What is Karma Yoga?

In the first of her series exploring the 4 Paths of Yoga, Tracey explains what Karma Yoga is and how to weave the philosophy into our daily lives.

According to Vedanta, the ancient spiritual philosophy, there is an impurity in our minds called Mala (different from the beaded necklace used in japa meditation). Mala is the tendency to be motivated to act in the interest of self-gain. It is what drives us to “be somebody” in the sense of fame, respect, accreditation, wealth, and material success.

It is this ‘selfish’ attitude, which, according to Vedanta, makes us forget that we are so much more than our bodies, emotions, and the identity that our minds think us to be. We are Brahman, Consciousness, the Loving Awareness that makes life and our perceptions of it possible! We are the Consciousness which illumines our bodies, and minds, like the light of the sun illumines itself and everything around it for millions and millions of miles! Amazing!

How then, do we dispel this Mala, and be reunited with the direct experience of knowing ourselves as Pure Consciousness?

Let go of expectation

Vedanta suggests Karma Yoga for those who are of a busy, outgoing, or community-based nature. Karma yoga is the path of action. It is the intention woven within our actions, which perpetuate more actions and the ongoing state of our minds (also known as karma). When we act, we often do so with the underlying question, “How will this benefit me,” expecting results or appreciation of our efforts.

Karma yoga suggests that we eliminate that attitude and act with an attitude of selfless service, without any anticipation of credit or result. In other words, we act simply for the delight and joy of being ABLE to act, with no attachment to a particular outcome and no sense of a “me” actually doing the action.

According to the Bhagavad Gita, those who act in this way transcend the cycle of karma and the momentum of cause and effect which perpetuate the life situation of our perceived identity. This frees us from the bondage of suffering because there is no expectation of how things “should or shouldn’t be.” There is only “things as they are.” When there is no expectation, there is peace. Or as the Xinxin Ming Daoist text states, “The Great Way is effortless for those who have no preference.”

Weave intention into small actions

Of course, in today’s busy society, which is so often built on results and outcomes, it can be very challenging to let go and act with NO expectation of results of any kind!

Start with small acts that you do every day, like washing the dishes. Or do something kind for someone else, without any expectation of thanks or reciprocity. Build on these small acts, letting of expectation gradually, and after a while you may notice that the intentions woven into your actions start to transform. A connection to the deep truth in your heart becomes re-established as the Mala loosens, and perhaps your whole experience of living becomes more vast and expansive and less dependent on the identity that your mind thinks you to be, as you reunite with the direct experience of the Consciousness that we all are.

The one who sees inaction in the midst of action, and action in the midst of action is wise and can act in the spirit of yoga. With no desire for success, no anxiety about failure, indifferent to results, this person burns up their actions in the fire of wisdom. Surrendering all thoughts of outcome, unperturbed, self-reliant, this person does nothing at all, even when fully engaged in actions. There is nothing this person expects, nothing that this person fears. Serene, free from possessions, untainted, acting with the body alone, content with whatever happens, unattached to pleasure or pain, success or failure, this person acts and is never bound by those actions. When a person has let go of attachments, and is grounded in wisdom, everything this person does is an act of sacred joy, and all actions melt away.” ~ Bhagavad Gita ch. 4 v. 18-22

With love,

Tracey

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