I frequently watch videos on Youtube on various topics. Spirituality is one topic that fascinates me and i happened to come across many videos pertaining to Karma Yoga being taught at eminent technological institutes and business schools. In one of the inspiring lecture videos there was a mention of this book by Swami Vivekananda that made me to choose the book. Swami Vivekananda needs no introduction as he is a well know personality in India. To the non-Indian folks, Swami Vivekananda was a Hindu Monk, who was a key figure in the introduction of Indian Philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga to the western world. He was also a major force in the revival of Hinduism in India.
This book introduces a beginner to karma yoga and includes many short story illustrations on various concepts as well. In the first chapter, Swami Vivekananda explains the ideal of Karma yoga in simple words. The ideal man is he who in the midst of the greatest silence and solitude finds the intensest activity and vice versa. He has learnt the secret of restraint, he has controlled himself and if you have attained to that you have really learnt the secret of work. In the next chapter, he focuses on what karma yoga deals with ,i.e, the three factors of Tamas – Inactivity or darkness, Rajas – Activity, Sattva – Equilibrium of the earlier two factors. By teaching, what they are and how to employ them, karma yoga helps us to do our work better. Inactivity should be avoided by all means. Activity always means resistance. Resist all evil, mental and physical, and when you have succeeded in resisting, then will calmness come. Plunge into the world, and then, after a time, when you have suffered, fought and enjoyed that is all in it, until you have passed through the activity, then will renunciation and calmness come,i.e, the highest ideal of non resistance.
The life of a householder is as great as that of a monk who has devoted himself to religious work. The great duty of the householder is to earn a living, but he must do it by not telling lies, or by cheating, or by robbing others; and he must remember that his life is for the service of God, and the poor. The next chapter starts by explaining about the kind of help or service that is the highest. Spiritual knowledge is the only knowledge that can destroy our miseries for ever; any other knowledge satisfies wants only for a short time. A spiritually strong and sound man will be strong in every respect if he so wishes. Next to spiritual comes intellectual help. The gift of knowledge is a far higher gift than that of food and clothes. Ignorance is death, knowledge is life. Life is of very little value, if it is a life in the dark, groping through ignorance and misery. Next in order comes, of course, helping a man physically.
Next we come across the bliss of non-attachment. If working like slaves results in selfishness and attachment, working as master of our mind gives rise to the bliss of non attachment. There are two things which guide the conduct of men: might and mercy. The exercise of might is an exercise of selfishness. Whereas, mercy is heaven itself; to be good we have all to be merciful. The other way of putting mercy or selfless charity into practice is by looking upon work as worship. The selfless and unattached man may live in the very heart of a crowded and sinful city; he will not be touched by sin. Next comes the idea of duty. We should always try to see the duty of others through their own eyes, and never judge the custom of other people by our own standard. I have to accommodate myself to the world and not the world to me. No man is to be judged by the mere nature of his duties, but all should be judged by the manner and the spirit in which they perform them.
In the subsequent chapter, Vivekananda mentions that the desire to do good is the highest motive power we have, if we know all the time that it is a privilege to help others. All good acts tend to make us pure and perfect. The world is not waiting for your or my help; yet we must work and constantly do good, because it is a blessing to ourselves to make us perfect. If we were really unattached, we should escape all this pain of vain expectation for the work done, and could cheerfully do good work in the world. Next chapter, moves on to the nature of work, i.e, Pravritti and Nivritti. Pravritti is the natural tendency of every human being; enriching the me by wealth, power, fame etc around one centre, that centre being “myself”. When this tendency begins to break, when it is Nivritti or going away from, then begins morality and religion. This Nivritti is fundamental basis of all morality and religion, and when a man has reached this state he has attained the perfection of Karma yoga. It is sheer nonsense on part of any man to think that he is born to help the world. When you have trained your mind and nerves to realize this idea of world’s non dependence on you or on anybody, there will then be no reaction in the form of pain resulting from work or expectations. Nothing has power over the self of man, until the self becomes a fool and loses independence. So by non-attachment you overcome and deny the power of anything to act upon you.
As per Karma Yoga theory, first we need to destroy this tendency of selfishness, and when you have the power of checking it, hold it in and do not allow the mind to get into the ways of selfishness. Then you may go out into the world and work as much as you can without getting contaminated with evil. The book ends with a memorable quote from Buddha, considered as the true karma yogi who dared to say, “Believe not because some old manuscript are produced, believed not because it is your national belief, because you have been made to believe it from your child hood; but reason it all out, and after you have analyzed it, then, if you find that it will do good to one and all, believe it, live up to it, and help others to live upto it”.