual will work for individual happiness and pleasure. The divine will works for the welfare of the entire creation. How much more powerful, how much more dynamic should it be, then? How much more active will the real karma yogi be! Just imagine.

Surrender your ego at the lotus feet of the Lord. Do everything as your sacred duty. Work as an instrument in the hands of the Lord. Try this method even for a day. You will finda miraculous transformation in your entire nature. You will be an abode of virtues. The egoless karma yogi is full of divine qualities, for he is the representative on this earth of the Lord who is full of all auspicious qualities. You will enjoy peace, for God is peace. You will enjoy unalloyed bliss, for God is bliss. That is the fruit of karma yoga – perpetual peace and bliss.

The egoless man, working as His instrument, looks upon all work as sacred. There is no menial work for him. If someone asks him to carry a basket of earth, he will have to do so joyously. That is the test of a real karma yogi.

He will see God in every face. No contemptuous word, no vulgar word will escape from his lips. We have Major-General A.N. Sharma; he always calls his driver beta. Beta means son! Such is his divine attitude towards his own servants. Find out. Do you make differences between man and man?

Do not hoard money. One typhoid fever and all your wealth will cease to be yours. Share what you have with others. You will enjoy peace and bliss; you will get inexhaustible spiritual wealth.

Need for adaptability

A karma yogin should have adaptability. If you do not have adaptability, you think, 'My views must be heard. My instructions must be obeyed.' No, you should adapt, adjust and accommodate. Then only can presidents and secretaries of organizations do their work efficiently. You must live in the hearts of others. Buddha lived long ago; but he still lives in our hearts. He was selfless. He was the greatest karma yogin. You should all grow into such karma yogins. If you have a superiority complex, you cannot do real service. A real Vedantin, a real karma yogin, is one who is simple like a child. Then only can you do great service to the world. You should feel vasudaiva kutumbakam – The entire world is your family. If you see God in everyone, if you have cosmic love, if you have a generous heart, then and then alone can you do real service to the world. Then alone can you shine as a great karma yogin, as a great jivanmukta. May you all shine as jivanmuktas in this very birth.

—From Sivananda's Lectures, During All-India and Ceylon Tour – 1950, chronicler Swami Venkatesananda, address given on 27th October 1950, Lakshmi Bag, Mumbai