Karmayoga-Serve, Love, Give, Purify, Meditate, Realize!
The word Karma is derived from Sanskrit Kri – to do. All action is Karma. The word also mean the effects
of action – of which our past actions were the causes; and also mean duty which one has to perform
according to his station in life. According to the followers of the Karma Kanda of the Vedas, Karma
means the rituals and sacrifices prescribed in the Vedas. It signifies the destiny or the storehouse of
tendencies of a man which give rise to his future birth.
Yoga means union. Karma Yoga is the means to an end. It purifies the heart and prepares the aspirant
for reception of knowledge. Thus, Karma Yoga is Yoga or union through action.
In the Bhagavad Gītā, Arjuna asks Lord Krishna, ‘If Thou think that knowledge is superior to action, O
Krishna, why then, dost Thou ask me to engage in this terrible action?’
Lord Krishna explains, ‘Not by non-performance of actions does man reach actionlessness; nor does he
rise to perfection by mere renunciation’. He further explains that, ‘None can ever remain really actionless
even for a moment; for everyone is helplessly driven to action by the forces (Gunas) of Nature (Prakriti).’
The choice for human being is not between action (Karma) and inaction (Akarma) because we cannot
remain without action. The choice is regarding what sort of actions to perform and with what attitude or
approach. Every human being impulsively engages in doing Karma, that act, with the body or with the
speech or with the mind. All men are forced to act helplessly according to the impulses born of the
material nature. Therefore no one can refrain from doing something, not even for a moment, as even
one´s thoughts count as Karma.
All work by nature is composed of good and evil – we cannot do any work which will not do some good
somewhere and at the same time, there cannot be any work which will not cause some harm
somewhere. Every work must necessarily be a mixture of good and evil. Yet we are commended to work
incessantly. Good and evil will both have their results, will produce their Karma. Good action will entail
upon us good effects; bad action, bad. But good and bad are both bondages of the soul. The solution
reached in the Gītā in regards to this bondage, is that, if we do not attach ourselves to the work we do, it
will not have any binding effects on our soul.
Those who have tendency or inclination to work are fit for Karma Yoga. In every man there are three
attributes (Gunas) – Sattva (purity, light or harmony), Rajas (passion or motion) and Tamas (Darkness or
inertia). Sometimes Tamas prevails and we become lazy, inactive and dull. At other times Rajas prevails
manifesting energy in activity, power and passion. At still another times, we find sweetness, calmness,
and gentleness, which are due to Sattva; balancing of both action and inaction. So in all creation in
animals, plants and men – we can find the more or less typical manifestation of all these different
Karma yoga deals with these three factors by teaching what they are and how to employ them. Freeing
self from the pair of opposites (pleasure and pain) and remain in the quality of Sattva, freed from (the
thoughts of) acquisition and preservation, and be established in self. Equilibrium!
Only the study of the Vedas will not free one from the Karmic cycles. There is no hope of salvation even
in millions of birth for the dry Vedantic student, who has taken to the study of Upanishads without
purifying his heart through the practice of Karma Yoga. He is like an empty vessel which makes much
noise. An empty Vedantin, a mere book-worm without purification of heart, disturbs the world by
unnecessary argument, quarrels and useless discussions. A real Vedantin is a blessing to the world. He
preaches through the language of silence or the language of the heart. He always serves with Atma-
Karma can be transformed into Yoga by keeping the goal of Self-realization ALL THE TIME! We are
Eternal, deathless. We are beyond the bounds of time. It is true; but let this not slacken our efforts to
realize the Self in this very birth. Every day we must introspect and find out if we are progressing. Maya
(illusion or appearance of the phenomenal world) is ever ready to delude and lead us astray. She has
ever so many forms. Pride of service, arrogance of position, conceit of achievement, attachment to
accomplishments, desire for comfort, greed for power, anger at those who obstruct our seizure of
power, and innate craving to overwrite, oppress and misbehave towards others on account of an inborn
superiority-complex – these are some of the heavenly damsels that always surround us to tempt us away
from our high goals.
Our efforts should be to turn every act as an offering to the Divine. “Work is Worship” must be kept up.
This will effectively counteract the allurements of Maya and nullify her temptation. Remember we are
the Atman – God works through us for his own inscrutable purposes. How then can one claim any merit
or suffer a demerit? Who then can be a friend; who a foe? Karma Yogins never let emotions and
excitements get the better of themselves. Any action, sacred or secular, even if it is service of the family
– may be converted into an act of worship, leading to the most sublime goal of Self-realization.
Essence of Karma Yoga
A) “Samatvaṃ Yoga Ucyate” Bhagavad Gītā, (2.48)
Lord Krishna explains, ¨Perform action, O Arjuna, being steadfast in Yoga, abandoning attachment and
balanced in Success and failure. Evenness of mind is called Yoga¨.
Equilibrium is Yoga. Dwelling in union with the Divine; performing action without expectation of fruits is
success. Failure is the non-attainment of knowledge by doing actions with expectation of fruit. Action
done with evenness of mind is Yoga. He who, restraining the organs of action, sits thinking of the sense-
objects in mind, he is of deluded understanding and is called a ‘Hypocrite’. But whoever, controlling the
senses by the mind, engages himself in Karma Yoga with the organs of action, without attachment and
egoism – he excels. He certainly is more worthy than the other who is a hypocrite or a man of false
Buddha gave up his throne and renounced his position; that was true renunciation. But there cannot be
any question of renunciation in the case of a beggar who has nothing to renounce. So we must always
be careful about what we really mean when we speak of this detachment and selfless love. We must
first take care to understand whether we have the power of detachment or not. Then, having the
power, if we renounce it and do not resist, we are doing a grand act of love; but if we cannot resist, and
yet, at the same time, try to deceive ourselves into the belief that are actuated by motives of the highest
love, we are doing the exact opposite.
One should work like a master and not as a slave. Ninety-nine percent of mankind work like slaves; and
the result is misery. It is all selfish work. Work through freedom! Work through love! Love never comes
until there is freedom. There is no true love possible in the slave. If you buy a slave and tie him down in
chains and make him work for you, he will work like a drudge, but there will be no love in him. So when
we ourselves work for the things of the world as slaves, there can be no love in us, and our work is not
true work. Selfish work is slaves work. Every act of love brings happiness; there is not an act of love
which does not bring peace and blessedness as its reaction. Real existence, real knowledge and real love
are eternally connected with one another.
He works best who works without any motive, neither for money, nor for fame, nor for anything else;
and when a man can do that he will be a Buddha, and out of him will come the power to work in such a
manner as will transform the world. This man represents the very highest ideal of Karma yoga.
B) “Yogaḥ Karmasu Kauśalam” Bhagavad Gītā, (2.50)
Lord Krishna explains, ¨Endowed with wisdom (evenness of mind), one casts off in this life both good and
evil deeds; therefore, devote thyself to Yoga; Yoga is skill in action¨.
The essence of Karma Yoga is the performance of an action without accumulating ‘Samskaras’. It is in
this sense that we find this definition of Yoga as “Karmasu Kauśalam” i.e “Skill or dexterity in action”.
The skill here refers to capacity of performing ‘action in inaction’ i.e. without generating ‘Samskaras’.
Lord Krishna explains to Arjuna that unmotivated actions are the only actions which do not generate
‘Samskara’. This fact brings about the significance in karma yoga of “Nishkama Karma” that is karma
without expectations of fruits from the action.
If work is performed with evenness of mind, with the mind resting in the Lord, it will not bind him. It will
not bring any fruit and thus not create any Samsara. Actions which are of a binding nature lose that
nature when performed with equanimity of mind, or poised reason.
The student of Yoga is often perplexed as to what action and inaction is. It is necessary to discriminate
action, forbidden action, and inaction. Having abandoned attachment to the fruits of action, ever
content depending on nothing, though engaged in Karma, verily he does nothing. Lord Siva destroys the
whole world at the time of Pralaya (devastation). For that horrifying act of Siva if sin would accrue, He
would be the worst sinner in the cosmos! Totally attuned to His ‘Svarupa’ (Divine Self), the state of
SILENCE, ’Akarma’ – all acts cease to bind him. So it is equivalent to non-performance of act.
Actionlessness (Nishkama Karma) and perfection (Siddhi) are synonymous. The Yogin who has attained
perfection or reached the state of actionlessness rests in his own essential nature as Existence-
knowledge-Bliss Absolute (Satchidananda Svarupa). He has neither necessity nor desire for action as a
means to an end. He has perfect satisfaction in ‘Self’.
One attains to the state of actionlessness by gaining the knowledge of the Self. If a man simply sits quiet
by abandoning action one cannot say that he has attained to the state of actionlessness. His mind will be
planning, scheming and speculating. Thought is real action. One who is free from affirmative thoughts,
wishes, likes and dislikes; who has knowledge of the Self, can be said to have attained to the state of
No one can reach perfection or freedom from action or knowledge of the self by mere renunciation or
by simply giving up activities without possessing the knowledge of Self. Here, in the path to Bliss, there is
only one thought – single minded determination. This single thought arises from the right source of
knowledge. The student of Yoga collects all the dissipated rays of mind. He gathers all of them through
discrimination, dispassion and concentration. He is free from wavering or vacillation of the mind.
The worldly-minded man who is sunk in the mire of Samsara has no single-minded determination. He
entertains countless thoughts. His mind is always unsteady and vacillating.
Sage Patañjali says in his Yoga-Sûtra (PYS: II – S13), “sati mûle tad-vipâko jâtyâyur-bhogâï” meaning the
life-species in which we are born, the life-span and the bundle of our experiences (Pleasurable and
painful) in life are dependent upon our stored ‘Samskara’.
If thoughts cease, Samsara also ceases. Mind generates endless thoughts and this world comes into
being. Thoughts, and names and forms are inseparable. If thoughts are controlled, the mind is controlled
and the Yogi is liberated.
Those who cling to pleasure and power cannot have steadiness of the mind. They cannot concentrate or
meditate. They are ever busy in planning projects for acquisition of wealth and power. Their minds are
ever restless. They have no poised understanding.
Merging with the Ultimate
The practice of Karma Yoga leads to oneness. It breaks the veil, removes the crust and causes expansion
of heart. It purifies the heart. The acts of kindness render the heart soft and instill compassion in the
heart. The practitioner of Karma Yoga develops various virtues like tolerance, patience, humility which
are necessary for the dawn of knowledge. He experiences peculiar, indescribable joy and inner spiritual
strength. The love current is strengthened in him gradually. He is also loved by others.
Karma yoga is more difficult than Vendanta and Bhakti Yoga. Karma Yoga is not mere mechanical action.
The sentiments of Vedanta and Bhakti should be kept up during action or service. A Karma Yoga
practitioner soon obtains Virat Darshan (Divine Insight) as he is constantly serving the Virat, or
May you all realize the Eternal One through purity of heart attained by the practice of Karma Yoga!