Karma Yoga (Yoga of Action)

Karma YogaConcerning action, selfless service, known as Karma Yoga, St Paul said 1 Cor, 10 vs. 31 “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God….just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of the many.”

In The Gita, V4 of chap 3, the Lord Krishna says, “Not by mere abstention from work is a man liberated from action; nor by mere renunciation does he attain to perfection. He who sits restraining his organs of action, but in his mind recalls the objects of sense,- that deluded man is truly to be called a hypocrite and in vs. 7 “But he who rules with his mind the senses, and without attachment, O Arjuna, applies his organs of action to work, he verily excels”.

There is an importance in the interior disposition. In the Gospel of St Matthew chap. 6, Jesus says…”Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then, you have no reward from your father in heaven. So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues or in the streets, so that they may be praised by others….when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret…”

St Matthew 9 v28 “When he entered the house, the blind men came to him; and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” and they said to him, “Yes Lord”. Then he touched their eyes and said “According to your faith let it be done to you”. And their eyes were opened. Then Jesus sternly ordered them, “See that no one knows of this”

In the 4 th. chapter of the Gospel of St Matthew…”Jesus went through Galilee teaching in the synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of heaven and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him the sick and those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains and demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics and he cured them and great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, and Judea and from beyond the Jordan.

Swami Shivananda, in his Christmas message given in 1945, speaking of Jesus, he said, “His life was a wonderful combination of Jnana, Bhakti and Karma……An ideal integral development of head, heart and hand has rendered his life a model for mankind to emulate for all eternity. Christ was ever conscious of his inseparable identity with the Supreme self. Yet deep devotion and love for the personal God constantly found expression in Him, in the form of prayers, praises and glorification of the spirit of Bhakti yoga. And in his actual day to day life, he was the very personification of the spirit of karma Yoga.  His entire life was a continual ministry unto the afflicted. His feet moved but to reach where aid was needed. If his hands moved it was but to help the troubled and oppressed. His tongue spoke only to offer soft, honeyed words of compassion, consolation, inspiration and enlightenment. With the very glances of his luminous Yogic eyes  Jesus awakened, elevated and transformed those whom he gazed upon. He felt, thought, talked and  acted for the good of others. Amidst all this he dwelt in the unbroken awareness of the assertion “I and my Father are one.” (Chapter 4, Christmas Messages p 58.Life and Teachings of Lord Jesus by Swami Shivananda, Divine Life Publications)

We find the same in the lives of many saints. St.Francis of Assisi did not spend his time speaking to the birds. It was in the year 1226 he wrote his testament as he approached death. He said “The Lord gave me, Brother Francis, thus to begin doing penance in this way: for when I was in sin, it seemed too bitter for me to see lepers. And the Lord Himself led me among them and I showed mercy to them. And when I left them, what had seemed bitter to me was turned into sweetness of soul and body. And afterwards I delayed a little and left the world” It was his Karma Yoga, devotional selfless work, that made him the saint he turned out to be! In those days there were thousands of lepers who roamed the countrysides of Europe. there were no hospitals nor drugs to help them. They were left to beg and to roam the outskirts of cities for they were not allowed legally to sleep within the city walls. A great part of the ministry of St Francis and the early brothers, was to tend to these sick.
Mother Teresa, in an interview on Canadian TV when visiting some years ago before she passed away, was asked as to how a woman of her age could do the work she was doing and she replied: “Every morning I meditate for 1 hour and there I receive the strength. When I am kneeling in the street attending to someone who is sick or dying and I look into their eyes, I do not know if they are Hindu, Buddhist or Christian but in their eyes, I see no other than The Christ that I worship.”

Fr. Bede said that “the way to self-discovery, to union with God is by action. This was the great discovery of the Bhagavad Gita. At first it was thought that the way to union with God, the path of salvation, was to be found in the practice of ascetism, in silence and solitude, in prolonged meditation. But the Bhagavad Gita declared that the householder doing the ordinary duties of his life could attain salvation no less than the ascetic in the forest. Man could be saved by work: all that was required was that the work should be done with detachment. It is work done with attachment, that is, with selfish motives, that binds the soul. We must not seek the ‘fruit’ of the work. We have to make offering of the work to God, then it is no longer we who act but God who acts in us. The lower self, the ego, must be sacrificed; the action must come from the higher Self, the Spirit in us, then it becomes a holy action. This is the way in which we awake to the presence of the Spirit in us. It does not matter what the work may be, whether it is manual or intellectual, work of organization, of management, of service or of prayer. It has to be done with detachment, it has to be offered to God.”

It is through these spiritual exercises, by the grace of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us that we are slowly being transformed into the spiritual. Father Bede explains that “this is the goal of a Christian Yoga. Body and soul are to be transformed by the divine life and to participate in the divine consciousness. There is  descent of the Spirit into matter and a corresponding ascent, by which matter is transformed by the indwelling power of the Spirit and the body is transfigured” and he explains that “this has already taken place in the Resurrection of the Christ. In his body matter has already been transformed, so as to become a spiritual body, which is the medium of the divine life. The human body by contact with this body of Christ, which is no longer limited by space and time, has within it, the seed of the divine life…….The real end of Yoga, then, is the transformation of the body and soul by the power of the indwelling Spirit, the atman.”
(The one Light. Bede Griffiths Principal Writings. Edits. Bruno Barnhart)


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