Why Should You Practice Karma Yoga?


by Jayaram V

Notes: I have translated the Bhagavadgita twice. The first one was a loose translation. The second one was a word to word translation with a detailed commentary. The commentary is however different from what you will find here. In this section I will share with you my thoughts about the knowledge, philosophy and wisdom of the Bhagavadgita as I understand it from my perspective. Jayaram V

The appeal of the Bhagavadgita lies in its practical value to the householders who are obligated to deal with worldly problems and engage in worldly duties amidst numerous distractions and temptations. A renunciant shuns the world and along with it all the poisons (vishayas) and problems associated with it. He does not have to think much about others or the world, since he frees himself from all obligations. A householder (grihasta) does not have that freedom. He has to focus upon doing his part as an obligation to God and his Dharma.

The Bhagavadgita is probably the only major text in Hinduism which primarily focuses upon householders and offers them a moderate path strike a balance between their worldly compulsions and spiritual aspirations. If offers hope to vulnerable householders suggesting that they can achieve liberation without disrupting their normal lives, by knowing the right way to live and engage in actions.

Its principal stand is that one should dutifully live upon earth, performing one’s actions without desires and offering their fruit or result to God as a sacrifice. It is selfishness which is responsible for our bondage and suffering. By removing it from one’s thinking and actions, one can become a pure karma yogi, or a Bhagavata who lives for a righteous cause in the service of God and others.

In a simple sense, karma yoga means engaging in karma (actions) without selfishness. One should not avoid actions just because actions produce consequences. Instead, one should take out desire and selfishness from them and engage in pure actions just as God does. For a householder there is nothing more sacred than doing one duty and upholding one’s Dharma, but in doing so he must avoid falling into sinful ways and prolong his suffering. For that, he must resort to karma sanyasa yoga, renouncing the desire for the fruit of his actions rather than renouncing the actions themselves and living a God-centered life upon earth.

In my earlier writings  I suggested that we have to practice karma yoga as a part of our duty to uphold Dharma, which flows to us directly from God. As God’s representatives or devotees (Bhagavatas) upon earth, we have to perform our tasks as God would have done, with the same attitude as he would. By taking upon ourselves his duties, without any selfish motive, we have to participate in the sacrifice of God and do our part to ensure the order and regularity of the worlds.

The Isa Upanishad declares the same. It suggests that we should wish to live here for a hundred years and perform our actions without desires, acknowledging God as the sole inhabitant of the universe and the source of all.

Dharma in Hinduism means a set of duties that come to you from God as your share of obligation. Even as the citizen of a country, you have certain moral, social and financial obligations, and you cannot solely live for yourself ignoring neither our worldly obligations nor our spiritual goals. Only those who find a balance succeed in both the effort manage to reach immortal heaven.

The idea is simple. You should not claim any ownership or doership while you live upon earth, because all this belongs to God and happens because of God. You are but a guest, in the world of God. As a guest, you must tread carefully, knowing that you cannot act on your own ignoring the aims of Brahman. When you attain oneness with Brahman, you gain all the power and privilege and become free from everything that holds you here, but as yourself in your individual capacity, you are vulnerable to all the consequences which arise from them.

Since we live in the House of God, we have an obligation to keep it in good order, just as you have an obligation to keep the place clean and follow the rules when you visit a temple or perform a religious sacrifice. The same rule applies in life also. You have to follow your Dharma and abide in the laws to sanctify your life and the place where you live.

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