Karma Yoga: The Path to Freedom
Karma Yoga The Path To Freedom was edited from a lecture given by Jagad Guru. In this article, Jagad Guru describes how a person can transcend the world of repeated birth, disease, old age and death and enter the realm of eternal spiritual life and eternal happiness.
We are spirit in essence. We are not the body. But we go from one body to the next suffering repeated birth, diseases, old age, and death experiencing reaction to our previous activity. "As you sow, so shall you reap." We experience in this life various things like good or bad health, wealth or poverty, according to our karma. Why is one person born in one family and another person born in another kind of family? It is due to the karmic reaction to previous activities.
ANSWER IN BHAGAVAD-GITA
In this life, we are engaging in actions. Generally speaking, these actions create karmic reactions. But it is not action itself which causes karmic reaction. This is explained by the Supreme Person in the Bhagavad-gita to Arjuna. The Supreme Person states:
"One who executes his duties according to My injunctions and who follows this teaching faithfully, without envy, becomes free from the bondage of fruitive action.”
Bhagavad-gita,Chapter 3 Text 31
Arjuna is a warrior who is meant to protect the innocent people and kill the rascals who create havoc in society. He's supposed to fight a great battle against many demoniac enemies. But killing is considered the ultimate sin. Arjuna is concerned about this. If a person kills, then the karmic reaction to that is that he must be killed. If you cause someone else to suffer, then you must suffer. Arjuna doesn't want to kill because he doesn't want to have bad karma coming onto himself. This is one reason he doesn't want to fight.
The Supreme Person explains to Arjuna, "It is not non-action which is going to make it so that you are going to be free from the bondage of karmic reaction. You're not going to get away from it by not doing anything. You must still act."
So the question in Arjuna's mind as well as in other people's mind is, "How can I act without any negative reaction because of those activities?"
ACT FOR THE PLEASURE OF THE SUPREME
First, let us define "fruitive action." Fruitive means you act selfishly for some fruit or return (e.g. money, respect, award, etc.). You want to receive some compensation for a particular action. In other words, you're doing it for yourself.
The Supreme Person tells Arjuna that the way out of karmic reaction is not to stop acting, but to stop acting fruitively. The way out is to stop acting for your own self, for your own pleasure, according to your own will. Instead, you must act for the pleasure of the Supreme Being. You must do your duties according to His instructions or injunc-tions. Do it without envy, then you become free from the bondage of fruitive reactions.
The Supreme Person further states:
"Therefore, O Arjuna, surrendering all your works unto Me, with mind intent on Me and without desire for gain and free from egoism and lethargy, fight,"
Bhagavad-gita Chapter 3 Text 30
A person who engages in activities in the service of and for the pleasure of the Supreme Person is not bound by those activities. He also becomes purified of all past karmic reac-tions. He becomes completely free from the bondage of fruitive reactions.
HAVE TO ACT
Most people think of yoga as one of two things: doing asanas or doing nothing. The Supreme Person explains to Arjuna that this is not real yoga. This is not necessarily the method to become free. There are the lower stages of astanga yoga where you sit and do asanas. The purpose is to come to understand yourself as spiritual in essence, part and parcel of the Supreme Spirit. Sooner or later, however, you must still engage in activity.
Some people practice “TM” or Transcendental Meditation. They sit for 20 to 40 minutes doing nothing. Some are into Zen and they similarly sit and do nothing. But after they sit and do nothing, they must get up and do something. For example, they go to the kitchen thinking, "What will I make myself to enjoy for breakfast?" There is immediate karmic reaction from that activity. Or they go to work. What for? To earn money to buy things to enjoy. They work for themselves, and they get the karmic reaction. Their sitting is not solving their problem of being bound on the wheel of birth and death due to karmic reaction.
Some people who are more advanced in astanga yoga process, through the fire of kundalini, experience purification to a large degree from previous karmic reactions. But as soon as they engage in activity, they become increasingly contaminated by new karmic reaction. So the problem of karmic reaction is not being solved by this purifying process. As long as a person is acting, not in the spirit of devotion for the pleasure of the Supreme Person but for himself -- he is bound.
A person should realize that he is active by nature and that his actions will produce good or bad karmic reactions. These karmic reactions will force him to take birth again in the material world, either in the heavenly, hellish or middle planets like earth. This is not desirable. One's real home is in the spiritual world where there is no birth, disease, old age and death.
Once a person understands that he is spirit soul, not the body, and that he is active by nature, he must do some work, then he should act on this reality and work according to the injunction of the Supreme Person. In this way, he will not incur karmic reaction. He will become purified of his previous sinful reactions and thus be released from this wheel of karmic reaction. This process is called karma yoga.
WORK AND HAPPINESS
As soon as you talk about work for the pleasure of the Supreme, immediately someone may think, “self-sacrifice!” That’s true. It is self-sacrifice. But the person may also think, "I will be unhappy if I work for the Supreme. I don't want to work for someone else. I want to work only for myself” This is called enviousness of the Supreme Person. Such a person is like an employee who works for his boss and keeps saying underneath his breath, “I don’t want to work for him. I wish I were where he is. Boy, I hate that guy.” This employee thinks that if he got his boss’ position, then he’d be happy. He simply doesn’t want to work for anybody.
Similarly, if people hear of karma yoga or service to the Original Cause, they may be deluded into thinking that they will be unhappy if they start working for Him; that to do so is a big sacrifice and a bummer. They think that they're enjoying working for themselves.
In reality, most people are really miserable working for themselves. In other words, all day long, all month long, all decade long, they're on a bummer and they know it. They're always griping about their situation to everybody, "God, what a bummer!" Getting up for work in the morning is such a drag. The alarm clock rings, and they slam it down. Or they throw the clock across the room. Or they keep looking at their watch all day, thinking, "When can I go home? When's work over?" Work is a bummer for most people. They're not happy working for themselves; they're miserable. That's why they drink so much and take so many drugs. They know they're miserable but as soon as you offer this alternative- working for the pleasure of the Supreme - they try to make believe they're not on a bummer. They retort, "What? Give up what I've got? Aw, I really don't want to give this up. It's so good. It's great. I enjoy working for myself." They're miserable working for themselves but they're afraid they'd even be more miserable serving the Supreme Person.
CHANGE OF OUTLOOK
Actually, serving the Original Cause does not entail giving up one's particular kind of work. The Supreme Person didn't tell Arjuna, "Stop that kind of work!" Rather, the Supreme Person said, "Don't do it for yourself. Work as a warrior, but be My warrior. Act according to My instructions and My injunctions.”
A person engaged in karma yoga doesn't stop the kind of work he does. Rather, he does the work for the Supreme. For example, we need the police in society to protect the citizens. The policeman doesn't need to stop being a policeman. He simply needs to stop being a policeman for himself. He has to start being a policeman for the Supreme Person. He has to see himself as he is. He is a spark of the Supreme Soul, a child of the Supreme. He is the eternal servant of the Original Cause. He should use his talents and abilities in the service of the Supreme. He should work for the welfare of all of the children of the Supreme to protect the innocent and punish the guilty. That's his job and he can do it for the pleasure of the Supreme Lord rather than just work for his paycheck. Then he will experience happiness from his work. This is karma yoga. Not only is it liberating in the long run, but it is liberating in the short run. It makes a person start to experience inner happiness right away.
In other words, the mistake most people make is that they think to serve the Original Cause is misery. It will cause emptiness; a loss in their life. But there can only be gain. A person does not lose when he becomes the servant of the Supreme. A person gains the Supreme Person.
No happiness in this world can compare with the happiness of experiencing, "I am serving the Supreme Person, I am the servant of the Supreme." There is real happiness in being able to offer something to the Supreme Person, Who is so wonderful. There is real satisfaction, pleasure, bliss or ananda.
Most people see their work simply as drudgery. It's something to get away from and the less they do, the better. If they can get a job where they can do less and get more in return, then that's what they consider the best job. If they can get a job where they don't need to work at all and they just get a paycheck, that's better still. There's no happiness in work in this society. People only see happiness in leisure.
And yet when people retire, they don't know what to do with themselves. They're not happy at work and they're not happy at leisure. If you give a person a vacation that is longer than a two-day weekend, they won't know what to do. They'll get drunk for the first two days, then what?
WORK BECOMES LIFE
We have to change our entire outlook towards life so that our work becomes our life. What is work if it's not our life? What is life if it's not our work? We work. We live. If we live, we're working. One way or another, everybody's working. Even the bum works going around from one garbage can to another.
If our work does not give us life, if our work is death to us, then that means life is death. So the question is not whether or not there is life after death but the question is whether or not there is life after birth, because after birth, there is work. If our work is not in the service of the Supreme Person, then it's not going to give us real life. If we don't have that higher purpose in our work, then it's going to be simply death. That means our whole life will be death.
It's better to give up death - the world of karmic reactions. Get onto the platform of spiritual life - eternal happiness and eternal work in the service of the Supreme Person.
There are those who want to die and become zero so they never need to work again. They don't like the idea of serving the Supreme Lord eternally because to them work is death. These people are very unfortunate.
People should give up all of the annihilationist and materialist philosophies. Get onto the platform of karma-yoga. That is the path to real life and happiness.