I Want happiness! We all do, right? Happiness is the purest state of being; the state of union with the divine – pure bliss, pure joy; the essence and sum of the yogic path.
In our search for this happiness, we perform various activities and actions (Karma). Different people ‘find’ their happiness in different things and acts. We think to ourselves – if we have a big house or a nice car or a high paying job, we will be happy; or if we are kind, we will be happy; if we are compassionate, we will be happy; if we work hard, we will be happy… and so on.
In these times of spiritual shortcuts, somewhere along the way, this pure happiness that we seek turns into a desire for happiness and we all start running mindlessly along prescribed ‘routes’ to ‘spiritual awakening’. We start performing our ‘Karmas’ with the aim of some or the other pleasant outcome.
Do you see what we’re doing here by looking at happiness as an external object of our desire? We are attaching ego (I) and desire (want) to our pure nature (happiness). Driven by our ego, we perform actions to fulfil our desires – even ‘spiritual’ actions are often driven by these attachments.
Along the yogic path is the often overlooked and misunderstood aspect of Karma Yoga. Very simply put, just as there is a state of being, there is a state of ‘action’ or ‘doing’, and that is Karma. Since yoga means union, Karma Yoga is often understood as union with the divine through action. This is not entirely correct. Action without union, or an action performed with a purpose of some reaction or result, or as a burden to the self is not Karma Yoga. It is just Karma.
We are inextricably entangled and enmeshed in life with the various activities that we perform. If these activities become a process of liberation instead of entanglement, it is Karma Yoga.
“To work we have the right, but not to the fruits thereof: Leave the fruits alone.” – Swami Vivekannda, Karma Yoga
When something is done only because it is needed, where it does not mean anything to you, but you still involve yourself with your heart and soul, it transforms you and such action turns into liberation. However, such an action must also be performed joyfully. If it is done with great effort and pressure on the mind, then it’s just Karma. The ‘yuj’ or ‘yoga’ only comes in when it is done with pure joy and love.
When we remove ego and desire from our state of being, we can say we truly follow the yogic path, and that happiness that we ‘want’ and that has been there all along, beneath the sheaths of ego and desire, is allowed to emerge as the true nature of the self. And in this state, any action we perform is not driven by outcome, but by pure love and pure joy. And this is Karma Yoga.
You are a Karma Yogi when every action you do is naturally a part of the divine process of the universe, in accordance with the will of the Cosmic Consciousness. When you are able to put your ego aside, your desires aside and acknowledge the divinity within you. When you realise that you are only an instrument, a mere witness of your own actions.
The word ‘Karma’ is derived from the Sanskrit Kri, meaning ‘to do’. Karma Yoga is the yoga of action, of loving and doing good to the whole world and all beings without any desires, attachment or egoism.
Gandhi is a famous Karma Yogi. Anyone trying to explain what Karma Yoga is inevitably speaks of Gandhi (as do I). There are many other people, however, both famous and unknown, who have shown that Karma Yoga is not just an unrealistic ideal, but an actual possibility. Saints like Swami Vivekananda and Swami Sivananda expressed total egoless-ness in their interaction with the world, making them great examples of Karma Yogis.
In modern times as well, we come across many examples where people leave their regular lives and walk the path of helping others, with no goal of any personal gain. We see examples of Karma Yoga in the form of voluntary work done by organisations and individuals at many levels across various fields.