SKILL IN ACTION/WALKING THE PATH MINDFULLY
Karma yoga is living my daily life in a conscious manner with right actions and proper attitude. Right acts and attitudes guide me and serve as a road map, a trajectory for future. And I like how karma yoga appears as a bridge between jnana yoga and bhakti yoga in Verse 39-40. With karma yoga in between, everything falls into place and gets connected.
I experience karma yoga as a walking meditation in which each of my actions begin to be mindful and sattvic. This, together with the previous teachings of jnana yoga brings tranquility and peace to my life. This tranquility and clarity of vision makes me more courageous and ready to act. Because fear mostly comes from misconception, rajastic and tamastic thoughts and identifying myself with my emotions. My endurance in the face of challenges, my attitude towards joy and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat, bring me closer to God. With Bhakti waiting on the other side of the bridge, I find the courage to stay on the path of karma yoga and cross this bridge back and forth without fear. On one side I have the safety of Jnanam, the knowledge of my Self; on the other end there is God and moksha and the promise of ultimate freedom.
Before starting Bhagavad Gita study with Shunyaji, I was afraid of taking some of the necessary or due actions in my life. I was deliberately avoiding them as a defence mechanism. Because of this fear and emotional deadlock, I used to retreat from what I had to face in life (avoiding action as it is mentioned in verse 47). In verse 50 Lord Khrishna says yoga is skill in action. According to this verse inaction or being in a state of stagnation is not an option and you have to walk the path skilfully with the help of karma yoga. I have given a lot of thought to this shloka and every time I read or think about the meaning of yoga as skill in action, it makes so much sense that I can no longer submit to the dullness of inaction.
This summer I travelled back home and visited my family for a few weeks. Although I like to see my parents; because of some unpleasant events in the past I have gradually become angry, cold and distant towards them over the years. Karma yoga teachings however made me think twice before acting cold and distancing myself again. I strived to see my parents as not my parents but two individual souls who love me and somehow do their best. What they have done in the past, in their ignorant state is not important anymore. I cannot hold them responsible for every problem I encounter in life. I acknowledge their mistakes as they are and warn them when necessary. I let them know my boundaries so to avoid any emotional disturbance. And if they don’t act by these ground rules, I leave it to God without attributing extra meaning to it. I feel that it is the right attitude and I have to walk this path skilfully, no matter what. After I have overcome the paralysis, I can now walk with the whole burden of my past without feeling the heaviness of it. This burden suddenly transformed into raw material for my spiritual growth.
A FIXED RESOLVE/ THE SUPREME MOTIVE OF MY ATMAN
Verse 41 mentions that actions with too much motive are inferior. A fixed resolve is of paramount importance for clarity and equanimity in the mind. When the resolve is many, desires springing from it are also too many. These desires eventually cloud the mind, blur the vision. Now I constantly check my motives in each action and rid myself off any excess motives which block my way. Often times, I still focus on material achievements and fruits of my actions but I can quickly catch this tendency in my mind and divert my focus. My intention, real focus and fixed resolve in life is One, which is reaching my true Self, Brahman, the Supreme.
These internal accomplishments (reaching the True Self, Brahman) are superior to external ones as explained in Verse 40. Because the feeling of security, joy, happiness, satisfaction and abundance lies within. Thinking otherwise is a misconception and source of internal conflict. So when I fail it is a learning, when I succeed it is a blessing.
After all, external accomplishments, victory and momentary joys are impermanent. Maybe the biggest accomplishment of all is reaching Brahman, my True Self. And my attitude should always be settled on this higher goal (verse 41) From now on I will choose inner growth over material growth, I will choose the dharmic path, the righteous path and make my way with skill. (verse 44)
Verse 48 in this regard is my saviour and samatvam is a ’one word mantra’ for me. A balanced, sattvic mind, and equanimity help me to stay on the path of karma yoga. Acting with the guidance of a superior goal with a higher meaning rather than expecting the trivial fruits of the mithya world are keeping my mind balanced and at peace. This detachment from the outcome of any action is being steadfast in yoga, staying on the path despite the obstacles, firmly and with resolution. Mood swings from happiness, success and confidence to failure, sadness and self-questioning does not appear as an option anymore. These are all transitory events, happenings of the mithya. Only alternative to being caught up in the pairs of opposites, is being steadfast in karma yoga.
So when I close my eyes in bed or during contemplation, Verse 49 reverberates in my mind saying “Pitiable are those who make fruit their motive.” The biggest fruit of all is the discovery of the Self and all actions must be devoted to it. Other worldly fruits that we want so badly are like illusions flickering in the mind. It is here one moment, gone the next…Which stays must be the Truth.