At the epicenter of the practice of karma yoga is the idea of “karma”. The consequences of our actions, words, and deeds are known as “karma”. It is believed to be the natural law of cause and effect, from which one can only escape upon liberation. We experience the effects of our cause. When we perform good deeds in our life, we receive good things in return. On the other end of the spectrum, performing bad deeds will result in bad repercussions.
Karma is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘action’ or ‘word’. Everyone has to undergo the fruits of their own actions. The Bhagavad-Gita describes four types of karma:
- Sanchita Karma refers to all accumulated karma (actions) of the present and previous life.
- Prarabdha Karma refers to the actions done in present life and their result. There are three kinds of parabdha: Iccha prarabdha, Annicha prarabda and paraiccha prarabda.
- Agami karma refers to future actions that result from present actions.
Karma yoga is the yoga of ‘action’ done without being attached to the outcome. Acting without worrying about the fruits of one's deeds ultimately leads to the union of self, which is the goal of yoga. The practice of karma yoga lies in selflessly serving humanity, which brings ultimate satisfaction to the practitioner.
The true purpose of karma yoga lies in working towards the welfare of the world without being attached to the profit of results in the action involved. Attachment to the outcome leads to stress, competition, jealousy, and hatred. Increasing stress further gives rise to various physical and mental illnesses such as coronary issues, depression, etc. By applying the principles of karma yoga into everyday life, the practitioner is then able to lead a more fulfilling life.
The core facet of karma yoga lies in the work done and, most importantly, the attitude with which the work is done. When deeds are done with the intention to gain mere materialistic pleasures, it is termed as selfish action. This restrains the person from living an internally pleasurable and satisfactory life. Karma yoga encourages individuals to act altruistically and with true and sincere compassion in order to be able to lead a spiritual life.
Here are some useful highlights to help you further gain an understanding of the philosophies presented by Karma yoga.
Undesirable emotions such as jealousy, lust, greed, envy, fame, and selfishness are termed as immoral actions, which are done to satisfy the desires of the heart. When a person works with the intention to hurt someone or with selfish motives, it is deemed as bad karma. Understanding the principle of karma yoga liberates us from such negative thoughts, and helps us embrace the moral actions of compassion, love, and selflessness.
It can be argued that modern life encourages the opposite of karma yoga. All our actions and efforts are directed towards a favorable outcome. We work to get a good job so that we can afford luxury, we crave for material possessions in order to gain stature in life and we do good deeds in order to earn respect and favor among our peers.
It is undeniable that we live in a materialistic society where seeking happiness in materialistic merchandise is an intentional purpose. Our inability to possess them gives rise to emotions such as agitation, irritation, and envy. Karma yoga frees an individual from all temptations and helps them attain inner peace.
The harsh reality today is inevitable - if we want to survive in this world, we have to work. Most of the time, our actions are done with selfish motives in mind. Sometimes, it is to get something in return, while other times, our deeds are guided by hidden motives – for example, to deceive the other person. Karma yoga teaches us to act selflessly for the greater good of the society. Karma yoga believes that serving the society with pure intentions takes you a step closer to divinity.
“We should perform all actions sacramentally, and be free from all attachments”
As previously mentioned, most of our actions are done with the expectation of a favorable result. Even before we perform an action, we already begin to consider the outcome. This means that all our energy is directed towards getting a favorable outcome rather than toward the action itself.
Karma Yoga encourages non-attachment to the outcome. It teaches us to focus all our energy on doing work with the right intention without worrying about the result. By learning, understanding and practicing the philosophy of non-attachment in life, the individual is able to gain freedom from his or her desires, whims and anxieties. Attachment brings bondage to materialistic pleasures, aspiration, and ambitions.
Incorporate Karma yoga into your daily life and take a step towards spiritual upheaval.
Want to learn how to practice Karma yoga in a more in-depth way? Immerse yourself in the practice of a Karma yoga teacher training course in India!