This coming Saturday the 25th of April was going to be my first Yoga Philosophy workshop. As it’s not going to happen, and I seem to have a little extra time on my hand, I will share a little bit of my learning in the last 18 months with Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies.
To start, I need to straighten the concept of yoga. What we usually call yoga in the West is all types of Hatha yoga, which we can very briefly summarise here as physical yoga. In Hindu philosophy, which (classical) yoga is part of, yoga can mean a lot of different things but often is used to mean methods or paths for enlightenment or liberation from the rebirth.
Karma yoga is a concept first appeared in the most revered Hindu text Bhagavad Gita. Here Krishna is a charioteer for a mighty warrior Arjuna. Arjuna is reluctant to engage in the impending battle and Krishna talks to him that he needs to perform his duty as a warrior without an attachment to the result of the action. Karma means action, so karma yoga is a path through action. As one lives in physical body, one cannot avoid engaging in actions but we must strive to detach from the outcome. This is karma yoga.
Krishna says ‘You have a right to perform prescribed action but you are not entitled to the fruits of that action. Do not make the rewards of action your motive and do not develop any attachment for avoiding action.’ So in short, karma yoga is performing one’s duties in this life without any expectation for the rewards or selfish desire.
There are many famous quotes on karma yoga from Bhagavad Gita but I put my favourite here.
‘ If he is satisfied with whatever befalls him, transcends duality, is free of envy and is equal in success and failure, then even though he engages in action he is not bound by it.’ (Chapter 4, verses22)
So the concept is easy. Do your work, do your duties. Don’t get attached to the outcome. Faith is not even required although it helps if you believe in God.
As I live, I find challenges to karma yoga at every situation. When I go to work, I expect to be paid. When I sit exams or submit assignments, I have certain expectations for the results. When I go out to socialise or interact with people, I expect some outcome. And it is upsetting if our expectations are not met. Then I need to remind myself to practice karma yoga.
Do your duties, but don’t get attached to the results. I need to go back to the words of Krishna to Arjuna in Bhagavad Gita.
‘Become equal-minded towards happiness and distress, gain and loss, victory and defeat and then engage yourself in battle. You will never acquire sin by acting in this way. ‘ (Chapter 2, verse 38)
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