The path of selfless service.
Action performed joyfully and effortlessly, which liberates rather than imprisons.
▵ What is the role of karma yoga in sadhana?
Sadhguru: It is not needed really. Yoga does not need karma. Yoga is to go beyond karma. Why karma yoga has been brought in is to bring about balance in a person. Whatever we call as our awareness, our love, our experience or our glimpses of our reality, if it has to be sustained, the path of non-doing is a very wonderful path, but it is very slippery. Extremely slippery. It is the simplest and the most difficult. It is not difficult but it is not at all easy, because it is simple – right now, here and now. But that here and now – how to get it? Whatever you do, it is not in your hands. It is never going to be in your hands. But your hands need something right now, you need to hold something. That is why the crutch of karma yoga. Without the crutch, most people will not be able to walk. There are a few beings who can walk without the crutch from the first moment. They are very rare beings. Everyone else needs the crutch to manage your awareness. Without this, most people are incapable of remaining aware. So karma yoga is brought into your life to properly temper sadhana with the right kind of action.
▵ Activity – liberating or entangling
Karma yoga has unfortunately been described as service, but it is not so. Karma yoga has unfortunately been described as service, but it is not so. It is a way of undoing the impressions that you have gathered. If you can joyfully involve yourself in any activity, that is karma yoga. If you do it with great effort, only karma will come, no yoga will happen! Generally it is through various activities that you perform that you get entangled and enmeshed with life. But if the activity becomes a process of liberation instead of entanglement, it is karma yoga. Whether it is work or walking on the street or talking to someone, the nature of the activity is not important. When you do something only because it is needed, where it does not mean anything to you but you are capable of involving yourself as if that is your life, it transforms you and action becomes liberating. When we were building the Dhyanalinga, people thought, “This is it! He wants this to happen. Let us do it! Once this is done, we can relax.” They worked like their life depended on it. They went from house to house, raising funds and bringing the necessary support and made it happen. When it was done, before they said “Ooff…” I announced ten different projects. I will always keep it on because people need that kind of action. They need to do what is needed without worrying about their fulfillment and their likes and dislikes. Anyway we are doing something for our growth, so let us do something that is useful to everyone. Let us do sensible action.
▵ Total involvement
To do something which does not mean anything to you but with total involvement is what breaks the karmic structure.
There have been many masters who created action like this. When Gurdjieff started his centers in Europe, the European elite went to him. In the morning he would give them a shovel and a pickaxe and tell them, “Dig trenches.” In the hot sun, they stood and dug and dug. These were not people who are used to labor of any kind. By the time they had worked a few hours, they had blisters all over. He stood there and drove them on. By late evening, they were hungry but they worked and worked, digging trenches. Then he would look at the watch, “Okay, it is seven o‘clock. Looks like dinner time. All of you can close the trenches again before we go for dinner.” A whole day’s work! Doing something that does not mean anything to you with total involvement is what breaks the karmic structure. Karma means action. If action has to become yoga, action should be liberating. If your activity has become a process of binding yourself, it is karma. So the question is not about how much activity you do. How you are performing the activity is what makes the difference. If you are crawling through your work, that is karma. If you are dancing through your work, that is karma yoga.
▵ The Purpose of Karma Yoga in the Seeker’s Journey (Isha)
Sadhguru, how do I go beyond action or karma yoga? Personally, I have no urge to do anything. I feel like drifting towards a state of non-doing.
Sadhguru: When a person has made ultimate reality the goal in his life, action becomes meaningless. Once action is meaningless, any kind of self-image is of no great significance; but right now, in the state you are in, there is still a need for action. You have not yet reached a point where you have transcended action. You are unable to be without action. So, perform the kind of action you think is best right now and do what is needed for the situation.
A man who does not know action – real, intense action – can never move into inaction. If you try, inaction will just become lethargy. People who are always resting in their life must be experts about rest, but that is not the truth. People who have never been on fire will not know the coolness of water. People who have just lived their life in a half-hearted manner, sedately, can never know the other way. So, intense activity, at least for a while can be useful for your energies to reach a boiling point and get moving. Then, to transform them into something else is very easy. That’s the whole purpose of karma or action. A sadhaka chooses action for this reason. We are going to perform action anyway. But we have the choice to perform Adolf Hitler’s or Mahatma Gandhi’s type of action. That’s all there is to it. Anyway we have to perform action, so let us do it whole-heartedly and choose the form of action.
▵ Rule or Serve – What’s Your Choice?
Do you want to rule the world or do you want to serve the world? Ultimately, that’s the choice. Normally, everyone wants to rule the world. It is just that because most people are half-hearted, they are only able to rule their family! But what they really want is to rule the world. They don’t have the capacity or the intensity to do it. Otherwise, they would be a potential Hitler.
So, the choice is to rule or to serve. Choose whichever kind of action you think is most harmonious and closest to divinity and realization. Every moment, do it with tremendous intensity, without giving it a single moment’s break. Then, a day will come when action is not needed anymore. If you really want to know this “non-doing” business, first you must discover what doing is. You have not done that yet. In every waking moment and even in my sleep, unceasingly I pursue this work of offering myself, physically and mentally. It is only out of that, that all of this has happened in my life. It has become so powerful simply because it does not mean anything to me, but I am at it twenty-four hours. This has a different kind of power. That is the whole meaning of sacrifice. It is only out of that, that something else happens – both inside and outside – which can never be put into words. A man who does not know action – real, intense action – can never move into inaction. If you try, inaction will just become lethargy.
This is how every powerful individual in this world is created. This is the science of creating a truly powerful being. This is not power to rule. This is not a power that can be taken away at any moment. No one can take it away, because wherever you are put, that is what you do. If you want to rule, you have to sit on the seat. If someone pulls you off the seat, you will be miserable. This is not like that. Wherever you are put – heaven or hell – you just do your work. This releases you from the fruit of action. Once you are released from the fruit of action, the action will happen by itself. You don’t have to stop working to be released from action. It will simply dissolve, melt and disappear. Once the expectation of the fruit of action is completely removed from your life, the action occurs by itself. You don’t have to do anything about it.
▵ “No Work, No Food”
In one of the Zen monasteries, there was an old Master who was over eighty years old. Every day, he worked his heart out in the gardens. In Zen monasteries, gardening is one of the most important parts of the sadhana. Day in and day out, people spend time in the garden. This Master had been doing this for years. Now, he was over eighty and had become weak, but he did not stop. The whole day, he worked in the garden. Many times his disciples tried to dissuade him, “Stop working, we are all here, we will do it.” But he just went on doing what he could. His capacity to work physically might have come down, but the intensity had not.If you run away and sit on the mountain, you will not become free. It has to be worked out. This is the way to work it out.
So, one day the disciples took away his tools and hid them somewhere, as he would work only with these tools. That day, he did not eat. The next day, there were no tools again, so he did not eat. The third day also, no tools; he did not eat. By then they got scared, “Oh! Because we hid the tools, he is angry. He is not eating.” Once again, they replaced the tools where they were usually placed. On the fourth day, he worked and ate. Then in the evening, he gave his teaching: “No work, no food,” and he went back and died. That was the last day. The four days of fasting were too much for him; but the last day he worked, he ate, then he left his body, and he just gave this teaching: “No work, no food.” For this kind of a man, action is like this. Hell, heaven or earth, wherever he is put, he will be the same. Once you are like this, you are released from the external situation.
By just closing your eyes, you will not become released. The moment you open them, everything will come back and catch up with you. If you run away and sit on the mountain, you will not become free. It has to be worked out. This is the way to work it out.
▵ What Is Karma Yoga and Why Is It Needed? (Isha)
▵ The Purpose of Karma Yoga in the Seeker’s Journey (Isha)