|Karma Yoga - The Yoga of daily life|
Motto:"In a state of detachment perform what has to be done, no matter what it is, and never wish to assume the fruits of your doings""
Karma yoga represents one of the four main classic forms of Yoga. Karma Yoga represents a starting point and is an essential part of the teachings of Bhagavad Gita, this serves as sufficient ground for its authenticity.
Like all other forms of Yoga, the main and final purpose of Karma Yoga is to facilitate and accelerate the spiritual evolution of its persistent practitioner. The main difference from other forms of Yoga is that Karma Yoga can be practised well from the very beginning, and can be applied all the time, all day long, because it is applicable to all human activities. Compared to Karma Yoga, the continuous daily practice of Bhakti Yoga for example is only available at a very high level of attainment and the practice of Jïana Yoga (with its main form Haöha Yoga) is restricted to specific periods of the day, for a specific interval of time. These arguments lead to the conclusion that Karma Yoga is an instantaneous form of Yoga for the daily life.
From the different traditional definitions of Karma Yoga, the most current and precise, though not yet complete, is the following: "Karma Yoga is the Yoga of deep and thorough fusion with the Divine, through any unselfish action". Karma Yoga starts from the fact that at any given moment of our daily life, even when we feel forced to act one way or another, we remain free to choose and we bear the whole responsibility of our actions. The use of any spiritual discipline - Yoga, or any other Spiritual path - implies the existence of ‘free will’, both in directing one’s life and in the choice of the method for doing that. The main question to which Karma Yoga helps us to get an answer is: How and why should we choose between two or more courses of action at a given moment? Through persistent practice we can find out that Karma Yoga gives us more freedom, unbelievable as this may seem to the Western people.
Many contemporary sages, like Sri Ramakrishna or Sri Aurobindo, have shown that Karma Yoga is very well adapted to modern times and suitable for all human beings, even more so than Bhakti Yoga, which suits only those with intense religious inclinations (very rare nowadays). Karma Yoga suits all beings even better than Raja yoga, which implies an intellectual effort beyond the possibilities of the common individual. Compared to Jïana Yoga, where a strong power of concentration and internalisation is required (currently a very scarce quality), Karma Yoga is easier to practice because it does not require all these talents. Moreover, Karma Yoga suits Westerners extremely well, who are always ready to act and more or less sceptical about the value of spiritual practices, that are taking people away from practical life in a materially oriented society.
I should also emphasise that the practice of Karma Yoga does not exclude the simultaneous practice of one or more of the other forms of Yoga, but will amplify their efficiency. This connection with other forms of Yoga is not essential, because even when practised alone Karma Yoga is sufficient in itself for bringing the highest state of spiritual attainment. Karma Yoga has also a great advantage that is not found in the other forms of Yoga. While Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga, Tantra Yoga, Haöha Yoga and even Jïana Yoga,
when practised incorrectly, without the careful supervision and guidance of a competent Guru, can bring about seriousphysical or mental damage. Karma Yoga presents no dangers for its practitioner, even if its knowledge is based just on written teachings.
Regarding this aspect, we will further on quote several contemporary masters:
Swami Vivekananda: "On the Bhakti Yoga path there is the big danger that the receptive soul might start to mistake fleeting emotions for spiritual revelations and might interpret ordinary aspirations for the true spiritual aspirations" (Practical Yoga). "With few exceptions can we learn Raja Yoga without danger, unless directly guided by a genuine spiritual guru" (Foreword to Raja Yoga).
Sri Ramakrishna : "The Jïana yogi says: ‘I am that’, but as long as we consider our body as being our immortal Self, this is ill-fated egotism. It will not help us to progress, but will lead us to ruin" (Teachings of Ramakrishna).
Swami Brahmananda: after his disciples were already purified by the practice of certain asanas and forms of praëayama, he told them: "Regarding the Haöha Yoga practices, avoid them if you don't want to support painful consequences. Haöha Yoga is a very dangerous path when practised in ignorance, without the guidance of a competent guru" (Spiritual disciplines).
We add here that the Karma Yoga system is almost free of metaphysical or religious concepts and, even in an advanced stage of practice, Karma Yoga does not require the help of any physical discipline and of any diet. However it stands to reason that the Karma yogi should do his best to stay healthy.