Karma Yoga is selfless service. We all know what selfishness is: immersion of oneself in one’s own ego and self-gratification. Selflessness is the conscious giving up of one’s self-importance so as to experience the joy of one’s release into the infinity of all of existence. This process is intensified by acting for the betterment of the lives of others.
Sri Chinmoy finds no incompatibility between the life of responsibility and the efforts of Yoga. Sri Chinmoy writes:
“May I say a word to those who are married and have great family responsibilities? To your utter amazement, all such responsibilities will be transformed into golden opportunities the moment you try to see God in your children, the moment you realise that you are serving God in your self sacrifice.
In its ability to fulfil the husband, to establish him divinely in the boundless expanse of matter, to raise his consciousness into the realm of Spirit, the untiring and spontaneous sacrifice of the wife has no substitute. In its ability to inundate the wife’s soul with the Peace of the Beyond, to beckon her heart to the ever blazing Sun of Infinity, to transmute her life into Immortality’s Song, the husband’s promise has no substitute. And those who are single can rest assured that they are singled out to run the fastest along the spiritual path. Inseparable are their aspiration and God’s Inspiration.
When we try to see deep within, when we try to live an inner life, we may encounter difficulties all around. We cry out, “Look, God, now that we have turned toward You, we have to take so many tests!” Finding no way out, we are perturbed. But why should we be? It cannot escape our remembrance that we have endured misfortunes in our life. Before we entered the spiritual life, despondency proved to be our constant companion. Now we are at least in a better position since we have the capacity to recognise the ferocious tiger of worldliness. Let us take restlessness and weakness as tests.”
This type of yoga is exemplified in the tradition of feeding the hungry, nursing the aged, clothing the poor and sheltering all in need. This giving is not limited towards helping those in pain or need. Self-giving can embody the offering of our creativity, wisdom, knowledge, love, gratitude and feeling of unity to humanity. This can be done through art, teaching, community work and selfless meditation. Selfless meditation is an intense, deep state of awareness wherein we thrust our very life breath into humanity for we have come to realise the infinite delight of true self-giving. In Karma yoga we serve God in all.
Karma yoga challenges the seeker by demanding constant observance of oneself to ensure that action does not become selfish. In this way the “I” gives way to “oneness.”
In many respects Karma Yoga is an excellent way to make spiritual progress and be a part of society. Our lives are full of activity. If we can devote that activity towards God we will make fast and sure progress. Self offering is the key.
“Do good to others as Allah has done good to you.” – The Qur’an
The goal of spiritual discipline, and the ultimate goal of life, is a conscious union with God and Truth. Either through conscious aspiration, self-giving and an expanding awareness, or through the trials, tribulations, joys and sorrows of everyday experiences, we are either moving closer, or farther away, from an awareness of the unity of all existence. This movement towards God is our God-becoming. Sri Chinmoy expresses this beautifully in a poem:
There is neither a visible Nor an invisible partition Between self-giving And God-becoming.
Sri Chinmoy, in his poem, says that there is no difference between this process of God-becoming and actions of self-giving. An act of self-giving occurs when we give ourselves wholeheartedly and unconditionally to the service of others. Each time we put the needs of others above our own we are acknowledging an awareness of life and consciousness beyond our own limited ego. The very act of self-giving is a conscious movement towards an awareness of the oneness underlying the multiplicity of creation. The Mundaka Upanishad tells us:
“The Lord is the Breath shining forth from all beings. Seeing him present in all, the wise man is humble, puts not himself forward, he becomes truly wise, not a talker only. His delight is in the Self, his joy is in the Self, he serves the Lord in all.”
To see, experience and know God in every creature is a profound awareness. It is the experience of oneness. Lao Tzu expresses this awareness of oneness and the essence of self-giving as he describes the actions of a sage:
“The Sage does not care to hoard. The more he uses for the benefit of others, the more he possesses himself. The more he gives to his fellow-men, the more he has of his own.”
The opposite of an act of self-giving is an act inspired by selfishness. The individual who acts from this motive is described by Lao Tzu:
“He who is self-approving does not shine. He who boasts has no merit. He who exalts himself does not rise. Judged according to Tao, he is like remnants of food or a tumor on the body-an object of universal disgust.”
A feeling of oneness is a profound awareness. From this stems a humility, a humility that is infinitely powerful, for it is based on a profound awareness of the God and spirit that moves through and sustains all of existence. True self-giving is founded upon this feeling.
Jesus stressed the power of humility. St. Matthew (5:3) quotes Jesus, “Blessed are the humble, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The humility referred to is the humility of those who feel God in themselves and in others. When we feel that connectedness, we come to know that no one is any better or more important than another; we simply differ outwardly but within we are all manifestations of God.
Jesus put great importance on serving others:
“For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in.”
“. . . Truly I say to you, Inasmuch as you did not do it to one of these least ones, you also did not do it to me.” -Matthew 25:35, 44
To love another person unconditionally is a wonderful feeling of oneness and acceptance. To offer service to that person is doubly powerful for we are passing beyond the realm of feeling and emotion and into the realm of action and manifestation. True self-giving is founded upon a realization of oneness and not upon pride: the belief that we are better than others and they need our help. If we think that we are cast from a finer mold, or more important than others, we are making a big mistake. Those who are the rich and powerful of this world often think they are better, more significant and more important that others in God’s Creation. It is due to this type of pride that Jesus said:
“Truly I say to you, It is difficult for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of heaven.” -Matthew 19:23
When we leave this world, we leave all material possessions behind. Therefore, it is not the physical bulk of riches that holds the rich back from heaven, but rather it is the weight of the pride which most often accompanies those riches. As one becomes more enamored with the pleasures and powers of this earthly realm, it becomes increasingly difficult to shift one’s awareness into the spiritual essence of existence. By increasing the weight of our own ego-importance, we are forgetting the reality of oneness pulsing through all of creation. We may gain the world, yet in the process we lose our soul.
Actions that are based on pride create a heavy weight. We often act so that we may acquire. From the possession of that which we acquire we feel that we will find happiness; we may find, though, that our possessions simply serve to strengthen our pride, which does not bring true, lasting happiness, for only happiness that is based on oneness will outlast the flux of the material world.
Conversely, when we serve others-self-giving-we expand our awareness of God in all. The Isha Upanishad says:
“To the illumined soul, the Self is all. For him who seeks everywhere oneness, how can there be grief or delusion?”
To act upon this feeling of oneness serves to strengthen our awareness of oneness. Sri Chinmoy, who emphasizes self-giving as one of the essential ingredients in the spiritual life, has said that an hour of unconditional self-giving is equal to an hour of the highest meditation.
Action and movement are essential for the continuation and growth of life. Since we are compelled by life to act, let us have as the basis of our actions a feeling of love and humility based on oneness. Each of our actions can be coupled with the prayer, “Let thy will be done.” This simple utterance will allow us to offer up the fruits of our actions to the Creator of all existence.
Freed from the snare of expectation we are bound to experience our God-becoming.
We often find an incompatibility between an inner life of search and outer life of activity. Let this be no excuse for a lack of progress. Sri Chinmoy:”Action and inaction. According to the Gita, we have to see action in inaction, and inaction in action. What does this mean? It means that, while acting, we have to feel within ourselves a sea of peace and serenity. While we are without activity, we have to feel within us a dynamo of creative energy. Let us not think of actions as our own. If we can do this, our actions will be more real and more effective. When a servant cooks for his master he does it to the best of his capacity. Why? To get his master’s appreciation and favour. In the same way, if we act to please our soul, the Inner Pilot, we shall be able to act most devotedly and most successfully.”
by Sri Chinmoy