What Is Karma Yoga? Major Principles And Benefits Explained
Updated: Mar 21, 2019
The world is full of different personalities, having different perceptions and opinions on different topics. Hence, when one asks about how to attain moksha, there may be varying thoughts on the same; turning into a monk is not the ‘last or only’ option left to you. You can stay where you are, among people you love, enjoying all the activities that you generally perform, and still attain moksha through Karma Yoga.
What Is Karma Yoga?
Karma marga or Karma Yoga is referred to as one of the four main yogic (spiritual) paths followed in Hinduism. It focuses on performing unselfish action and teaches that anyone practicing Karma Yoga should continuously act, according to dharma, without being attached to the consequences.
The teachings of Bhagavad Gita represent the incident when Arjuna was hesitant to take part in the Kurukshetra war against his own cousins. It was then when Lord Krishna counseled him about what’s right, what’s wrong and also made him aware of the purpose of karma and dharma. Hence, it can be rightly said that all the principles of Karma Yoga are different lessons imparted by Lord Krishna to Arjuna so that he could participate in the war, and perform his karma (duties) while surrendering the expectations of the result of his work to God.
Some of the prominent principles include -
Have the right attitude
Have pure motives
Give your best
Perform your duties well
Forgo the results
Hence, performing your karma yoga – the unselfish action – is a clear means to attain moksha.
One of the main problems of performing Karma Yoga or selfless action has to do with our sense of "ego". Whatever we do, we are attached to the result of our work because our ego claims the ownership of anything we do. That's the basic nature of ego. If the work is successful, it claims the result of that work - "I made the work successful". Conversely, if the result of the work doesn't turn out to be what was hoped for, the ego mercilessly blame itself with negative self-talk.
In reality, ego is not responsible for anything.. it is just a bundle of thoughts. The willingness and ability to work as well as the result of that work are all sanctioned by God. God is the ultimate "doer", directing us like how puppet master directs puppets with string.
Recall what Krishan Said that in Gita about "doing"
The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone's heart, O Arjuna, and is directing the wanderings of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine, made of the material energy. (1)
Recall what Ramana Maharsi said about "doing"
The pure Bliss of peace will shine within only for those who have lost the sense of doership. For, this foolish sense of doership alone is the poisonous seed that brings forth all evil fruits (2)
Instead of going on, driven by the restless thoughts, performing actions such as ‘I should do this, I should give up that’ as if they were worthy to be done, acting according to how the Grace of God, the Lord of our soul, leads us, is the right form of truly worshiping Him (3)
Whether or not one is performing actions, if the delusion of individuality – the ego, ‘I am the doer of actions’ – is completely annihilated, that is the attainment of actionlessness. (4)
From my experience, ego's sense of agency can be overcome by spiritual practices like 'Self-inquiry" (as taught by Ramana Maharsi). It is also possible to overcome ego's sense of doership by cultivating intense devotion to God. By cultivating intense devotion, the devotee reaches to a stage where he surrenders his everything to God (including the sense of doership). "Let thy will be done" becomes his motto.
Another way of overcoming this problem is to receive RASA Shaktipat Transmission. From my personal experience and the experiences I heard from my students, karma yoga becomes a lot easier when a student ascends to higher levels of consciousness (LOC 600 and above) by receiving RASA. At higher levels of consciousness, the iron grip of ego becomes looser, and the power of our pure inner nature shine through easily. It then becomes much easier to do work while NOT getting entangled with results associated with the work, whether the results are positive, negative or neutral. This is the way of breaking the cycle of attraction (or aversion) to the result of the work.
Benefits of Karma Yoga
Now when you are aware of what exactly is Karma Yoga, you should now learn how it is beneficial for every human being.
1. Inculcates Pure Intentions: Karma Yoga helps people remove negative feeling of hatred, ego and jealousy from their souls and welcome pure intentions of joy, peace and humbleness.
2. Selflessness: Practicing selflessness is very important for the modern people today. This is why this yoga style focuses on teaching how to achieve a perfect result that benefits everyone associated with it, rather than just focusing on self.
3. Feeling Of Commitment: People often tend to opt out of something when things get too complicated to handle. Hence, Karma Yoga motivates people to do their best and stay committed to their goals, no matter how many obstacles come their way.
Simply put, Karma Yoga is one of the powerful teachings of Hinduism that focuses on performing actions, while not getting attached with the outcome of the actions. One only needs to be good at heart and stay in action.
(1) Gita as it is
(2) Verse 466, (3) Verse 467, and (4) Verse 476 - from the the book titled "Guru Vachaka Kovai: The Light of Supreme Truth or The Collection of Guru’s Sayings" (Author: Sri Muruganar). Translated from the Original Tamil by Sadhu Om and Michael James. The pdf copy of the book can be downloaded directly here