Karma means action (from the root word kri = to do). Karma Yoga is focused action, when we are so immersed in what we are doing that we are able to notice every little detail of it and we eventually lose the sense of time, space and even of oneself. This kind of action doesn’t lay on any kind of expectation, it is completely selfless, far from any judgement, any worry. It’s active meditation.
“Observe a man doing his most common actions: this is what will show you his true personality.” Swami Vivekananda
Every action in which we engage during our day is an opportunity to practice Karma Yoga, and the biggest challenge is to apply it to work. Meditating as we work, working as we meditate. Doing things with full awareness, only for the natural joy of doing well. Without any wish to show off or gain anything, without any search for a result, with no expectations, no fear of doing it wrong, no rush.
“If a work needs to be done, it needs to be done well. “ Sri Yogendraji
Sri Yogendra is known as the Householder Yogi, lay, and his teachings inspired our daily practice. Used to pull the strings of family, work, friends, musts, hobbies and everything else, at times it is easy to be overtaken by distress or excuses. We believe that tranquility and concentration are only for those who live in the forest and listens to the birdsongs, and that there’s no hope for who, like us, “has things to do”. The good news is that it’s not true. The challenge is open to everybody, it’s always available and can really change our mood.
Here at Yogacara Yogacara Isolalunga we listen to the birsdongs and at the same time we practice selfless work in every moment, or at least we try. We practice in the garden, in the workshop, in the kitchen, in the yoga hall. Then, we try and keep this attitude with us when we go back to social life.
“Can a man who has been used to the turmoil and the rush of life live at ease if he comes to a quiet place? He suffers and he may even lose his mind. The ideal man is he who in the midst of the greatest silence and solitude can find the intensest activity and in the midst of the intensest activity and the strongest noise finds the silence and solitude of the desert. He knows the secret of restraint, he has learned to control his mind.” Swami Vivekananda
To dive deeper...
When we talk about Yoga we mean a state of unity of body, mind and spirit. We refer to something that we intend to experience, and all the practice is aimed at taking us in this direction. How can we reach it? Through concentration, attention, observation.
Yoga texts mention Karma Yoga as one of the paths to reach this state. As we hear the word Karma we immediately think about the law of cause and effect, the well-known Karma Theory. Here, however, we refer to Karma with the meaning of “action” (from the root kri = to do). Our entire experience is based on actions, so our focus is on learning how to behave in order to find wellness.
In the second chapter of Bhagavad Gita, Krishna intervenes to calm Arjun down, who is in the grip of confusion, and Karma Yoga is the first technique that is presented.
- Work without worrying about the fruits of your actions, forget about the fruits of your actions.
- Keep your mind in a balanced state in every moment, both in success and failure, be equanimous.
- Do every job to the best of your capacity.
The question is, which kind of actions should we do? Arjun says, killing is wrong, so I prefer to leave the battlefield and choose not to fight this war. And here Krishna enlightens us again. Right and wrong don’t exist. What matters is only what our role asks us to do, and it’s our duty to do it with the proper mindset. Only when we do our Dharma, our duty, we can grow in spiritual life. Arjun is a warrior, and his duty is to fight. Nonetheless, he shouldn’t fight because he loves killing, but because his life mission is to be faithful to his people.
If we ask ourselves, “what is my duty in life?” the mind starts to wonder and who knows where she will take us. Karma Yoga says, let’s start from small things. In every situation, we should identify our role, our duty and follow it with full dedication and involvement. Slowly we will be able to understand what is our Swadharma, our mission, our higher task. Ultimately, what we came to do in this life.
Maharishi Patanjali in his negli Yoga Sutras also introduces the Yoga of Action, Karma Yoga or Kryia Yoga (sutra II.1) and he describes it as the practice of awareness in egoless state. Letting go of oneself in the action. He indicates three steps to realise it:
- Tapas: the practice of discipline, determination, focus;
- Swadhyaya: self study, the observation of one’s mind patterns, the inner reflection which leads to personal growth;
- Ishwara Pranidhana: letting go of the ego, listening to that strength that lays inside and outside of us, that guides us, that is permanent, that guides us and never changes.
What does it mean? That when we work, when we approach any practical activity, we let go of all the mechanisms of our minds, we silence that part of us that wants to control everything and we simply dedicate our full attention to what we are doing. We focus. And then we move on, we don’t expect anything in return, we do things well only because we want to do a good job. And we will find that with commitment and perseverance, our attention will be clearer and clearer, always stronger.
Emotions and dynamics that disturb the mind will come to surface. Anger, frustration, perfectionism, judgement, fear. We will face them, one after the other, observe them, understand them, let them dissolve. We surrender everything to the higher reality, to love, to consciousness. We need to trust the process. Our mind will stop to talk and we will be free.