Sunday, August 18, 2013

Karma Yoga – Every Action is an Offering to the Divine

Karma Yoga. The easy definition is "Yoga of action." Seeing the divine through one's actions. Karma means an act. The popular definition of karma, as understood by most people is "the action-reaction sequence that we set in motion through our actions." Each action has a consequence. Another definition I found here is, "Karma, put simply, is the cumulative positive or negative result of your thoughts, actions and reality creating as that result affects your present reality." Karma yoga attempts to avoid bad karma and uses right action or good karma to achieve union with the absolute.

Of all the methods used to achieve Yoga, I find Karma Yoga to be the most multi-faceted and complex. The simple definition — do each action with detachment and give the fruits to the divine — does not do it justice. There are several different levels and varieties of actions, depending on our approach to them and what we hope to achieve by those actions.

It must be understood, first and foremost, that each action, right from the moment we open our eyes in the morning, brush our teeth, drink coffee or juice, all the way to the end of the day when we close our eyes and go to sleep, each action has a consequence. We set in motion a cascade of events that stem from that action. Some consequences are trivial and others have a significant impact to our lives in the future.

Depending on:
    •    What we choose to do,
    •    How we choose to do it,
    •    What we choose to avoid...
...we are effectively setting a course for the journey that is the rest of our life. Everything is fluid. My actions today decide my future ten years down the road. What I choose to do, right or wrong, brings more of the same in my life.

After my kundalini awakening, I started seeing my actions as ripples in a pond. When we drop a pebble in still water, that spot becomes the center of a circle formed by ripples propagating outwards. Drop two pebbles a foot apart and you create two circles that meet. That is good representation of my karma as it propagates into the world and interweaves with the karma of others. I became aware that each action needs to be performed keeping in mind the events I set in motion.

Until my awakening, I lived a carefree existence. I never gave much thought to what I was doing beyond fitting in and doing what was expected of me. Without knowing it, I had accumulated a lifetime of repressed trauma and deepened the false identity my ego had created. When the energy started working on my mind, I learned a few things about karma. Here is a list:

What Goes Around Comes Around

First, the negative. This is more important, because once we understand how to stop the accumulation of negative karma, we have overcome a big obstacle. There are two main forms of karma in life. How we behave with others and how we respond to others' behavior towards us.

Avoid Harmful Actions
The right action will bring me rewards, the wrong action will create misery in my life. If I am a spiritual person that desires divine grace, but as a co-worker I back stab colleagues, abuse my subordinates, create ill will towards relatives and friends and hope that an hour of praying will overcome those event-cascades, then I am deluding myself. What goes around comes around. It was true when it was first said and it will  remain true always. Remember this about karma yoga: avoid harmful action. You do not want to dodge the boomerang when it's coming back at you.

During the cleansing that followed my awakening, one thing was clear. I could not hide anything from the energy. It sees everything. It wanted to cleanse me, rid me of the misery I collected by my past actions. Glib rationalizations that I fed myself, fooled me into believing I was innocent and had done no wrong. This doesn't fool the intelligent energy. If you are in denial, your actions have been stored in some part of your psyche.

When the time comes, you will face those fears, that anger, that guilt and once resolved, you will be cleansed. This process is very traumatic. It's best to weigh the consequences of each action beforehand. In purgatory or the throat chakra, the cleansing process is long and painful. The energy is simply removing blockages, not trying to torment you. You create the torment by being unwilling to see the cleansing for what it is. It's a blockage is because the conscious mind has suppressed it deeply.

Some things cleanse easily, others take time and your ego resists their removal because it does not want to accept itself as weak. It has inflated itself at the cost of the truth. Now that the truth is revealed, the ego is deflated, your selective memory of its "exalted" status wiped clean. For that to happen, you must revisit your life as it was actually lived.

What Others Do to Me is Their Karma, How I Respond is my Own

We live in a world of cutthroat competition — win-at-all-costs, live-and-let-die rat races. Most people are programmed to "bring you down a notch" for simply "being too good," "acting like you are better than others" which are simply their rationalizations for the resentments they feel towards your success or talents.

This kind of strife is unavoidable, but post-awakening, your reactions to others' behavior are never automatic. Why? Because post-awakening, you are more sensitive to what is hurtful. You understand that by responding in kind, by being vengeful or vindictive, you sink deeper into negativity.

When someone harms me and I feel I have to respond with something hurtful, it creates a never-ending cycle of karmic give and take.

We cannot control the actions of others. So we have only one course: choosing the appropriate response. This isn't easy. Most often, we react without thinking, allowing our emotions to filter incoming messages — be they words, attitudes, or body language. When we let our emotions evaluate our interlocutor's intent, we usually get it wrong and respond irrationally. This is a dangerous state. At its most volatile, it can lead to violence. And it cannot be undone. So we suffer the karmic consequences of our own irrational states. You involved your karma instead of walking away or redirecting your emotions.

There is always a choice. An automatic tit-for-tat reaction is not the only option. How you respond decides whether your soul accumulates bad karma from an exchange. If you only defend yourself, take appropriate action to remove yourself from the situation and then move on, you come out clean with no regrets. You have prevented yourself from being in a downward karmic spiral.

Karmic cycle
The Brick You Throw Comes Back at You
Now the positive. Once we've learned to avoid bad karma, how do we modify our actions to get closer to the divinity within, thus creating a better fate for ourselves?

Whatever is Worth Doing is Worth Doing Well
You are given just one lifetime as yourself. It lasts between 80 and 90 years on average. That is a very short period of time. Each action matters because it sets the course for your future. Through your actions, you have the power to become a skilled artist, musician, athlete or create a business empire, or you can choose to fritter away the time with gossip, bringing negativity into your life and others' lives.

One set of actions will create a positive future that aligns you with the greater good. The other makes you a miserable curmudgeon. Your choice. 

When I choose a pursuit and do it with passion, giving every ounce of my attention, trying to get better with each passing moment, I end up learning about myself. If I can't hit a perfect golf shot each time, I get impatient and frustrated. As long as I stay in that state of agitation, I won't be able to improve that shot. So I learn to reign in my unruly mind. I learn to keep trying new methods. I learn more and more about who I am and what my limitations are as well as what my strengths are. It becomes a journey of self-realization using golf as a means.

Stay Detached from Pride or Disappointment

If I "win" a promotion and someone else "loses" one, by choosing to see it as a "win" for myself and the other person as a "loser" and gloating at my apparent victory, I set up a comparative paradigm which is bound to create a sense of loss when the other person gets some other reward that I have not received. In an absolute sense, nothing has happened. Just people living their lives. I choose to set myself up for future disappointment by gloating at someone's perceived loss. Karma balances itself. Where there is a high, there will be a low. Best not to latch on to the sense of "victory" which is fleeting and choose to see each incident as one step in a long continuum of personal improvement unaffected by others' success or loss.

Karma is instant. The act of creating a win-lose scenario in my mind sets up future disappointment. If, on the other hand, I take my promotion with humility and offer praise to the divine for my good fortune, not comparing it to someone else, I remain unaffected by him or her getting promoted as well. In fact I can actually be happy for that person and share their joy. I perform my actions and stay detached from the outcome. I avoid the highs and lows and recognize them for what they are. Illusions created by the ego.

Offer All Actions to the Almighty
See him as the do-er and yourself as simply the witness. One of the problems we face is the mind's tendency to create worries and fears about things that are not our current concerns. I may be taking a walk in a park and I am thinking about my bills, about how I am going to finish a project at work. After my awakening, this clamor of thoughts grew to a crescendo. One method I found very useful was to mindfully finish a task and surrender all thoughts about it with gratitude to the divine and then moving to the next thing. When I leave my house, I let go of all that I was doing there and move to the next task. When I am driving my car, I simply focus on that task.

Surrendering everything to the divine helps to foster a sense of gratitude at being given the chance to live a wonderful life. If one is grateful for what one has received, there is very little time left to complain and whine and be miserable. If I choose to see what I have and be thankful for it, naturally, my mind is cheerful. If I choose to obsess on what I do not have, no matter what I receive, it is never enough. This is the ego playing games with me. Feelings of lack, of disappointment, of not having enough create those circumstances. Thoughts of abundance and gratitude at the gifts you have received bring more of that. Your choice. Your mind is powerful and sets course for anything you program it for.

This is a complex and intriguing topic; I have only skimmed the surface. The take-away? Your actions and how you approach each moment decides your fate. Choose wisely.


  1. Two notions:
    1) The separation between doing a job well and NOT doing it well is eye-of-the-needle slight, the extra effort involved usually minimal.

    2) A nice expression of Karma:

    Now the news has arrived
    From the Valley of Vail.
    That a Chippendale Mupp has just bitten his tail,
    Which he does every night before shutting his eyes.
    Such nipping sounds silly. But, really, it’s wise.
    He has no alarm clock. So this is the way
    He makes sure that he’ll wake at the right time of day.
    His tail is so long, he won’t feel any pain
    ‘Til the nip makes the trip and gets up to his brain.
    In exactly eight hours, the Chippendale Mupp
    Will, at last, feel the bite and yell “Ouch!” and wake up.

    ~ Sleep Book — Dr. Seuss

  2. dear Vivek
    I always love your posts and your comments, they are so inspiring (as are those of Margaret)
    Lately your comments have been incredibly on the spot at least for me!
    Thank you for writing and for sharing!

  3. Thanks Laila,
    I am glad you enjoy the posts.
    Love to write them.
    It is a process of catharsis and sometimes, the thoughts swirl in my mind without me being able to articulate them until I actually type them out.