Karma Yoga

Karma yoga … No stretching, no chanting of ‘Om’ and no wearing stylish yoga clothes required …


Karma Yoga recognizes that spiritual awareness and evolution can be attained through one’s actions in life.  Unclouded by ignorance, desire and attachment, the karma yogi always performs the right action, at the right time, in the right manner… and in this way, finds liberation through active involvement in the world.

More than just Serving

The term karma yoga is often used to refer to the giving of one’s time or professional services to the needy or in support of some benevolent organization.  This is more aptly termed Seva Yoga, or the yoga of selfless service.

… Though seva yoga is often grouped in with karma yoga, one should not loose site of the higher aspects of this practice, and that karma yoga isn’t merely a singular action performed at a specific time and place, but an unbroken selfless and discerning approach to life….

What do you need to practice this traditional branch of yoga?

… A whole lot of attention!

Attention to what you might ask? Well, just about everything!

You see, the karma yogi demonstrates that health, wealth, and the highest spiritual attainments not only can, but MUST be attained through one’s actions in life.

And so you won’t find the karma yogi sitting deep in meditation on some secluded mountain peak, or hidden deep within some remote forest. The karma yogi is a ‘man (or woman) of action!’

But to better understand the practice of karma yoga, we need to first understand what karma is and how karma works.

Karma and Effect

Karma is simply the fundamental, natural law that every action begs a reaction. Karma is the ‘law of cause and effect’. Whether that effect is good, bad, or indifferent doesn’t really have anything to do with it.

If I drive my car incredibly fast, I may crash and suffer injury or even seriously injure someone else – or I may simply arrive at my destination remarkably quickly!

It’s easy to see that ‘result’ itself, whatever it may be, is unavoidable. It’s all karma! Buddhism karma… same thing. Hinduism karma… yep, that too.

Everything that we do, think (or even avoid doing or thinking) sets wheels in motion, perpetually producing fresh karma (results) moment after moment, day after day, year after year…

That’s right… “You are what you eat”, is one of the most famous quotes on karma. You are what you think too, and in other words: “you always get what you deserve”. As one very famous yogi put it:

“Be ye not deceived! As ye sow, so shall ye reap!”
~ Jesus

Now this may sound ominous to some people… but to the practitioner of karma yoga, it reveals a wonderful opportunity…

The Practice of Karma Yoga

The very premise of karma yoga is based upon being able to attain the highest spiritual greatness through active engagement in the material world. And so, as I mentioned earlier, no loafing around in meditation here! Want to be a karma yogi? Get ye busy!

But it should be pretty obvious karma yoga implies a certain kind of ‘busy’.

Busy what?

And busy how?

Busy What?

The karma yogi is active, but his/her action must produce results that are for the good of mankind. The karma yogi is busy picking up garbage, not burning down rainforests!

But it takes a great deal of understanding to know what the effects of our every though, word and action are in life. You may not think about all the ‘effects’ that simply turning on your computer has, but certainly there are many (to the environment, to your eyes, to your spouse and children… who may benefit more from your attention!).

So the ‘busy what?’ part of karma yoga implies that one must have knowledge of the implications of all of their actions, which in reality is an understanding of karma itself (the cause and effect relationships). Thus, karma yoga involves the cultivation of ever-increasing awareness, and a lot of study and deep contemplation.

Busy How?

Here’s the key to karma yoga…

Take your ‘self’ out of the equation. That’s right. The karma yogi performs all of his/her actions, not out of desire for personal gain, but out of ‘rightness’ of the action itself and the benefit for that it has for all.

Well, most of you were probably thinking, up until this point, “sure, I might be able to give this karma yoga thing a try.” Up until this point, I say…

If acting selflessly and relinquishing your desires for personal benefit from any of your actions seem like it would be fairly challenging, then that would probably be an understatement. Being a karma yogi in the 21st century, it has been said, is akin to being a ‘Super Hero’. Modern examples such as the lives of Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa of Calcutta may be good to illustrate this fact.

Active Karma Yoga

So you can see that karma yoga isn’t merely a singular action performed at a specific time and place, but an unbroken selfless and discerning approach to life.

Unclouded by ignorance, personal desire and attachment, the karma yogi always performs the right action, at the right time, in the right manner… and in this way, becomes ‘karma free’

… or rather, free from the necessity of having to reap the results of actions that have negative, or devolutionary effects upon themselves and others.

This is what is meant by the karma yogi finding liberation through active involvement in the world.

Teachings on Karma

The Bhagavad Gita is the classical text on karma yoga. Here, Lord Krishna instructs Prince Arjuna before the commencement of the great battle at Kurukshetra on duty and self-less action.

“Work done with selfish motives is inferior by far to the selfless service or Karma-yoga. Therefore be a Karma-yogi, O Arjuna. Those who seek [to enjoy] the fruits of their work are verily unhappy.”
~ Bhagavad Gita

“All actions take place in time by the interweaving of the forces of nature, but the man lost in selfish delusion thinks that he himself is the actor.

But the man who knows the relation between the forces of nature and actions, sees how some forces of nature work upon other forces of Nature, and becomes not their slave.”
~ Bhagavad Gita

“The person whose mind is always free from attachment, who has subdued the mind and senses, and who is free from desires, attains the supreme perfection of freedom from Karma through renunciation.”
~ Bhagavad Gita

Some quotes on Karma

“How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.”
~ Wayne Dyer

“Men are not punished for their sins, but by them.”
~ Elbert Hubbard

“Did ever a man try heroism, magnanimity, truth, sincerity, and find that there was no advantage in them, that it was a vain endeavour?”
~ Henry David Thoreau

“The salt of life is self-less service.  The bread of life is universal love.  Life is not fully lived, life has not been fully realized, if you do not serve and love the entire humanity.  The secret of true life is in the love of God and the service of humanity.  Live to help others.  The Divine power will stream through you as a life-giving force.”
~ Swami Sivananda

Click here for information on the other Traditional Branches of Yoga: Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga and Bhakti Yoga.

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