Karma & Yoga

Namaste all

I just wanted to share some thoughts to TTC students who are studying concepts of karma in the last two weeks. Since these are essential yoga concepts, sending to all of you.

During the lecture, when I asked the students as to what the word karma implies, they answered correctly and collectively, ‚Äòaction’!.

Again, when asked what the word ‚Äòaction’ implies, they answered ‚Äòmovement’.

And that is correct. The scripture Vaisheshika sutra defines karma as five kinds of movement- upward movement, downward movement, sideways movement, contraction and expansion. (utkshepanam avakshepanam akuncanam prasaranam gamanam iti karmani).

All kinds of action can be summed up in these movements.

For eg, right now I am engaged in the karma (action) of typing words. And as I look, my fingers are lifting upward (utkshepanam) from the key board, and then striking downward (avakshepanam). My eyes are moving sideways (gamanam) as the words display in a left to right direction. And so on.

Now, if that is karma, then what is karma yoga?

Bhagavad Gita gives four sutras defining karma yoga

1. You have authority to action only (karmany eva adhikararah te)

2. You have no authority over its fruits (ma phaleshu kadachana)

3. Do not act in a way by which you become bound by the reaction to action (ma karma phala hetuh bhu)

4. Do not ever be attached to not doing activities under your responsibility (ma te sangah astu akarmani)

In these four principles, the first and last lines stresses on the importance of action.

The last line admonishes one from refraining from actions one is supposed to do. (So you are a yoga teacher? Then you cannot be attached to inactivity in terms of pranayama, meditation, study etc, so to speak).

The second and third emphasises the importance of not getting attached, while in action. Now, talking of attachment while in action, two aspects are there.

One is, the attachment towards a desired result. Here, our action becomes tainted with the intrinsic craving towards a particular result. Even asana practice gets tainted with this desire for particular outcome. When one is tainted with attachment to particular results, generally happiness do not ensue. One also does not get a full absorption with karma or action, and then cannot experience karma yoga.

The second attachment is by way of ego. The thought that ‚ÄòI am the doer, I am the experiencer’, which accompanies all out actions. Here what happens is, this thought binds us to the action; then roll us towards the precipice of results of action; where we are left reaping and weeping over what is happening, which we only created.

This can be huge egoistic ideas, as well as simple ideas. Say, the rising (utkshepanam) of a ‚Äòtiredness’ thought in mind. We then quickly get attached to tiredness, and say, I am the tired one. Then there is downward plunge (avakshepanam) of energy. Instead if we can see thought formations in mind as the natural karma of mind, and in that karma of mind, perceive an akarmanyam (non action) of the perceiving consciousness, then we remain free from being bound by it. (TTC students, remember the verse, karmany akarma ya pashyed..)

Now, what does this practice ultimately give you?

Karma yoga in an ultimate sense is about getting our awareness released from the cycle of karma; which is-

· Vasanas of previous births leading to current birth,

· New actions in the current birth,

¬∑ Outcome of actions and reaction to outcome of actions- ‚ÄòI like it or hate it, I want this again, I am the one who is doing it.. i am great or lousy’.. and so on,

· Formation of news samskaras and vasanas,

· Death..

· And again the residual vasanas start the cycle.

We are all trapped in this swirling circle of the above mentioned points

There is a touching story in the Mahabharata of Prince Abhimanyu. He was a valiant prince. In the Mahabharata war, the enemy army organised an army formation called chakravyuha (ever spiralling army formation). Such formations are very difficult to break into, and it can inflict very heavy damage on the opposing army. This particular formation, none knew how to penetrate it except the young prince. And break it he did. He went into the spiralling formation and waged a valiant battle. But he didn’t know how to escape it. And finally perished.

Similarly we too plunge in like Abhimanyus to situations,.into karma vyuhas (spiralling circles of karma).. to break in seems so easy and enticing. But then, once in, our awareness gets enmeshed, getting entangled deeper and deeper into the karmavyuha.. and slowly start to succumb to burning desires.. strangling attachments..and piercing repercussions..

Let us all be very aware of karma and its wheel. All of us are like warriors in the field of life. Or, shall I say, like tigers in the woods. Speaking of that, let us also shed this juicing on gossip about another person’s fall. Truly there are more tigers in the woods than Tigerwood, and let us be more aware of the thoughts in our own consciousness.. Even the Gita warns us that situations can blow even a strong man of discrimination off path, like a strong gale of wind can steer a boat off course.. so let us not be too critical, and practice more mindfulness of our thoughts.. let us be watchful for the subtle rising (utkshepanam) of desires and temptations.. let us act (karma) to put it down (avakshepanam) with proper thinking and.. if that doesn’t work, even through prayers.. and it is not about running away from people or situations.. it is mainly a reorienting and a clarity of perception which is required.. which can lead to understanding, right action and peace..


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