Karma to Karmayoga
‘No person can stay without doing actions even for a moment, irrespective of whether he is a worldly person or a renunciate’, thus says Lord Krishna in Shrimad Bhagwad Gita.
Karma refers to all the actions that you perform as a reaction to the various upsurges or vibrations occurring in your body, senses or mind. And as a consequence of this, you get up and make some arrangement or the other to procure, prepare and eat the food, so that the sensation of hunger gets satiated. And this applies to the prevalence of karma in all aspects of life.
Therefore the foremost thing that needs to be understood is that karma is an integral part of life – be it physical action, mental action, emotional or intellectual action. One cannot in anyway relinquish karma, as even choosing not to perform karma is a karma in itself. And nonetheless one has to perform action for the sustenance of this body as long as one is alive. It’s inevitable.
Now as karma is bound to happen, so is its result. As per the karmic law, good or bad actions bear the fruit of reward or punishment respectively. But when you perform your actions with complete non-attachment, then it doesn’t incur any reward or punishment. This is karma yoga, the path of action to attain self-realisation, the ultimate goal of life. The barometer is whether or not you perform your actions without attachment to the fruits, irrespective of whether the karma is pertaining to this material world or to your spiritual practices.
It is not what you do, but how and why you are doing it, is what matters. Actions prompted by desires are called sakama karma, whereas there is absence of any underlying desire in nishkama karma. Just think, can you perform actions without any underlying desire motivating that action? Well, fact is that conscious mind may think that the action is selfless, a gesture of benevolence but in the deep layers of subconscious mind lurks the selfish desire that has motivated the action.
Those who perform sakama karma are only interested in those actions which are rewarding or beneficial to them. All their actions are motivated by greed, by the desire for attaining something or the other, then be it from this phenomenal world or from the celestial realms. Such an individual will always ask ‘what will I gain from this’ before doing any action. And such a person will be happy to perform all kinds of rituals, observe all kinds of fasts etc. once he is told that those actions would bring wealth, good health, fame, eradication of miseries, etc.
Ask yourself, do you remember doing any worthwhile deed without any an underlying motive or desire? Fact is that the desire comes first, action happens later. Even an innocuous act like scratching your head, arises because of the desire to be freed from the uncomfortable sensation of itching. Without a desire, you won’t even open your eyes in the morning. Desire and attachment are an inextricable part of sakama karma.
So, the question arises, is it at all possible to do nishkama karma, actions without any desire for the fruit? After all, can there be a tree without an underlying seed? And action is that tree which emanates from the seed of desire. Yes, it is certainly possible but conditions apply!
It is possible when you perform your duties with an equanimous intellect, which is always in equipoise. But what does this really mean? You may ask. It reflects going beyond all dilemmas and dualities – including success and failure, pleasure and pain, honour and dishonour. A person with such a balanced intellect performs actions without harbouring any desire for the fruit of the action. And having detached from all merits and demerits, neither does he have any desire for attaining heaven, nor does he harbour any fear of the hell - he is liberated from the grip of greed and fear.
So you must perform actions skilfully and perfectly, without any desire of result and without any attachment with its consequence. Your actions should be done with complete focus and dexterity but with total non-attachment. This entails performing actions without any underlying desires, any expectation of getting something in return.
Do virtuous deeds, as this will make your intellect pure, and the supremely blissful consciousness will be reflected in this refined intellect. You will overflow with such joyous contentment that you will spontaneously share it with one and all. Then you won’t have any expectation whatsoever from anyone, you will share your bliss without any discrimination and without expecting anything in return.
I will narrate a story that is often quoted in this context. Once a sage saw that a scorpion had fallen into a pool of water. The poor creature was writhing in pain and was desperately trying to get out of the water. The sage compassionately picked it out and was just about to place it on dry ground when the scorpion stung him. The resultant pain made the sage’s hand quiver and the scorpion dropped from his hand, back into the water. Nevertheless, the sage calmly repeated the process to help the creature, but the scorpion stung him yet again.
And this kept on happening with the sage’s every attempt to help the scorpion. Meanwhile a well wisher passing by, who had seen the entire drama, remarked to the sage, ‘Why are you bothering to help this creature when it is repeatedly biting the very hand that is helping it?’
The sage responded, ‘See my dear fellow, it is the scorpion’s nature to sting and it is a sage’s very nature to be compassionate. And if a scorpion cannot forgo his nature, should a sage abandon his?’ This is a perfect example of nishkama karma. And once compassion becomes your very nature, it will flow even to your enemies. You will regard them just as the sage had viewed the scorpion. Compassion, empathy and love will become an effortless part of your nature, and their fragrance will fill the very space you tread. Compassionate and loving, this will then be the only way you know to be.