By Dr. Rita Khanna
The Meaning of Karma
Karma means action; it stems from the Sanskrit root, Kri – to act. The law of Karma says there will be consequences when we perform any action. The result of eating is to fill the stomach, digest the food, ingest the nutrients, excrete the waste, and then experience hunger for more food. Karmas start with the body, which has to be fed, bathed, clothed, and exercised. As long as a body exists, these Karmas will never be exhausted. Our entire lives are full of actions we cannot get out of doing, no matter how much we want to escape.
The ancient texts advise us to accept our lot and perform actions without neglecting any part of life. This may be understood as completing our Karmas. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna advised Arjuna to act and, because he was a warrior, to fight. He tells Arjuna that Karma Yoga is working, not for the fruits of the actions but for the sake of the actions themselves. Karma Yoga is one of the main paths laid down in the Vedic tradition.
The Meaning of Yoga
Yoga has always been thought of as a series of practices – to be done away from the situations of everyday social life – in a classroom environment or in a retreat in the company of ‘spiritual beings.’ We have thought that if we practice this or that Yoga technique, we will achieve this or that result. What we have done is to make Yoga into a mechanical process leading to self-awareness. We must move away from this idea and make Yoga a part of our natural expression. Only then can Yoga become a process leading to self-realization.
When we practice Yoga as a technique to feel good, then we will feel suitable for a little while. Also, if we practice Yoga to relax, we will relax. If we practice Yoga training to connect with ourselves internally, that will also become possible. However, whatever the attainment may be, it will be momentary, a transitory phase; and when one has to confront life’s realities, tensions, and frustrations again, then the effect of Yoga will take a back seat.
Real Experience of Yoga
Therefore, it must be understood that the experience of Yoga happens through Karma Yoga. Even if you practice Hatha Yoga, Raja Yoga, Kundalini, or Kriya Yoga, you must combine it with Karma Yoga to have a rich experience. You must understand that the whole of life is Karma, and if you avoid Karma, you do not exist.
In the third chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna states that people in the world have never understood the subject of Karma Yoga. He said this 5,000 years ago, and today, it holds because Karma Yoga is a subject that involves understanding human nature, which consists in developing awareness of the total personality. It is observing our movement in life – from gross to subtle to spiritual.
Components of Karma Yoga
There are five components of Karma Yoga.
1. The first component is awareness. Becoming aware begins with the body when we practice Asana. The understanding becomes part of the practice of Asana and the physical movement. If you have to move a finger, you are aware of the direction of the finger, the pull of the muscles, and the movement of the joints.
The emerging awareness dissects the finger into bones, muscles, and nerves. The muscles and bones move differently, the nerves and ligaments pull differently, and the awareness continues to become more acute and more subtle. What you observed before is one experience; later, you see it in its various components and forms. Asana aims to make you aware of your body and how it expresses itself in everyday situations. Awareness in Asana will lead to comfort and stability.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali defines Asana – as a posture in which you are comfortable and stable. You have been sitting here for the last twenty minutes. Are you stable and comfortable? Some of you are, some are not, and those who are satisfied will become uncomfortable after ten minutes.
At present, we are not connected with the body. Firstly, we sit, but we are not aware of sitting. Secondly, we walk, but we are not mindful of walking. Thirdly, we move our bodies, but we are not aware of the body’s movement. The purpose of Asana is to lead you to a state of comfort and stability. Recognition of comfort and peace will only come when you become aware.
2. The second component of Karma Yoga is mental – observing your reactions and inner behavior. Someone says, “You are very beautiful and a great and wonderful person.” Someone else says, “You are hopeless.” These sentences affect your sensitivity and create a reaction. That reaction dominates your preconceptions, beliefs, and ideas. You either feel elated or depressed. The mood changes. A single sentence has the force to alter one’s mood. The first component of Karma Yoga training is awareness; the second is observing your reaction.
Patanjali states in the third Sutra, “The seer becomes established in his nature.” Who is this seer, the observer? What is the role of that observer or seer? The first stage the seer has to experience is how the person responds and reacts to people, situations, and circumstances. This is one of the aims of Meditation as well. Through Meditation, experience and observe the changes in the moods, consciousness, and mind. When we are aware of the manifesting mental expressions, we can direct and guide our mental expressions. Even Meditation becomes a process of realizing the mental, psychological, subtle, and emotional movement, or Karma.
3. The third component is developing immunity from the things that affect you. How do you develop immunity from situations or influences? By coming out of the self-centered perceptions, in which other people or objects don’t exist, and only you are the center and focus of your life. When you are able to move beyond the self-focused, self-centered awareness, then you begin to develop immunity to situations, events, and ideas.
4. The fourth component of Karma Yoga is releasing the emotional blockages. Emotions are very slippery things. Intellect is a straight path, a linear path. Through logic, you can go from point A to point B to point C to point D, a continuous route to the end. Logic or intellect is a straight horizontal path; but the emotions are an inclined path, at least 45 degrees.
It is difficult to climb up, but it is easy to slide down. It is challenging to develop a positive and happy emotional identity, and it is effortless to fall or slide into negative emotions. We have never been taught how to hate or be angry, jealous, or aggressive. It has come naturally; but when we try to teach how to love, how to be compassionate and positive, it doesn’t come naturally. Therefore, emotions are a sloping path; we slide down most of the time, and moving up is a big struggle and a long journey.
Becoming aware of managing your emotional expressions is the fourth component – can you maintain your serenity in success or failure? If you can do it, you will have a very balanced personality. However, you need to have trust, faith, and belief in yourself, and at the same time, you need to believe or have faith and trust in some higher cosmic nature that guides your life.
A Practical Example
The best example is the farmer. The farmer plants seeds and looks after the growth of the plants in the hope that one day, what he has grown will give good results in the form of fruits and grains. However, there is only so much that the farmer can do. Beyond that, he has to wait for divine grace and the climate to be correct. The rain must fall at the right time. The Sun must shine at the right time. There is a limit to human effort.
Then, there is the emergence of divine grace. If the environment is not correct, all the farmer’s efforts will be wasted, and if there is too much divine grace in the form of rain, it can also flood the entire farm. So, up to a point – you need to have that belief, trust, and faith in yourself; beyond that, you need to have belief, trust, and faith in the cosmic force. There has to be a proper balance between the trust you put in yourself and the confidence you put in the Cosmic Force. This harmony of faith is known as Karma Yoga of the emotions.
5. The fifth component of Karma Yoga is letting go of the personal hang-ups, and letting go of the obsessions we create within ourselves. This is known as surrender. Don’t think of sacrifice in terms of philosophical or religious definitions, but as overcoming and releasing the obsessions and becoming free. The moment you can let go of your habits, you become creative. Our obsessions do not allow the creative nature to come forth.
Creativity does not only mean artistic expression. Creativity means the mind and emotions are in full bloom. This creativity is attained when we can release our obsessions and complexes. The next stage then becomes selfless action, which is spontaneous and natural. For something to become selfless, there is no desire, attachment, or association with what is happening.
Otherwise, we all try to convert water into wine the first chance we get – not because it helps us in any way, but because it boosts our ego. The selfish nature is usually the predominant one. To become selfless is one of the hardest things in life.
Once, God decided to give a boon to a saint who had done a lot of penance, but the saint desired nothing more in life once he had seen God and refused to accept anything. So, God gave the saint’s shadow the boon of peace, prosperity, and health. The saint did not know about the boon, but there was peace, prosperity, and health wherever he went. That is a selfless act.
Selfless service, the selfless act, is the final culmination of Karma Yoga. You will see its relevance if you relate Karma Yoga to the other Yogas. Hatha Yoga, without Karma Yoga, has no meaning. You must also be aware that we are not talking about Karma but about Karma Yoga training. When the word “Yoga” is added to Karma, it means harmony in all the movements of life – harmony in all the expressions of the body, mind, and emotions. This is the concept of Karma Yoga – internalizing awareness, becoming aware, and freeing oneself from obsessions and negativity.
Of course, we have to start with something tangible and recognizable, and that is our body, which we carry from the time of our birth to the time of our death. So, in Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga, an association of Karma Yoga, which leads to deepened awareness. This is also how Bhakti Yoga and Karma Yoga lead to the balancing of emotions. About intellect, Jnana Yoga and Karma Yoga leads to greater knowledge, perception, observation, and wisdom.
How does a perfect being walk, eat, live, sleep? Think about it. Karma Yoga has to be added even in Kriya Yoga and Kundalini Yoga. The experience you have with the awakening of the subtle forces, the subtle energies, the psychic centers, has to be harmonized by letting go of the negative tendencies and pulls of those centers. We can begin to understand and incorporate Karma Yoga in our lives by changing our attitudes and perceptions through the practices and systems of Yoga.
If you feel inspired by this article, feel free to publish it in your Newsletter or on your Website. We humbly request that you include the Resource as follows: – Courtesy: Dr. Rita Khanna’s Yogashaastra Studio. A popular studio that helps you find natural solutions for complete health. Also conducts online Yoga Courses and naturopathy Guidance.
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Dr. Rita Khanna
Dr. Rita Khanna is a well-known name in Yoga and Naturopathy. She was initiated into this discipline over 25 years ago by the famous Swami Adyatmananda of Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh (India).
Dr. Rita firmly believes that Yoga is a scientific process that helps us to lead a healthy and disease-free life. She is also actively involved in practicing alternative medicines like Naturopathy. Over the years, she has successfully practiced these therapies and assisted several chronic and terminally ill patients through Yoga, Diet, and Naturopathy. She is also imparting Yoga teacher training.
Dr. Rita Khanna is currently running a Yoga Studio in Secunderabad (Hyderabad, India).
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