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Archive for the ‘Karma and Karma Yoga’ Category

What is the cause of grief, despair, and suffering? How does one stop the mind from its constant churning? In Part 3, Swami Niranjan writes how Krishna explains to the despondent Arjun, in the middle of the battlefield, the meaning of karma yoga.

Bhagavad Gita begins with a person in grief and despair who finds it difficult to decide what his dharma is. This difficulty and indecision arises due to attachments and desires which have given birth to grief, dejection and depression.

As Sri Krishna goads Arjuna to perform action he also instructs him to keep actions and attachments separate. Actions and the desire for action or the results of actions have to be kept separate. Do not let anything affect your creative and natural skill and ability to perform.”

This is karma yoga.

“If at any point there is an expectation from the action, for the result and gain or loss, then the mind will become entangled in that action and will reap the consequences of either grief or elation.”

This is karma.

“In this manner the mind will continue to swing between grief and happiness and this swing of mind will always keep it disturbed, distracted and looking outwards.”

The mind is like the wind, never still, and impossible to stop. Arjun questions how it is possible to stop the mind? Krishna explains that it is possible. This ability to stop the mind comes through training the mind with regular practice of pranayama and mantra japa (repetition of mantra).

“This ability comes with abhyasa and vairagya. Abhyasa means practice and vairagya means detachment from actions. In the Yoga Sutras, Rishi Patanjali describes abhyasa as constant, continuous practice and effort, which has been sustained over a long period, with faith. Through abhyasa one can attain mastery or perfection of the practice. Sri Krishna has said the same thing; it is possible to manage the upheavals of the mind with practice. Practice means following a system, a sequence of changing the perception and awareness, and observing the physical, psychological and spiritual dimensions of human experience.”

The Bhagavad Gita, like the Yoga Sutras, is a book of psychology, a book of life lived through yoga philosophy. Understanding the mind, observing it, knowing it, is crucial to keeping it under check.

“Passion resides in the senses, mind and intelligence, and disturbs the pranas of the body. One cannot control the passions, but one can manage the pranas, and through the pranas control the passions. Therefore Sri Krishna instructs Arjuna in the practice of pranayama. To reduce attachment, to reduce mental and sensorial attractions, to overcome insecurities and fears, to manage anxieties and the aggressive character, Sri Krishna teaches the method of pratyahara. To overcome passion which disturbs the energies and forces of body and mind, he teaches pranayama. The basic pranayama is nadi shodhana (alternate nostril)– which is the simplest and the most intense also. As you increase the length of your respiration, with continued slow and deep breathing, the flows in ida and pingala nadis are balanced.”

Instructions for a higher type of meditation is :

“Hold the body perfectly still, gaze at the eyebrow centre and with the gaze fixed at the eyebrow centre stop looking at everything else. Fix the mind on the inner self and remember God.”

This is done by repeating a mantra and visualizing the form of the inner guide.

To get your own context and meaning, it is best to go directly to the article.

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In Part 2 of “Yogasadhanas In The Gita”, Swami Niranjan writes:

“Before one can focus on the awareness of the higher Self, the layers of mind have to be traversed. Just as to reach the bottom of the ocean one has to swim through many, many metres of ocean water, in the same way one has to go through many layers of mind to eventually realise and see the presence of higher consciousness within. The deepest part of the ocean is six kilometres deep and you have to swim all the way down. In the same manner you have to walk through six kilometres of your mind before you come to realise the presence of the supreme Self within you.”

He cites that in the Gita Krishna tells Arjun to begin with pratyahara, withdrawal of the senses. The turtle is used as an analogy–withdraw the mind and five senses as the turtle withdraws its limbs, tail, and head. The body becomes still and the breath is regulated. A good beginning, I think, can be the bumblebee/ buzzing bee breath/bhramari pranayama (see Calming The Storm which has the audio practice after the short story). Then equal inhalation and exhalation are recommended (see Samavritti Pranayama) in alternate nostril breathing/nadi shodhana.

“Sri Krishna gives Arjuna a sadhana, to fix the mind at the eyebrow centre and regulate the breath, make the inhalation and exhalation of breath as long as possible and in the gap between inhalation and exhalation, focus the awareness on the inner Self.”

The various simple pranayamas help control hyperactive thinking, passions, reactions, and emotions. This management of emotions leads us to the inner stillness within.

Other factors in the Gita are karma yoga–the attitude with which we work changes kama or work to karma yoga (path of selfless work).

To get the full benefit of the teaching, a reading of the whole article is suggested.

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Holidays and clearing out things is sometimes like opening up a Pandora’s box of memories–good and bad. We dare not open and look inside the box.

We want to hold on to the “good” and avoid the “bad” but the negative has a way of clinging like a limpet in the mind and growing well beyond its origin. It occupies so much space and consumes so much energy in some minds that like a patch of soil, filled with overgrown weeds, there is no room for anything else to germinate and bloom.

Yoga is psychotherapy. Yoga is not a limited mat practice of bending, twisting, flipping. The real practice is life with all its relationships and circumstances.

In the last post, I mentioned avoiding difficult relatives where possible. This is not necessarily running away. We don’t have to deliberately walk into every storm or raging fire. There is nothing wrong in self-preservation, giving yourself and others time out from mutually destructive emotional cycles. Yoga does not mean letting others walk all over you and take advantage of you. We can deal with the situation objectively, firmly, dispassionately, without being consumed by it. To help move back to the stillness that lies right within us, try Calming the Storm and the breathing practice of bhramari.

There are some relationships that will not be resolved by avoidance. They will fester and provide no peace until they are seen clearly, objectively, with some compassion, forgiveness, and humility. This does not have to excuse the wrongs done, but holding on to them does not create a more positive path forward either. By forgiving ourselves as well as others, we are able to free ourselves from the torment of the troubling past and move on.

Often, children continue to hold the hurt, anger, resentment against parents and relatives long gone. So it is no longer the physical presence of the person that hurts but the thoughts in our own mind. The source is the thoughts, our own thoughts that are hurtful and cause suffering–and not that person. The person is just the trigger. It is our own reactions that we nurture and feed with constant attention, illusions, and additions that are hurtful to us. We energize, feed, and grow them.

Yoga and many other styles of meditations require paying attention to our minds–not avoiding the painful and not seeking the pleasant. We watch objectively without labels, and watch the labels (if they appear) without judgment.

This means developing the attitude of a witness (sakshi) and watching with detachment (vairagya). The process leads to an understanding of human suffering and compassion for all beings (karuna), even those who hurt us (Forgive them Lord as know not what they doeth). We don’t hold our young children’s sometimes hurtful behavior against them; we know they are kids and don’t always know what they are doing. We continue to love them! Most of us are very young and immature spiritually.

The detachment of vairagya is also close to non-acquistion/non-possessiveness (aparigraha). Nothing is “mine.” The two help reduce or stop the cycle of desire, aversion, attraction, and that constant production of karma. Equanimity is stopping that cycle or vortex.

Learning this is tough and the only way is to live life with awareness. Life and its pleasant and unpleasant relationships, and varying circumstances, is the learning ground of yoga. We make mistakes constantly and hopefully learn by keeping the ego in check. The equanimity we experience is the sign of progress in yoga. It is so much easier to see the wrong in others and so much harder to see it in ourselves.

Confronted with a tough parent, sibling, child, in-law, we keep the wisdom and teaching of yoga philosophy in our awareness and make an effort to implement it. We do it to seek our own peace.

I do recommend this moving article (A Caregiver’s Guide to Compassion in Yoga International) of a daughter coming to terms with her father after many years. Most of us who have come to yoga will be able to relate to it; most of us have arrived where we are to heal ourselves. Our hurts have been the blessings to peace.

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As major holidays approach, the spirit of karma yoga affects more people. Every tradition encourages giving selflessly to those in need during certain occasions–especially on birthdays, deaths, anniversaries, and major holidays. Feeding the poor is a tradition in every country and religion. 

To those looking to feed the hungry and starving this holiday season (Diwali is October 26), an organization that recently came to my attention may be worth consideration. It is Akshaya Patra Foundation.

For all of India’s technological and economic progress, a vast swath of the population has been left behind. India suffers from sub-Saharan levels of poverty. An astonishing 33%, perhaps 40%, of the malnourished, hungry children in the world are in India. They do not get even one meal a day.

Akshaya Patra, a not-for-profit, non-governmental organization was started in 2000 feeding 1,500 children a day. With subsidies from the Indian government, in a public-private partnership, it now serves 1.3 million children in poor public schools across India. Its aim is to reach many more as the need is so overwhelming. Children come to school because of the free, hot, hygienic, and nutritious cooked meal. They stay in school. For many, it is their only meal of the day.

Feeding a child for the entire year costs just $31 and with government subsidies that comes down to $11.50. A dollar goes a very long way! Of all the money they raise, 20% goes toward operational costs, according to Madhu Sridhar, the president and CEO of Akshaya Patra Foundation USA. This includes administrative, fund-raising, and salary expenses.

PBS featured Akshaya Patra in a segment seen on http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/world/july-dec11/indialunch_10-03.html

Anyone  interested in more information can visit www.akshayapatra.org, donate online at www.foodforeducation.org,  get in touch with Madhu at 781-438-3090 ext. 1, or e-mail her at madhu@akshayapatrausa.org.

Akshaya Patra’s application for independent evaluation of charities is under consideration by Give Well and Guide Star. Madhu told me they have not been in the country long enough to establish a rating.

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People often ask the meaning of karma and karma yoga. What is the difference? Karma is what you do for your family and friends. Karma yoga is what you do for others who have nothing to do with you. That is how Swami Satyananda (Bihar School of Yoga) succinctly summed it up once.

Karma is action in thoughts, words, and deeds. It is also the consequences of those thoughts, words, and deeds. This includes the reactions. All these are recorded and stored in the vast stores of memory of the mental cloud.

Thoughts arise from the mental database accumulated over this birth and, according to yoga philosophy, previous births. In that mental database of information and experiences we have also accumulated reactions. For instance, fire burns, keep away from it. Thoughts arise from this pool of past experiences and they are positive, negative, or neutral. They precede words and action. The whole sequence can happen in a split second. These new thoughts, words, deeds will get recorded and stored. They in turn will produce more reactions. This constant chain reaction can be called karma. Throughout history, we see cycles repeating themselves. The cast, setting, and language may change but the plot remains essentially the same. Karma generating more of the same type of karma.

There is a beautiful explanation below by Swami Sivananda in Yoga Magazine, August 2006 and there are several other articles on the subject in that issue:

“Karma is of three kinds: sanchita or accumulated works, prarabdha or fructifying works and kriyamana or current works. Sanchita is all the accumulated karmas of the past. Part of it is seen in a person’s character, in his tendencies and aptitudes, inclinations and desires. Prarabdha is that portion of the past karma which is responsible for the present body. It cannot be avoided or changed. It is only exhausted by being experienced. You pay your past debts. Kriyamana is karma now being done for the future.

In Vedantic literature, there is a beautiful analogy. The archer has already sent an arrow. He cannot bring it back. He is about to shoot another arrow. The bundle of arrows in the quiver on his back is the sanchita. The arrow he has shot is prarabdha. And the arrow which he is about to shoot from his bow is kriyamana. Of these, he has perfect control over the sanchita and kriyamana, but he must surely work out his prarabdha. The past which has begun to take effect he has to experience.”

We can see how it is essential to be fully aware, pay attention, be mindful of our thoughts, words, and deeds. The message of Zoroaster, according to my mentor Dady Billimoria, can be summed up as “good thoughts, good words, good deeds.” The process of witnessing all aspects is the heart of yoga meditation and all types of vipassana or insight/mindfulness meditations. 

As everything in our lives arises from the mind, the mental cloud is incredibly important. Current Western yoga (unlike traditional yoga) places importance on the body and not on the mind. Vipassana places all its importance on the mind and none on the body. For most of us, the happy medium is probably somewhere in the middle. The body is the hardware and the mind is the software. (See What is Meditation?) Neither can function without the other. The body is just a lifeless object which cannot function without the mental database and software of the mind. The mind needs the body to run its software and cannot function without it. Everything reflects the principle of Shiva and Shakti–Shiva, the Supreme Consciousness, has no form of expression without Shakti, the Cosmic Energy. Energy arises from Consciousness.

What is karma yoga? Karma means action and yoga is the union of body and mind. Karma yoga is where all actions, free from reactions and expectations, are in union with the body and mind. None of us can exist without action. Positive action will create positive reaction and is without question better than negative action. Where there is positive there is also negative. They exist in relationship to one another and are not absolute. Karma yoga is the path of freedom from karma–karma binds and karma yoga liberates.

Therefore, in yoga the aim is to stop all chain reaction. (See the blog post What is Yoga? and Powerful Choice in Life:Without Limbs or Any Circumstance.) This is done by acting without reacting (also called selfless service)–make the best effort in everything; do it cheerfully with goodwill; do not do it with strings attached or with the attitude of quid pro quo; gracefully, do not expect, want,  or desire anything in return (name, fame, money, credit, recognition, acknowledgement, praise); if criticism comes your way, cheerfully let it go. Don’t let anything stick to you–the good, the bad, the neutral. Do the work for the love it. This eliminates a great deal of stress. When the stress is gone, all that enormous amount of energy that was sucked out by it is freed up. It can be channeled in a more constructive way.

Karma yoga gives us a path to free ourselves from the chain reactions of karma. We do not have to do a formal sitting meditation to lessen and dissolve our karmas. Meditation does not appeal to everyone. But we all have to work! If we work with our heart and soul, mind and body, it is possible to achieve the same result as sitting meditation. It does not have to be either/or; we can do a combination of hatha, raja, karma, bhakti, and jnana yoga.

To me, Bill and Melinda Gates are outstanding contemporary karma yogis–they work without expecting anything personally for themselves. If something does not work out, they learn from it and move on. No one is expected to be perfect or saintly and that is just fine.

This same attitude can be extended to everything that we do. We do the  job the best we can and then not fret about the title, pay raise, bonus, promotion–there is not much more we can do beyond our best anyway! No self-recriminations and let the end result take care of itself. We study well and do our personal best in school and then stop getting stressed out.  No what-ifs, buts, could have, should have. Keep the could have, should have for next time. We learn and move on. It is beyond our personal control after some point. In this ultra-competitive environment and constant treadmill of achievement, the attitude of karma yoga can help retain some degree of essential mental balance. Working as a volunteer can be enormously helpful in cultivating this attitude.

With the upcoming holiday season, all cultures have a strong tradition of karma yoga–call it volunteering, community service, or social work. The attitude with which we do anything makes all the difference–just more karma or karma yoga.

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