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The 5 Myths surrounding Karma Yoga

By Arun Goel

There's been much talk of Karma Yoga and several people profess to be on the path without realizing that they are actually building more karma than exhausting it, which is the purpose of Karma Yoga.

First things first;
the fullest adoption of Karma Yoga is much simpler if one pre-supposes the doctrine of previous life and next life -the doctrine of transmigration of the soul. For people who doubt this 'truth', the practice of karma yoga becomes a very difficult process.

The scope of this article is not to debate whether this doctrine is true or not. It is sufficient to say that this belief cuts across several faiths including Buddhism which can safely be considered a "non-religious" sect. To deny this occurrence would be to deny several anecdotal evidences in its support.

With this, let us examine the popular myths surrounding Karma Yoga:

Myth #1

Karma Yoga is about Charity and Helping the Underprivileged

A very popular misconception. Often people correlate Charity or "working without money" as Karma Yoga.

While it is true that such actions are better placed for one to experience Karma Yoga, it should be clearly understood that willful foregoing of "money" by itself means nothing. Indeed, if the act of charity or voluntary work brings a feeling of 'pleasure' or even a satisfaction akin to 'redemption from sin', then all that has been achieved is another transaction of exchanging money/ time for emotional solace. That is not purification - not Karma Yoga.

On the other hand, if you could feel 'truly' thankful to the person at whom the charity is directed for providing you an opportunity to exhaust your karmas, so much so, that you are even willing to accept a total non-gratitude or non-thankfulness from that person, only then, does such an action fall under the domain of Karma Yoga.

Myth #2

Karma Yoga is about doing Work

Karma Yoga is about every aspect of our existence & not just work.

Karma yoga is about "purification" in action. Unfortunately, many assume action to be work. This is not true. Every moment of our existence is action (voluntary and involuntary). Karma Yoga is about addressing every action including thinking, living processes and interacting. Karma Yoga deals with the purification of this entire process.

Karma yoga is not about an office or work practice that you do eight hours a day and then forget about it until the next day… it is about being absorbed in its principle during each conscious moment.

Myth #3

Karma yoga is about "More" work (more action)

In fact, taking on more work with the associated stress is as far from Karma Yoga as one can get!

Karma yoga is about balance; Karma Yoga is about moderation. It is about seeking purification through work. What do we mean by purification? Purification is freedom from the emotional bondage of work. Purification is about doing the work without any emotional changes on account of the process, the result OR the 'perceived' result… a dispassionate conduct of work in the truest sense.

This can only happen by adhering to the principles of balance and moderation-even being able to kick work when you are most enjoying it!

Myth #4

Karma Yoga breeds Despondency / Fatalism.

Sure, it can  (for the misinformed, or those who wish to adopt a piecemeal approach to Karma Yoga, which it is not).

Karma Yoga pre-supposes the doctrine of rebirth and it is here that faith in this belief is paramount. Karma Yoga pre-supposes:

(a)    We are the product of our stored impressions (samskaras) formed on account of past karmas-from our evolution to the present stage.

(b)   Our free will of the present life presents us an opportunity to exhaust our past impressions and reduce / exhaust creation of fresh ones.

(c)    This process of using our free will is an important factor in determining our peace quotient as well as how fast we reach the ultimate destiny of all mankind which is often referred to as Enlightenment or Supreme Bliss.

If one understands the above principles in sufficient depth, he/ she would realize that there is no room for despondency. Despondency and fatalism result in the building up of more karmas / impressions and bring in Tamas, which actually takes us away from the process of purification and our upliftment.

The only way out is by using our life & free will as an opportunity to exhaust as many archetypes (subtle impressions) & karmas as possible by living in the spirit of karma yoga.

Myth #5

Karma Yoga is about seeking Happiness

Actually, Karma Yoga is about seeking freedom from the pair of opposites. That your mind is Happy implies that it will also automatically experience Sadness as a natural opposite (just like a swinging pendulum).

Karma Yoga is about seeking peace through this recognition and realization. This is where Karma Yoga gives way to Vedanta.

It is advisable to tread on the path of Karma Yoga only after believing and understanding all the above fully. The by-product of such understanding is a strong sense of stability and peace in THIS very life.

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