Karma Yoga – The Paths of Yoga

Karma Yoga – The Paths of Yoga


The word “Karma” means “to do, to act”. Any mental or physical act is called Karma.

Karma is also the word used to describe the consequence of this act, thus the word also refers to the Universal Law of Cause and Effect.

Karma yoga, also called Karma marga, is one of the several spiritual paths in Hinduism, one based on the “yoga of action”. To a karma yogi, right work done well is a form of prayer. It is one of the paths in the spiritual practices of Hindus, others being Raja yoga, Jnana yoga (path of knowledge) and Bhakti yoga (path of loving devotion to a personal god).

The three paths are not mutually exclusive in Hinduism, but the relative emphasis between Karma yoga, Jnana yoga and Bhakti yoga varies by the individual

Everything we do, say or think, gives rise to an effect, which in due time will return to us, in full accordance with this law of consequence. What we call “luck” is the result of our earlier good actions, and what appears to us as misfortune is merely the repercussion of past negative actions.

Therefore, the events of our future do not arise coincidentally, but are actually caused by the effects of our previous and present actions. In this way our destiny is predetermined by our Karma.

Just as the destination of an arrow released from its bow is fixed and predictable, unless its course is diverted, or corrected by another event. In the practice of “Yoga in Daily Life”, positive thinking, wisdom and selfless service, we can lessen and alter the outcome of our Karmas and gradually guide our destiny towards the positive.

Our present situation is a result of our past deeds and our present actions will determine our future. Once we understand this, we can no longer blame anybody else for what happens to us, but rather accept responsibility for ourselves.

There are two types of Karma:

Sakama Karma – selfish actions

Nishkama Karma – selfless actions

Selfish thoughts and actions deepen the duality between “mine” and “yours”. Being selfless however, leads us above and beyond the limit of our little ego, to the unity of all beings. Sakama Karma binds us to Chorasi ka Chakra (the Wheel of Death and Rebirth). Nishkama Karma frees us from this.

In India, the rain, the tree, the river and the Saint are all regarded as symbols of selflessness. Rain comes for the benefit of all – humans, nature and animals equally. The tree offers its shade to all that seek shelter and yields its sweet fruit even to those who hurl stones at the tree to knock the fruit down. The river is also there for everyone. The deer quenches its thirst in the same river as the tiger and a Saint gives his blessing to all without distinction.

Nishkama Karma is the way to avoid creating new Karma and may even resolve earlier Karma. To offer understanding, forgiveness and help are the selfless actions that liberate us from the cycle of Karma.


Karma yoga

Your work is your responsibility, not its result. Never let the fruits of your actions be your motive. Nor give in to inaction.
Set firmly in yourself, do your work, not attached to anything. Remain evenminded in success, and in failure.
Evenmindedness is true yoga.

Bhagavad Gita

Karma Yoga according to Bhagavad Gita 

According to the Bhagavad Gita, selfless service to the right cause and like-minded others, with the right feeling and right attitude, is a form of worship and spirituality.

The verse 3.4 of the Bhagavad Gita states that avoiding work or not starting work is not the path to become free of bondage, just like renouncing the world and wearing monk’s dress does not automatically make one spiritual. Not acting is a form of action with consequences and karmic impact, and the nature of existence is such that human beings are always acting in their environment, body or mind, and never for a moment are they not, according to verse 3.5. The verses 3.6 to 3.8 of the Bhagavad Gita state that the action can be motivated by body or manipulated by external influences. Alternatively, it can be motivated by one’s inner reflection and true self (soul, Atman, Brahman). The former creates bondage, the latter empowers freedom. The spiritual path to the liberated state of bliss is to do the best one is able to while being detached to outcomes, to fruits, to success or failure. A karma yogi who practices such nishkama karma (niṣkāmakarma), states Bhawuk, is “an inward journey, which is inherently fulfilling and satisfying”.

A part of the premise of “disinterested action” is that the more one acts with the hope of getting rewards, the more one is liable to disappointment, frustration or self-destructive behavior. Further, another part of the premise is that the more one is committed to “disinterested action”, the more one considers the dharma (ethical dimension), focuses on other aspects of the action, strives to do one’s best, and this leads to liberating self-empowerment.

According to chapter 5 of the Bhagavad Gita, both sannyasa (renunciation, monastic life) and karma yoga are means to liberation. Between the two, it recommends karma yoga, stating that anyone who is a dedicated karma yogi neither hates nor desires, and therefore such as person is the “eternal renouncer”.

The Bhagavad Gita gives a summary of the karma yoga process. The Gita itself is a chapter from the epic known as Mahabharata, wherein a dialogue takes place between the prince Arjuna, and his friend and chariot driver, Lord Krishna, on the brink of a great dynastic war. Their conversation is prompted by Arjuna as he is engulfed by sorrow and misgivings regarding the oncoming battle in which he has friends and relatives on both sides. In reply, Krishna then elucidates upon a number of philosophical yoga systems and practices (including karma yoga) by/through which Arjuna should indeed continue with the fight on righteous principles.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says:

tasmad asaktah satatam karyam karma samacara asakto hy acaran karma param apnoti purushah

Therefore, without being attached to the results of activities, one should act as a matter of duty, for by working without attachment one attains the Supreme.

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