The practice of Karma yoga is not to be confused with the overly popular term karma. I’d say the popular belief of karma is more or less, “what goes around, comes around” or “you get what is coming to you”. That is not Karma Yoga. It is an ancient practice of yoga, made famous by beautiful people like Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi and Jesus Christ. Brave people who against all odds showed kindness to those in need. Although these people completely dedicated their lives to karma yoga, I believe it is possible to incorporate the practice in less consuming ways, and still make a change, even if small, to your community.
Karma Yoga is dedicating your actions or energy to others without expectation of anything in return. Receiving no money, or gifts, or exchange. As Mother Teresa put it “True holiness comes in doing God’s work with a smile”. Giving your energy in the form of money, or time, or physical/emotional capacity to help others, with contentment. Forget all doubt, do good, be good, be better. Replace any negative thoughts with more energy to others. Be selfless, expect nothing. It is impossible to be disappointed with the absence of expectation.
The Talmud says “The highest form of wisdom is kindness”. From my personal experience, kindness spreads like wildfire. Show kindness and compassion in the face of anger and see what happens. Try a day of smile duty, smile at everyone, you will make the day of a stranger over and over again. Mahatma Gandhi says “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. What would I like to see change? Less cruelty, more kindness. More giving, less stealing. More compassion, less reaction. More acceptance, less judgement. More honesty, less betrayal. Honour nature, rather than demolish it. I believe it can be accomplished, one action, one person, at a time.
How can we practice Karma Yoga and participate in society and family? Help strangers with grocery bags. Spend a day a week picking up litter at a park. Walk your neighbours dog. House sit for a friend. Open doors for anybody. Participate in a fundraiser. Donate to a cause you believe in. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or the SPCA. Give a friend a back rub. Stop to help someone on the side of the road. There are many reasons why we would want to do these things, but this is Swami Abhedananda says, in “How to be a Yogi”: “The aim of Karma yoga is to live in the world and act like a master, not like a slave….he who chooses the path of Karma yoga seeks absolute control over desire and passion and directs the force manifesting through these channels toward the highest ideal of life–freedom of the soul…he understands that sense of duty is bondage, while work done through a feeling of love frees the soul and brings peace, rest, and in the end, everlasting happiness”. The work of a karma yogi is to be done, for the sake of working, not for “fruits” of labour. But also, everlasting happiness?!! Freedom of the soul?!! That sounds pretty nice to me!
In my experience there is a practical application of this practice, because I live in Canada, and I have a job, and family, and obligations to others, there must be balance. In order to give to others in this case, you must have something to give. If my path was meant to be life devoted to being a Karma yogi, I think I would be living somewhere else, in different circumstances. Here and now, Family is important to me, my health is important to me, and the practice of Raja Yoga is important to me. However, sometimes it just feels like the right time, or the opportunity presents itself, for me to put an amount of energy into doing Karma Yoga. Otherwise, little things pop up here and there, like giving someone a ride, helping someone up from a fall, vacuuming gramma’s house, giving some change or food to the homeless, or walking my brothers dog. If you are open to helping others, the universe will present opportunities. But, as mentioned, I need balance. Meeting my own needs and those who depend on me first, before I give to others is a must, or else there is the possibility of regret, or resentment, which is not practicing Karma Yoga.
I hope this article has given some insight on how to apply this practice. I have found it inspiring to share my new found, humble and honest understanding of Karma Yoga. So far, it works for me. My intention is to spread inspiration, and we can all contribute to making the change we wish to see in the world.