A human being is the combination of the five basic elements in the universe namely the space, air, fire, water and earth. However, these basic elements alone will not make a human being. His body is the combination of these basic elements. In reality, a human being is a conscious being with unlimited power. He is guided by his karmas (actions). Even though a person is identified by his body, he is respected and valued by his nature (svabhava), actions (karma) and behaviour. A person’s nature and attitude in life is pivotal in doing the actions. A person has an opportunity to become rude and cruel by his attitude and actions, and at the same time he has the opportunity to become kind and affectionate by his attitude and actions. Among all the creations in the world, only man has the rare opportunity to know his Self. A person’s nature changes according to his knowledge. According to the knowledge, the bhavana (attitude) of the mind changes and the action also changes accordingly.
Inspite of all the materialistic knowledge and technical skills in the world, a person does not know to lead his life in peace. His external knowledge has given him ego (ahankara) and as a result his actions have led him to injustice and various sins. He earns and spends his valuable earnings in the most adharmic way. He lacks knowledge in dharma (justice) and adharma (injustice), in sat (reality) and asat (non-reality). Knowledge to lead life and to reach the goal is given in the vedas and this is Karma yoga. Without understanding this basic principle, people assume everything as predestined.
Every being is a conscious being, Atma, covered by the combination of the basic elements, the body. The path which makes one understand that he is Atma, is dharma. Till the Atma realizes that it is separate from the body, it takes repeated births. Adharma denies one from this knowledge. Karma (action) arises from body (kayikam), speech (vachikam) and mind (manasam). If a person’s soul is hurt, the whole world will get its impact, the only thing is we are not able to realize it. It happens because Atma is non-dual. For example, if there is a wound in the head, the whole body is aware of it. In the same way, when a person is hurt or insulted, it will have an impact in the universal mind. All karmas will have a reason, but all reasons will not lead to karma. Karmas will have bondage, but reasons will not have bondage. Karmas will lead to result and attachment. If the result is in the form of comforts, wealth, name and fame, honour etc, then it will lead to desire and gradually to attachment. Repeatedly we perform karma to satisfy the desires and it gradually leaves likes (raga) and dislikes (dvesha) in a person, which is the seed for the next birth. Karma does not erase desires, it leaves likes and dislikes in the mind. The world is in the mind and not outside. A person’s wealth, relatives, position, or status will not be with him till the end. Only his mind remains with him till the end and so mind should be taken utmost care. The difficulties of the body are till the death, it is Maya, but the mind travels beyond death.
When we perform karma, it leaves behind the likes and dislikes of that karma, which influences to accept or reject the next karma. When we perform an action by karma yoga, it removes the likes and dislikes. When we have likes and dislikes, the actions are affected by it. The likes and dislikes lead to moha (passion) and it covers the discriminative power. It reduces the understanding power of an action.
Vedanta says that attitude (bhavana) is important in performing an action and this is karma yoga.
Karma (actions) can be categorized as many types.
- Nitya karma or niyatham karma – daily duties
- Kamya karma – desire prompted duties
- Naimittika karma or prayachita karma – duties on special occasions
- Nishida karma or vi-karma – actions to be avoided
Attitude of a person is important while performing an action as well experiencing the result. The attitude defines a person. Since attitude is dependent on the bhuddhi (intellect), karma yoga is also known as bhuddhi yoga.
” Thy right is to work only, but never to its fruits; let the fruit of action be not thy motive, nor let thy attachment be to inaction” Gita, verse (2,47).
The above verse explains four points
- One has the right to do an action. Each action has a choice. To deal with a particular situation is our choice.
- Once an action is done, there is no choice for the result. One cannot decide on the result. Once an action is done, the law of nature takes the responsibility to return the result.
- The law of nature returns the result based on the attitude of our action. Our attitude is dependent on our knowledge.
- Sometimes failure makes us weak. We hesitate to venture in to an action with the fear of facing failure. Attachment to inactivity should be avoided. The inherent gunas (nature) in a person will not allow a person to remain ideal. Each one has a particular guna and a person does an action according to his guna. A person can remain ideal externally; however his mind will be always active and planning about actions. The existing impressions of likes and dislikes make a person to perform actions. At the same time, one should not fight and complain about failure. The results are received according to the existing impressions. Try to accept the result as it is with humble attitude. One’s action must satisfy his values.
Attitude of a person while performing nitya karma(daily duties)
- There should not be any likes or dislikes while performing the daily duties (either household or professional). Equal importance must be given for the family, profession and society. If one concentrates on the profession alone, ignoring the family and society, later on the family and society will ignore him. If he gives importance to the family alone, then there will be no progress in the professional life. If the society is ignored, he will remain as a stranger to the society. Therefore, one must train himself to give equal importance for the family, profession and society.
- When we do a favour to others, we normally expect gratitude from them. In case, if they fail to show that gratitude, we feel hurt or insulted. In reality, Atma is non-dual. One is doing a favour to the Atma, and not to that particular person. If that particular person does not return that gratitude, someone else will return that favour in time of our need. Most of the time help comes to us from other sources and not from that particular person. Therefore, one must do a favour with an attitude that ‘I am helping God’ and this is called “Work is worship”.
- Do not try to imitate others action, because an action is done efficiently according to one’s maturity and mentality. A person is efficient in performing his own duty and performing others duty out of jealous or envy will not exhibit his own talent.
- Once an action is done, there should not be any feeling of guilt, because feeling of guilt bothers the action and its result. At the same time, if a wrong action is done then there should be a feeling of guilt because it helps us correct our actions.
When an action is done with these points in mind, it definitely removes the likes and dislikes. Sastra says that in addition to these, a householder is advised to do some additional duties – Yagna, dhana and tapas.
There are five different types of yagna to be performed by a householder.
- Deva yagna – It is the daily prayer offered to God for a period of ten to fifteen minutes. It relaxes the mind, keeps it stable and instil a value of detachment and selfishness. It purifies the mind and prepares one for a higher state of spiritual advancement.
- Rishi yagna – Gratitude must be shown to the rishis because they revealed us the Truth. Gratitude is shown by learning their scriptures and attending satsang (spiritual discussions).
- Pitru yagna – It is the duty to be done to the ancestors, parents and elderly people in the family. The elders in the family should take care of the youngsters in the family. When the youngsters grow up, it is their turn to take care of the elders (by that time they will be very old) and the younger ones. This cycle must go on forever. Even a few kind and affectionate words from the youngsters will give a lot of happiness to the elders, especially the very old people.
- Manushya yagna – The relatives and guests coming to our place of living must be taken care and respected. They have to be treated carefully and fed well.
- Bhuta yagna – It is the gratitude shown towards the nature for helping us to survive. It includes the worship of the five basic elements and the cow worship etc.
Dhanam is sharing. The important duty of the householder is, they have to serve the people of the other ashramas namely brahmachari, vanaprastha and sanyasi. A householder should provide all the facilities for the students and allow them to concentrate on their studies. By sharing, the desires and passion are reduced.
Tapa – We experience the outside world through the body, mind and indriyas (senses). Controlling the mind and indriyas is tapas, by this we can experience the inner world. Tapas helps to experience the inner Self.
The attitude of a person while performing Kamya karma
These karmas are not part of the daily duties, but they are done as a part of entertainment. Dharma should be followed in performing the kamya karma. There should be a limit in performing the kamya karma and even this karma is to be reduced in due course of time.
The attitude of a person while performing the prayachita karma
These karmas are usually performed as a remedy for the failures and difficulties in life. It is better to accept the failure and learn from the mistakes, however if one feels to perform the prayachita karmas, then it should be accompanied with charity. The prayachita karma differs according to the needs of the people.
The attitude of the person while performing the nishida karmas
These karmas are improper karmas. With the attitude that such karmas disturb the family and society, they are to be abandoned. Even some negative emotions like anger, jealous, criticism are considered as nishida karma and it should be avoided.
Bhagavad Gita advises karma yoga. One enjoys the karma and is least considered about the result. Therefore, there is no failure or success. The attitude behind the action is very important. Karma yoga does not leave the impression of likes and dislikes. A person who does karma yoga has a clear goal and his action is not wavered by success or failure. His stable mind induces him to jhana yoga, which is the next step towards liberation. A Karma yogi renounces the mind and do not renounce his actions. Karma yoga is the mean and not the end. It leads a person to liberation by erasing his ego (ahankara), desire, anger and hatred towards others.
This is the essence of karma yoga as explained in Baghavad Gita.