Karma Yoga - Swati Trivedi

The word “Karma” comes from Sanskrit word “kri” which means doing or activities and yoga comes from Sanskrit word “yuj” which means joining. 

Karma means Action or work

Yoga means Union 

Karma Yoga means Yoga or union through Actions. Bhagvad Gita introduces itself as a treatise on Karma Yoga or the path of action.

The brief meaning of Yoga explained in Bhagvadgita- “Yogah Karmasu Kausalm “

Meaning- Yoga is the art of working skillfully. 

कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन। 

मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि॥ 

“Karmanyevadhikaraste ma phalesu kadacana 

Ma karmaphalaheturbhumar te sanago stvakarmani “

“You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions. 

Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction”

This is one of the most significant and popular verses of the Bhagavad Gita that offers deep insight into the spirit of the work and is invariably quoted in discussions of karma yoga. Regarding the science of work, the verse give four instructions: 

1) You perform the work without expecting any results;

 2) The fruits of your actions are not for pleasure; 

3) Pride of doer ship should be given up while working; 

4) Do not be attached to inaction. 

Indian philosophy is based on three fundamental beliefs: 

  1. Theory of Karma: All actions will have future results that can be good or bad and be the cause of joy or sorrow. If people do bad things in their lifetime, the results of this will be negative, cause sorrow and lead to rebirth in another body. 
  2. Atman/soul (the existence of a permanent entity): This is our real Unknown nature, untouched and pure
  3. Doctrine of salvation or Mukti: The end goal of humankind is to achieve moksha or liberation from the cycle of birth and death.

The core philosophy and teachings of the Bhagavad Gita is based on these three beliefs. 

Swami Vivekananda defines karma yoga as a system of ethics and religion intended to attain freedom (moksha) through unselfishness and good works.

Everyone is performing karma all the time, and every thought and action leaves a mark on the doer. One’s character is composed entirely of what one’s karma, or one’s actions, have been and are. Because actions are determined from within,  according to thought and will, people are responsible for what they are and have the power to make themselves what they wish. It is therefore necessary to know that the highest form of action is motivated not by selfish goals such as money, fame, or power, but by unselfishness. If one works without selfish motive, one gains the highest reward and becomes a moral giant. The ideal is to act without being attached to the fruits of the action and to remain utterly calm and still even in the midst of activity.

“The goal of mankind is knowledge. That is the one ideal placed before us by Eastern philosophy Pleasure is not the goal of man, but knowledge. Pleasure and happiness come to an end. It is a mistake to suppose that pleasure is the goal. The  cause of all the miseries we have in the world is that men foolishly think pleasure to be the ideal to strive for.”

The path of karma yoga emphasizes on doing ‘selfless work’ according to dharma (moral duty), not on the consequences of results. A karma yogi treats ‘work (karma)’ like prayer where there is no outcome desire expect from karma. 

“Strive constantly to serve the welfare of the world; by devotion to selfless work one attains the supreme goal of life.”

– The Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 3

There are two types of Karma according to its nature- 

1- Sakam Karma-  means attached

involvement. It means to act selfishly 

2- Nishkama Karma- means detached involvement . It means to act unselfishly 

There are three types of Karma based on timeline – 

1- Sanchita Karma ( accumulated works)-  It is all the accumulated karma of the past. 

2- Prarabdha Karma ( fructifying works)- it is the part of performed actions which is responsible for the preset conditions. 

3- Agami Karma( Current works)- Agami means forthcoming. It is the Karma we are creating for ourselves .

According to the gunas there are three types of Karma-

1- Sattvika Karma- It is selfless 

2- Rajasik Karma- it is selfish & focused in self gain.

3- Tamasik Karma- which is done unmindfully and considered harmful.

Karma Yoga is liberation through work or actoin. 

Karma Yoga can be defined as follows- “Doing your duty at your best without any involvement of ego or attachment.”

As Shri Krishna says in Bhagvadgita- 

न कर्मणामनारम्भान्नैष्कर्म्यं पुरुषोऽश्नुते ।

न च संन्यसनादेव सिद्धिं समधिगच्छति ॥

One cannot achieve freedom from karmic reactions by merely abstaining from work, nor can one attain perfection of knowledge by mere physical renunciation.


Reference –

complete works- Swami Vivekananda 

Shrimad Bhagvad Gita & other sources.


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