Swamiji explains how karma should be accepted and transformed into karma yoga in order to set the process of self-enlightenment into motion. Recorded at the Festival of Health held in Bogotá, Colombia, in October 1980.
You may practise raja, hatha, kundalini, mantra and bhakti yoga, but if you underestimate karma yoga, then all these yogas can lead you to a dissipated and dispersed state of mind. Every person who is practising yoga should transform his daily activities through the philosophy of karma yoga.
The purpose of your daily work should become spiritual, or rather you should realize nature’s spiritual purpose behind your karma. If you renounce your karma, your mind will not find a basis for evolution.
Before you can realize the role of karma yoga in relation to spiritual evolution, you must first understand that the purpose of karma yoga is to create a stable base for the mind. In meditation the mind has to remain constantly on one object without any interception of another idea. But if you keep on practising this without having attained the state of sattwa, without having purified the mind, you will only fall back into a tamasic state. In order to prevent this, the practice of karma yoga was designed by nature for every man, because we all have ambitions, desires and passions.
If you don’t have any desire, you definitely will not make any karma. If desire were to be eliminated, then man’s psycho-spiritual evolution would come to a halt. Therefore, desires must not be curbed. You should either fulfil them completely or else realize their uselessness. By curbing your desires, you are killing your opportunity to act. Say you have a desire to have a child. To fulfil this you need to have a wife or husband, a home, a job, shop or business, and then so many things follow. These things are what keep this untrained mind busy all the time. This is how karma keeps the devil beat. Mind is a great force, a supra mental force, and if this force is not properly utilized, it will feed the wrong centres in the mental personality and perhaps become destructive. Therefore, nature has created karma.
In the Bhagavad Gita it says that every action produces threefold reactions - desire, aversion and a mixture of both. If you receive something which you want very much, that makes you happy. However, if you receive something which you don’t want, that makes you very unhappy. If you receive something which you like and dislike, you will be both happy and unhappy. When the mind is affected by negative reactions, it often becomes depressed or deranged, thereby allowing such diseases as asthma, cancer, hypertension or diabetes to take hold. At these times one may even commit suicide or divorce his wife. Anything can happen because the karma affects the personality and the behaviour. So we have to find a way of creating karma whereby the consequences do not affect us. That path is known as karma yoga.
In the pursuit of our day-to-day lives, our attitudes towards karma have become purely materialistic. Every time we think about spiritual life, we think in terms of renouncing karma. In the ashram also, if you ask anyone to do some work they invariably refuse on the basis that all actions are maya, and by this man is bound. But it is not true; karma can never be a cause for bondage. Nature has created karma as a scheme for man to evolve and to know the behaviour and deeper stages of the mind, and through the mind, to achieve spiritual awareness.
Mind and spiritual awareness are not two different things. At one stage there is milk, at another stage the milk becomes curd, at a third stage the curd is churned into butter, at the fourth stage it is clarified into ghee, and finally at the fifth stage it becomes part of your curry. In the same way, at one stage there is the gross body, at another stage the vasanas or passions, at the third stage the psychic experiences, and at the fourth stage the supreme reality.
Atma, or the supreme reality, manifests itself at different stages. The mind is one of these stages and you cannot obliterate the mind. You can only purify the mind and remove the dross, the samskaras. Then, at the very nucleus or basis of the mind, atma, or chaitanya, will be revealed. Therefore, karma yoga is any action which is done with higher awareness, for the sake of the work, because work keeps the mind and body occupied. Even if the work does not pay you in terms of money, still you do it.
In the same way, if you, as householders, try to transform your daily karma into karma yoga, then first of all you have to accept the role of karma in spiritual evolution. Then whatever you do you will feel grace and bliss in every work.
First of all, you must remember that it is not meditation which is the beginning of yoga; it is the training of this undisciplined, uneducated, powerful mind, which flows like a river in full spate. This mind cannot be controlled at different points. It has to be educated. Education is most important and this education is provided to the mind through karma. This means that everything you do, right or wrong, is karma, and that karma can be transmuted into karma yoga provided there is enlightenment in you.
Why are you bored with your work? It is due to your attitude. If the attitude is correct, you can go on doing the same work for fifty years. When you consider your work as a duty, a way of serving others, it never becomes dull. It is only when you think of it in terms of your own development or pleasure that work becomes intolerable and monotonous.
It is actually far easier and more motivating to work for others than for yourself. This is the secret of karma yoga which few understand and are able to apply. This is the difference between karma and karma yoga. You create karma when you act with yourself in mind, with your personal desires and problems as a motivation. When you act, not for yourselves but as a service, an offering to others, the mind is freed and you experience the benefits of karma yoga.
Actually, karma yoga can be practised anywhere at any time. It is not necessary to live in an ashram to practise it. But few under stand the basic principle behind it and the necessity of it being per formed with the correct attitude. In the ashram you learn how to practise karma yoga and this is very important. Other wise, you may spend your whole life working for yourself and in creasing your suffering, rather than working for others and ending your suffering along with theirs.
So karma yoga is a necessary part of life. It is as necessary as eating, talking or walking. For you must go on creating karma as long as you are alive. You cannot live without action. Therefore, let your actions be performed as a service to the evolution of all beings and you will enjoy a life of utter freedom, simplicity and bliss. All your needs will be bestowed on you as if blessings from God. You will never be lonely or suffer any ills. When the mind is at peace with itself, the body attains health. People are drawn to such a person like bees to nectar. It is impossible to keep them away.