“This riff ain’t hip or square, well done or rare;
And may end up one more weight to bear.”
This Song, George Harrison
There are several types of yoga. One of them is karma yoga. Most people are familiar with the word karma, but what is karma yoga? Karma translates as “action” or “to do” and karma yoga is to act in a conscientious and unselfish manner. Classical yoga as gleaned from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras refers to and requires consistent self-reflection and self-regulation in order to calm the agitation in the mind.
Essential to the practice of yoga is the search to perfect oneself. This is the thirst, the longing, and the hunger of the soul to join together with long-lasting, true happiness. Some call it samadhi, nirvana, absorption, or heaven. Some call it peace or Indweller. Some call it God or Self. (Dear Reader, please distinguish the capitalized Self vs. small “s” self. The former is part of our inner world and does not die. The latter is part of our outer world, including the body, mind and ego.)
Karma yoga is service, loving and kind offerings, or volunteer work; virtues taught in all of the world’s religions. Karma is a well-known concept. As if quoted from the yogis, Paul wrote about karma in his letter to the Galatians, 6:5-10:
“When we have the opportunity, let us do good unto all, especially unto those who are faithful.”
Karma yoga teaches us to do all things that are required of us in an honest manner. Do not skimp or cheat if no one is watching. Rather act as if someone were in fact watching you, because you really cannot get away with anything.
Karma yoga teaches us to perform our actions carefully. But we regularly perform more than just actions. First, we have thoughts and then we have the things we say. Pay attention to patterns in your thoughts and behaviors. Which habits do you wish to change? No self-judgment. Replace them with gentle habits. Find something conducive to your life’s mission and focus there. Practice meditation. Give. Serve.
Since we cannot change the past, we cannot change our current karma. But we can change our future karma by utilizing self-determination today. We can free our self from thought patterns expressing old, subconscious karma in order to free our Self. How do we detach and move toward a conscious journey of freedom? We do this by consciously determining which thoughts to cultivate and releasing those that are unsavory.
Through yoga discipline, or striving for union, we release their hold. This is a conscious journey to freedom from the suffering of this world where we can overcome fate and create our future. Decide not to allow disturbances in the mind. Corral the thoughts, release their grasp, and balance the mind. Yoga does not teach fate, rather it teaches that we have the free will to choose not only how to act, but we can generate and manifest our lives through the conscious effort of choosing right thoughts, speech and actions.
Karma yoga embraces the virtue of right action, helping and doing for others. The practice of santosha, contentment, kindles the feeling of fulfillment. We more easily give to and sacrifice for others when we no longer want. Giving up the fruits of one’s actions is important for the study of yoga because without it, one cannot become free, which is the goal of yoga. Freedom is also attained when we give to others without expecting returns. Did you give a gift to someone recently and expect a result? Give that up! Change that thought to surrender and give without desiring reactions or responses.
Once we begin to feel the freedom created from practicing karma yoga, we look for more opportunities to relinquish, release, and let go as illustrated in the song excerpt above. We no longer wish to bear the weight of the fruits of our labor and possessions. It is acceptable to live in the world and enjoy it, but yoga teaches us to remember the world is not ours to keep.
Questions that are helpful in this self-study include:
What is my purpose in life?
Do my desires lead me to the truth?
Looking at my desires, am I able to appreciate what I have or is the grass always greener on the other side of the fence?
Do I identify with things of the world and refer to them as “mine”?
Do I watch my thoughts and speech, releasing judgment and engendering softness?
I have responsibilities, but am I reliable?
Do I typically act selfishly or selflessly?
What can I do to serve and especially, how can I better serve my loved ones?
Do I complain when I help others?
Do I enjoy giving?
Do I take pleasure or pain from experiences?
Do I ask for help unnecessarily?
Do I accept help graciously, allowing others to be selfless?
If we learn to follow the law of karma, we see that it carefully teaches us how to live in the world and not create more suffering for our Self. It teaches that we can perform actions (karmas) today to illicit outcomes in our future.
With intentions we shape our experiences: we reap what we sow. It requires calm persistence and sacrifice to create happiness, skills we can choose.
Copyright Cynthia Gran 2015