What is ‘Karm’?
Generally, ‘Karm‘ is understood as any action that takes place through the body. There are three reasons for one to be involved in an action-
1) A selfish desire- This desire can be based on any need, be it –
- Basic physiological need – air, food, water, clothes, sex and shelter
- Safety Need – personal, financial, health and well-being
- Love and belonging Need – friendship, family, social and religious groups etc
- Esteem Need – Self-esteem, confidence, achievement, respect etc
- Self-Actualization Need – morality, creativity, spontaneity, meaningfulness etc
2) An unselfish desire- A desire that is in the interest of all.
3) Desire less and Selfless- Being in the flow of the Universal Consciousness (Thy Will is my Will). An ordinary person always works motivated by selfish desires. This is called ‘Sakam Karm’ (Selfish Action). There are two distinct characteristics of such an action – Desire and Doer ship. Such a ‘karm’ is the reason behind all human misery and it binds the doer in endless cycles of birth and death.
A Karm Yogi however works in a desire less and selfless manner. This is known as ‘Nishkam Karm’ (Unselfish and Selfless Action). Such work is free of both Desire and Doer ship. One can only attain this state under the able guidance of a Sadguru. The most important characteristic of such work is ‘YOG’.
What is ‘Yog’?
Word ‘Yog’ is derived from sanskrit word ‘yuj’ meaning ‘union’ or ‘to connect’.
The term ‘Yog’ means to be connected with one’s real SELF (known as ATMA, PARMATMA, GOD, Higher Self, Higher Consciousness or Universal Consciousness).
This means to be in awareness all the time that I am not this body, mind or ego; I am that Sat-Chit-Anand Swarup ‘ATMA’. ‘Sat’ means that which is permanent and cannot be destroyed, ‘Chit’ means Consciousness and ‘Anand’ means bliss.
What is ‘Karm Yog’?
‘Karm Yog’ is the art of action where one is constantly in awareness of one’s real SELF (known as ATMA, PARMATMA, GOD, Higher Self, Higher Consciousness or Universal Consciousness) despite outwardly being engaged in heavy action (physical or mental).
This means that at no point of time does one mistakenly identify with or attach to the result of action, doer ship, action or the inaction. One remains firmly in the awareness of real SELF i.e., ATMA.
Kindly note that the significance of Karm-Yog is in ‘Yog’ rather than ‘Karm’. No matter how good an action appears, if the doer is not in awareness, it will not be said as ‘Karm Yog’.
Four conditions of ‘Karm Yog’-
1. Non attachment to the fruits of action-
It is a wrong notion that Karm Yog means action without any objective. Without an objective in mind, there can be no work. Instead, Karm Yog says “do not get attached to that objective; do not be obsessed by the fruits of action”.
One must remember that result of an action is not in one’s hand. In any work there are so many factors that are beyond one’s control. Any attachment to result will only be a reason of suffering. So plan, execute to the best of your ability and leave the result in God’s hand.
For example, a farmer ploughs the field, sows the seeds, waters the land and takes care of the crop. In due course crop is cut and sold in the market. This fetches the farmer his livelihood i.e., money. For this action to qualify as ‘Karm Yog’, he does not have to disown this money – the result of his action. Instead Karm Yog says that do not be attached to the result. This means that farmer should not be obsessed with having X quintals of crop, fetching him Y amount of money. He should be ready to accept both profit and loss; else it will only lead to his own suffering.
2. Non identification with Doer ship-
Let’s take an example where wife gets up in the morning and makes bed-tea for husband. She has this notion that ‘I made this cup of tea’. Let us reflect now on few questions:
- How did you get the milk? Who brought it from the market? Who brought it in the shop? Who gave the ability to the cattle to produce milk in its body?
- How did you get water? Who laid the pipelines? Who developed the municipal water treatment plant? How did water come in the rivers and lakes?
- How did you get gas or oil to burn in kitchen stove or burner? Who made cylinders, stove or burners? How did gas or oil come into plants? How did gas or oil originate on earth?
- How did you get tea? Who brought it into market? Who processed the tea leaves and packed them into beautiful packs? Who gave the ability to plants to grow these beautiful tea leaves?
- Similarly reflect on how did you get sugar, utensils, matchstick or lighter to light the gas, etc?
- Also reflect who is giving the ‘prana’ or energy in the body of the lady so that she can go and make the cup of tea? What is making all her body parts function in perfect synchronicity?
Having done this exercise do you really think that lady is right in her belief that she made this cup of tea?
If you are honest in your reflection, you will realize that even a small activity such as making a cup of tea is not in the hands of a person. It is a collective effort of innumerous people, animals, plants, nature and above all that Universal Force which is truly energizing and making everything happen in this universe. A man mistakenly attaches the feeling of doership in him.
Let us understand this with another example – Water Cycle on Earth. In this all actions are taking place because of Sun’s energy shining on earth. Individual entities in this cycle such as drop of water in ocean, clouds, rain drops or river cannot claim to be the doer of their respective actions.
Karm Yog says to get rid of this false notion that ‘I am the doer’. Have the humility to accept the role of that universal force which is truly behind all efforts. This humility will help you to maintain a larger perspective while the action is taking place. It will not allow your ego to limit the infinite potential, resources and possibilities available at your disposal.
‘Obsession or attachment to fruits of action’ and ‘Identification with doer ship’ leads to:-
a) Development of undue stress that reduces the efficiency of the mind.
b) Development of fatigue that reduces the efficiency of the body.
c) Mood alleviation in case of success. In the alleviated mood often people become disrespectful of others emotions and commit blunders.
d) Depression in case of failure. This reduces our ability to think and behave logically and reasonably.
e) Greed that distracts one from the righteous path and one is forced to adopt unfair means or practices.
3. Non attachment to Action-
Suppose you are the CEO of a big company and you are deeply involved in a project, working day and night. This is your dream project and you want to do it not for remuneration, but for your own satisfaction and fulfillment. At this moment if the chairman comes and says, “Stop the work! I will take care of the project from here”. What will be your reaction? Will you be able to stop immediately or there will be lot of resistance in your mind? Just reflect on this resistance…..The cause of this resistance lies in your attachment with the project.
Karm Yog says – Do not be attached to action. A person who is not attached to action shall be able to leave the activity at the drop of a hat, instantaneously without any reaction, resistance or resentment.
At certain times life tries to take us to the higher dimensions, a higher purpose but we fail to grab the opportunity because we are too attached to the activity in hand. We fail to see the bigger picture, a higher good in store for us. We resist change and refuse to move with the flow of the universe.
4. Non attachment to Inaction-
Having gone through above three factors one might think – It is best to stay away from action. I will just sit down and relax in my own self. However, Karm Yog warns us not to be attached to inactivity too.
Karm Yog tells us that even if you lie down on earth thinking not to do any action, yet action will take place by you. A person who is not free from desires and ego, will apparently sit down idle, but his mind will be wandering everywhere, contemplating of all the worldly pleasures and possessions. Thus even though physically he might not seem to be doing anything, but mentally he will be amassing many actions or ‘karms’. This will lead to his downfall from the path of spiritual growth. So Karm yog warns us not to be attached to inactivity.
Karm Yog is an art of being still in an ocean of motion. Outwardly a Karm Yogi does far more work than an ordinary person, but from inside he is as still and calm as an ocean free of ripples and waves. He knows that he is doing nothing; everything is happening automatically. All the time he is firmly established in his real SELF ‘ATMA’ i.e., the Universal Consciousness.
How will I know whether I have attained ‘YOG in action’-
There are two tests to know if one has attained Yog in action:
1. ‘Samta’ or Equanimity – One is no longer affected by the duality of profit or loss, joy or grief, birth or death. One stays as peaceful in loss as in profit; as equanimous in a situation of grief as in joy.
2. Detached of effects of grief and sorrow – Even though circumstances of both grief and joy shall come in life, but one will no longer be touched by grief or sorrow. This is the state of mind and not the body.
For example, when Lord Rama was told that he will be made the King of Ayodhya tomorrow, he did not lose his calm in anxiety or joy. He slept peacefully through the night. Next day when mother Kaikayi ordered him to leave the kingdom for 14 years, he did not complain, lose his temper or became sullen. He most graciously accepted the Kaikayi’s orders and took her blessings before leaving the kingdom. Lord Rama maintained an equanimous state of mind both in favourable and unfavourable circumstances. This is ‘Samta’.
Role of Sadguru or Divine Master in learning ‘Karm Yog’
Suppose one is interested in playing cricket. One may learn few tricks by playing with friends, reading books or watching cricket match in TV. But if one wants to master it, it is must that one undergoes training under a coach who is a master of cricket himself. The world’s best batsmen Sachin Tendulkar also toiled under an able coach with single minded devotion for many years. This is true for any worldly knowledge or subject.
Same is true for the highest discipline that is ‘Karm Yog’. One needs to be under a constant guidance, inspiration and motivation of a Divine Master ‘Sadguru’ to be able to understand and practice ‘Karm Yog’ correctly.
His Divine Love is the biggest motivation factor that keeps us propelled in the direction of selfless and unselfish action. His unassuming and selfless life is an open book to learn the art of ‘Karm Yog’. What we learn in his divine company in 3 years, we may not learn it without him even in 10 lakh births.
It is Sadguru who inspires us and initiates us to perform ‘Nishkam Karm’ i.e., unselfish and selfless action. Sadguru tells us to devote little time out of our daily schedule in work for a higher purpose i.e., working in the interest of all. Slowly and gradually this time goes on increase and at the same time the intellect of a disciple is transformed from ‘gross’ (full of desires and ego) to ‘fine’ (free of desires and ego).
With such a sharp, fine and pure intellect, one is able to grasp the finer aspects of ‘Atam Gyan’ (Knowledge of Self) and he is set completely free of these four vices i.e., attachment to fruits of action, identification with doership, attachment to action and attachment to inaction. He is then firmly established in his real SELF i.e., ATMA. Thus he attains self-realization. He becomes one with the Universal Consciousness. He becomes a handle of GOD. All activity happens through his body and mind but he is not bound by it. He remains detachedly attached, just like a lotus flower in the pool of mud. This is known as shifting from state of doership (EGO) to state of happening (AWARENESS). In Hindi this is termed as ‘Karne se hone me ajana’.
Benefits of Karm Yog
Sadguru says, the result of ‘Karm Yog’ (Selfless Action) is two-fold:
1. It purifies the mind, making it free of desires, attachments and possessiveness.
2. Selfless action attracts more selfless action in front of the spiritual aspirant.
Both the results are non-reversible, indestructible and eternal.
With continuous practice of Karm Yog under the guidance of Sadguru, slowly and gradually, the mind of a spiritual aspirant is completely purified of all desires and attachments. Such a mind is then able to receive, grasp and assimilate the highest truth i.e., the knowledge of SELF (ATMA-GYAN). The spiritual aspirant realizes that he is not this body, mind and ego but that Sat-Chit-Anand Swaroop ATMA (Universal Consciousness). This awareness then sets him free from the endless cycles of birth and death.
Lord Krishna in Shrimad Bhagavad Geeta has summarized following four benefits of Karm Yog:
1. It sets one free from endless cycles of birth and death.
2. There is never a loss of any effort in Karm Yog.
3. There is no adverse result in it.
4. Even little practice of ‘Karm Yog’ is enough to set one free from the fear of birth and death.
Three types of ‘Karm’
In Shrimad Bhagavad Geeta Lord Krishna tells Arjuna to know and understand all three terms – ‘Karm’, ‘Akarm’ and Vikarm’:
1. Karm – means an action in accordance with one’s dharma, performed with DESIRE and DOERSHIP (EGO). This is also known as “sakam karm” or “self-motivated or selfish action”.
2. Akarm – means an action in accordance with one’s dharma, performed without any DESIRE and DOERSHIP (EGO). This is also known as “nishkam karm” or “selfless service”.
3. Vikarm – means an action not in accordance with one’s dharma or the principles of humanity. These are known as “evil actions” for example stealing, cheating, killing innocent people, adultery etc.