During the Yoga Chakra program, Swami Niranjanananda expounded on the subject of karma yoga. As one of the spokes of the yoga chakra, the wheel of yoga that has been given by Sri Swami Satyananda, karma yoga is an inherent part of the Bihar Yoga tradition.
Swamiji explained that when Sri Swamiji received the mandate from Sri Swami Sivananda to spread yoga from ‘door to door and shore to shore’, he began to observe the needs of people. After nine years of travelling the length and breadth of the Indian sub-continent he realized that the needs of people that must be addressed through yoga are physical, psychological, and spiritual. He chose six yogas for this purpose, which have since become the hallmark of Bihar Yoga. The six yogas are hatha yoga, raja yoga, kriya yoga (constituting the practice aspect), karma yoga, bhakti yoga and jnana yoga (constituting the behavioural aspect). Together they make the yoga chakra, the six-spoked wheel of yoga.
Swamiji also stated that in the second chapter of the Bihar School of Yoga, which has commenced after the golden jubilee of the institution, the focus is no longer on propagating yoga but on experiencing the depth of yoga. In the process of experiencing this depth, the practical aspects and the behavioural aspects both have to come together. Therefore, there is a need to understand the six yogas from a different perspective.
Swamiji explained how hatha yoga and karma yoga complement each other in the yoga chakra, and have parallel goals. There are three aims of hatha yoga: one, shuddhi, or purification, through the practices of shatkarma; two, the experience of balance between ida and pingala, the lunar and solar energies in the body; three, the experience of laghavam, lightness, which follows naturally from attaining the first two goals. Similarly, there are three aims of karma yoga defined by Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita: atmashuddhi, or purification of the self; akarta bhava, finding a balance between doing one’s best yet feeling like a non-doer; naishkarmya siddhi, the state where one does not feel the weight of any karma, attained when the first two stages are perfected.
To understand how these three goals may be reached, Swamiji said that we have to simply look at the life of Sri Swamiji. In his guru’s ashram in Rishikesh he worked ceaselessly, through which he attained atmashuddhi. When he built the monument of yoga in Munger, the attitude that he maintained was that of akarta bhava; it was an offering to his guru, Sri Swami Sivananda. During his life in Rikhia, he attained naishkarmya siddhi, when everything happened around him without his involvement in any karma.
Swamiji said that the primary reason we are not able to practise karma yoga is that we are propelled by our desires and do not recognize our dharma in a given situation. Karma is based in desire but karma yoga is based in dharma. It is a way to use karma for conscious evolution and requires moment-to-moment awareness of one’s attitude towards a karma and then refining that attitude. This can be done through a six-pronged approach:
The practical sadhana of karma yoga, therefore, is Review of the Day, through which one can maintain awareness of one’s responses and make a conscious effort to change and improve the actions the next day, for example by applying pratipaksha bhavana. Swamiji gave examples of how two different results are obtained when one associates with one’s attachments and desires or with the dharma inherent in an action.
Swamiji further said that in order to come to the state of akarta bhava, the feeling that ‘I am not the doer’, one has to recognize who the doer is, which is Prakriti, the energy that acts on any action through a particular guna. Therefore, here one has to be able to recognize the activity of the gunas, and make the effort to connect with the energy of sattwa. Through this the negative ego reduces and one becomes established in the identity of the non-doer even while acting. To attain this state, in any action:
If one can come this far, then one attains naishkarmya siddhi, which is a state of mind where action and inaction are the same. This is when one is able to see the param tattwa, the essence, the that-ness, in everything. Now whether one does something or not, one does not feel the weight of the action. At the same time, one’s actions become useful for everyone. One becomes the creator of karma; one is no longer subject to karma.
From the satsangs in the Yoga Chakra program, what has made the deepest impression is learning that there are the teachings and the practices, and then there is the task of bringing these into everyday life if I am to change those negative, tamasic aspects of myself. This is not a small task, but rather one that requires ongoing effort, commitment, dedication, and moment-to-moment awareness. It is not something I can pick up when time permits or the mood of my mind allows, but rather it is something which I need to develop into a continuous thread of awareness in order for conscious evolution to occur.
I can observe my mind and see whether I am approaching something as a burden or dharma or desire; I can observe which guna is predominant; I can be aware of attachment and work to reduce it and I can cultivate the attitude of non-doer. I can, upon finishing the task, dedicate it to guru or the Divine. And I can aim to see the ‘that-ness’ in everything and everyone.
-Sannyasi Chintamani, New Zealand
The way karma yoga was introduced to us, profoundly and yet explained in an understandable way, makes me feel “Yes, I can and will live this in the life that I have been given.” It is such an inspiration. It is more than inspiration. I feel as if I am infused with spiritual awareness.
During the satsangs, when Swamiji was speaking and all 150 of us were sitting totally still, I wondered, ‘Are we breathing as one?’ It was like an awakened awareness in the air that you could almost touch. We are blessed indeed.
-Sannyasi Jayatma, Sweden
In the current world of commercial yoga, doga and bhoga, words come short to thank and appreciate Swamiji for maintaining and protecting the purity and sanctity of the science of yoga, for exploring and sharing the deeper knowledge and understanding of yoga vidya, of which the Yoga Chakra program is a part.
I respect Swamiji as the sole ‘crusader’ to hold up the vision and mission of yoga as revealed by the rishis and updated for the generations to come. And I offer my gratitude to him for clarifying that yoga should not just be ‘practised’ on the mat, but ‘experienced’ off the mat through a yogic lifestyle and application of yogic principles in our daily lives, with an updated GPS (Guru Positioning System)!
-Sannyasi Garuda Chaitanya, Bulgaria
Yoga vidya, in the literal sense of the word, is what I received in my first visit to BSY. I am taking back with me experiences and knowledge that I will continue to imbibe in the future.
Ashram life taught me a lot. How to achieve happiness by living the simplest life yet the most meaningful one. Little did I give during my stay but so much I am taking with me: seva, satsang, sattwa, smiles, shanti paths, serenity, simplicity, happiness and peace. And knowing that I have to just go into myself to find it all right there.
Heartfelt thanks to BSY for helping us find the path to enter into a new world of serving, loving and giving.
-Ranjana Pradhan, Nepal