In the Bhagavad Gita Shri Krishna said: “Do your duty without the concern to the fruit of it”. Some people get confused with the Karma Yoga as volunteer work or social work. The word “Karma” means action, so Karma Yoga is the Yoga of Action or duty. Karma Yoga can be best defined as followed:
“Doing your duty at your best without any involvement of ego or attachment”
In this definition of Karma Yoga, there are 4 essential words: duty, ego, attachment, and expectation of reward. To understand the principles of Karma Yoga, it is essential to understand these 4 principles.
Everybody has duties in life. Some duties are given to you, you don’t have a choice, for example, your duty as a citizen, as a member of society, as a son/daughter, as a brother/sister, etc. Other duties you choose yourself, for example, your duty as an employer, as a husband/wife, as a friend, etc.
In Karma Yoga it is important to prioritize your duties; to know what is most important and which duty you should give more importance over other.
It is important to realize that the highest duty you can have is the duty towards yourself. This means that you should first take care of yourself, do what is good for you and then only you can do what is good for others. For example, let’s say you are ill and lying in bed. You should rest so you get better soon but late in the night, you get a call from a friend saying he feels lonely and he wants your company. Even though it is your duty as a friend to support your friend who needs company, at that time it is more important to take care of yourself and to get better before you can help your friend.
It is also important to fulfill your duty at your best. For example, if you are given a room to clean, you don’t clean it very well because no one is watching or you think what you get paid for it is very less. Another example can be when your employer asks you to do something at work you have 2 options: you can do what he asks, nothing more, nothing less. You could have done it better and more detailed but because your working day was almost over you quickly finished the work and went home.
Ego is all the ideas you have about yourselves or others. It includes our likes, dislikes, desires, etc. With every action we do we tend to think about the consequences for ourselves; how does it affect ourselves, our image, etc. Karma Yoga is all about doing your duty without thinking about yourself. The main purpose of Karma Yoga is to control and eventually let go of your ego.
It is essential that in practice of Karma yoga you do not involve your ego because only then you can do it without attachment and desire. Sometimes a person thinks he needs some ego in order to perform better and grow. But ego is like a cancer which always keeps growing. It makes us see what we want to see and stops us from seeing the reality. It controls our perception and understanding.
Practicing Karma Yoga means doing your duty without attachment. Whether you like your duty or not, you still do it your best. You do your duty without any attachment for example if you are a teacher you don’t teach one student better than because you like him more. You always perform your duty without any kind of attachment to the process or result.
When we do something we rarely do it without expecting something back. For example, at the office, we do our work because we get a salary at the end of the month or for the praise or position. We take care of our partner or child, but we expect love and appreciation in return. When you do something without the expectation of reward, the outcome of your action doesn’t affect if and how you do your duty. You do it because it is your duty, not because you get something out of it.
Read more: Karma and Dharma – Are you doing it right?
Ram Jain (E-RYT 500) is the founder of Arhanta Yoga Ashrams and the main teacher of the different yoga teacher training’s the Arhanta Yoga Ashram offers in both Europe and India.
He teaches professional Yoga teacher training, Yin Yoga, Philosophy, Anatomy and Physiology, and Advanced Asanas in India & The Netherlands. Ram started teaching in 1998 and he has trained over 4000 yoga teachers worldwide.