Karma Yoga is known as the ‘Yoga of action’ or ‘duty’. It is the act of performing a selfless action, where the focus should be on the action and not on the outcome or results. Karma yoga is a path or step towards breaking the karmic cycle, and becoming free from ego, attachments and desires.
What is the meaning of Karma Yoga?
Karma yoga is a path of yoga (the others being Bhakti yoga, Jnana yoga and Raja yoga). This path encourages action without attachment to results. Lord Krishna explains Karma yoga in the Bhagavad Gita by saying, ‘Do your duty without being concerned about the fruits of your actions’. Positive actions lead to positive karmic reactions and negative actions lead to what we call ‘bad karma’ today.
The four main principles of Karma yoga
Karma yoga works on four main principles - duty, ego, attachment and expectation of reward.
We wear many hats of responsibilities and duties throughout our lives. These duties are either concerned with ourselves or family oriented, or they are related to society and friends. Karma yoga calls these duties ‘Dharma’. While it is important to be a supportive friend, caring mother or a good boss, it is of utmost importance that the first obligation you have is to yourself. Ensuring your own health and well-being can make you unleash your true potential to show in a better way for those around you. Give your 100% to any duty you perform, ensuring it reflects your best efforts.
Ego exists in our minds, an image of ourselves and the place we hold in this life. It is represented by the thoughts you have about yourself and others, and it influences likes, dislikes, desires and attitudes. Our behavior and action is often based on how the action will reflect on us as a person, or our image. Ego, when too much, can affect our own perception of reality and harm relationships. Separate your actions from your ego to do selfless deeds. Don’t think of how it will look in your image. The main goal of Karma yoga is to free yourself from ego, let it go and purify your mind of such blockages. That’s when your real image will reflect on the outside.
Detaching yourself from the action and doing the act impartially is the third principle of Karma yoga. It’s not about whether the task is fun or not, it is about doing your best nonetheless.
Expectation of reward
Performing your duty without expecting anything in return is the fourth principle of Karma yoga. Doing the action without expecting recognition, rewards, money, love, etc. is Karma yoga. When you do the act without expectations, the results won’t influence your actions. You will do your best without weighing the efforts to the reward.
Why is Karma yoga important?
There are, however, some benefits of Karma yoga that can be seen immediately and these reflect on our own behavior, attitude and ultimately relationships too.
By regularly practicing selfless deeds without attaching to the results, one can let go of ego. Ego is given less importance, while the focus remains on doing the task. With practice, the intention becomes pure and ego grows smaller. One tends to let go of the ego or the sense of ‘I’ while executing the action.
Focus and clarity
Karma yoga helps purify the mind, reducing confusion and uncertainty. You become more focused on what is important without drawing attachments to the act or the outcome. Awareness and mental stability also improves because you start doing the act with your best efforts and presence of mind.
Good Karma points
It is said Karma carries forward over multiple lives. On a deeper, spiritual level, practicing Karma yoga is a step towards changing the bad karma to the good. This, of course, takes years to correct and requires a consistent, selfless dedicated effort. One should practice Karma yoga keeping this in mind but knowing that every act counts.
Step out of your comfort zone
Karma yoga encourages you to step out of your comfort zone. In time, you learn new skills, develop new interests and realize things you earlier didn’t know.
Improves calmness, mental and emotional strength
By detaching yourself from the results, you realize you are in better control of your emotions. You will not face anger, sadness, disappointment, jealousy, etc. Your patience, tolerance and sense of calmness improves greatly.
How to practice Karma yoga regularly
Start by listing out your duties and responsibilities. Go through this to figure out what are the tasks you do selflessly and what do you do expecting something in return. Identify what you do for yourself - are there self care activities you indulge in? Prioritize all these duties and tasks, reflect on how important they are and how they make you feel. Do you impact your image? Is there an ego side involved? This will help you understand where you are allowing your ego to take the lead. Accordingly, you can decide how much time and energy you should allocate towards those actions.
Apart from what you are doing as your duties, you can start with simple actions in day-to-day life. Help your neighbors, clean up the space around your home, volunteer at a soup kitchen, visit an old age home to talk to the elderly, among others. These are simple actions that bring joy to those around you and add to your good Karma.
Remember to always do your best, be present and perform each task with complete awareness. Learn to accept the outcome, whether good or bad, success or failure. Simply move on to the next action, continuing to do your best.