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Karma Yoga
Part2: Self-sacrifice

Translation of an article of Sananda,

As much as the various systems of philosophy and religion may differ, all mankind stands in reverence and awe before the man ready to sacrifice himself for others.
— Swami Vivekananda 

With the words “self-sacrifice,” most of us experience a profound sense of respect that is tinged with some apprehension.  Although the idea of sacrifice is associated with a fear of our own pain, we know from the whole history of mankind that the great ones were those who acted for the good of others by sacrificing themselves. 

When we hear about or see real acts of self-sacrifice, our souls instinctively recall the nature of the True Self. The True Self is indestructible and immortal, and absolutely without fear. To sacrifice oneself is to sacrifice ignorance as the self or ego.

It has been said that the Lord Buddha after his supreme Realization gave his life to those who suffer the darkness of ignorance, in spite of abiding in a state of not needing to obtain anything in any manner from the world.

It has been said that Christ was crucified as a result of teaching others the Truth that is Universal to all.

These beings sacrificed themselves undoubtedly for the sake of saving others, with nothing to personally acquire from doing so. The fact that selfless actions from Saints that lived so long ago could continue to radiate through hundreds or thousands of years attests that their acts were based on the Truth.

In modern times, the esteemed, well-known Yogi, Swami Vivekananda, shortened his own life by tirelessly relieving the sufferings of the poor in India, and he brought the wisdom of Yoga to the world. His actions completely lacked self-benefit. He embarked upon the West alone without knowing anyone or having anyone to lean on, and bravely worked as a visionary and a pioneer from zero beginnings.

Swami Vivekananda urged his brother disciples to “Forget about your own salvation; See God in those who suffer and for them sacrifice everything of yourself,” and motivated those who sought monastic confinement to work to alleviate suffering and to strive to propagate the great universal wisdom of Yoga in the West. The uncompromising works of Vivekananda and his brothers thrive even today, continually benefiting many.

Still fresh in our memory is the late Mother Teresa, who placed herself in the most miserable of worldly conditions to devotedly serve those suffering from intense poverty and starvation, and whose compassionate activities continue to live on.

Like these examples, genuine acts of self-sacrifice at the hands of Sages move our souls and have left their unforgettable mark upon the heart of humanity. Truly, as in the introductory quote from Swami Vivekananda, no matter how great the differences in varying philosophies and schools of thought, acts of sacrifice beyond reasoning exalt us all to the majestic heights of the real human spirit.

To act and be of service to others through self-sacrifice is the ideal of Karma Yoga.

"Everything in this world is the manifestation of the One—God. The unchangeable One existence manifests into various forms. There are the rich and the poor, and the joyous and the sorrowful. These are but appearances caused by conditions and circumstances, and all are God in essence.

Yogis sacrifice themselves for those who suffer. It happens without expecting anything in return, but it happens because it is simply so. For them, it no longer matters anymore whether or not there is liberation, or whether or not there is Enlightenment. They act, so to speak, because all things are their Beloved God. This is the culmination of Karma Yoga.” 

Contained in this teaching of Shri Mahayogi is the true meaning of self-sacrifice. Truth is the foundation of self-sacrifice. Yogis, who have become one with the Truth itself, act by seeing only Truth in all. The doer and the receiver are the very same one existence—God. The Saint sees God, who is Love itself, in the world. And, if by relative conditions there is any suffering, they serve God out of pure devotion by sacrificing themselves to the suffering. We could call their devotion “compassion,” but there are no thoughts or feelings of “self-sacrifice,” and there is no reaction to the fruits of their actions. With their whole being, with their entire physical and spiritual strength, they love God and perform actions to the best of their power. Magnanimous acts with the power to advance humanity and the act to save a single human being are in their eyes, equal.

Self-sacrificing actions demonstrated by Saints serve us as examples of Truth. With committed practice and discipline, we too can understand deeply what an act of self-sacrifice consists of and step by step, enter into such supreme acts ourselves. We just have to begin and practice continuously.


Shri Mahayogi says that acts of self-sacrifice, which is the highest Karma Yoga, are achieved through devoted service to those who suffer.

“Those who are rich or satisfied often direct their attention to matters that are not God. However, those who are small of heart or in pain do not even have such resources, in other words, their condition of mind is laid bare and is near the true essence. Suffering is there. Yet the deeper and heavier the suffering, the more the drive for salvation intensifies, and if there are opportunities to serve people in such circumstances, the opportunities become great experiences for both the server and the served to recall God. Because no unnecessary expectations or attempts are made in either the server or the served, what comes to be is only love or compassion.”

Whenever one’s back is against the wall or one feels cornered with suffering, the mind’s excuses and expectations vanish and only real thoughts of salvation remain.  To be of service to those in such need is the practice of Karma Yoga.

The self-sacrificing actions of Saints are always aimed to alleviate those who suffer.  Although there are differing degrees of hardship, unless one fully awakens to the Truth, everyone possesses some amount of suffering in the depths of their minds. Suffering varies in all people, from those afflicted with the most agonizing of life or death circumstances where it seems nothing could be done, to those who experience pain when their conditions of material enjoyment from time to time change.

Those in extreme agony or poverty are the ones who come to lose mental contrivances and whose desire for salvation is unalloyed. It is but the simple, inherent want to remove suffering and the authentic voice within wanting to return to the pure Self.

When we see genuine pain before our eyes, we are compelled to act without cause or reason. In this action the only motivation is pure. This is why Shri Mahayogi teaches us to truly practice serving what is needed to those who suffer, even if the help seems small.

“The ultimate teachings of world religions, not only of Yoga, are to serve others devotedly. If only by a smile or a kind word, practice serving those who are suffering or in anguish that which makes them happy.”

Shri Mahayogi says that in order to practice as a real self-sacrificing Bodhisattva, it is necessary to be in circumstances that allow for the dedication of all actions to those in extreme need such as poverty or starvation. Mother Teresa placed herself in circumstances that were called the most miserable in the world. However, not everyone is able to place themselves in such dire situations, nor can one immediately find the determination to do so. Such opportunities and determination come when one is well-prepared. And the current conditions that each one of us has truly are the grounds granted to us to practice according to our abilities. In fact, we are required to practice Karma Yoga where we now presently stand.

Today in Japan, there may not be that many people suffering from poverty or starvation. But there are certainly many who suffer mental afflictions and stress. I think that the teachings of Yoga include propagating the profound wisdom of the Truth of Yoga to the despondent and hopeless to help remove their suffering. I think this also means that actively creating the opportunities to bring the understanding of Yoga to those who are around us in a continually expansive way leads to Karma Yoga.


Relative to the practice of self-sacrifice, it is not difficult to strengthen the physical body by the practice of asana for our own benefit. We can strengthen our minds by the practice of meditation for our own benefit, and, we can also practice detachment to maintain equanimity of mind for our own benefit. It is comfortable to do sadhana for the benefit of self-purification. But, it is not easy to consistently give our thoughts, acts, and all of our time to others rather than ourselves. It is indeed a practice that is very difficult and painful to the ego.

Most of the time, all the various actions we perform in a day are for own sake, our own comfort or pleasure. And if we honestly observe the motivations behind each act we do, we must admit constant self-concern. Even the actions we intend for others, under careful examination, we will realize that they too are in some way for ourselves. It is quite a formidable task giving up oneself entirely for the sake of another’s good, with the complete removal of the slightest trace of any self-serving purpose. Nevertheless, we must engage ourselves with the task.

It is certainly necessary to have conditions in which others can be devotedly served. Although, as mentioned above, because each one of us has been given differing circumstances according to our own state, we first begin from where we are. We can practice sincere service to those closest to us. It is often the case that the nearer our closest ones are, the more difficult the service can be.

For instance, I often consider a husband and wife to be “equal,” each maintaining the “right” to do whatever he or she wants to do. Therefore, I have the right to do what I want to do. However, the teaching of Karma Yoga that arises in my mind says:

“Renounce the ‘right’ to do whatever you want to do. Fully and simply, act for the sake of others. Make others happy, truly think of the others’ good and give to others your time. Train and discipline yourself to promptly act even if it is undesirable, before thoughts of undesirability arise. Love others and do the best you can to render positive service to others. Be considering of others as you would consider yourself, and even more, feel for them and act for them.”

I embrace this as the Truth. It is impossible to serve mankind if one cannot serve those who are closest. In fact, to walk the path of Truth, renouncing every worldly concern and attachment and to give oneself for others, totally abandoning self-interest, including Enlightenment, are indeed the same. Renunciation is always that of ego and ignorance and they are by practice offered to the Truth or God, that is, to others.

This is the first step of Karma Yoga. When this first and immediate step is fulfilled, the next step surpasses the first. Then further, the practice extends out to serve all of humanity.

These are my ideals. They are just as much my aims as experiencing the transcendent states of samadhi through yogic meditation. Quite simply, to be prepared to give up one’s own life for another person means that one has completely transcended one’s own ego consciousness. For such a yogi, others are truly nothing but God. It is devotion deeper than that of a mother protecting her children from danger. It is not my child, nor my Beloved, but You that we must give up everything for. You are my closest ones, my wife, my children, my parents, friends and strangers.

Is it really possible to someday sacrifice me, which has always been the most important one, for You?  Just as Raja yogis extinguish ahamkara, ego, in the infinite ocean of transcendental samadhi, as Jnana yogis destroy ego consciousness through perfect discrimination, and as Bhakti yogis dissolve the self completely in God’s love—that will be the moment that through actions of self-sacrifice the “I” attains the supreme Divine.

If everyone is God, all of our actions for others are the worship of God – devoted service to the dearest One. I indeed want to experience God. Alhough if all is truly God, everything I see, hear, taste and touch are God and in my heart there is total contentment. However, the mind is capable of deceiving oneself, calculating and creating a safe world for the mind. We must guard our minds, not allowing its complacency, and fully dedicate ourselves to the service of God. For total devotion to the Infinite One, we must give and offer our own self through ceaseless acts.


It is said that the goddess Bhasri, worshipped by the great poet, Chandi Das, taught:

“Don’t abandon your love for the washing-lady, Rami. Rami teaches you the Truth that she cannot teach to anyone else, and leads you to the bliss that even the Creator cannot lead you to.”

This means that:

“There are no celestial gods or goddesses who can teach you the spiritual Truth more than the beloved ones who you can love with all your heart, mind and strength.”—Chandi Das [extract from Surendranath Dasgupta, HINDU MYSTICISM]

Shri Mahayogi teaches, “Supreme Love is to sacrifice yourself to others and to all. Self-sacrifice and true love are the same, and the actions of one whose heart is filled with pure love is self-sacrifice. To love with all our heart, mind and strength is to offer everything of ourselves to others. This is self-renunciation and what is left is only the most perfect, unequalled and cherished You. Atman, which infinitely remains after the renunciation of ignorance and ego, won by the rigors of discriminative meditation in Jnana Yoga.

Every living being is a manifestation of the dearest God, and every single act is an offering for God. Family is the dearest God. As declared by THE UPANISHADS, “It is not for love of a husband that a husband is dear, but for the love of Atman within a husband that a husband is dear. This teaching reflects the aims and the means of Yoga. The aim of Yoga is the realization of Atman, and this teaching points the way to love, worship and devotedly serve Atman through devoted service to one’s spouse. In the ultimate Karma Yoga, the aim and the means completely merge together and the means are no longer performed for the realization of the aim, but the act itself is the aim and the act for the sake of the acting is done.

In this, there is unity of Bhakti Yoga and Karma Yoga. In Bhakti Yoga, to love God is not the aim but God is Love: the act of love is itself the goal, and love exists for the sake of love. Acts of self-sacrifice and love are one and the same. With love, there is sacrifice; with sacrifice, there is love. The fulfillment of the renunciation of internal ego-consciousness and the realization of the highest Truth, emphasized in Raja Yoga and Jnana Yoga, are inevitably realized through actively and positively manifesting acts of self-sacrifice and true love in Karma Yoga and Bhakti Yoga.

Thus Karma yogis, transcending ideas of detachment and self-sacrifice, love Atman, the one without a second, and acting in Atman, unite with Atman. As the yogi then transcends action, and karma (the action) flows into dharma (the Truth), he or she abides as the unchangeable Atman. The yogi worships Atman, which is the True Self, by sacrificing oneself. That is, one worships the Truth by sacrificing one’s own life. Ready to sacrifice one’s own life for the sake of a single unknown being, they are the ones who know Atman and are the true yogis.

May our practices of Karma Yoga truly bring to Realization such a state of readiness.

May we understand beyond the intellect how to offer ourselves to the Truth without the slightest hesitation.

May we dedicate ourselves not to illusory phenomenon such as wealth or worldly pleasures but to the Immortal Truth.

Strive beyond the false, limited self. Awaken to the immortal Self. Destroy all traces of ignorance, egoism and my
trivial happiness and unhappiness completely. These great souls, Lord Buddha or Lord Christ, whom we feel reverence towards, declared without exception: You are the Immortal Self, and the essence of all and everything is That. If we feel reverence for them and trust in their words, they ask us to actually practice what they did and what they taught to realize It. Our lives are transient, lasting less than a hundred years, but the Truth is Immortal and Eternal.