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Karma Yoga
Part1: The Secret of Work

Translation of an article of Sananda,

The secret is to work wisely and methodically. By knowing the secret of work, one yields the greatest fruit. All work is for the awakening of the soul.

In order to attain Yoga, it is necessary to bring all of your actions and thoughts to bear on Yoga.

All of the practices and disciplines of Yoga are enacted to extinguish the obstacles, ignorance and worldly passions that block concentration.

It is true that a human being is required to perform various actions in order to live. At the very least, you need to eat, excrete, sleep, and usually, you need to work to earn your bread. The necessity of certain actions also arises in relation to others. For most of us, practicing Yoga in this modern age, it’s quite impossible to remain absorbed in meditation like a yogi in a cave may be, immersed in the practices and disciplines of Yoga deep within the Himalayas. Although it is said that it is possible to be in the state of meditation while one works, in the beginning, such a state does not happen. We have to first continually practice the disciplines of Yoga under many obstacles.

For myself, it is of major importance to practice the disciplines of Yoga while meeting various tasks. Great Saints of the recent age, Shri Ramakrishna, Shri Ramana Maharishi, and my Master, Shri Mahayogi, have instructed that it is entirely possible for the lay person who works to attain Enlightenment. I would now like to focus on the modern day yogi, considering Karma Yoga as the primary path and examining how it is truly possible for one to practice.

Without a doubt, it is best to have circumstances that allow for the single-minded practice of Yoga without the distractions of worldly concerns. However, even if we had such ideal circumstances, the best use of such circumstances cannot be made without readiness of mind, which is the ultimate passion for the Truth. For instance, in the records of Shri Ramakrishna’s disciples, we see that all of their time each and every day was dedicated to practices and disciplines. When the mind is occupied with such passionate dedication, the circumstances, no matter what they are, have no effect. What is truly important are not the circumstances but the passion. And the more obstacles we have, the more the flames of passion may intensify.

We have to practice and discipline ourselves for Yoga with the aim to become great beings, like Enlightened Saints, while at the same time remaining engaged with the world. If we have jobs, we may feel that our time and energy is robbed from us, making it very difficult to practice. Not all of us who are trying to practice Yoga work in ideal environments, and it is a fact that the ideal environment cannot be created even if we want it. Each one of us created our own circumstances by our own karma, which means that all of us invited our current circumstances and we must start from where we are.

Karma Yoga offers as a sadhana the way of actual work. We can apply it to any job or any type of work. Lay yogis while attending to worldly work can actually practice and discipline themselves with a sadhana that is no different than the sadhana of yogis meditating in caves. Lay practitioners attain the state of Yoga through work, and for that, we must know what Karma Yoga is, the secret of work.

Work and Duty

The only way to grow is to do the duty near at hand, and thus go on gathering strength till the highest state is reached.
— Swami Vivekananda

Although we imagine duty to mean responsibilities that we are obligated to fulfill, no matter who we are, we all have some duties in this world. And of course, they are not duties given to us by others, but they are duties given by the rule of karma as the results of our own previous actions; consequently, our duty is the role we chose to play.

I can understand that yogis who immerse themselves in practice in a cave were perhaps born with a specific role to master Yoga. Generally people live life, creating families and maintaining jobs, and in this way have duties to serve their families and society through work. Every individual’s circumstances are truly unique and one’s circumstance is itself the role for that individual to fulfill. However, our lives can dramatically take a turn depending on how we choose to view and accept our situation. although our current circumstances are the results of previous actions, tomorrow’s circumstances are created by today’s actions and are therefore the consequential manifestations of one’s state of mind at this very moment.

Using myself as an example, I live with my wife and two children and work as a businessman for a company. If I were to look at my circumstances simply, my duty is to support my family and to serve society through my job. However, I have a great dream, which is to truly attain Yoga. And my passion for Yoga, vastly changes the meaning of “duty. It affects and transforms everything: my conduct, motivation and way of thinking. My wife and children are nothing but God, and my Yoga is to love and serve them devotedly while at the same time, renouncing personal desire. My actions and service for my family are now opportunities for the actual practice and discipline of Yoga, transforming my responsibilities into divine duty.  My role may apparently be the same, but its significance changes immensely depending on the state of my mind. There is no superiority to different types of duties because if one tackles any task with the right attitude, the engagement with the task can be equal to divine worship. The reason why all people were born into this world is to awaken into their true free nature, and our duties are the tools that liberate us from bondage.

The Secret of Work

Without attachment one can still do various things. In fact, one can do it much easier because you do nothing other than the best, whether your doing will bear good fruits or not.
This is the secret of work.
— Satguru Shri Mahayogi Paramahansa

No one can deny action. As long as we have physical bodies in the world, action is unavoidable. And we know that Enlightened Beings, who have attained Enlightenment, also continue to act. Lord Buddha, after his Enlightenment, walked and gave teachings in various places and areas to lead many people. The lives of more recent Saints, namely Shri Ramakrishna and Shri Ramana Maharishi, were recorded by faithful disciples and through these writings we can learn and feel their lives and the spirit of their inspiring deeds. I have been bestowed with the opportunity to be near Shri Mahayogi, by his side, and have experienced the deeds of a Saint with my own eyes, ears and skin. There is a secret for us to discover within the actions of Saints.

Shri Mahayogi’s actions occur through living in the same age as the rest of us, and through meeting many people. And yet, his mind is always calm and unfaltering. We can say that this is so because he certainly abides always as the True Self and is therefore unaffected by any external influence. But we can also say that Shri Mahayogi shows us by means of unchanging evidence that the mind can remain calm while performing many types of action.

Let us momentarily analyze the process of human action. First, there appears a subtle idea or thought. As this idea grows, it manifests into words then into actions. Actions are gross forms of the idea and the two are inseparable. To conduct “right actions” means to act with the “right attitude” or the right idea. The right attitude in Yoga is egolessness and nonattachment.

To act without attachment for the results is the secret of Karma Yoga.
— Satguru Shri Mahayogi Paramahansa

Shri Mahayogi teaches that the secret of work is to be unattached to the results of actions. To be attached to the results is to imprint a strong impression in the mind, which causes the mind’s intense agitation and at the same time, causes these waves of the mind to bear the next piece of karma. To be unattached to the results of actions means that the mind does not react to outcomes, and that the mind is liberated from the bondage of actions and can thus become completely free. The mind is then always peaceful and new karma is no longer created.

Saints do not have the causes of mind that become attached to the results of anything, so their minds remain tranquil no matter what they do. We, as practitioners, continue to have causes in our minds that are attached to results, however, by the practice and disciplines of non-attachment, the causes of attachment (ignorance and desires) weaken in power and are then extinguished.

Work comes to us in order to stimulate our minds. Since we ourselves invite the work, the mind of course contains within it the repercussions of its own seeds. Yoga teaches us how it is possible to become unattached to the results of our actions, because the effect of the teachings and practice of Yoga is the elimination of the effects of work.

The Actual Practice and Discipline of Karma Yoga

Practice and discipline yourself little by little. As with Bhakti Yoga or Raja Yoga, the more you deepen with training, the more Karma Yoga manifests greatly.
— Satguru Shri Mahayogi Paramahansa

As we discuss Karma Yoga, there are important points to consider in terms of what it has in common with other branches of Yoga.

First of all, enthusiasm for Yoga is more important than all else. In order to become unattached to the results of work, it is much easier to practice and discipline ourselves if we are continually engrossed and inspired by something that is much greater than the effects of the work itself. It’s like when we fall in love, and the way our minds become preoccupied with thoughts of our lover, causing us to be oblivious to the work at hand. In the same way, enthusiasm for Yoga causes our interest in the work itself to lose its power, yet those who have learnt Yoga never neglect any work and they work with full clarity and focus, and as a result, they are no longer interested in the mere fruits of work. Thus, the cultivation of seriousness and true enthusiasm for Yoga are essential.

For these reasons, we must correctly understand the teachings of Yoga. It is especially important to precisely train the mind to understand the Truth. The only standard for “right action” is the Truth. Although it is said that the Truth is beyond the mind, the Truth must first be understood through the mind. This understanding then eventually works to annihilate the ignorance in the mind.

By teaching the mind the Truth itself, the attachments in the mind are naturally removed.
— Satguru Shri Mahayogi Paramahansa

Additionally, physical cultivation with asana and pranayama and the practice of meditation are necessary. In the beginning stages of Yoga practice, centering one’s sadhana upon Raja Yoga and learning to control the mind are required. The learning of the teachings of the Truth and the actual practice of sadhana purifies the mind, the mind then comes to focus on Yoga.

The sadhana of Karma Yoga is practiced daily in everyday actions and work. Our daily life is the time and place to test the depths of our learning of Yoga. The mind stream that is strengthened by the teachings of the Guru or the practice of meditation should be sustained during the practice of work, and one must undertake work with the same attitude with which one approaches meditation. The process in meditation of calming the various thought waves with single-pointed focus should occur in the midst of work. In meditation we concentrate upon a single object, but in the Yoga of action we concentrate upon the work itself. The mind and the physical body are the tools, and the mind and the physical body refined by the practice and disciplines of Yoga can do excellent work.

If the tools do not function well, good work is not possible. When we work, we need to consciously bring our minds to focus upon the action, guarding our minds from allowing useless thoughts from entering in. Useless thoughts involve our likes and dislikes, complaints and attachments for the consequences of the work. When the mind harbors unnecessary thoughts, the power of the mind scatters and good work is not possible. Again, the mind, engulfed with work, becomes unable to maintain calmness. Work is done by the current of the work itself when there are no underlying, unnecessary thoughts.

For instance, since I have been busy working for a company, the work continually comes and goes, entering me like a stream and then passing through this body and mind. If my mind gets caught up in the flow, the mind loses its equanimity, pulled into a whirlpool of work. The work has its own flow and it is unnecessary for the mind to intervene. It is enough for the mind to simply focus on attending to the work. The secret is to not be attached and to not hold on. “Simply and calmly act,” is what Shri Mahayogi always reminds us and that is what we need to practice. Then, no matter how intensely an action is executed, one’s mind must develop the ability to remain calm. There is nothing that can be done regarding the outcome of even the best of efforts. If it is needed, swift discernment and reflection where past behaviors can be improved will be useful for the next act.

Indeed, these practices and disciplines are not always easy. In reality, when we work, thoughts arise continuously. “I am tired,” “I don’t like my work,” “What will happen if I fail?” or “I want my work to be successful.&rdquo. And as we see the outcome of our work, we are either pleased or disappointed. 

The practices and disciplines of Yoga are for renouncing these thoughts and for bringing our focus to the work in front of us. It is to clearly focus on the fulfillment of the works we are given by conquering what is untrue and unnecessary, while remaining impervious to the types of work we do as well as our own physical and mental limitations. This is tapasya, austerity.

Whatever work we are asked for, we should practice perfection in action in each circumstance, which is the action of yogis who have conquered dualism. To transcend any and all relative conditions and to actually enact the practices is the state of Advaita, Enlightened Being, and are requirements to the practice of Karma Yoga.

To be unattached is to be egoless and unselfish. The mind cannot help but to react to the results of actions rooted in the mind’s desires. In order to be unattached to results, the motivation for actions must be unselfish.

The standard for knowing whether or not your action is selfish can be seen if the mind reacts to the outcome of the action in anyway and by any degree. That is, whether ‘success’ bears joy, or ‘failure’ bears sadness. If joy and sorrow arise in your mind, it means that your work was not fulfilled with a yogic attitude.
— Satguru Shri Mahayogi Paramahansa

If our minds are disturbed by the results of our actions we must apply discrimination, finding out if the causes are based on the Truth, and then remove them if not. As the teachings of Shri Mahayogi convey, most of the causes are perhaps based on our ego-consciousness, our desires and our likes and dislikes.

After all, from the point of view that Karma Yoga redresses our attitudes and inspires our motivations in daily life, Karma Yoga is really just the thorough practice of the yamas (abstinence) and niyamas (observances) of Raja Yoga.

Furthermore, the more our Yoga practice deepens, the more greater works are bestowed. The more the body and mind purify, the more Karma yogis are of greater service, working beyond the duties created merely by past actions. Such yogis come to serve others more actively, wisely and skillfully. They perform karma (actions) transcending their own karma (effects of actions).

In the next essay, I will discuss the virtuous service of self-sacrifice. Following the Karma Yoga of practicing non-attachment in action to fulfill one’s own duties, there is the higher level of Karma Yoga, self-sacrifice in action for the sake of benefiting others. The true teaching of Karma Yoga is sacrifice.

Each and every action is for purification. As a consequence, unselfish actions without intent and effort come. Then, the mind is purified and thoughts and actions become manifestations of love or service for others.
— Satguru Shri Mahayogi Paramahansa

(Part2 —> )As an example of Karma Yoga, the story of a butcher from the sacred scripture VYADHA GITA is often used. The butcher is of the lowest caste in society, but through attending faithfully to his duties with the achievement of detachment and caring for his elderly father with great effort, in the end, the butcher attains the highest state of Yoga. [See KARMA YOGA by Swami Vivekananda, What is Duty?]

Shri Mahayogi works with astounding concentration. We can quite clearly see that all of his nerves and senses are intently focused, regardless of the type of work he is engaged in. He truly remains indifferent to outcomes. It strikes me deeply with awe. He works so lightly and promptly, completely and thoroughly. . There is no wasting of anything and no irregularity of breath, only the perfect completion of the act. And he acts with the understanding of all others’ positions. I have never seen his actions done for his own benefit. His teachings and his conduct are perfectly consistent.