What Is Karma Yoga: Its Principles, Types and Importance

Karma Yoga

We all indulge in some work in our daily life, don’t we?

But, how many times we work for own or others without any fear, attachment or desire of outcome. Probably, a very few times! We can feel the pure joy of heart when devoting ourselves in such works.

This is the point, where the practice of Yoga Asana comes out of mat & Karma yoga begin into daily life.

The practice of Karma yoga teaches you how to live happily while being in the hustle of daily life. Serving attitude towards the ‘karma (work)’ opens the gate of spiritual liberation (moksha) for a yogi.

What is Karma Yoga?

The word ‘Karma’ originated from Sanskrit root ‘Kru’ which means ‘Work’ or ‘Action’. Karma consists of action we perform consciously or unconsciously & result of that action.

Karma (action) is not only the physical work but the process of mental thinking also. When Yoga is added to karma, it becomes a practice of union with one’s true self through ‘action’.

Hence, every action which brings our awareness inwards to knowing the true self is the part of karma yoga.

Another definition of Yoga can be pointed around the word ‘Karma’ in Bhagavad Gita.

What is Karma Yoga

”Yogah Karmasu Kausalam” ~ Bhagavad Gita 2.50

Yoga is an art of getting perfection (kausalam) in every work (Karmasu) of life. This perfection comes in karma with the regular practice of devoting karma to others. Hence, Perfection in karma is considered yoga also.

Karma Yoga is ‘path of action’, one among 4 paths of Yoga in spiritual practices of Hinduism. Other 3 paths in this series are

  1. Bhakti Yoga (Path of Devotion)
  2. Jnana Yoga (Path of Knowledge)
  3. Raja Yoga (Path of Discipline).

See also: Karma yoga in 4 Paths of Yoga

The path of karma yoga emphasizes on doing ‘selfless work’ according to dharma (moral duty), not on the consequences of results. A karma yogi treats ‘work (karma)’ like prayer where there is no outcome desire expect from karma.

Performing karma in such a way eliminates violence, ego from the seeker’s heart & replace it with love, joy & compassion.

Types of Karma Yoga

Yoga is not karma, but it’s the practice to go beyond the karma. Not every karma is considered yoga. Hence, Types of Karma Yoga shows how many ways karma affects us.

Karma based on these 2 references, categorized as follows.

  • Intention
  • Timeline

(A) Karma based on the intention

Based on what’s your intention behind the initiation of work, karma is of following 2 types.

1. Sakama Karma

Every single thought or physical action that creates ‘mine’ or ‘your’ sense in the person’s mind is Sakama karma. This karma reveals the selfish nature of a person.

Yoga is not mean for Sakama karma because it keeps us bound in the bondage of karma, while yoga (Karma yoga) freed us from the bondage of karma.

Sakama Karma creates egoism, hatred, jealousy in a person’s heart consciously or unconsciously.

2. Nishkama Karma

Nishkama means Selfless action. The good thing about selfless action is that it breaks the bondage of karma & let ourselves free from the cycle of death & birth.

When intention behind karma is not the main aim, a person actually imbibing the path of Nishkama Karma.

Forgiveness, helping, loving thoughts and compassion behavior of humanity is the example of Nishkama or selfless action. The practice of Nishkama karma leads seeker towards renunciation, which further purifies the Chitta.

(B) Karma based on the timeline

  1. Sanchita Karma
  2. Prarabdha Karma
  3. Agami Karma

An action we had performed in the past, performing at the present moment & the result of the action we will get, is another base to categorize karma yoga. On this base, There are three types of Karma Yoga.

1. Sanchita Karma

Sanchita is the karma we had performed in the past. The literal meaning of Sanchita is ‘Accumulation’. Hence, Sanchita is the set of accumulated actions of the past.

Every person has to go from some set of Karma in their life. As we live in the present, a conclusion (or rest) of this karma starts accumulated as Samsara 1.

Indeed, sanchita karma is that glimpse of whose can be seen in the present ‘Character’ of person.

It is the Law of Karma – What we do in present accumulate in the past (as Sanchita karma) & appears in our future.

2. Prarabdha karma

Prarabdha is that part of karma (performed karma) which is responsible for the present condition of a person.

If you are experiencing something good this moment, it’s undoubtedly because of the past karma of yours. Prarabdha karma is only can experiences whether it’s good or bad, not changed. It’s a debt of our past karma (Sanchita).

3. Agami Karma

Agami means forthcoming. This karma is the result of prarabdha karma. It can be modified according to the present of our working.

Out of these 3 Karma, Sanchita and Agami karma is not in our responsibility right now. Krishna tells, Prarabdha Karma is the only responsibility of a person who decides everything.

Conclusion

Karma yoga demands you to work on Prarabdha karma only (Present action), as it’s only our moral duty to focus on present condition or work, not past (Sanchita) or future (Agami) karmas.

The role of Karma Yoga in an ordinary person’s life can be seen in the narration between Lord Krishna and Prince Arjuna on sacred Hindu text Bhagavad Gita in Chapter 3.

Karma Yoga in Bhagavad Gita

Karma Yoga in Bhagavad Gita

Karma is the key to freedom, Bhagavad Gita states, from the cycle of death and birth (salvation).

In Mahabharat war, prince Arjuna was hesitating to fight against friends & relatives & so he asked Krishna (incarnation of Lord Vishnu) why asking him to fight (To do karma). Then Lord Krishna, who was a charioteer of him at that time, preach the role of karma according to dharma (individual’s moral duty) in the following verses.

Verse 3.4: Krishna tells to Arjuna – karma is to purify the thoughts and emotion of heart. A person can’t let go away from the responsibility of karma to become a monk. Only after purification from karma, a person can live a monk life.

 

Verse 3.5: Karma is a quality of active soul. Trigunas (Rajas, Tamas, Sattva) are the constituents of Soul. Hence, the soul constraint every individual person to perform some karma every second.

Other than Bhagavad Gita, several philosophers described the effect of karma in a person life. Swami Vivekananda was one of them.

Swami Vivekananda, A Hindu monk, makes understand the philosophy of Karma Yoga in a very revolutionary way to modern society.

Karma yoga According to Vivekananda,

Humankind’s ultimate goal is knowledge & thus it becomes the source of karma. The result of karma comes at the end can be pleasurable or painful. A person’s reaction to the particular karma decides the ‘Character’ of that person.

Karma Yoga creates a balance between the result of karma. Balance of pleasure or pain, sorrow or happiness and ease or comfort.

Based on what we learned until now, we can conclude the following importance of karma yoga in a person life.

Importance of Karma Yoga

1. Source of Activeness – the practice of karma yoga brings activity in every aspect of life. Activeness is the key for self-development as it makes us realize the suffering or pleasure of life.

2. Teaches to Be Even-Minded –  When awareness is detached from the karma’s result, then yoga teaches us how to be evenminded in any condition. A balanced mind is the sign of a calm person. Hence, detached Karma is the quality factor of the mind’s calmness & positive psychology 2.

See also: Vrittis – Mind Fluctuation Causes

3. Helping Ourselves by Helping Others –  A right Karma is helping others. But, in the process of helping others, we help ourselves ultimately because it fulfills our heart with joy & perfection.

4. Swami Vivekananda said 3 ‘Life is good or bad according to the state of mind in which we are’. Karma Yoga shows action need be our only step ahead result, whether good or bad is just the state of mind.

5. One Pointed Consciousness – We say something, do something, show something, and something else is going on inside us. It makes our consciousness shattered. Regular practice of karma done with rightful intention removes all these demerits.

When it comes to applying the tents into life, there are some principles of karma yoga. A karma yogi seeker can follow these principles to do karma yoga.

Principles of Karma Yoga

Principle of Karma Yoga

It’s very easy to emulate the practice of karma yoga in your daily life with these principles of practicing it.

1. Start serving yourself

Serving to the self is the beginning step to start the journey of karma yoga. Whether it’s work of a household or corporate life, specify your job & don’t let others do it for you. This practice will keep you active & build a foundation of serving others too.

2. Be a genuine person

A tendency of faking to the karma makes a wall of duality in personal life. Most of the time peoples show something and something else is going on inside them. Presenting the true nature in front of others helps you to be conscious of the present moment.

3. Love your work

We know The Law of Karma, i.e. what we do in the present, is reflected in the future. Further, Prarabdha Karma is only what is in our right. Loving the work prepares a firm foundation for tomorrow (agami karma).

4. Practice to be compassionate

A few words of compassion can positively affect many critical conditions. Compassion came as an integral part of karma yoga when seeker absorbed into the karma. Practice compassion to mankind, animal and nature, and you will observe good vibes around you in every condition.

5. Forgo the result

To practice karma yoga, one of the keys is letting go of the outcome of karma. Krishna tells to Arjuna in Bhagavad Gita ‘Do your work, it’s your duty & leave the result of work on me (God)’.

6. Respect the consequences

Some people don’t let accept the result in a certain situation of life. Try to calm the mind in the critical situation of life and become a silent observer of karma. Respecting the consequences of a result and again doing karma with the same enthusiasm is like respecting God’s offerings.

Conclusion

In nutshell, karma yoga is the real essence of yoga as it’s the practice of going beyond the consequence of any actions. When we start devoting ourselves to the work (karma), it becomes something we can devote to our true-self (soul).

What do you think, how karma affects us! When make us think about our upcoming thought, is what your karma of the last moment.

Tell me in the comment section, how you are practicing karma yoga in your daily yoga practice at home.

References

  1. karma in Samsara [https://tricycle.org/magazine/samsara-meaning]
  2. Karma yoga: A path towards work in positive psychology[https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3705674/]
  3. Karma Yoga – A book by Swami Vivekananda [https://www.vivekananda.net/PDFBooks/KarmaYoga.pdf]

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