What is Karma Yoga – कर्मयोग? An Attitude towards Action.


In the Bhagvad Gita Lord Krsna describes to Arjuna the attitude that can defuse one’s likes and dislikes while performing action. This attitude is called karma yoga.

कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन।
मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि॥ २-४७

In Roman scripts—

Karmanye vadhikaraste Ma Phaleshu Kadachana,
Ma Karmaphalaheturbhurma Te Sangostvakarmani

 You have choice over your action but not over the results at any time. Do not (take yourself. to) be the author of the results of action; neither be attached to inaction.

Lord Krsna begins by drawing Arjuna’s attention to a fact: “Work alone is your privilege, never its results ” This sentence has confused many scholars who interpret it to mean that one should perform action without expecting a result This cannot be the intent of Lord Krsnas statement, because it would mean that he would teach Arjuna without expecting him to understand. No one performs action without expecting some result.

What then does the statement mean?

The statement is very clear: you have a choice in your action, but never in the results. The result is determined the moment the action is performed. You cannot avoid karmaphala, the fruit of action. One cannot jump out of a window and expect the result, falling, not to happen, nor can one expect gravity to pull one’s body at a rate less than 32 feet per second per second! The results of action are governed by laws that are not under out control.

We find ourselves in a World governed by laws that are not created by anyone here. We are born according to laws, and the reaping of results is also according to laws. The relationship between an action and its results is governed by the laws of nature, which we can attempt to understand but never change.

The author of these laws is the one we call God or, in Sanskrit, Isvara. It is by His laws that I get a particular result, not by my choice. Therefore the Lord says, “May you not take yourself to be the author of the results of action.” The results are produced by laws which are not under our control.

When I undertake to do something, I expect a result, even ‘ though I know that the results are not under my control, because I have likes and dislikes which I want to be fulfilled. This expectation of result, which is natural, is not a problem; the problem lies in our reaction to the results when they come. The meaning of the verse is: perform action expecting results; act so that you can achieve what you desire; plan and execute your work; but if the result is totally contrary to your expectations in spite of all your wishing and willing, don t react and call yourself a failure.

It is possible to prevent such a reaction if you enjoy an attitude born of an understanding of the nature of actions and their results. An action produces a result that is inherent in the action itself. One Cannot expect what is not contained in the action. You are not the maker of laws that govern the results of actions, nor do you know all the laws that come into play to yield a result; but you do know that things function according to laws and that there is a harmony in the functioning of the universe. For any action, a proper result always accrues according to the laws.

You don’t feel grateful to the banker when you get the money sent by your son every month. He is only an instrument that conveys the money to you from your son who is your benefactor. Likewise, laws are only instruments of the Lord who gives you the result of action. Even when you read these words, the reading takes laws. When you understand this fact, you develop a special attitude: you appreciate that the result of every action comes from the Lord.

The Effect of Karma Yoga – is there any incentive to act?

One might naturally ask whether there will be any incentive to act, or any learning as a result of one’s experiences, if one accepts all results as coming from the Lord. In fact, only with this attitude can you learn from your experiences. A reacting mind cannot learn, for in its despair, frustration, and helplessness it is unable to see things objectively. There is a common saying that experience is the best teacher. Experience can teach if we assimilate it without reaction; but too often we learn nothing from experience and only regret them.

Learning takes place in those moments when your mind is not reacting however infrequent such moments may be. You cannot learn when your mind is angry, hateful or jealous; such a state of mind is not receptive. Action is creative and human; reactions such as. anger, jealousy, etc., are mechanical. You do not become angry, hateful or jealous by choice. Because of such reactions, you are unable to learn from your experiences. The Lord advises Arjuna to avoid such reactions by recognizing that the laws that produce the results of action are not partial to one and cruel to another. The laws that govern the universe are impartial and they never fail. If a result is not according to your expectations, accept it, Change your course, and act again. If your action fails, you are not a failure if you learn from your experience. If you accept the result of your actions, as you accept prasada in a temple or a church, and if you perform all your actions as an. offering, you Will develop a. non-reacting mind, a mind capable of learning.

Swami Dayananda Saraswati

Excerpts from the Teaching of Bhagavad Gita

Links to Swamiji’s Talks & Discourses


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