You can always identify a Chinmaya Mission Vedanta student by their description of Karma Yoga. It is drilled into us early on and planted so firmly in our minds and hearts that we can repeat it verbatim anytime, anywhere from memory. This is how I came to truly understand what it means to be a Karma Yogi.
Whether we choose to believe it or not, we are all subject to karma. Sanatana Dharma (the original name of Hinduism) means, the eternal truth and extolls the principles of Yoga. Karma Yoga is but one pathway, though it only becomes a path if we are conscious of our karma. If we remain under the veil of ignorance, then we are subject to karma. Karma is simply the reaction created by our action; which can be either positive or negative. Karma itself does not have any identity, nor should it be confused with judgement, punishment, or reward. It is best thought of as the consequence of our actions, some of which can be delayed and some which can be felt instantaneously. Hence, the concept of past life karmas which then affect the way your life pans out.
You might feel like this negates free will, however, it doesn’t. Take the example of a bank account, when you have a negative credit score from x number of years ago it can still affect you getting a mortgage today, despite how good your credit behaviour might be in this present moment. Karma works somewhat similarly. It is your free will to act which will determine both your present and your future. This is why we are told from a young age to think and act wisely, for although you have free will to act, you cannot always determine exactly the outcome of your action. You then might ask, what about “unfair” outcomes? Or when you work very hard on something and you don’t get the reward expected?
The scripture, Yoga Vasishtha, explains that when you don’t get the result you anticipated it is because the burden of past karma was too heavy for your “new action” to override it. Going back to our bank account example, even though you have kept up with your payments this month, it still doesn’t mean you can get a mortgage! However, this does not mean you are encumbered by past karmic outcomes forever though. By choosing how you behave today you will continue to reshape and evolve your own future, and it is in your power to make this either a positive or negative life experience for you.
How then should we be acting in accordance with Karma Yoga? The first principle is to give 100% to the task in hand, whether that be something as mundane as brushing our teeth. When we perform an action, in the workplace, at home, towards ourselves, or towards others, we must give it our full attention and be dedicated to that action. This requires great discipline but it will enable us to naturally attract the outcome we want.
The second principle is to be fully present and in the now, whilst performing that action. This means not worrying about the consequences of the action. For example, if you have an important pitch for a client and are immersed in preparation, but are constantly worried about whether you will win and be awarded the business, then you are not performing to the best of your ability at that moment. Your worry is a distraction from you being focused, therefore it is important to divorce yourself from building expectations.
This is not to be confused with strategic and critical thinking in order to win the business – but the worry and fear you carry with it has to be dropped. In the same way, if you have had a tiff with your partner and you both have committed to moving on from it, then whilst doing something loving or kind towards her, you should not be caught up thinking about your past e.g. “will she forgive me?”, “Is she thinking about all the wrong things I did?”. These are negative thought patterns that are diverting you from being devoted to your partner. The mind swings like a pendulum between the past and the future. It carries with it two bags, one called expectations and the other holds fears cultivated from your past. Both bags must be dropped and the mind must be stilled. When your mind is still and absorbed in the moment, the action automatically flourishes.
The third principle is to perform an action for the greater good, rather than just for yourself. We experience our own infinitude when we serve others or perform noble actions, rather than acting out of greed or selfishness. Gradually over time, our actions should have a positive impact not just on the small circle around us but an ever-growing wider circle.
I personally like to say, you are only as wealthy as your ability to give. With time your capacity to illustrate compassion and love towards others should be reflective of your inner growth. The final principle is to accept the outcome graciously. This is very difficult and takes time. Often we will exert so much energy in feeling frustrated or downtrodden. Humans can waste away years questioning why certain things happened, but we are ultimately sabotaging our present in the process.
There has to be a certain level of trust in the universe and within your own-self. There have been many times where I have felt anguish or anger over outcomes, but I have learnt that good work will never go unrewarded – it just may not manifest in exactly the way you predicted or at the time you anticipated. More often than not… it will be surprisingly beautiful and like much of this universe, you could not have written it.
Shivali has released two albums, The Bhajan Project by Sony Music and Urban Temple with Eros Now. She is a writer and public speaker on Hindu Philosophy & Spirituality. She trained in Kathak, Ballet and Latin. She holds a Kathak Diploma from the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, London.
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