What is Karma Yoga and How Can I Practice it?

Karma is one of the most famous and, at the same time, misunderstood Sanskrit words. But its meaning is quite simple and unambiguous: Karma = To Do. All action is Karma. Of course, there is also the so-called Law of Karma, which is one of the most beautiful and universal laws, recognized both by science and metaphysics: Everything happens in pairs –cause and effect, action and reaction. And this is what people usually refer to when they use silly expressions like “Bad Karma”. Yet, in its widest sense, the word Karma means the sum aggregate of who we are; the result of all our actions, thoughts, and feelings. Swami Vivekananda compares each individual action (thoughts and feelings too) to a single blow of the sculptor on stone. Karma, in this sense, is the resulting sculpture: the sum of all the blows. Who we are.

“We are responsible for what we are; and whatever we wish ourselves to be, we have the power to make ourselves. If what we are now has been the result of our own past actions, it certainly follows that whatever we wish to be in future can be produced by our present actions; so we have to know how to act.”
(Swami Vivekananda)

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For the purposes of this post the word Karma takes is most basic meaning: Action. And so Karma Yoga is the yoga of action. Or the pursuit of self-knowledge by doing. And what is it that we should do? Anything that needs doing! Karma Yoga allows us to become more conscious by carrying-out our daily duties and tasks. Sounds great, doesn’t it? But it’s not that simple. Work or action doesn’t in itself lead to self-knowledge. Only work that is performed with awareness and detachment, qualifies as Karma Yoga. The work itself is not even that important; how we do it is what counts.

When we act in the attitude of Karma Yoga, we become conscious of our reactions, of the mental expressions of our work. Do we become frustrated with failure? Are we over-eager for the results? Do we manifest impatience, insecurity, carelessness? Through Karma Yoga we can access this knowledge about ourselves, while remaining centered. We don’t get swayed by what we discover, we simply experience. Through this practice we let go of expectations, mental or physical blockages and anything else that makes us dependent or repels us.

Do you want to try it? Next time you set down to do your work, remain present and aware, keep returning again and again to be fully in what you’re doing. Be conscious of all the tendencies of your mind (boredom, restlessness, etc.) and let them be — just do your work and be the witness of everything that happens around that.

Becoming a Karma Yogi doesn’t happen overnight. But if you’re sincere, and you stick to it, you will start noticing some very strong effects with only a few weeks of regular practice. Whether you do house-chores or sit at an office; whether you’re a volunteer, and intern or a high-flying executive; whether you’re happy with your work or not; Karma Yoga is a ready and useful tool to become more you than you are now.

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