Karma Yoga: How to Practice? Types, Importance & Principle

Karma Yoga

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

But, how many times we work for our 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 into 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 work 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 are Bhakti Yoga (Path of Devotion), Jnana Yoga (Path of Knowledge) and Raja Yoga (Path of Discipline).

The path of karma yoga emphasizes 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, Karma Yoga classification shows how many ways karma affects us.

Karma can be categorized on two bases.

  1. Intention
  2. Timeline

(A) Karma based on the intention

On the base of this category, Karma is of two types.

1. Sakama Karma

Every single thought or physical action that creates ‘mine’ or ‘your’ sense in the person mind is sakama karma. This karma reveals the selfish nature. Yoga is not mean for sakama karma because sakama karma keeps us bound in the bondage of karma. It creates egoism, hatred, jealousy in a person’s heart consciously or unconsciously.

2. Nishkama Karma

It breaks the bondage of karma & let ourselves free from the cycle of death & birth. Nishkama karma is the selfless action to the others. Forgiveness, helping, loving thoughts and compassion behaviour of humanity is the example of selfless action. The practice of Nishkama karma leads seeker towards renunciation, which further purifies the mind.

(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 in the future, is another base to categorized karma yoga. On this base, There are three types of Karma Yoga.

1. Sanchita Karma

Sanchita is the Sanskrit word for ‘Accumulation’. Every person has to go from some set of Karma in their life. As we live in the present, a conclusion of this karma starts accumulated as Samsara. Indeed, sanchita karma is an accumulated work of the past, the glimpse of which can be seen in the present ‘Character’ of person.

It is the Law of Karma – What we do in present accumulate in the past (Sanchita) & shows 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.

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.

The role of Karma Yoga in an ordinary person’s life can be seen in the narration between Lord Krishna and Prince Arjuna in Bhagavad Gita 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). Prince Arjuna was hesitating to fight against friends & relatives in Mahabharat war & so he asked Krishna 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 in modern society. According to him, 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 (Pleasure or Pain) of karma.

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

Importance

1. 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. 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 1.

3. 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 2 ‘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. 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.

How to Practise?

Principle of Karma Yoga

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.

References

  1. Karma yoga: A path towards work in positive psychology[source]
  2. Karma Yoga – A book by Swami Vivekananda [source]

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