Karma Yoga – Chapter II – Sloka 47
maa phalesu kadaacana
ma te sango stvakarmani
Free will. Choice. These words and the context of their deeper meaning in this sloka are very attractive to me. I constantly remind myself not to be bound by words like “discipline”, “obligation” and “responsibility” that drift through my mind regularly. Not that these words in and of themselves are negative in any way. For me and my history however, they feel restrictive and indicate lack of compassion. I find myself having a sigh of relief and relaxation – perhaps even surprise – when I am reminded that I can responsibly have a choice to practice my free will at any given time. I am never under obligation if I am remaining conscious.
I am aware that I have always had the option to make choice. But I can look back over my decades and easily count off those I regret, made through a lens not based in reality, with a mind full of misinformation and heart of suffering and confusion. Perhaps my ego felt satisfied, but I doubt I ever truly felt confident in my higher Self making choices in a vacuum of ignorance. The relief I feel today in choice comes out of knowing I am cleaning that lens of debris, filling my mind with knowledge and practicing compassion for my tender heart, as well as all those around me. I am on a path that is directed to the light. What a different feeling comes making choice with knowledge.
I never thought of myself as a risk taker when making a choice. “How irresponsible.” I can hear my mom’s voice. Of late I have been actively and consciously taking risks on important matters. Trusting in a deeper sense of a healthy boundary, which I now know can lead to a blissful absence of need for boundaries. Sometimes I observe my mind experiencing trepidation as the words come out of my mouth, my heart slightly clenched in discomfort. Wanting to retract the words that just escaped. But I trust. And then I am amazed at the results. When I am clear on the option I am choosing and speak from this place of confidence and clarity, I find my husband pays attention, and sometimes even agrees with me. Issues we have struggled with for over a decade and gone to therapy to mediate now have a feeling of collaboration. Regardless of agreement, there is serenity in speaking a clear perspective. It does not happen overnight – and sometimes I need to reiterate my feelings several times. Which is good. It allows me to strengthen the intention and vrittis in my own mind each time. I like to think of it as neuroplasticity of the conscience.
Before I can ask myself why things are different this time, I already have the answer: knowledge of the shastras. If dharma can be thought of as the roadmap to the path of light, karma yoga are the step-by-step turns we make as we navigate the dharmic path. Run a red light – papam accumulates. Wait patiently at a green light and stop to let the squirrel cross the road – punyam. All the while remembering the goal is no specific destination, but rather to the light that resides within. In order to be able to read the roadmap and directions we need to be paying attention and employing the knowledge we have learned: an understanding of my Self and its integral connectivity with Ishwara, awareness to navigate the collective consciousness of the community and the individuals I bump up against in this lifetime, and surrender of my ego. These are just some of the invaluable learnings from the shastras that prepare me for karma yoga. Cultivating willpower in the appropriate areas of my life and towards a specific goal lead to breakthroughs I could never have imagined.
I can use the role of seva in my life to track my progression of implementing karma yoga. As a youth my mother modeled for me that volunteering was a waste of time. Yet, helping individuals was valued. As an adult I learned for myself that volunteering with groups was often a clamoring for personal recognition. I had little competitive nature and no interest in competing for recognition. However I excelled at helping someone out in a smaller group or on an individual basis that resulted in easy recognition and ego feeding. When I began walking my spiritual path being an eager volunteer came in handy to serve my needs. I got an ego boost not only from recognition, but also by making myself valuable to the community. At the time I was unconscious that my intention behind seva was to serve my small-self ego needs rather than the community I felt I was serving. Not to mention, ignorant that the ultimate is to serve my own higher Self, which by its very nature, also serves the greater community.
And then came karma yoga in the summer of 2018. The “action” of external karma transformed to “Action” of internal karma. Looking back, my more informed ego has been grappling with karma in the form of seva for ten years now. A past lesson of isolating “no seva” at Vedika was very humbling. Recent teachings of the Bhagava Gita elevated my perspective of my current seva as facilities coordinator to a new level - from ego to consciousness. Of late I am grasping that I must overcome the practical “let’s get Vedika clean” mentality. The act of purifying the space for the simple dedication to purity is my aim. In addition, I must model, inspire and transmit the true dedication of seva to the facilities team. In all honesty I know some of the team are already there holding space for me to catch up. So this summer my consciousness around my seva role has been shifting. I am aware my outer manifestation of this consciousness is still not aligned. I will get there as I continue to study, contemplate and let Baba guide me. I am grateful for the opportunity.