Karma Yoga – The Yoga of Action

Karma_Yoga

What is Karma?

Karma literally means “action.” I have already written a comprehensive article on the meaning of Karma and so I will not go into details about it here. You can read the article about the meaning of Karma by clicking here. I also discussed the meaning of Karma Yoga in that article, but this post is completely focused on that.

What is Yoga?

In modern civilization, yoga is defined as a blend of many types of exercise routines aimed at making the body and mind stronger, fitter, and more flexible.

This, however, is not the case.

The Sanskrit word Yoga literally translates to “summation.” Therefore, yoga refers to the process of adding. The natural question that comes to me now is “to add what to what?” “To add the individual soul to the Supreme Soul,” is the answer. “To add yourself to God” is a simpler way of putting it.

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According to the ancient Vedic scripture, this is the purpose of one’s life. In truth, we are individual souls whose destiny is to return to where it came from – God’s glorious home. Yoga is the practice of doing so.

Types of Yoga

Many types of Yoga are mentioned in the Vedic literature, but the most prominent ones include:

  • Jnana Yoga,
  • Dhyana Yoga,
  • Karma Yoga, and
  • Bhakti Yoga.

So, let’s understand what Karma Yoga is.

What is Karma Yoga?

If Karma is “action” and Yoga is “adding oneself to the Supreme Self,” then it is obvious that Karma Yoga is “adding oneself to the Supreme Self through one’s actions.”

In other words, the practice known as Karma Yoga occurs when a Yogi—someone who desires the association of Krishna—performs actions in such a way that they serve as a means of getting him to the Supreme realm of Krishna.

We are all involved in some sort of activity at all moments in our lives. Even when it appears that we are not doing anything, we are. For instance, while we sleep, we are actively participating in the activity of sleeping.

However, when one directs such activities, whether professional or otherwise, in a way that his deeds support the accomplishment of his spiritual objectives, those endeavors take on the shape of Karma Yoga.

The ten elements of Karma Yoga

In the various verses of the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna mentions ten broad components that, when combined, constitute Karma Yoga. Naturally, Krishna never gives this list all in one place or claims that Karma Yoga has 10 components. But if one carefully reads the Bhagavad Gita, one would discover that these ten aspects are mentioned numerous times.

The list of the components of Karma Yoga is presented below. I have not described them below as the description will require a comprehensive book. However, I have included the Bhagavad Gita verses that best depict these components. I suggest reading the Bhagavad Gita to fully comprehend these.

  1. Engaging in one’s prescribed duties – “Even, indeed, considering your specific duty (as a Kshatriya), you should not waver; for there is nothing better for a Kshatriya than a righteous war. Happy indeed are the Kshatriyas, O Partha, to whom such opportunities to battle come of themselves, opening for them the doors to heavens. If, however, you decline to perform your duty to fight this righteous war, then having abandoned your duty and glory, you will incur sin.” [BG 2.31-2.33]
  2. Equanimity – “Perform your dutiful actions, O Dhananjaya, being steadfast in Yoga, abandoning all material attachments, and remaining steady in both success and failure. Such equanimity is called Yoga.” [BG 2.48] 
  3. Not hankering for rewards of actions – “Your right is indeed to perform dutiful actions, but not to the rewards. Never consider yourself as the creator of the rewards of actions, and there must never be an attachment to inaction.” [BG 2.47]
  4. Discipling the senses – “But, one who, disciplining the senses by the mind, O Arjuna, engages the organs of action in Karma Yoga (performing dutiful action without expectation of favorable results, and dedicating the action and its results to the Supreme Lord), without attachment (to results), excels.” [BG 3.7]
  5. Dedicating the actions and their rewards to Krishna – “Dedicating his actions unto the Brahman (God), he who acts renouncing attachment (to the results of his actions) is not tainted by sin, just as the lotus leaf remains unaffected by water.” [BG 5.10]
  6. Leadership – “As the ignorant perform actions with attachment (to rewards), O descendant of Bharata, the wise must do so without attachment, wishing for the welfare of the masses.” [BG 3.25]
  7. Never considering oneself to be the doer – “The knower of the truth, engaged in self-consciousness, thinks, “I certainly do not do anything,” even while seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, eating, moving, sleeping, breathing, speaking, releasing, receiving, opening and closing the eyes — being well aware that only his material senses work amid the sense-objects.” [BG 5.8-5.9]
  8. Spiritual Wisdom – “Actions do not bind one who has renounced the rewards of work by the practice of Yoga (getting one with the Supreme), whose doubts have been annihilated by knowledge, and who is poised in the knowledge of the self, O Dhananjaya.” [BG 4.41]
  9. No sense of attachment or ownership – “Performing mere bodily actions, without any expectations of return, with his mind and intellect under control, having abandoned all sense of ownership, such a man incurs no sin.” [BG 4.21]
  10. Contentment – “Content with what comes to him of its own accord, having transcended the dualities (gain-loss, rich-poor, etc.), being free from envy, and being steady in both success and failure, he, though performing actions, is not bound (by their reactions).” [BG 4.22]

The effect of practicing Karma Yoga

The Bhagavad Gita states that effective practice of Karma Yoga has two outcomes, which are outlined in the following verses:

  1. Peace in this world – “Thus engaged, renouncing the rewards of actions, being steadfast, one attains peace; whereas one who is not thus engaged, ruled by desire and attached to the rewards, becomes entangled (in the effects of Karma).” [BG 5.12]
  2. Liberation in the next world – “O Pandava, one who works for Me (dedicates his actions to Krishna), makes Me the supreme goal, is devoted to Me, is free from material attachment, and is free from enmity toward all beings, certainly comes to Me.” [BG 11.55]

Conclusion

Our daily lives are filled with numerous activities. We are always engaged in some sort of activity. Therefore, it becomes crucial for us to ensure that these activities move us toward rather than further away from our spiritual goals.

Karma Yoga is the method of transforming our actions in a way that supports us in achieving our spiritual objectives. Therefore, it is crucial for spiritual seekers to comprehend Karma Yoga and incorporate it into their daily lives.

Suggested reading

  1. Bhagavad Gita (in English)
  2. 30 Days to Understanding the Bhagavad Gita

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