Karma Yoga & The Bhagavad Gita

The Bhagavad Gita (sometimes referred to as ‘the Gita’) is believed by Hindu traditionalists to have come into existence in the third or fourth millennium BCE. Although some dispute that it probably dates from the fifth century to the second century BCE.

It is a Sanskrit scripture, which is part of the far lengthier scripture Mahabharata (chapters 25 – 42 of the 6th book of Mahabharata).

Although the Bhagavad Gita is an integral part of Hindu religious tradition, it is also highly regarded by Buddhists and other religions as a profound teaching.

 The chapters, which make up The Bhagavad Gita, consist of a transcript dialogue, which takes place on the eve of a battle. The conversation is between the Pandava prince Arjuna and his cousin and charioteer Krishna. Arjuna is struggling to oversee his duty as a warrior to fight in a war between Pandavas and Kauravas. Krishna gradually reveals that he is God. It is a guide of how to be in the world, without being off the world. How one should perform duties, without becoming tainted by them.

Lord Krishna advises Arjuna. He argues with Arjuna that ‘what you take to be this world of individual human beings, embedded in social relationships, is not all there is. Underneath what you perceive yourself to be, there is a core self, a metaphysical self called the Athman. That is eternal, it is the same in all and it is directly under my supervision. When you act; who you perceive to be yourself (brother, cousin, nephew) is only on the surface. The people that you kill that you perceive as cousins, relatives; are only on the surface too. Whatever happens in life, underneath it all is this unchanging reality.’

Arjuna still maintains that he does not want to physically kill anybody.

Krishna then tells him that ‘in this world, you are this warrior. You have responsibility to your elder brother who is the claimant to the throne. You have responsibility to protect the honor of your wife, who was dishonored by your cousins. You have all of these people fighting for you who look up to you. You have to fulfill your duty as a warrior. You must renounce your inner intention for the fruit of your action and establish Dharma, selfless action.

Arjuna turns this down too.

Krishna then reveals that apart from being a friend and a charioteer, he is in fact god. If Arjuna goes along with him his sins will be absolved, he can live without shame.

The Bhagavad Gita’s call for selfless action inspired many leaders of the Indian independence movement including Gandhi. Mahatma Gandhi referred to the Gita as his ‘spiritual dictionary’

Yoga is not just something you do with your body, its something that happens on the inside. It’s an internal attitude of detachment from the world. It is your intention, not your action. Karma means ‘action’. Karma yoga is to act in the world but remain unchanging within.

Karma is the sum of a person’s actions, right or wrong. It is what is left behind when we make good or bad life choices. Karma is why yogis strive to make right actions or right choice and ‘pay it forward’ by performing selfless service or ‘seva’, also known as karma yoga. Karma yoga isn’t about what you get out of it. There are benefits from practicing Karma yoga. Acting selflessly can boost your self-esteem and your mental health. It can reduce stress levels. Any act (big or small) that spreads kindness, understanding, compassion and love, can be considered a karmic deed.

We can’t all quit our families and our jobs to move to an ashram and perform karma yoga. Karmic deeds are available everywhere you look: the local homeless shelter, soup kitchen or maybe a community project. Karma yoga is the union of individual consciousness with collective consciousness. Most of the time this begins with beings that are already in our lives. There are many ways to incorporate karma yoga into your life every day. We can try to be aware of everything that we think, do, and use, even including everyday tasks like cleaning your house. We can make every effort to care for the world around us. Be respectful of everyone and everything we encounter. Give a gift, a compliment, or a silent Namaste to everyone you meet. Become generous in our actions as well as with our time and resources. Become good listeners, give something away, or support a good cause.

A lovely quote from living Saint Amma: “love and a selfless attitude underlie all truly great deeds. When your heart is filled with love and selflessness, it overflows and expresses itself in all your thoughts, words, and actions.”

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