Equality, renunciation of all desire for the fruit of works, action one as a sacrifice to the supreme Lord of our nature and all nature – these are the three first Godward approaches in the Gita’s way of Karmayoga.
– Sri Aurobindo
The previous article presents the basic tenets of the path of karma yoga based on motiveless action. This article provides the practical steps on the path on how to begin, proceed and progress in the path of karma yoga, the way of consecrated action.
Transforming all action into consecration; renunciation in action; expressing the inner growth in the outer life; testing our progress on the anvil of life.
Transforming All Action into Consecration
All activity implies a release, a throwing up of energies of whatever kind. Activity is not necessarily of the physical kind. All output, mental, emotional, vital, physical is activity. Activity is the law of Nature in this universe. And what God ordains man cannot refuse. So let us take it that each one has some sphere of work, and you have yours. You should learn to convert this aspect of your life into a meaningful movement towards the Divine Consciousness. You must not look upon your daily work – whether at home or elsewhere – as a waste of time from the spiritual angle. Works are a means for the desired growth of consciousness and also the field for the expression of the inner gains that accrue in the course of sadhana.
Each day, before you commence your work, gather yourself and silently offer all work to the Divine. Do it as your offering of love to the Divine. You do not need to affirm this resolution every moment. It is enough to remember and renew the remembrance now and then. When you thus change the basis of work from being something entirely motivated by ego-desire, when you make it a channel of your devotion and service to the Divine, the Quality of the work changes in the measure of your sincerity. The more you work in the spirit of dedication and consecration, the higher the quality of the work. You simply cannot make a flawed offering to the Divine, the Master of your being. There is a joy in that work-offering which is deplorably absent in the usual routine work. The being exults in this streaming of energy towards the Divine.
Renunciation in Action
As a corollary to this consecration of work, you renounce your claim to the fruits thereof. You leave it to the Divine to determine what the results shall be and accept with equanimity whatever fruits ensue. Thus you avoid the tension inseparable from result-oriented works.
You learn to renounce your claim to the fruit of works. Next you learn to give up your claim to the choice of work. You do not decide what kind of work you will do and what you will not. You do not make an artificial distinction between superior work and inferior. You take whatever work comes to you as assigned by the Divine and do it to your utmost ability. For a spiritual seeker, the circumstances in which he finds himself are usually those which are best designed to speed up his inner evolution. You accept the circumstances and make the best of them. Of course you are free to improve the situation but you start from where you are, without grumbling, without complaint.
Next you become conscious of a change in yourself. In the degree of your dedication and elimination of desire-ego, you find a new spirit, a higher energy flowing through you. You subordinate your own sense of doership and let yourself become an instrument of the Shakti, Power of God. This conscious instrumentalising of your nature leads to a growing identification with the Divine. There is less and less of fatigue, more and more of joy. You come closer to God, first as a servitor, then as an instrument, then as a child.
Expressing the Inner Growth in the Outer Life
So far about the value of works as a means of your spiritual growth. Side by side there is another dimension to it. You are associated with others in the field of work. That gives you an opportunity to test for yourself how far you have truly subordinated your ego to the central Purpose. You must express the inner change in your outer activity. There can be no more room for rivalry, self-assertion, riding roughshod over others; on the other hand you make a sincere effort to be a force of harmony, a factor for collaboration, a radiating point for the spirit of dedication. The established elements of ignorance and falsehood in this world cannot bear to let anyone escape from their hold. You may, therefore, become a butt of ridicule, laughed at as impractical and so on. But do not change your ways.
The negative movement will pass, things around will begin to change, though slowly. Remember you are working for the Divine, serving his Purpose, not to win plaudits from the ignorant crowd, not to be the first among the blind and the half-blind. Thus work becomes an integral part of your spiritual life. It is a crucible on which you repeatedly test your sincerity, your commitment to the Divine Ideal, the extent of your change in nature.
While at work, never lose yourself entirely in the movement of nature. Keep something of you aloof, uninvolved, always harnessed to the Divine and imposing the higher direction on all movements of nature. Suspend activity now and then for a few seconds and rededicate the work to the Divine. Remember and offer. Failure or success shall not unduly depress or elate you. Every failure is not a tragedy. Often in life, as you look back, you will realise how certain failures were fortunate failures. Do your best and leave the rest to the will of the Divine. Learn to tune your will to the Higher Will, do not seek to impose your will on the Divine.
Testing our Progress on the Anvil of Life
Life is a field of experience and work – of whatever kind – a concentrated field for immediate experience. This is particularly so in the case of those who are building up an inner life. For them work is at once a field to test their inner progress and a means to fashion their development. It is easy enough in yoga, for instance, to induce a poise of quiet and calm, an attitude of detachment in the mind, by meditation, contemplation and other psychological practices. One can also absorb a good deal of knowledge from book and accustom the mind to think in terms of their high conceptions. All this gives a feeling of progress and well-being which can easily grow into an illusion of progress. Illusion, because, it is very likely that – at the first touch of life in the raw, these edifices may crumble to pieces. Hence it is necessary, at every step, to test this progress, whether it is real or only skin-deep. Work is an ideal field to test and see for oneself to what extent one has progressed internally. In work one comes across men, things, situations, movements of forces of all kinds that call out one’s physical, vital, mental and spiritual capacities. It is there that opportunities present themselves to see how far my reactions have changed.
For after all, the true test of inner progress lies in the extent to which the natures of my actions and reactions have changed for the better. Do I react from the same egoistic standpoint as before? Do I see a little farther, wider and consider the other man’s point of view? Has my progress enabled me to receive the ignorant actions and reactions of others with a modicum of detachment, if not equality? Is my working self-centred as before or have I learnt to relegate myself into the background and function only as an instrument? Is there any change in my motives? How do I receive failures? Has my spiritual development made me more understanding and charitable in my dealings with others? A hundred tests of this kind can be and are imposed upon every seeker the moment he steps into the field of work. It is a priceless opportunity to see the real extent and nature of one’s progress, the lacunae still to be filled up, the gains that are to be consolidated.
Work not only provides a testing ground for inner progress but equally the most effective means to confirm and enlarge that progress. Work done in a yogic spirit is a dynamic power that can change the consciousness of the doer much more rapidly than meditation or study. The whole of the being participates in the movement, which calls for dedication, consecration and execution in every part, at every level of the consciousness with the result that there is a continuous pressure for re-orientation on one’s nature, inner and outer. Selfless work done in dedication to the Divine provides incessant training in the elimination of desire and motive which vitiate so much of human effort, in the conversion of the vital from the imperious despot that it is into a joyous servant of the Divine, in the leveling of the ego which dwindles before the increasing stature of the divine will that takes shape as the yoga of works proceeds. That is why the Mother has elevated work to the status of a sadhana.
In a yoga which aims to liberate and transform the whole being of man, each part has to participate in the way that is most natural to it and grow. The mind seeks through knowledge; the heart through emotions; the body through work.
M. P. Pandit
The author is a well-known exponent and practitioner of Integral Yoga. He is also a prolific writer who has authored more than two hundred books, mainly on Yoga and Indian Culture.