The Yoga of Conscious Action
Karma Yoga Is the Path of Service and Selfless Action
This “yoga of [conscious and detached] action” teaches the value of not being egotistically attached to the outcome of our actions. The results are consecrated to a larger purpose—to the Divine, the Spiritual Heart, the Absolute (as it is envisioned or understood by each aspirant)—without expecting anything in return.
In Karma Yoga, every action is done with love, out of dedication to service, for the good and well-being of others. Therefore, there is no attachment to what is done, or to its outcome. Karma Yoga is mentioned in the Vedas, revered ancient Hindu scriptures. Vedic philosophers believed that only through (ritualized) action could humans ever hope to appease the gods.
The discussions between Krishna and Arjuna in the sacred text Bhagavad Gita provide a very comprehensive understanding and example of what Karma Yoga is. In that text, Krishna tells Arjuna about svadharma (inner moral order). As a warrior, Arjuna’s dharma (natural obligation) is to fight against the forces of evil, no matter what. The outcome of the battle makes no difference—it is Arjuna’s duty to fight without being attached to the results of his actions. What matters is not whether Arjuna wins or loses the battle, only that he performs his duty and offers the fruits of his actions to Krishna, his Lord. In this way, Arjuna’s svadharma becomes a form of internal sacrifice. This age-old understanding serves as the basis of the Karma Yoga philosophy we know today—that our efforts (how we act in the world and how we perform our duties) can create a future free from suffering.
Karma Yoga helps aspirants overcome individual limitations by integrating themselves in a larger harmony. Thus, they recognize that the forces involved are not only their own, but energies that the whole Universe assembles to accomplish the action. It is the recognition that in an unconditional act done with an open heart, without any expectations, something much larger than the individual self takes part in the achievement of the outcome. The energies are no longer personal—the entire Universe participates in the perfection of the work. In this way, actions become a mystical inner sacrifice and do not create any karmic ties.
Karma Yoga is akin to “wei wu wei” (“acting without acting”) in the Taoist tradition. This important concept emphasizes an effortless way of acting in the world. As it involves action, it is not a passive state. However, it is unlike other common human actions as it is not selfish, but egoless.
Hridaya Yoga recognizes the great value of Karma Yoga. The simple practice of consecrating our actions to the Spiritual Heart serves as a constant reminder of this principle. A consecration (a spiritual offering of the action, its fruits, and, ultimately, of our entire being) can be made at the beginning of each day as well as at the beginning of any sadhana (spiritual practice) or other important activity. With experience, Karma Yoga does not need the formal approach to consecration, because it happens spontaneously.