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Practice of Karma Yoga

by Swami Sivananda

Work is worship. Work is Puja of Narayana. Work is meditation. Do not forget this. You will have to evolve spiritually through work and meditation combined. Scavengering is Yoga when done in the right spirit. Feel that the whole world is your home (Vasudhaiva Kutumbhakam), one big family. You need not close the eyes and sit in a corner of a room.

Work that is done with Sakshi Bhava and Akartru Bhava, without expectation of fruits, is no Karma at all. It is burnt up in the fire of knowledge. It can never bind one to Samsara. Sri Sankara emphasised only that Sakamya-Karmas should not be done. Many orthodox Mahavadins of the present day have misunderstood Sri Sankara.

Selfless work (service of humanity) is the seed. Narayana Bhava (feeling that all creatures are manifestations of the Lord. I am serving the Lord in all beings) while serving is the root. Utsaha (zeal, cheerfulness) is the shower. Expansion of heart is the flower. Purity of heart is the fruit. This is the path of Karma Yoga.

Paul and John have said: "God dwells not in temples made with hands, but in men and women in whose heart dwells the spirit of love and that finds expression in service for the good of all." The magnificent temple of God is the heart of man. Rich people build temples to get name and fame and put their name-slabs at the gate. Is this not great foolishness?

Ishvara is the Lord, the Creator, the Ordainer, the Upholder of everything. He dwells in all, high and low.

To serve others with Atma Bhava disinterestedly and untiringly, not to allow others to serve me and to expect any service from others is my Yoga, Religion and Dharma.

Forget your little self-arrogating personality. Forget your own interests, longings and desires and embrace all life. Work for others. Give up all sorts of pettiness. Become magnanimous, noble and generous. Then only you will slowly realise more and more your Atmic nature, the mighty infinite "I".

He who ignores his own pleasure and comfort tries to help and serve others is really an advanced student in the path of spirituality.

He who is unselfish and devoid of Moha for the body (Deha-Adhyasa) can do any real service for humanity. Such a man only can have real Sakti (power). Such a man only will be fearless.

You cannot make any ornament with pure gold. If three per cent of some other metal is mixed with gold, then only you can make ornaments. So also Ishvara manifests with three per cent of Rajas and works in this universe. Therefore He is not affected. If people with ninety-seven per cent of Rajas and three per cent of Sattva work in the world, they will be contaminated. Those who want to work for the well-being of the world must have abundant Sattva or purity. Then only they will not be affected by the contact with the worldly people. Then only they can elevate people.

Give up hate and strife and greed for power, position and gold. Wear the crown of humility. Become pure and bright. Build your faith in God. Be steadfast in your Japa and meditation. Attain love and light.

Always have active habits. Sacrifice whatever you can for the good of others. Remove selfishness altogether.

Do not expect anything when you serve a man or when you give a gift. Thank him for giving you a good opportunity to serve him.

The man who serves the world really serves himself. The man who helps others really helps himself. Therefore, when you serve another man, when you serve your country, always think and feel that the great Lord has given you a rare opportunity to improve, correct and mould yourself by service. Be grateful to that man who has given you a chance to serve.

Do not lose any single opportunity in helping and serving others. Serve cheerfully and willingly. Never show Sunday-face or castor oil face. Do every work perfectly well with concentration and devotion. Utilise every minute in serving others in the best possible manner.

Serve others. Help others. Fill your heart with pure, disinterested love. Do active good always.

Regular selfless social service daily with the Bhava: "I am serving God in manifestation" can take the place of Agnihotra, etc., can purify the heart and can bring about rapidly Chitta Suddhi.

Be absorbed in work. Give your full heart, mind and soul. Do not care for results. Do not think of success or failure. Do not think of the past. Have complete confidence. Practise self-reliance. Be cheerful always. Keep a cool balanced mind. Work for work’s sake. Be bold and courageous. You are bound to succeed in any undertaking. This is the secret of success.

When you serve, remember that you work for God. Do every act as Ishvararpana (an offering unto God). You will soon grow spiritually. You will soon be transmuted into Divinity. Always scrutinise your motives.

When you apply any balm to the painful parts of a sick person, feel that you ate touching the body of Virat Purusha. You will evolve quickly. Your heart will expand. Feeling of hatred will soon vanish. Prema will increase. When the Suddha Bhava wanes, bring it again quickly. After some steady practice for some months, you will be established always in the Suddha Bhava. Struggle hard.

If you shampoo the leg of a man he is pleased with you. By touching a part of the body, the whole man is delighted. The leg is a part of a man. Even so, if you please a man by service the whole Virat is pleased. Because man is a part of Virat.

Self-realisation cannot be attained by any amount of Karma. Atman can be obtained by Viveka (discrimination), Vichara and Nididhyasana, Atmic enquiry and meditation.

The daily spiritual routine must be kept at any cost. During work, the Bhava should be continued. Feeling the presence everywhere and offering every work that you do unto the Lord as Ishvararpana (dedication, consecration to God) must be practised. Your two hands are the hands of God. (Rama or Krishna). He works, sees, hears, feels, eats through you. Feel this. Feel this always.

Keep your view fixed to one object. Be steady and firm in the accomplishment of your purpose. Do not allow your mind to run in many ways. Develop serenity of mind. Do your work with a calm and quiet understanding and with Ishvararpana Buddhi. Every action will be transmuted into Yogic activity. You will attain success in everything.

You must reserve a certain portion of your earning for charity. Any occasional service will not be considered as Yoga. You must plunge yourself in regular service and forget yourself. This will be real Yoga.

God is Love. Love is God. Love is a means to attain Godhead. Therefore, love is not only the means, but also the ideal or goal. It is unique. It knows no difference. It seeks no distinction. It is a great leveller. It is supreme. It surges in the pure heart of devotees. It removes hatred, prejudice. It is a mighty power on this earth. It prompts you to do noble actions and serve humanity with divine feeling. It goads you to see God in all and respect all. It gives you peace, bliss, joy and immortality.

Move amicably with all. Embrace all. Love all. Serve all. Develop adaptability and the spirit of selfless service and penetrate into the hearts of all through untiring service. This is verily Advaitic realisation of unity or oneness.

Service of humanity must not be mere mechanical acts. It must be done with Atma Bhava. Service is Yoga for purification of heart and the consequent descent of light. All the workers must drill and hammer the mind with this Bhava.

If you feel for others more and more, that is a sign of expansion of heart and spiritual growth. Stick to your daily routine tenaciously.

When you wish to serve a friend, do not simply ask: "Do you want tea or milk?" This is only lip service. Take a cup of milk or tea and place it before the man with humility and joy. This is real service. Your courtesy must be uniform at all times, abundant and artless. Some cunning people with scanty courtesy will say when they meet a friend, "I know you will not take food. Will you take a cup of milk or tea now?" The friend will say, "No. No. I have just taken my tea." They will say, "at least take this cardamom or betel-nut." From the very beginning they do not want to give him either food or milk. Their spirit of service was on their lips only. Th" world abounds with such sort of people. They are really burden on this earth.

A raw untrained aspirant feels: "My preceptor is treating me like a servant or a peon. He is using me for petty jobs." He who has understood the right significance of Karma Yoga will take every work as Yogic activity or worship of the Lord. There is no menial work in his vision. Every work is Puja of Narayana. In the light of Karma Yoga, all actions are sacred. That aspirant who always takes immense delight in doing works which are considered by the worldly man as menial services, and who always does willingly such acts will become a dynamic Yogi. He will be absolutely free from conceit and egoism. He will have no downfall. The canker of pride cannot touch him.

In the West cobblers and peasants have risen to a very great position in society. Every work is a respectable work for them. A boy who applies polish to the boots in the streets of London for a penny, carries newspapers and journals in the afternoon for sale, and works as an apprentice under a journalist during his leisure hours at night. He studies books, works hard, never wastes a minute and in a few years becomes a journalist of great repute and international fame. In Punjab some graduates have taken to hair-dressing work. They have understood the dignity of labour.

A real Yogi does not make any difference between a menial and respectable work. It is only an ignorant man who makes such a difference. Some aspirants are humble in the beginning of their spiritual career. When they get some name and fame, some followers, admirers, devotees and disciples, they become victims to pride. They cannot do any service. They cannot carry anything on their heads or hands. That Yogi who carries the trunk on his head without the slightest feeling in the Railway platform amidst the multitude of his admirers, disciples and devotees without making any outward show of humility must be admired. Sage Jada Bharata carried the palanquin of a Raja on his shoulders without murmuring. Lord Krishna shampooed the legs of a Raja when his barber-devotee was on leave. Sri Rama carried a pot of water for the ablution of one of his devotees. Sri Krishna took the form of a menial servant as Vithoo and paid the money to the Nawab on behalf of his devotee Dhamaji. If you really want to grow in the spiritual path, you must do all sorts of service daily till the end of your life. Then only you are safe. Do not stop doing service when you have become a famous Yogi. The spirit of service must enter every nerve, cell, tissues and bone of your body. It must be ingrained in you. Then only you will become a real, fully-developed practical Vedantin. Is there any greater Vedantin or Karma Yogin than Lord Buddha? He still lives in our hearts because the spirit of service was ingrained in him and he spent his whole life in serving others in a variety of ways. A magnanimous soul, one without a second. You can also become a Buddha if you apply yourself diligently to selfless service with the right mental attitude.

Study the autobiography of Mahatma Gandhiji. He never makes any difference between menial service and dignified work. Scavengering and cleaning of the latrine is the highest Yoga for him. This is the highest Puja for him. He himself has done cleansing of latrines. He has annihilated this illusory little 'I' through service of various sorts. Many highly educated persons joined his Ashram for learning Yoga under him. They thought that Gandhiji would teach them Yoga in some mysterious manner in a private room and would give lessons in Pranayama, meditation, abstraction, awakening of Kundalini, etc. They were disappointed when they were asked to clean the latrine at first. They left the Ashram immediately. Gandhiji himself does repairing of his shoes. He himself used to grind flour and would take upon his shoulders the grinding work of others also when they were unable to do their allotted portion of work for the day in the Ashram. When an educated person, a new Ashramite feels shy to do grinding work, Gandhiji himself would do his work in front of him and then the man will do the work himself from the next day willingly.

All men who serve God are equal. They should eat and drink together irrespective of caste, creed or colour. The idea of superiority and inferiority should be given up if you really want to attain spiritual growth and develop devotion to God. Burn up all differences and see God only everywhere. Unite with all. Mix with all. Develop tolerance, adaptability, pure love, forgiveness, equal vision.

Stick to your ideal and principles at all costs. Stand adamant even if the whole world opposes you. Be prepared to sacrifice your life in a noble cause.

If you want to work, work independently. Slight work is necessary for beginners in meditation as relaxation for the mind when they come down from meditation. But the work must be congenial. It should be a help to spiritual contemplation—cognate work.

If you have got love for selfless work, if you thirst for purification of the heart (Chitta Suddhi) through Nishkamya Karma, nature will utilise you for Her Divine work. She will make use of you as Her fit instrument. You will evolve quickly.

Surrender everything unto Him. Place your ego at His feet and be at ease. He will take complete charge of you. Let Him mould you in any way He likes. Let Him do exactly as He wills. He will remove all defects and weaknesses. He will play beautifully on this body-flute. Hear the marvellous music of His flute, the mysterious music of the soul and rejoice.

It is extremely difficult to perform real selfless service. Many people ascend the public platform under the garb of selfless workers, but they only serve themselves. Even some Sannyasins do the same. Is this not very sad?

Give up the delusion of agency, ownership of objects and the differentiation of that man or this man, I, you, he, etc. You will soon attain Jnana. Desires arise through non-discrimination (Aviveka). Desires will become extinct with the dawn of discrimination. Learn to discriminate between the real and unreal. May you journey on quickly in the domain of eternal bliss of Moksha.

Actions should be performed without attachment, without the feeling of doing them for one's own personal purity. Perform works merely for God's sake, abandoning even such attachment as this, 'May God be pleased'. You must be prepared to abandon the work at any time however much interesting the work may be, however much you like the work. Whenever the inner voice of the soul commands you to give up the work, you must at once relinquish it. Attachment to any work, you must at once relinquish it. Attachment to any work will bind you. Understand well these subtle secrets of Karma Yoga and march boldly in the path of Karma Yoga.

Rely on your own self. Do not be credulous. Believe not in any dogmas. Hear the inner voice of the soul or promptings of the pure conscience. Be not a slave. Do not sell your liberty. Thou art the immortal soul. Destroy the inferiority complex. Draw power, courage, strength from within. Be free. Have no blind faith. Reason out carefully and then accept anything. Do not be carried away by blind surging emotions. Subdue them. Expand. There is a vast magazine of power and knowledge within you. It needs ignition. Then the whole mystery of the Self will be revealed unto thee. The darkness of ignorance will be dispelled by the light of knowledge of the Self. Constant meditation on the Atman is the master-key to open the realms of knowledge. I have given here the gist of Karma Yoga and Vedanta in a few lines. Taste the Nectar and attain immortality, eternal bliss and perennial joy. This is the goal of life. This is the end and aim of existence. Karma Yoga and Upasana will prepare you to realise this highest goal.

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