Karma Yoga – a personal experience
There comes a time in life, when, in the midst of the chaos and mess in which you find yourself, you suddenly feel you can find an order and a meaning. You understand, all of a sudden, that whatever is happening to you – be it either good or bad – is happening because you deserve it, and that your destiny is really in your own two hands. This is a phase in which an inner something is telling you that there exists an order in the world; an order which you feel you can almost touch with the tip of your fingers. And then, suddenly, you start feeling at ease within an order which is bigger than you and including you. What a relief. This is a process which is generated not only in the mental sphere. The whole body is participating in the experience which has within it the direct understanding according to which there exists a force which is directing things and making sure that everyone receives exactly what he or she deserves. In the Orient they call this “Karma”, the mechanism which is arranging the future destiny of everyone according to their past deeds.
Karma is not a correctional system
Karma is not a correctional system of sin and punishment. It is a complex doctrine of cause which refers not only to the immediate physical consequences of actions, but also to their delayed consequences, which will appear only at a later stage. According to this, if you throw a stone at someone, the immediate consequence will be that the stone will hit that person, while the delayed Karmic effect is that the violence you have directed towards him will come back to you one day, and you will be hurt just as you have hurt the other.
The doctrine of Karma does not claim that the violence you have created will hurt you simply because someone sitting on some kind of a cloud wants to educate you. Instead, it explains that the violence will come back to you because the universe is always acting like an echo, returning to you exactly the energy that you have thrown inside of it. The returning echo, the latent delayed consequence, is the fruit of Karma (in Sanskrit this is called Karma-Phala). In a more simple way, we can say that according to the laws of Karma you will always ripe exactly what you have sown. If you have sowed oranges, one day you will ripe oranges, if you have sown water-melon, you will obtain water-melon. But it will never be the case that after having sown water-melon, you will receive a banana tree. If your life is now full of suffering, then that means that at some point in the past, either in your current existence or in a certain previous one, you must have sown within you and/or within others seeds of suffering. And if your life is full of love and happiness, then at some point in your past you must have sown seeds of happiness and love.
Unlike in Western culture, which often seems “locked” on accumulation of good, in the Orient people aspire to free themselves both of good Karma as well as of bad Karma. Whether it be “good” or “bad”, they consider Karma something obliging and chaining. The important discovery of the Orient, which to the best of my knowledge has no kin anywhere in the world, is that you can act without activating the mechanism of destiny, without growing Karmic fruit, without creating a resounding echo.
The “doer” “disappears”…
In fact, the aspiration of the Yogi is to walk in this world on a path which only has direct cause and effect, without any long term effects on the doer. The key to this free acting is detachment. Meaning, one must not wish for any personal gain out of the doing. It’s only when we are attached to what we are doing that we are creating Karmic seeds which one day will bare fruit The common belief that there is a separated “I” which is acting and benefiting is the one which grows Karmic fruit/ long term effects. These are generated through desires or fears of the consequences of the action, which are chaining the doer to his deeds and creating a Karmic resounding echo which will inevitably return to him. On the contrary, when you act without the feeling of separation, without fear and without asking for return – then what actually happens is that the “doer” “disappears”, and therefore so does any resounding Karmic echo. This way of acting in the world is called “Karma Yoga”, an expression which means “action out of unity”. Behind it lies the idea that even someone with a dynamic temper who likes to do things and to live fully in this world, can quickly evolve in a spiritual way and attain through Karma yoga the same spiritual heights to which someone who meditates in seclusion all his life aspires to. But there is a small, yet essential condition: you must act without acting for yourself. It does not need to begin with drastic steps. It is enough if, in the beginning, you dedicate an hour or two a week to skillful acting which has no personal gain. Work for the others without expecting any profit, work for strangers who might not even know that you are the one helping them. Don’t even search for an inner profit, don’t ask to glorify yourself and to say, ‘I’ve done it’, ‘I am spiritual and superior’, ‘I am an altruist’ – all of these will chain you again to the wheel of Karma.
In the ancient Yogi text “Bhagavad-Gita”, Krishna says: “always perform your duty efficiently and without any selfish attachment to the results, because by doing work without attachment one attains Supreme (3.19)”. Meaning, help others as if out of duty and when you finish, don’t think any longer on what you have done, don’t be proud, don’t continue to think that you are the one who is doing – and you will see the freedom that the doing without being the doer is offering. Have faith in the silence which will fill, you when you cease to ask for personal profit. Then, you will discover that real freedom is the freedom from yourself. From here we can conclude that true humility has neither witness nor a voice that can testify to its existence; you can work in vigour without asking for any return. Vigorous work will prove to you that you are not whom you have always thought you were. The source of the desire to work should not lie in selfishness, but in love, which is growing with every moment when you do with all your heart without asking for a thing in return. And know that even love does not belong to you – because if you think ‘I am the one who loves’, you will again find yourself chained to the wheel of Karma. When you listen to love you know it is not yours, but you are hers. Love loves through you, and you look and see how she is loving, offering and working through you.
Consacrate all fruits of action to the Supreme Force
The key to making Karma Yoga accessible is the act of consecration. The Bhagavad-Gita says: “Offering all your actions to Me, your mind in unison with the spirit and free from desires and egotism, you fight without the slightest touch of hatred or excitement.” (3.30) Consecration is the offering of all fruits of action to the Supreme Force. This way, you are renouncing any personal attachment to work, so before work begins and before starting to practice Karma Yoga, you must consecrate the fruits of your deeds to the Supreme Force. In this ritualistic way, you can neutralize the mechanism which is creating Karma and attachment. Consecration includes a kind of prayer of the heart in which you formulate a request for the Supreme Force to receive all the fruits of the action. In the next step you aim, as much as possible, to establish a connection with the same supreme force in order to feel whether or not it has received the fruits of the action. This is a symbolic act, and its level of efficiency is determined by the honesty of your intention and also by fate. During the prayer of the heart you are offering yourself to the Supreme Force, so that it may then be able to work through you.
During treatments of shiatsu, reiki and other alternative healing methods, the healer is opening himself towards the universe or towards the Supreme Force, and is asking to become its channel. In this manner, he is not only connecting to energies and healing forces which are greater than his personal powers, but he is also defending himself against the diseases and problems of his patients. Whether the healer is aware of this or not, he is performing a kind of consecration and a kind of Karma Yoga, that is, if he truly opens up and allows himself to become a channel for the divine.
Sometimes, in moments of grace which have no selfishness, many people, even outside the spiritual world, report of having had a feeling of the same supreme force working through them. A famous story of this kind tells of a doctor in the Second World War who operated on the injured for days and sleepless nights on end, without allowing himself any rest. It’s sensible to assume that this doctor knew nothing of Karma yoga or consecration, but he visibly cared more for the others than he took care of himself. It was because of this that he unknowingly accessed the frequency of the Supreme Force, which offered him the power to work incessantly for such a long time. They say that in a later period of his life, the doctor tried to study for an important exam several days and nights in a row. This time, however, when in front of him lay only his personal gain, his powers failed him.
The big secret about Karma Yoga is that it does not only prevent the creation of new Karma, but it also cleans, and even burns Karma created in the past. In Tibet, there is a story about one of the most famous Yogis in the world, Milarepa, who in his youth murdered 35 people using black magic. In the continuation of his life, in order to annul the terrible Karmic decree that awaited him and in order to receive redemption for his sins, he dedicated many years of hard work to building houses and afterwards destroying them, acting at the order of his Guru, Marpa. In extreme conditions of cold he worked intensely, work that didn’t contain any gain, neither for him nor for the others. With the help of this Karma Yoga exercise, he canceled a meaningful part of the bitter destiny that would have otherwise awaited him. Milarepa dedicated the following part of his life to meditation in the mountains of Himalaya. There, at the end of dozens of years, he attained liberation not only from the Karma generated by the murders he had committed, but also from all his personal Karma, thus attaining spiritual enlightenment and the ultimate? liberation. After completely canceling his separated self, his Karma no longer had what to cling on to, and so it finally faded.
I don’t know how many of you will attain this rich liberty, but I do know that every step made in this direction is worthwhile. I will make a confession: the experience described at the beginning of the article, speaking of an order growing out of personal chaos, is my direct experience. It was the seed from which I started walking towards Yoga and the Spirit.
Many years have passed since that primal flash of knowledge, and in the past seven years I have dedicated most of my time to Karma Yoga; I still do that, day by day. And even if I don’t have great skill for this, and even if most of the time I’m still quite busy with my own needs and wishes – even during the same actions by which I am practicing Karma Yoga – yet still something within is moving – the selfish weighed-down center once so solid has now become more flexible and is slowly giving space to a nurturing and fulfilling experience. And sometimes, during long hours of Karma Yoga work, especially in moments of pressure and effort, my shell cracks open and a great happiness starts flowing from within my working hands. Oh then, a great enthusiasm fills my heart and an unexplained silence absorbs all my thoughts to itself.
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