The other night I saw a film titled ‘One Track Heart.’ It is the story of the evolution of the kirtan singer, Krishna Das, from hippie, to seeker, to devotee of the Indian saint, Neem Karoli Baba, to lost soul, to family man, to drug addict; and then back to devotee and kirtan singer again. It is very much the story of redemption, a theme with which so many of us resonate.
After the movie Ram Dass gave a beautiful and eloquent talk about his own relationship with his guru, Neem Karoli Baba. Ram Dass indicated that it is Maharaji whose messenger he is. Ram Dass’s talk reminded me of the teaching of Karma Yoga that Lord Krishna gives to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita.
Many people commonly and mistakenly think that Karma Yoga means performing an action without expecting a result. If one considers this, clearly one can see such a thing is not even possible. Why would one even do an action if one did not expect a result?
For instance, I pour a glass of water expecting that my thirst will be quenched. But as I lift the glass of water to my mouth, it slips and falls to the floor. I do not receive the result I expected from my action; and not only that I now have wet feet and a mess to clean up.
How does the above example relate to karma yoga? Karma Yoga is an attitude, an attitude of devotion, realism, and surrender. The karma yoga attitude is also known as prasada buddhi, or Ishvara aparna buddhi. Buddhi means a mental attitude, and Ishvara aparna means an offering to the Lord. Prasada means that which we receive from the Lord as His blessing.
Thus what karma yoga truly means is that we do an act as an offering to the Lord, with the full knowledge that the result is not in our hands. In whose hands is the result of our action? In the hands of the Lord, who operates every single aspect of duality. The Lord is the karma phala data. The data (the giver), of the phala (fruit), of karma (action).
When we perform action as an offering and we accept the results as prasad we then have the karma yoga buddhi, which is attitude of devotion, realism and surrender. With this attitude our hearts every action becomes worship, every action is an offering, and every result we receive is prasad. Om!
let me add here that to be able to be called karma yoga, actions must in fact meet three requirements:
1. The ultimate goal of everything one does is moksha – and not security (artha) or well being (kama).
2. No matter what action is performed, the karma yogi takes the following decisive stance: I do what I can do and know that the result of my action does not lie in my hands. This means that although I stand behind my actions I am not identified with them.
For this Vedanta inevitably includes ‚the divine’. The divine is nothing but the totality of all natural law and order and their seamless interlocking. It is called Ishvara. Karma yoga means: I act in the best of my knowledge and leave the result to Ishvara.
3. Ethical action – ethics following a relatively simple basic pattern: I act as I would like to be treated myself; and I do not act in a way as I myself would not like to be treated. This basic pattern is called dharma and dharma is considered to be universal. As nobody likes to be hurt one should, for example, take care not to hurt anybody. As nobody likes to be cheated, one should not cheat anyone etc. Of course in particular cases one must consider the cultural, social and individual context, but with this rule of thumb one can go quite far.