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Karma Yoga: Common Terminologies PDF Print E-mail
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The whole gist of life centers on karma. The virtual currency unit in the virtual bank of Samskara is karma. A man is born with certain Samskaras; his past pushes him towards doing certain karmas and these karmas are then deposited in the virtual account. The process continues. What is the way out? How do you reach a zero balance? The first thing that must be understood is that no one lives without doing karma. Karma is not optional. Once born, we have to perform karma.

In common terms karma means sakam karma. We really do not understand pure karma and that is one reason why Krishna or any one else uses the word nishkam karma; we can only understand karma relative to kamana (desires). The key formula for understanding of karma is given below.

Karma (nishkam) plus kamana (desires/expectations) = sakam karma

Vital functions
A child is born. The first thing he or she does is to cry, the cry expands the lungs and then on it breathes and does its karma. One can choose what karma to do but one cannot choose not to do karma. Arjuna has the choice to fight or not to fight but by not fighting he cannot escape from karma. However, most of the vital work (karma) is not left to the individual. The body breathes. This breathing is not left to the choice. If it were left to human choice, the person might forget to breath, or may just not want to breathe. Several such vital actions are not optional. The beating of the heart is not your choice. If you do yoga you may be able to control your breathing or heart but in doing so you have developed the integrity and the wisdom not to interfere in the nature’s process. Our karmas that are left unto us are really not that important for the universe. It may be very important for us but for the existence it is totally immaterial.

The Destiny
In our last column, “Be happy for 24 hours,” we examined a small aspect of nishkam karma. We talked about accepting any result as our expected result and how this saves wasted energy and makes it available to us to act. We had known this technique in India for a long time. We called it destiny or fate. Whenever anything good or bad happens in our life we explain it or accept it as our fate. And this has also caused us harm because we forgot the reason why this was used to start with. It is a good technique for people to conserve energy from getting into frustrations and complaints of life and it should not be used as an excuse to become lazy. Everything is due to what is written in my destiny so why should I work? What we do does have something to do with what result we are going to get. It may not be in our control but results will not happen if we do not act (do karma).

Sakam Karma
All of us are familiar with this karma. Most of us live and die performing sakam karma. The desire starts at the mun-indriya-vasana complex, the buddhi helps and finds ways achive the desires and then we act accordingly. The beginning is at the periphery and the results are also there at the periphery. Every act is associated with expectation of a result. And when we do not get what we want, frustrations arise. We end us being unhappy and waste a lot of energy being grumpy and complaining. We do another karma and the same cycle follows. This continues throughout our lives until we die. There is a lot of unfinished desires left at the time of our death (samskaras) and we come back to complete those unfinished acts. And the cycle of sakam karma continues.

Most desire and result oriented karma are done to achieve happiness, but in the end the happiness seems to be eluded all the time. Happiness in desire/result-oriented karma is always in the future. The present is unhappy. The happiness is in the future. So the question arises. If you have to do karma and every time you perform karma it is deposited in the Samskara virtual account, how can you ever achieve the zero balance?

Karma Sanyas
The truth of karma sanyas is based on the realization that the usual mundane karma ultimately leads to nowhere. The person can see that by building a house, getting married, having children and gathering belongings has taken him nowhere towards the realization of his self (Atma) and the parmatma. We keep coming back and getting entangled in the same rut and at the end, we carry the garbage of bodily experience, the samskara, only to return back to start all over again. This realization may drive some of us towards the Sanyas from this routine mundane Karma. It is a result of certain kind of awakening.

A man may drop doing mundane karma as an escape from the world or it may be because of the desire of getting to Parmatma. The desire may still be there.

Sakam Karma – mundane karma = karma sanyas (the desire is still there)

On the other hand karma sanyas of Buddha or Mahavira has a different quality and can be expressed as:

Nishkam karma – mundane karma = karma sanyas

Nishkam Karma
The question Krishna is raising is as to why leave doing mundane karma? Why not drop the root cause, the desires and the expectations (kamana). The bottom line is kamana. It is difficult for us to imagine how any karma can be done without kamana. We have learned and taught that we should be ambitious, we should be competitive and we should succeed. All these are rooted in kamana.

We should understand this well. If we attempt to get into nishkam karma without fully understanding the details, we may do a lot of harm to our society. This can become a technique to justify all our failures. Krishna has outlined the subject of nishkam karma to make Arjuna achieve the peak of success; we have used it to justify all our failures. The basic understanding of nishkam karma lies in the principle that once kamana is dropped pure karma arises from inside of the individual. Karma then becomes an overflowing of an individual’s energy and this is pure karma. Kamana restricts from doing this pure karma. Since we do not understand pure karma, it has been termed nishkam karma (relative to kamana).

Tulsidas wrote the Ramayana. He was asked as to why did he write the Ramayana. He said:

Swantah sukhaya Tulasi Raghunath gatha.
(I wrote the story of Rama for my shear pleasure.)

Swantah sukhaya cannot be really translated into ‘my shear pleasure.’ It still sounds as if there was a desire of getting pleasure. But that is the problem of language. Ramayana was an overflow of inner energy of Tulsidas and that outflow is pleasant. And Tulsidas simply admits that.

Let us try to understand the movements of karma (karma ki gati) in future columns through the exploration of the songs of Krishna (the Bhagavadgita). Nishkam karma or pure karma can flow out of all of us. That outflow is always positive and is always pleasant.

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