Humble salutations to the Supreme Intelligence, the Advaita Guru ParamparA (lineage teaching non-duality / advaita vedAntA) and my own AchAryA (Preceptor) for the content that I put forth in this blog !
In this blog, I pick up the thread exactly where I left off in the previous blog. Here, as promised, the discussion is about karma yogA, the first of the purificatory processes, which cleanses the mind and correspondingly the actions too.
Karma yogA – The Art of Right Action!
The word ‘Karma’ directly translates to ‘action’ and in this context, ‘yogA’ refers to, ‘the attitude behind’. Karma yogA is a way of action as taught by the VedhA, which is going to undo our old ways of acting to replace with a new way of acting injected by a change in attitude, which will, Scripture asserts, bring us purification.
What is ‘right’ Action? ‘Right’ here strictly talks of the attitude behind the action, not the action itself! When someone’s leg is cut off in a fight, that certainly is ‘wrong’ action for the intention was to hurt or cause harm. But when a doctor resorts to amputation of leg, he resorts to it as the last chance to save someone’s life.
Today, most of us work in the world only fulfilling our own needs and desires. We, who act thus are called ‘karmii’. Every vague desire which is in the form of thoughts in the mind impels action to fulfill the desire. Action impels more thoughts and desires and therefore more and more actions. Thus the wheel of action is set in motion. How then do we address address actions? Simply stopping the actions can’t and will not help. We get down to the very root, the selfish desires themselves need addressing! How to address selfish desires? Simple, make them selfless! Ha, sounds like a no brainer but this is no ordinary feat recognizes the VedhA. Understanding so, Scripture has formulated a way of acting in the world through which, in time, selfishness will automatically expand to become selflessness and the idea of me and mine will expand to include all! Such way of work is called karma yogA and a person working thus, a Karma yogii. It is an exercise to retune the mind and body to do what is good, not just for me and mine, but All!
How can change in attitude behind action effect purification of mind?
Let’s take the example of ‘the condition of being deprived of food’. With all due respect and compassion for those that die of hunger and starvation, in this context I am taking into account only a person who is wealthy enough to feed himself at will. Afterall they say, only when one is fed well, reasonably healthy and wealthy and free from basic struggles in life, then alone can he even turn towards spirituality of any sort. If not, all his struggles will only be towards his everyday survival and sustenance, fair enough! So back to the topic of fasting or starving!
It would be fair to say that the physiological pain or hardship behind the condition of food deprivation is exactly the same whether starving which is out of forced reasons or fasting which is out of will. The pain being exactly the same, in forced starvation due to circumstances like unavailability of requested food on an airplane, unavailability of vegetarian options in a restaurant, etc., there is anger, irritation, complaint associated with it. Consider fasting where the pains created by the pangs of hunger and the headache are as real as in starvation, the religious duly, willingly and willfully engage in it from time to time. In such condition, not only is there no complaint, but for those who have indulged in fasting of any sort, it isn’t hard to appreciate that the day ends with a certain gratitude, understanding and feeling of peace. The act being the exact same, one results in complaining and the other in compassion for others, one results in being centered on the problems of the ego centric person while the other is expansion of mind beyond the ego, to include others. This is how just shift in attitude helps expand and purify the mind.
My compassionate Preceptor, compresses the vast topic of karma yogA into a short, 4 point rule called R-I-D-E:
R – Reduce……
Reduce actions / values that are Adharmic or unrighteous!
What is righteous is what is universally good for all or induces the least harm towards all. Whatever is hurtful to you, do not do to any other person. Or as we recognize the Golden Rule which states, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, a command based on the words of Jesus in the Sermon of the Mount.
Action constitutes not just expressions at the level of the body but they constitute words and even thoughts at the level of the mind. Every action, every word, infact every thought has to be re-evaluated and scrutinized to see if it meets the Golden Rule. Why? Because what we put out there is exactly what we get back! Watched a game of squash? A game where one can play even by himself with a small ball, racket and a huge wall across from him, in a closed room. The speed of the returning ball will necessarily be equal to the intensity with which the ball is hit. “Every action produces an equal and opposite reaction”! Laws by themselves being inert cannot judge whether they are being applied in the physical or spiritual realm. No matter where, their application is the same. Thus, being vigilant and indulging in only the most essential thoughts, words and deeds by reducing all the unwanted and unrighteous is step #1.
Reduce dependence on the world!
World implies objects, people, relationships, situations, etc. A person turning to spirituality has an inner sense that happiness is not really a part of the world and the objects. In addition to introducing such questioning seekers to a new version of ourselves, the spiritual being, separate from body and mind, spirituality introduces us to disciplines and teachings which gradually shift our focus to go from world dependence, to God to Self ultimately. This certainly is not in the sense of dropping the world, objects and people but learning to be strong and mature even in the midst of them. Physical dependence cannot be given up but emotional and psychological leaning for our security and happiness is only making us weaker and hampering growth.
I – Increase & Include………..
Increase righteous / dhArmic action.
This pretty much goes alongside step 1. If I wanted to give up being angry and impatient, it certainly makes sense to deliberately practise love and patience. No rocket science to it!
Include activities to make one’s everyday life all rounded.
One’s everyday routine MUST include in it:
- At least some time in worship / acknowledgement of a Higher Intelligence in any manner that we can identify with,
- Contemplation and enquiry to know what that Higher Power is,
- Service towards other human beings (outside of “our” family),
- Service towards plants and animals,
- Service towards elders and ancestors of our family for they are the reason we are a whopping mass of flesh in this physical dimension.
These 5 constitute what is called the Pancha Maha YaGNA in the VedhA which is nothing but expanding the mind to be in harmony with all of Creation, including plants and animals.
Include activities outside of our comfort zone.
One of my spiritual teachers always insisted, “Go against your grain and do things that you normally wouldn’t!” The mind is similar to a CD. Every activity creates an impression, like a track and the more we indulge in the same activity, the stronger becomes that track. Break the mind from unwanted tendencies. Go out there and indulge in things that will surprise and shock the mind thus making old tendencies weaker. With such purification we can slowly erase and write over old, unwanted tendencies with new one which will propagate our own growth and progress.
D – Dedication / Devotion…….
Dedication / devotion to a Higher Ideal is a must for everyone, whether spiritual or secular! Afterall, what can be accomplished if one lacks dedication to meet a desired goal. A scientist achieves only because he is persistently committed and striving to reach a goal that he has set for himself.
Every relationship in life is impermanent or subject to change, be it objects, relationships or people themselves. It certainly helps to have one strong, changeless, firm relationship with at least one thing, call that Self / God depends upon our maturity and understanding. That helps going through life with greater ease.
E – Experience & Emulate……
Experience everything as “I get only what I deserve!” or, “I whole heartedly accept everything I get as just and fair!” Acceptance is key! Non-acceptance in the form of grumbling, complaining and questioning, “Why me?”, is the cause for all pain and suffering.
I watched a video of a lovely lecture as I was writing this blog almost as if like giving me points to add here. The speaker asked, “Have you ever wondered why you smile or feel happy while seeing say a rainbow or the sunrise or waves crash against the shoreline?” He gave the most simple yet beautiful answer to this which I hope I will remember always. He said,”You accept that moment totally, thoroughly, without complaint or judgement! At that point of time, the mind becomes calm and peaceful and it reflects your own innate happiness in full glory.” How profound is that!
“Resistance creates heat”, a well known law in physics! As stated earlier, when the law applies to the emotional realm, the more we complain and resist a situation or emotion, the more it persists.
“Cutting fuel to the fire eventually makes it burn out”, another law! Similarly, cutting back undue attention awarded to supposed problems and diverting our attention to bigger, better things in life will eventually render the problem weak and makes it fade away. But what do we normally do? We magnify and glorify every small pin prick by throwing the spotlight of our entire attention on it by complaining constantly and then cry and suffer when our own focus strengthens it.
Also, every situation has multiple standpoints. Looking at a tree from under it gives a completely different perspective to when looking at it from a high vantage point ! Only thing is we are stubborn about the vantage point we have chosen. It’s all about a shift, that simple.
In the Bhagavad Gita, 2.14, Lord Krishna gives us a beautiful teaching in this regard. He Said,
“O son of Kunti, the interaction between the senses and the sense-objects produce the experiences of cold, heat, pleasure and pain. These feelings are temporary, always appearing and then disappearing. Thus, O descendent of Bharata, you must learn to tolerate them.”
The teaching is not about how to avoid experiences altogether but how to face all experiences in life with dignity and forbearance for nothing will last forever. Whether good or bad, they will all pass before we know it.
We cannot say that such teaching of withdrawal and non complaining is totally foreign to anyone of us. When our kids get a mild graze on their knee in the playground, after appropriate cleaning and first aid don’t we try to distract the kid with something else? In essence, we are teaching the kid to withdraw awareness from the wound and apply it elsewhere so that the discomfort won’t bother him much. We act like high philosophers with respect to kids and their small problems but ourselves don’t really know how to handle situations. Why is this so? Today we live our lives so strongly identified with the body and mind that we forget the most basic idea that ‘Our real nature is Spirit and not matter in the form of body and mind.’ Shifting the vantage point of our nature is the answer to all problems.
There is an incident relating to Swami Dayananda which my Preceptor cites. Apparently a devotee one day went up to Swami Dayananda and said, “Swamiji, I am very sad.” Swamiji asked him, “How do you know you are sad?” The devotee replied,”I know because I am aware of the sadness in my mind.” To this Swamiji simply replied, “You know, therefore you are not sad!” A very very very profound statement indeed! The Highest Truths of vedAntA lay hidden in that seemingly simple sentence! Anything that is an object of Awareness is separate / different from Me, the subject! Mind and it’s thoughts, emotions, knowledge etc. are all objects of my awareness so I am not the mind. Our problem today is we live so closely entangled with the mind and it’s problems
Emulate equanimity, balance and poise of the wise and learned!
Mind certainly owing to its nature will go through ups and downs in terms of emotions but I as the observer of the mind can remain still and unagitated. Swami Chinmayananda states, “Don’t be like the log of wood which violently bobs up and down on the waves. Be like the firm lighthouse which itself is crashed by the thunderous waves but stands motionless through it all with dignity.” Every pain, every trauma, every sorrow has its stronghold over us only as long as we oblige it by lending our awareness to it. The minute we divert or withdraw awareness and watch from an observer standpoint, even the worst tragedy becomes palatable for the poor, susceptible human mind.
With regards to the rain, there are 2 types of people. The first type wants to run into the rain and enjoy it by getting drenched to the bone. Then there is the second type, like me, who likes to watch and enjoy with an occasional spatter here and there, all from the comfort and dry of an umbrella. Nothing wrong in both approaches obviously, to each his own! But where problem arises is, I suddenly choose to throw away the umberella, get drenched and once the fun is over, complain about how the whole house, from door to shower got wet as I walked in; how I now have to do laundry again; how I have to dry and set my hair again……. you get the point! Karma yogA is the choice to use the umberella, while fully understanding in advance all associated problems in getting drenched.
Karma yogA helps gain right values, maturity, objectivity, peace, serenity and equanimity. It helps us expand from me and mine to All! It helps expand our awareness from the ego centric lower I outwards to include the entire Creation. From the vantage point of a karma yogii, joys and sorrows certainly continue but every joy is doubled and every sorrow halved.
So what is your choice to r-i-d-e the journey of life, as karmii or Karma yogii?