Karma Yoga | The Path Of Unselfish Action

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What is Karma and Karma Yoga?

Karma yoga is a spiritual path dedicated to reaching enlightenment through unselfish action and service to others. It is one of the four main paths of spirituality in Hinduism, along with bhakti, jnana, and raja yoga. Karma is a Sanskrit term that means action or action. Physical or mental action is karma. Thinking is mental karma, karma is the sum total of our karma in present life and past lives. Karma means not only action, but an action.

Karma yoga is known as the path of action, but the philosophy goes much deeper than just action. It’s about the relationship you have with the rest of the world.  How you interact with the outside world says a lot about your character. Through detaching yourself from the fruits of your work and focusing on serving others you become closer to god.

Doing Your Duty

Karma Yoga teaches us that each soul should act according to their role in this life, and become unattached to the fruits of our actions. Whether you are a father, mother, teacher or a janitor, we must excel in the role we are given in life and offer our actions, service, and dedication to god.

Work done in the right attitude becomes consecrated; becomes a sacred act.  A life consecrated in doing selfless acts will become a divine life.

Swami Sivananda.

Teachings and Themes Of Karma Yoga

Hand Giving Flowers (Offering)

Detachment From the Fruits Of Our Labor

Karma yoga teaches us to detach from the fruits of our labor. It argues, we must learn to recognize and detach ourselves from the “expectation” or “result” we have about every action we take. A student of karma yoga does not expect even a return of love or gratitude from the people whom he is serving.

Once we learn to detach ourselves from these expectations, we can focus on our Dharma, or our duty in life. Detaching ourselves from these desires will help us attain mental strength and inner peace. 

We learn to stop expecting, instead we start cultivating gratitude for every moment. Once we learn to detach from our actions, and embrace our duty (dharma), we can begin serving others with inner strength and focus.

Serving Others To Cleanse The Soul

The path of action encourages service to others as a way of cleansing the soul and serving god. Only selfless service, without the expectation of recognition can teach. Serving other souls teaches the karma yogi to view everyone one with love and encourages compassion for all of earths creatures and nature.

Through service we can begin to see glimpses of divinity within everyone, everything. Realizing everyone else has a path and journey, allows us to understand we are all the same, just different paths. Through the continuation of service to others, the heart will grow and the ego will vanish.

Offer Everything In Service To God

Karma yoga speaks of giving all your actions to god. Through this yogic path one learns to do all action as a form of meditation, an offering to god. All action can be done in recognition of God  and as an offering to him. Even small deeds or chores can be done in honor of god. All you have to do is offer the action and all the results of the action to god, detach from the results and focus only on work.

The path to God through nonattached action and service. By selfless service, by giving the fruits of one’s actions to God, and by seeing God as the sole Doer, the devotee becomes free of the ego and experiences God.

Paramahansa Yogananda

Through this practice, the karma yogi will learn to treat every daily activity as spiritual practice, a meditation for the working man. Offering all to god will bring us closer to him and teach us humility and acceptance. Once you give up all the good and bad to the lord, we will begin to see the brilliance of gods actions everywhere.

Karma Yoga According to the Bhagavad Gita

Bhagavad Gita Book

The central teaching of the Gita is not an attachment to work. You work to get the things you want. In this yoga, God is achieved through karma. Karma yoga is considered the best in the Bhagavad Gita. 

In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Khrishna emphasizes the importance of karma in everyday life. He teaches that everyone is bound to the material world, and it’s required for every human to be involved in action. He goes on to say, through action humans can break free from their prison and be liberated from the illusion of reality.

When a man has let go of attachments, when his mind is rooted in wisdom , everything he does is worship and his actions melt away

Bhagavad gita 4.22-26

This yoga is more suitable for a householder and a working person. Each of us is engaged in some work, but most of us lose most of our powers in vain; Because we do not know the secret of karma. It is necessary to do karma for life, for society, for the country, for the world.

Swami Vivekananda and Karma Yoga

Swami Vivekananda Picture
Karma Yogi Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda was a Hindu monk and a spokesperson for Vedanta. He founded the Ramakrishna Order in 1898, which was dedicated to spiritual development and social service. Their motto is “Liberation for oneself and service to mankind.”

Swami Vivekananda’s famous book Karma Yoga is a compilation of lectures given by him between December 1895 and January 1896 in America. According to Swami ji, Karma yoga is actually a unique system of selfless service and liberation. Vivekananda says that doing one’s duty in the best way for for purity of heart and cleansing of the mind.

Presenting the ideal of Karma Yoga, he says,

“Now you have seen what the meaning of Karma yoga is. It means helping everyone without any argument even in the mouth of death. Even if you get cheated millions of times, but Do not take one thing out of your mouth, and do not even think about all the good things you are doing. Do not be proud of the benevolence done for the poor and do not expect gratitude from him; rather, You be thankful to him – thinking that he has given you an opportunity to donate. ”

Vivekananda preaches that a man who understands the teaching of work, will experience intense focus, and find grace in their work. It’s a way to get closer to god, and to let go of all the preconceived notions we have about reality. Through work, and selfless service, one begins to see that we are not all different, everyone has god within.


How to Practice Karma Yoga In Your Daily Life

Below are just a couple of ways you can practice Karma Yoga in your daily life:

  • Meditate on seeing god in every form, in every face, person, and creature.
  • Offer all actions, all the results of your labor as a gift to god.
  • Act unselfishly and participate in community service in your area.
  • Spread love and give strength to those who feel weak, lost, or afraid.
  • Lead by example and volunteer in your local community.

Why Karma Yoga is Relevant in Modern Times

Spiritual Tree Representing Karmic Cycle of Life

Today in present life man needs – to balance both inside and outside, man can achieve this balance in his daily work and transform himself and get away from ego, greed, jealousy and create a new Man. Then every act of his will bring prosperity to the entire human race. All that is needed is to make your work superior without is becoming detached, determined, and proactive.

The Other Paths Of Yoga

There are other paths of yoga, and in fact, all four can be used together as a way to reach enlightenment, purity of heart, and happiness in your daily life.

FURTHER STUDY

Books

Walking the Walk: A Karma Yoga Manual by Swami Tyagananda

Karma Yoga: the Yoga of Action by Swami Vivekananda

Yoga, Karma, and Rebirth: A Brief History and Philosophy by Stephen Phillips