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The Spirit of Karma Yoga

--by Baba Hari Dass (Sep 24, 2012)



What is Karma Yoga?

Karma Yoga is a selfless act. Any work which does not directly fulfill your ego is Karma Yoga. If someone's tire is punctured and you stop to help, that is spiritual work. If you remove a nail from the road because you think someone may step on it, that is Karma Yoga.  How you perform an act makes it Karma Yoga -- and not what you do. The spirit of Karma Yoga is an internal thing. No one on the outside can tell if someone is doing Karma Yoga or selfish action.
 
Suppose your aim is good but a situation still makes you angry?
 
Selfishness. Somewhere there is selfishness.
 
How does one avoid attachment to one's own duty?
 
It's very hard to avoid attachment when we have strong desire for the world. Attachment gives reality to desires. You desire ice cream but if you have no attachment to ice cream, that desire will be forgotten very quickly.
 
The question is, how to remove attachment? You do something and the first thing that comes into mind is, "It's for me; I am the owner of it." If we start seeing our actions as for the world and what we are doing as part of the world, then gradually the mind becomes nonattached. It will not affect your activities in the world. Only the mind's relationship toward action is changed. One should make an attitude of selfless service in all actions and thoughts.
 
What is non-attachment?
 
The term "attachment" is a little hard to understand. When we say "nonattachment" it sounds like not caring or not feeling any responsibility. For example, a farmer and his laborer plow a field and sow seeds. After working hard together all day, the laborer leaves. At night it rains so hard that the field floods and the seed is destroyed. How does this affect the farmer and how does it affect the laborer? The laborer worked harder than the farmer but he isn't affected by the destruction of the seed. His attachment is limited to his duty. These are two separate things: 1) attachment to duty 2) attachment to doership and ownership.
 
To do your job thoroughly and do your duty well it would seem that you would have to think about the fruit of your labor.
 
The "duty" term includes working with complete concentration, cheerfulness and thoroughness. You have a duty to your family. You think, plan and create a livelihood; that is important. The attachment that develops is the cause of pain, anger and fear. But your mind cannot separate from expectation of the fruit. We must realize that the fruit is not in our hands. [...]
 
You mentioned performing one's duty perfectly. What does that mean?
 
It means not to leave the work half done, not to be trapped in dualities or your physical comfort. Keep your enthusiasm up.
 
--Baba Hari Dass, a silent monastic at Mt. Madonna, in "Selfless Service: The Spirit of Karma Yoga" 


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Previous Reflections:

 
On Sep 21, 2012 Conrad P. Pritscher wrote:
 Once again, I do not know.  One can stop oneself from judging the selfishness of others by not being a separate self.  That is difficult.  My experience with the root of anger is when I was a young child, I would say to myself I will not get angry like my father gets angry.  As an adult I still get angry and do not realize my selfishness often until after I am angry.  My anger is selfish action and what Dass calls Karma Yoga arises when I am not selfish.  I am at times narcissistic and thus I delude myself more often than I care to.  What I understand by "performing one's duty perfectly" is that perfection of any kind is impossible for me since I do believe protection is ever attained.  Paradoxically, accepting my imperfect self as I am may be considered that which leads to a sort of perfection. There always seems to be "more" that one may do to be unattached.  Warm and kind regards to everyone.

On Sep 21, 2012 Conrad P. Pritscher wrote:
 In what I said below I wish to change: “since I do believe protection is ever attained, to:  “since I do not believe perfection is ever attained.”  Sorry to confuse you by not checking my voice recognition dictation carefully.

On Sep 21, 2012 Ganoba wrote:
 There is a confusion between self and ego.
The self is not bound by time and space, hence it is free from the linear rule of cause and effect. For the self time, like space does not travel. It just is, hence it does not bother about consequences. It does what needs to be done in the present moment. Call it duty if you like.
The ego is an image of the self as seen by the others (for the self there are no others) which itself is a myth. Hence the ego performs and recommends only those actions that would be beneficial to it. The egos perspective is narrow and short term. The ego has a tunnel vision, a tunnel that gets narrower as we proceed along it.
Liberal and liberating action (Karma Yog) is not egocentric. It is not selfless but self full.

On Sep 23, 2012 david doane wrote:
I do notice myself being less judgmental, but judgments of others still occur.  What helps me be less judgmental is to be aware of the judgmentalness and not foster it, let it go.  Awareness that I and others are one also helps me judge less.  What also helps me be less judgmental is awareness that I don't know where someone is coming from, what experience or context or history their action is coming from, which seems to make me more compassionate.   Selfishness as attachment to what I want is the root of anger. Being truly attached to what I want and not getting what I want can easily result in anger.  I've done that many times in my life, and as I've grown a little in nonattachment I am more accepting and less angry.  "Performing one's duty perfectly" means to me focus on process, not outcome.  That is, performing or engaging in the process perfectly, be it an interaction or a behavior or whatever, and not worry about the outcome, detach from the outcome, and trust that a good outcome will happen.

On Sep 23, 2012 Narendra wrote:
 How can we stop ourselves from judging the selfishness of others, based on the wisdom that no one can know whether the act sprang from Karma Yoga or selfish action? Karmayoga creates  'happiness for all', without exceptions.  This intention separates Karmayoga from actions based on selfish goals..... Genetics, environment and culture dominate all life forms. In most cases, our lives are patterns in evolution and conformation. We evolve from ignorance to selfishness, and on to unselfishness, as we all search for love, peace and happiness in life. Some are ahead of others in evolution. Therefore, with an open mind, it is possible to stop judging and, help or appreciate others – or ignore them, if they are not harming anyone........ The author traces selfishness as the root of anger, even when the intent is good - what is your experience on this? Karmayoga is an expression of unconditional love in action. There is no room for anger when there is love.  Anger is an expression of selfish ego. It separates us from the flow of love in nature or the Self, with ego-made rules.... Can you share a story from your life that illustrates the difference between Karma Yoga and selfish action?  Selfish action and associated ego lead me to a turbulent life of competition and left me in isolation, with only material comforts and emptiness of heart. Unselfish effort (Karmayoga) attracted other unselfish, loving people in to my life. It provided fulfillment of love. Surprisingly, the identity that my ego craved for was also fulfilled! As a result, my 'ego' supported my unselfish efforts!....What do you understand by "performing one's duty perfectly?"   Perfection is a state. The world we live-in, is in constant transition. There is no perfection. However, perfection can be an unattainable goal like Nirvana or Moksha, as long as it does not generate stress and unhappiness. We have an obligation to do the best we can in any accepted responsibility. This requires a disciplined Dharmic life to overcome the disturbing body instincts, emotions and thought patterns.  The Process of Dharmic life or Karmayoga, starts with a 'Dharma mantra' such as 'Discipline, love, courage, truth...etc', to reprogram our attitude.  

On Sep 25, 2012 Jeff wrote:
 In the book Your Soul's Gift, author Robert Schwartz used psychics to access pre-birth plans.  Now granted this is tenuous so just consider this a spiritual theory (i.e. it can not be proved) but it is quite interesting nonetheless.  One of the findings was that in many cases people would agree to come to earth with someone else in order to experience something we judge as "bad" or "selfish" (alcoholism for example) in order that their partner might experience spiritual growth through dealing with the challenge.  One example was of a highly advanced soul who came to earth as the brother of two rich women and subsequently became a homeless alcoholic.  The purpose of his life was a great sacrifice to them and was for their growth, and yet society would judge him as a failure and as someone to be pitied. This clearly illustrates that we can never know whether actions are selfish or born out of great love.

On Sep 25, 2012 Bijay Naik wrote:
 If you believe that you truly understand, within your own mind, what truth is approximated by the Buddhist concept "Sunyata" and you are fully satisfied with your own understanding without any trace of doubt within your mind, then you have the tools to deal appropriately (call it Karma Yoga or whatever you like) with situations where you become angry with others and others become angry with you, you judge others and others judge you, you fail in your duty and you see others fail in their duties, you see misfortune overwhelm you and many others, you relentlessly hear about war and destruction on earth, as well as situations when you do a selfless act and see many others do so for your benefit and for others, you forgive injustice done to you and see others forgive you for the damage you have done to them, you hear about people give up their own lives to save other lives, plus all the beautiful and ecstatic situations you can encounter in life.... and the list can go on and on.  Life is amazing, the unfathomable mystery of it!

On Sep 25, 2012 Rajesh Singh Sisodia wrote:
 This article enlightened me. In fact I was having a different perception about "Karma Yoga". I meant simply doing our deeds & fulfilling our responsibilities towards our family, society & the Government. But Baba Haridas has replicated our Holi Book "The Bhagwat Geeta". Lord Krishna too emphasized on selfless acts for well - being of others.

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