“What goes around comes around”
“Good things happen to good people, bad things happen to bad people”
That was what I understood from the word “karma”. I guess mass media and pop culture had a part to play in this understanding, and it wouldn’t be wrong to say that most people understand this of the word. Personally, it was particularly gratifying to think that I put in X amount of good and Y amount of effort, and therefore I’m due to receive an expected amount of return from what I’ve invested. On the contrary, I told myself that a person who did wrong will get their downfall because “karma is a hardworking and effective b***h”. But I’ve learnt in this course, that Karma Yoga isn’t any of that.
Karma yoga is the path of unselfish action. It teaches that a spiritual seeker should act according to dharma, without being attached to the fruits or personal consequences. It is rightful action without being attached to fruits or being manipulated by what the results might be, a dedication to one’s duty, and trying one’s best while being neutral to rewards or outcomes such as success or failure.
“Your work is your responsibility, not its result.
Never let the fruits of your actions be your motive.
Nor give in to inaction.
Set firmly in yourself, do your work, not attached to anything.
Remain even-minded in success, and in failure.
Even-mindedness is true yoga.”
—Bhagavad Gita, 2.47-49″
So how does one apply karma yoga in their lives?
- The first principle is control. After understanding that we have no control over the consequences or the results from the external world, we need to control our minds. As a beginner taking baby steps in the path, I can’t say I am able to let go of the tendency to seek the fruits of my action. And I think it’s perfectly human to react with emotions when said outcome fails to match our expectations. But one can learn to control the mind and their thoughts. If you decide not to react, your body obeys and the reaction does not follow.
- The next principle is to work detached. To not expect any result, good or bad, focus only on the process: what to do, how to do, why to do, when to do. Perform your good duty – dharma. With the yamas and niyamas as a guiding stick, anything that makes you confident, which brings out the latent power hidden in you is your dharma. Anything that makes your body and mind weak is not your duty.
- Lastly, practice the removal of self. For that you’ll have to let go of your ego. Helping someone else doesn’t bring you “good karma” that you can reap or sow later. It is merely finding peace and satisfaction that you have done something to benefit the good of other people.
In my personal life, I will be the first to admit that I am always competing for the best outcome. Back in school, I’d gun for that coveted seat to lead an entire company of fellow students, so I’d make sure to put in the work to get me there. In my work, I’d “work tirelessly” (while being extremely burnt out) to show my dedication in getting that promotion at the end of the year. When I’m rewarded, I’m thrilled and filled with excitement. And when I’m not, sadness, disappointment, thoughts of pity and failure ensue. And this sets off another round of self-covenant and vows to make myself successful the next time.
But what I’ve found from my practice of yoga (with karma yoga in mind) is the enjoyment of the entire process, without judgement, without comparison, without envy, and with a whole lot of fun. It’s one of the reasons I love being on the mat and when I come to stillness in meditation. Maybe, every action done selflessly helps you to learn more about yourself and helps you to find contentment in the things you do. I don’t know yet, but possibly the path to joy and happiness is to apply the philosophy of karma yoga in all our work, and in every action that we perform.