[Advaita-l] Karma yoga IX: Evolution via Karma yoga

kuntimaddi sadananda kuntimaddisada at yahoo.com
Fri Jan 27 19:03:15 CST 2006

Stages of Karma yoga:

For convenience, we can think of three stages in Karma yoga.  We
recognize that to transform karma into yoga we need to bring Iswara. 
Iswara means the Lord who is the author of this entire universe.  People
consider some things as man-made and some thing as natural.  There is
nothing that is really man-made.  The possibilities for a man to make
and the laws governing for making (as well as for breaking) are already
available in nature.  Man only discovers and makes use of these laws and
creates or assembles using his intelligence.  The creation is only an
intelligent assemblage of existing matter since both matter and energy
are conserved in nature.  Krishna provides in the second chapter an
absolute law of conservation. ‘naasato vidyate bhaavo naabhaavo vidyate
sataH|’ That which is non-existent cannot come into existence and that
which is existent will not cease to exist’.  Therefore Oh| Arjuna| There
was never a time I was not there, never a time you were not there and
these kings that we see in front.  There will never be a time when they
will cease to exist. Creation therefore cannot be some thing out of
nothing but only a transformation of something into some other thing
using the laws that are available already in nature. A scientist does
not invent a law only discovers the law. The potential for modification
or transformation already exists in the Nature, just as ornaments from
gold.  That is, gold has the capacity to transform into ornaments.  The
creative power arising from intellect is due to Iswara.  Hence, Krishna
says – ‘buddhiH bhuddhimataam asmi’ – I am the intelligence among the

There is a difference between action and labor.  Intelligent action or
purposeful action is karma in contrast to mechanical action, which
constitutes labor. We do many actions mechanically, starting from
getting up from bed to taking bath, cleaning, cooking, washing, walking
(regular as well as for exercise), etc.  Vedas considers these as part
of samskaara karmas or purification rituals where a routine action is
converted into a prayerful action. 
Thus, even if there is routine obligatory action, engaging the available
mind in thinking of the Lord is an intelligent way of performing that
action.  I remember my mother chanting Vishunusaharanaama, Mukundamaala
and other sthavas continuously while cooking and cleaning.  This frees
the mind from indulging unnecessarily into the past (regrets of the
past) and worries and anxieties about the future.  Even though the
chanting can become mechanical, the thinking about the Lord becomes a
natural by the saadhana. Hence, Krishna says: 

ananyacetaaH satatam yo maam smarati nityashaH|
tasyaaham sulabhaH paartha nityayuktasya yoginaH| 8-14

Whoever thinks of me all the time, without any other thoughts in his
mind, and who yokes his mind fully to Me, he will reach Me easily.  If
one engages in thinking of Him all the time, he cannot but think of Him
in the last moments while leaving this body, and whoever thinks of Me
and nothing but Me, while departing his body, he cannot but reach Me
alone, and there is no doubt about it– says Krishna.) 
( antakaalepi ca maam eva smaran muktvaa kalebaram, 
yaH prayaati sa madbhaavam yaati naastasya samshayaH||  8-8)

This can be achieved by constant practice (abhyaasa) and giving up the
unnecessary indulgence of the mind in useless thoughts (vairaagya or
dispassion). Krishna stresses these two aspects again and again,
constant practice, abhyaasa, and dispassion, vairaagya, as the essential
ingredients for a success, in any field. 

Nature of the mind:

If we examine the mind and see its operation, we find there are three
distinct ways it engages itself.  The mind is nothing but flow of
thoughts, vRitti dhaara.  Flow involves a direction.  The direction is
primarily set by the vaasanaas, which manifest as desires at the
intellect level, agitations at the mind level, and actions at the body
level.  As we discussed earlier, vaasanaas only provide the environment
for us to act, but as a human being with intelligence, we are given a
choice to choose the direction of our thinking in spite of the pressure
from the past.  Thus, we are not just prisoners of our past but masters
of our future.  By redirecting the mind towards Him, we change our
future vaasanaas until our mind flows naturally towards Him.  Of the
three distinct ways the mind functions, the first and the most useless
avocation of the mind is ‘stray’ thinking.  Whenever one is functioning
mechanically, the mind also functions in mechanically thinking, jumping
from one thought to the other, one topic to another, without any pause. 
Ninety percent of the time, our minds, sometime even our conversations,
are wasted in these unproductive engagements.  This happens even when we
sit for meditation as we are carried away by the thoughts without
knowing how our minds were hijacked by our thoughts.  For consistent
flow of thoughts towards higher, a vigilant mind is needed.  This can be
achieved only by constant practice with full devotion towards the
higher.  For example, instead of listening to the junk music during a
waking exercise, one can listen to the bhajan or to that which can
direct the mind to higher.  Some people put a tape recorder on but
instead of listening, the mind slowly drifts back to ‘stray’ thinking. 
It is important therefore to engage both speech and the mind in chanting
the prayers, particularly when one is involved in routine actions.  By
engaging the speech also in chanting His sthava one avoids useless
speech. The routine actions such as taking bath, taking food, etc.
become  yagnas, if we bring in the Lord.  

There was once a drunkard who went to a priest and asked, ‘Sir, can I
drink while we are praying?’ – The priest said, ‘No. You should not do
any other action that takes your mind away from the Lord’.  The drunkard
thought about it and changed his question.  “Sir, Can I pray while I am
drinking?”.  The priest said immediately, “ Yes, you can always pray,
whatever you are doing”.  Hence, Krishna says, “yat karoshi yat ashnaati

 tat kurushva madarpaNam” 9-27, whatever you do and whatever you eat,
offer it to me with full devotion. 

We discussed the mechanical thinking mind with stray thoughts.  By
disciplining our mind to bring in deliberately the name of the lord
while we are involved in mechanical actions, we curtail the mind from
being carried by the ‘stray’ unproductive thoughts. 

The second function of the mind is the objective thinking or intelligent
thinking.  This mind is useful mind that is needed for any inquiry. It
is the discriminative mind, viveka, which is used for inquiry into the
nature of Brahman.  The objective mind can be classified into two types
a) a sharp intellect, tiikshNa buddhi and b) a subtle intellect,
suukshma buddhi.  A sharp intellect as the name indicates is the mind
that divides and analyzes the object.  Hence, it is also termed as
‘analytical mind’.  All scientific investigations are done using this
mind.  In any objective field, the more one dissects and investigates
the more the system reveals, and the field of investigation becomes
narrower and narrower.  One becomes a super specialist.  Ultimately, in
these investigations a stage comes where the field of investigation will
be affected by the very process of investigation.  Objective
investigation becomes subjective in the sense that the
observed data becomes subjective. 

The subtle mind, suukshma buddhi, in contrast, is the mind that
integrates or synthesizes.  It is this mind that is called as Viveka. 
Viveka is defined as the mind that can discriminate the eternal from the
ephemeral.  It is the synthetic mind, which sees oneness in the
plurality.  It requires wisdom to see the oneness, which is changeless
and eternal in the multitude of changing plurality.  A mind that is
fully detached and that has the equanimity to witness all turbulent
onslaughts of ups and downs in life without getting affected by them.
That mind has gained what Krishna calls as samatvam or equanimity. It is
this mind that is capable of inquiring the highest nature of reality
that goes beyond understanding. The mind is cable of inquiring even the
notions about oneself and about the mind itself. It is this mind that
discovers the truth about itself as well as about the objects and the
associated thoughts. ‘mana yeva manushyaanaam kaaraNam bandha
mokshayoH|’. Mind is responsible for both bondage and liberation.  Mind
has the notions about one self, as I am this and this, etc.  In the
realization of oneself, the notional mind drops out leaving behind an
objective mind, which has clear understanding of the true nature of
oneself  and still functions ‘as though’ it is mere equipment for the
self, which is limitless and eternal. 

There is the third type of mind or thought flow which is called a mind
with aavesha or possessed mind. It is this mind that becomes a
problematic mind.  In the second chapter,  Krishna warns how human mind
can degrades itself by developing intense attachments. Krishna says by
constant thinking about the object one develops a desire for the object,
the desire can lead to anger when it is not fulfilled, anger leads to
delusion, delusion leads to loss of discriminative intellect and makes
one to perform actions that cause him complete down fall.  One is
‘possessed’ with intense desire leading to intense anger or jealousy etc
that drains the energies of the individual and makes him incapacitated.
One can become neurotic with such a mind which requires even medical
help to put it to rest since one has lost complete control of it. It is
important to be attentive so that one does not get into such an
irreparable damage.  The medicine is as Shankara sates in bhajagovindam:
sat sanghatve nissanghatvam, nissagatve nirmohatvam|
nirmohatve nischala tatvam and nischala tatve jiivan muktaH||

Mind associated with the good will lead to detachment, and detachment
will lead to loss of delusion and loss of delusion will lead to mind in
meditation and mind in meditation will lead to liberation.  Thus, just
as mind attached to lower will cause to down fall, the mind attached to
higher will evolve to liberation.  Hence, only way for the mind to go
towards higher is to redirect the mind towards the higher so that
notional mind can drop out in the understanding of the nature of the

In the first stage of Karma yoga, we train the mind to recognize the
higher nature of the reality and offer all the actions and thoughts to
the Lord as naivedyam or kaikaryam. 

In the second stage of karma, yoga involves recognizing that He is the
Lord of the entire universe and nothing moves without His support.  He
is like a thread that supports everything together as ‘suutre mani gaNaa
eva’.  I am only His servant like an ambassador functioning on behalf of
a Government. Ambassador does everything but only as the representator
of the government only that which is beneficial to the Government that
he is representing.  In the same way, I have to perform all my actions
that are beneficial to the Lord.  Since Lord is everywhere and is not
different from the totality, everything that benefits the totality is
beneficial to the Lord.  When you are taking care of the lowest of the
lowest, you are taking care of Me, when you clothing the lowest of the
lowest, you are clothing Me. When you are feeding the lowest of the
lowest, you are feeding Me, says the Bible.  

As the mind evolves and contemplates on the nature of the reality along
the direction indicated by the Vedas that one recognizes that he is and
was never a doer.  The actions are done by the prakRiti itself in the
presence of the Lord.  If everything is Lord, and whatever that I can
point out is nothing but the Lord, then this body, this mind and this
intellect which are part of prakRiti and therefore belongs to the Lord
and not to me.  All actions are done by the body-mind-intellect complex
that is enlivened by His presence.  Hence, Lord says:
prakRitiH kriyamaanaaNi guNaiH karmaaNi sarvashaH|
ahankaaravimuuDhaatmaa kartaa2hamiti manyate|| 3-27 
All actions are being done by the prakRiti propelled by its guNa 
(satva-raja-tamo guNa). However, the egocentric individual because of
delusion says that he is the doer and claims that which does not belong
to him and suffers the consequence of that misunderstanding.  It is like
a villager who traveled in a train. Feeling sorry for the train for
carrying so much load, he wanted to share some burden of the train. 
Hence he kept his big luggage on his head while sitting in the train and
traveling.  He started complaining that that the luggage is too heavy
for him to carry any further.  That is exactly our status.  

Recognition that prakRiti itself is performing the action in my presence
becomes a knowledge.  Although the appropriate actions are being
performed in response to the situation through the body-mind-intellect
complex, which is part of the prakRiti, there is no more delusion that I
am the actor.  ‘akartaaham abhoktaaham ahamevaaham avyayaH’ – I am
neither a doer nor an enjoyer, I am that I am, that inexhaustible source
of happiness that I am – will be the knowledge that arises in the
realization of who I am.  There is nothing for him to do since there is
nothing he is going gain by doing or loose by not doing.  If at all
anything is done by that body-mind-intellect complex by the Lord, it is
only for loka kalyaaNam.  That karma yogi evolves to jnaani who
recognizes that he is never a doer while appropriate actions are being
done in his presence. 

Thus, karma yoga is needed to gain the jnaana yogyata, or to gain
qualifications required to do jnaana yoga, and jnaana yoga is what helps
to recognize that I am never a doer in spite of all the doings. Thus,
there are three stages of karma yoga:
1. First recognition of role of the Lord and his presence in all my
activities and offer all the actions as a prayer to the Lord.  At this
stage, there is still a notion that I am doer but I am doing as an
offering to the Lord. Hence, I do my part my best in the spirit of
2. The second stage involves performance of the action as an ambassador
or His trustee. This includes taking care of my spouse, my children, my
office, and all my transactions.  I am no more accountable for any of
the actions, as long as I perform them as His representative.  I have to
make sure that ‘His will’ will be done and not mine.  
3. The final stage is actually the culmination of the knowledge itself
that I am and I never was a doer while all actions are being done in my
presence.  Krishna also provides this vision in the third chapter while
discussing the karma yoga.  This is the culmination of all
understanding. The purpose of life itself is fulfilled.  Whatever He
does will only glorify the universe.  He is called kRitakRityaH, who
accomplished what needs to be accomplished.  ‘kulam pavitram jananii
kRitaarthaa vishambaraa punyavatiica tena’ – The whole lineage is
blessed by the presence of such great one, his mother is blessed for
giving such a son of the world, and the whole universe is blessed by his
presence.  It is only the result of merits of many lives that one
achieves that state of understanding.  

This is the very purpose of life and any other pursuit in life is not
worth the effort.  Krishna assures that again that it is important to
start the life of a karma yogi since even a little bit of effort in that
direction will take us a long way.

nehaabhikramanaashosti pratyavaayo na vidyate|
svalpamapyasya dharmasya traayate mahato bhayaat|| 2-40

Once one starts, the effects of this yoga gets compounded fast. Nothing
gained will be lost if one could not  pursue further and there will not
any disastrous side effects either when one stops doing karma yoga. 
However if one does even a little bit, that will take him a long way in
the pursuit of his ultimate goal. However, Krishna has already warned
that it is not a choice.  It is a choice less choice since if we do not
perform with the attitude of karma yoga, we will get more and more
entangled in the ocean of bondage and cause our own self-destruction. 
The choice is ours – says Krishna.  

With this optimistic note and Krishna’s warning, we end the discussion
on Karmayoga, which I started writing after listening to Swami
Paramaarthaanandaji summary talk on Gita Ch. 3.  Someone asked me how I
could take so much notes in one hour class.  I must say I have been
blessed with the association of great souls starting from my own
teacher, Gurudev H.H. Swami Chinmayanandaji, and many other swamis in
and out of Chinmaya Mission.  I try to avail every opportunity I can to
listen to mahaatmas, and also avail every opportunity that I can to talk
about it.  Writing this notes in fact motivated me to write from Ch. 1
as Geeta Navaniitam series.  Let us see how He wants that to proceed. 

My thanks to all those who provided me encouraging comments and this
list moderators for providing me a vent for my _expression. 

Hari OM!

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