Siddhis, Riddhis and Mystical Experiences

unnamed (3)

It has become quite popular nowadays to speak about mystical experiences and “siddhis”. Most yoga and meditation groups speak of them, along with other esoteric blabber such as the raising of kundalini, opening of chakras, and other things which no one has actually experienced. On one side we have new age gurus speaking of siddhis very cheaply as though they are as common as sand on a beach, and on the other hand we have “rationalists” who discount siddhis all together as mere fantasy.

Siddhis are a reality, and the science behind them has been passed down from time immemorial by the rishis and preserved in the Vedic texts. In actuality nothing is mystic. Everything functions according to natural laws. The rishis, by virtue of their expanded consciousness, understood the functioning of matter on the subtle levels of sound and mind. They actually understood the absolute laws of nature and not just the surfacial reactions caused by mixing gross physical elements.

True transcendentalists have no interest in mundane material life. As such, the rishis did not give much importance to material powers and perfections. They were not interested in acquiring wealth, power, fame, etc. Their aim was much higher.

Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita:

vishaya vinivartante
niraharasya dehinah
rasa-varjam raso ‘py asya
param drishtva nivartate

“The embodied soul may be restricted from senses enjoyment, though the taste for sense objects remains. But, ceasing such engagements by experiencing a higher taste, he is fixed in consciousness.”

We must imagine how great the spiritual experience of the rishis and yogis must be to turn away from absolute material power – control over the fundamental laws of nature – and sit alone in the forest absorbed in meditation. That is the brahmananda, paramananda, shivananda, yogananda spoken of in the scriptures – the spiritual bliss which is the constitutional nature of the self. Experiencing a higher taste of spiritual bliss, they are able to renounce all lower material sensual enjoyment – both subtle and physical.

How else can we explain the countless yogis, jnanis, tapasvis, siddhas, and rishis who dwell in the sacred realm of the Himalayas. High in the mountains, surrounded by a forest covered in snow. The rishis are there even today meditating on the banks of the Ganges. What keeps them there, living in apparent poverty? Are they fools, are they mad? No, on the contrary, the world is mad and we are all fools. For we are chasing after the broken glass of sense enjoyment, while they are offering us the diamonds of spiritual bliss.

The rishis are calling to us. We must heed their call. Whether we are in the city or in the forest, it makes no difference. Internally we must all become rishis and sadhus – transcendentalists of the concrete jungle. Be situated in your place and attain the goal of life, this is the message of the rishis and the Upanishads – sthane sthitah shruti gatam tanu-van-manobhih.

The aim of those following spiritual discipline is to become free from the desire to lord over material nature. Those seeking mystic perfections are motivated by their desire to control matter, subtle and gross. Those who are sincerely interested in spiritual life should try their best to become free from such material desires. I have seen many people who belong to lines that focus on siddhis. Some of the siddhis are amazing, some are just stupid. Everything from being able to pull chocolate out of the sand (the specialty of one particular sadhu) to being able to change the density of matter. Through various processes of meditation one’s mind is expanded and the understandings of matter become much greater. All matter is based on sound, so through sound, it can be manipulated. Furthermore, the physical realm of our experience exists and is based on the subtle mental realm. Those who have conscious access to that realm can know and do things that we would consider to be mystical or supernatural.

There are eight primary siddhis described in the scriptures and ten secondary perfections. Lord Krishna confirms this in the Srimad Bhagavatam as follows:

siddhayo ‘shtadasa prokta
dharana yoga-para-gaih
tasam ashtau mat-pradhana
dasaiva guna-hetavah

“The masters of the yoga system have declared that there are eighteen types of mystic perfection and meditation, of which eight are primary, having their shelter in Me, and ten are secondary, appearing from the material mode of goodness.”

The eight primary mystic perfections are as follows:

Anima-siddhi – The ability to decrease the size of one’s body and become smaller than the smallest particle. Through this siddhi one may enter into stone or change the density in one’s body, enabling one to pass through solid matter.

Mahima-siddhi – The ability to increase the size of one’s body, ultimately enveloping the universe.

Laghima-siddhi – The ability to make one’s body lighter than air and fly at will. The perfection of this siddhi enables one to travel on the sun’s rays and enter into the sun planet.

Prapti-siddhi – The ability to manifest any object one desires within one’s hand. This siddhi removes the limitations of space which separate two objects from each other. It is said one will even be able to touch the moon with one’s finger [i.e. the limitation of distance is removed].

Prakamya-siddhi – The ability to attain anything one desires.

Ishita-siddhi – The ability to control the sub-potencies of the laws of nature. This enables one to control various energies and seemingly defy the laws of nature. On the lowest level, one may make fire come from one’s mouth, etc.

Vashita-siddhi – The ability to bring others under one’s control.

Kamavasayita-siddhi – The ability to attain anything anywhere. This is the highest of the eight and contains most of the abilities of the other perfections.

The ten secondary perfections are as follows:

1) The ability to be free from hunger and thirst. With this perfection one no longer depends on food and water for maintenance of one’s body. One will be able to sustain himself simply on prana, the life air.

2) The ability to hear things far away. With this perfection, one can hear any conversation spoken anywhere in the world.

3) The ability to see things far away. With this perfection, one develops a mystic vision, by which one can see any person or place. Sanjaya, the disciple of Vyasa, used this siddhi to see and hear the conversation between Krishna and Arjuna (known as Bhagavad Gita) which took place on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, though he was situated far away.

4) The ability to travel at the speed of the mind. With this perfection, one can travel great distances in a moment simply by thinking of the destination.

5) The ability to assume any form one desires. This enables one to change one’s physical body at will.

6) The ability to enter the bodies of others. This perfection enables one to enter into the bodies of others and enjoy through their senses. Since ghosts do not have physical senses, they often resort to this to satisfy their desires through other’s bodies.

7) The ability to control the time of one’s death. With this perfection, one may choose the time of leaving his body.

8) The ability to witness the pastimes between the demigods and the celestial girls called apsaras.

9) Satya-sankalpa – Perfect accomplishment of one’s determination. Whatever one desires to happen will happen.

10) Satya-vak – Giving orders that are unimpeded. With this perfection one’s very word is truth. Simply by saying something it occurs.

Besides these eighteen, there are five inferior perfections as follows:

The ability to know past, present and future.

The ability to tolerate heat, cold and other dualities.

The ability to know the minds of others.

The ability to check the influence of fire, water, poison, and weapons.

The ability to remain unconquered by others.

The primary eight siddhis are of a much higher order than the rest, and require severe discipline to accomplish. It is very rare that one will achieve such a perfection. But for every siddhi there is a reflection that is easily attained. The processes for attaining these minor siddhis are usually outlined in the Tantra-shastra. [Please refer to the course on Vedic literature to understand what is Tantra-shastra.] The processes generally involve doing upasana to a particular deity, who when pleased reveals their form to the Sadhaka. On the way many siddhis naturally develop due to expansion of the consciousness through mantra upasana and meditation. According to the category of deva one worships the result will come either quickly or after a long time, and the result will either be temporary or permanent. If you aim at a low entity, for example a ghost, the result will be quick, but it will be of minimal value. Whereas if your upasana is to a higher divinity, the result will be much more permanent and significant, but will take much more time to accomplish. The aim of the Sadhaka generally depends on his conditioning within the modes of nature. This is described by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita:

yajante sattvika devan
yaksa-raksamsi rajasah
pretan bhuta-ganams canye
yajante tamasa janah

“Men in the mode of goodness worship the demigods; those in the mode of passion worship the yakshas and rakshasas; and those in the mode of ignorance worship ghosts and spirits.”

As you progress in the modes, the worship becomes more and more purified, from ignorance to goodness. When you finally transcend the modes by worship of Krishna, the worship is completely transcendental beyond the influence of material nature.

The long term results of various upasanas are also described by Lord Krishna:

yanti deva-vrata devan
pitrin yanti pitri-vratah
bhutani yanti bhutejya
yanti mad-yajino ‘pi mam

“Those who worship the demigods will take birth among the demigods; those who worship the ancestors go to the ancestors (pitruloka); those who worship ghosts and spirits will take birth among such beings, and those who worship Me will live with Me.”

Sri A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, our divine spiritual master, says in his commentary to this verse:

“Pishacha (ghost) worship is called ‘black arts’ or ‘black magic.’ There are many men who practice this black art, and they think that it is spiritualism, but such activities are completely materialistic.”

It should be noted that in this verse from Bhagavad Gita the first three types of worship are described as a vow (vrata). The worshipper is making a vow to the object of worship in exchange for some material gain. An agreement is being made between the two parties. But in regards to the worship of Krishna it is stated to be devotion (mad-yajinah). There is no expectation on the part of the devotees. The true yogi, meditating on the Paramatma within his heart, has no desire for mundane mystical perfections. Their worship is completely unalloyed, without a tinge of desire for material enjoyment.

Another category of siddhi involves the control of the object of worship. You do not directly acquire a siddhi, but you maintain control over an entity who by nature of their higher existence possess natural powers. This relationship is maintained through your worship to the entity, who receives nourishment from the worship.

According to the level of the deity, the results are greater and more permanent. But the greater the results the more difficult the process is. As you move up from the lowest levels of worship of ghosts, to yakshas and yakshinis, to minor devas, the process becomes harder and harder (i.e. there is more sacrifice and sincerity involved). The perfection one achieves by worshipping a ghost cannot be compared to that attained by worshipping someone like Ganesha, but the worship of Ganesha will require more on the part of the Sadhaka. The results will not nearly be as temporary as that attained by worshipping a ghost or spirit. In the same way, when you go beyond the worship of the devas and you take up the worship of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the perfection you will achieve will be much greater than anything that is offered within this material world. And more than that, it will be the most permanent (eternal to be precise). But at the same time, to attain it will require the most sacrifice and sincerity. From the bottom of the grades of worship up to the topmost level (worship of Lord Krishna) there is a direct correspondence between the necessary endeavor for perfection and the permanence of the result.

The third chapter of the Yoga sutras describe the following minor siddhis:

The ability to know all languages including those of animals.

Knowledge of one’s past lives.

Knowledge of the nature of other peoples minds.

The ability to make one’s body invisible.

The ability to make the sounds of one’s body unhearable.

The ability to make everyone happy and joyful.

The ability to possess great strength.

The ability to locate hidden things.

The knowledge of the fourteen planetary systems.

The knowledge of the arrangements of stars.

The knowledge of the movement of stars.

The knowledge of bodily anatomy.

The ability to remain motionless.

The ability to perceive the celestial beings known as siddhas.

The understanding of consciousness.

The knowledge of the soul.

The ability to walk on water, thorns and similar objects.

The ability to surround oneself with a blaze of light.

The ability to be omnipotent and omniscient.

How these powers are attained is summarized by Patanjali as follows:

janmaushadhi-mantra-tapah-samadhijah siddhayah

“The mystical perfections may be obtained either by birth, by elixir, by the chanting of mantras, by austerities, of by attainment of samadhi.”

The Vedic texts describe 400,000 different species of humans existing throughout the universe (such as yaksha, rakshasa, vanara, etc.) In many of the species, they are born automatically with various powers. This is the siddhi attained by birth. By reciting certain mantras and performing austerities one’s consciousness is expanded and one develops supernatural abilities. Finally, by attaining the state of complete absorption in meditation, samadhi, one attains powers depending on the object of one’s meditation. For example, one who meditates on the sun gains complete knowledge of the planetary systems; one who meditates on the relationship between the ear and the ether attains the ability to hear anything.

After listing all of these apparently wonderful powers, Patanjali provides a warning:

tad-dvairamyadipi doshabijajakshaye kaivalyam

“By giving up even these powers the seed of evil is destroyed and liberation follows.” This is the last test of the yogi.

Patanjali mentions one final method for attaining these perfections:

pratibhadva sarvam

“All these powers will come to one whose mind is spontaneously enlightened through purity.”

Even without following a mechanical process of meditation, if one’s mind is naturally purified by spiritual advancement and unalloyed devotion to God, one will automatically attain these various supernatural abilities. Lord Krishna confirms this in the Bhagavad Gita when He says:

yoginam api sarvesham
sraddhavan bhajate yo mam
sa me yuktatamo matah

“Of all the yogis, the one with great faith who always abides in Me, thinks of Me within himself, and renders transcendental loving service to Me – he is the most intimately united with Me in yoga and the highest of all. That is My opinion.”

The topmost yogi is not someone who has artificially restricted his senses through mechanical processes (like asana, pranayama, pratyahara, etc.), but one who has naturally engaged all of his senses in the devotional service of the Lord. The devotee, having experienced the spiritual bliss of bhakti-yoga, has no interest in mundane perfections and remains fixed on his ultimate aim to attain the lotus feet of Krishna. That is the ultimate perfection, sam-siddhi:

mam upetya punar janma
duhkhalayam ashashvatam
napnuvanti mahatmanah
samsiddhim paramam gatah

“After attaining Me, the great souls (mahatmas), who are yogis in devotion, never return to this temporary world, which is full of miseries, because they have attained the highest perfection (sam-siddhi).”

Questions and Answers

Question: For most of my life I have been able to feel objects in my left hand that aren’t there and manipulate their texture and shape, etc. Do you know anything about this?

Thank you very much for your question. What you are experiencing is the residual effects of prapti-siddhi from your previous life. One of the sadhakas at our ashram had similar experiences when he was young. He would feel something like an itching sensation in his hand and he would feel the subtle presence of some object. When he would close his eyes, he could see what object was there. Later by mantra upasana he was able to revive the siddhi to the extent that he could materialize things within his hand.

The prapti siddhi enables one to acquire any object one desires by transfering it from one location to one’s hand. As mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita, there are eight material elements:

bhumir apo ‘nalo vayuh
kham mano buddhir eva ca
ahankara itiyam me
bhinna prakritir ashtadha

“Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego – all together these eight constitute My separated material energies.”

The Sankhya system of philosophy explains how each element telescopes out from the previous element. The first physical or gross element is the ether. Within the ether, all the other four gross elements are present (earth, water, fire and air) in a subtle form. The subtle quality of ether is sound, and from the sound expands the air. The subtle quality of air is touch (movement), and from the touch expands the fire. The subtle quality of fire is sight, and from the sight expands the water. The subtle quality of water is taste, and from the taste expands the earth. And finally, the subtle quality of earth, the last of the physical elements, is the smell.

Thus you have a telescoping effect of the elements and their subtle qualities beginning from ether down to earth. Since each element is manifesting from the previous, each new element contains all of the qualities of the previous elements. The ether element, being the first, only possesses the quality of sound. One cannot touch, see, taste or smell ether. The air element, having expanded from the ether, possesses both the qualities of sound and touch. One can feel and hear the movements of air, but one cannot see, taste or smell the air. The fire element’s added quality is the sight. Thus one can see, touch and hear the fire, but one cannot taste or smell fire. The water, having expanded from the fire, can be heard, felt, seen and tasted, but not smelt. And earth, being the final element, contains all the five qualities of sound, touch, sight, taste and smell.

This sequence is the natural sequence of manifestation of gross matter. The prapti siddhi enables one, through mantra, to reverse this process and transform gross physical objects into ethereal objects by merging the respective elements into their source element. Thus one takes an object located in a particular location, and by utilizing mantra siddhi, one merges the earth element into the water element, the water element into the fire element, the fire element into the air element, and finally the air element into the ether element. As you merge each element into the previous, the corresponding quality disappears (being merged back into the source element). In this way, a physical object is transformed into an ethereal object with no quality other than sound. This ethereal object can be transferred over space by mind, and then the entire process is reversed to re-manifest the original object in one’s hand.

What appears as a mystical feat to most is actually the manipulation of the subtle laws that govern physical nature. There are eight major siddhis and ten secondary siddhis, all of which are based on manipulation of the subtle laws of nature.

To revive this latent siddhi you will need to take up mantra upasana very seriously. At present we are shifting our library from one location to another, so all of our manuscripts are in trunks. After one or two weeks, when the shifting is over, I will be able to provide you with the necessary mantra and yantra for prapti siddhi.

You must rekindle your spiritual pursuits. In your previous life you had undertaken much sadhana. Now continue from where you left off and perfect your life. These siddhis are not important at all. They will arise in anyone who takes seriously to spiritual practices. For the weak minded they are an obstacle on the path of self-realization. Their use is only to reaffirm one’s faith that one is progressing on the path.

You have mentioned [in Tattva Prakasha 1.1] that at the final devastation Lord Brahma will also have to face his karma but I have indeed read that Lord Brahma goes to Vaikuntha upon the final devastation. Please clarify.

The scriptures state:

brahmana saha te sarve
samprapte pratisancare
parasyante kritatmanah
pravishanti param padam

“Brahma along with all of his followers enter into the supreme abode at the time of devastation.”

This verse is in reference to the present Brahma of this particular universe, who is a pure devotee of the Lord. It does not mean that every Brahma in every universe will automatically attain liberation. Neither will every inhabitant of Brahma-loka automatically go to the spiritual world. Brahma is no different than any other living entity. If he engages in pure devotional service he goes to the spiritual world. The same is the case for any of us. If he does not execute unalloyed devotional service, he will take his birth according to his desires.

Sri Bhaktivinoda Thakura, a great saint in the line of Chaitanya, has sung:

kita-janma hau jatha tuwa das
bahir-mukha brahma-janme nahi as

“May I be born again even as a worm, so long as I remain Your [Krishna’s] devotee. I have no desire to be born as a Brahma averse to You.”

Very rarely there is a bahir-mukha brahma, a Brahma who is averse to the Lord’s devotional service. Generally all Brahma’s are favourable to bhakti, but there are exceptions. Sri Viraraghava acharya has stated, based on revelation, that two brahma-kalpas (lives of brahma) ago within this universe there was a bahir-mukha brahma. Otherwise, we generally do not get information of what has occurred in other universes, or even within the same universe in prior creations.

Question: Is it possible to tell one’s future?

Dear Sadhaka,

There are ancient sciences that enable one to know the destiny one has created for himself in previous lives. Our future is based on the previous activities we have performed and the karmic reactions we have accumulated. At the same time, free will is powerful enough to overcome any fate that one may have, provided it is powered by a spiritual source. It is like the water flowing in a river. Generally, the water will follow the river bed, and it will not flow above the river bank. But it is possible if there is enough force for the water to make a new path. Such an occurrence is very rare. Thus, if a man sees a river flowing, he can “predict” the path it will follow. It will naturally follow the riverbed towards the ocean. Our futures can be known in a similar manner, but 99% of modern astrologers do not know the actual science behind it. They are simply interested in making money from the public. Only a spiritually powerful person has the purity and honesty to be able to tell your future in truth.

Question: Can I know what will be my future. Also, can I get rid of bad luck and if so how?

Dear Sadhaka,

Everyone’s future in this world is the same. We are all moving towards death. Time is constantly ticking away, decreasing our life by the second. This is the only future that everyone can be certain of. It is possible to know other aspects of one’s future and destiny, but the information is not as important as this.

For all the wealth in the world, one cannot buy back one second of time wasted. Thus there is nothing more valuable than time. Use your time valuably in spiritual pursuit. Then you will be able to know your ultimate future and become free from the bondage of “destiny”.

Bad luck is very simple to remove. You must take up a daily spiritual sadhana, for by spiritual strength only can destiny be changed. Spend at least 10 minute a day in the morning doing nama japam. Recite the names of Hari and meditate on the sound vibrations of the divine names. Swami Shivananda, the great saint from Rishikesh, has advised that this is the simplest way by which we can become free from the influence of bad luck.

Actually, there is no such thing as “luck”. Everything happens due to our previous activities. The Karmic reactions are coming to us from previous lives of activity. We must burn up the seeds of karma before they sprout into reactions. For our previous good activities we will experience enjoyment or happiness, and for our previous bad activities, we will experience suffering or disturbance. Those who have knowledge of these laws of nature know there is no luck, but only the natural law. Develop your spiritual strength and you can burn the karmic reactions to ashes. The scriptures describe that just as dry grass is instantly burnt to ash, in the same way, the chanting of Hari’s name will burn away the sinful reactions. If you truly want to become free from the control of your karmic reactions, take up a daily spiritual sadhana. Spend ten minutes a day in meditation on the mantra:

hare krishna hare krishna krishna krishna hare hare
hare rama hare rama rama rama hare hare

This will benefit you immensely.


Karma Yoga by Sri Swami Sivananda

What is Karma ?

Karma is a Sanskrit term. It means action or deed. Any physical or mental action is Karma. Thinking is mental Karma. Karma is the sum total of our acts, both in the present life and in the preceding births.

Karma means not only action, but also the result of an action. There is a hidden power in Karma or action termed ‘Adrishta’ which brings in fruits of Karmas for the individual. The consequence of an action is really not a separate thing. It is a part of the action and cannot be divided from it.

Karma, according to Jaimini Rishi, is the performance of Agnihotra and other Vedic rituals. According to the Gita, any action done with Nishkamya Bhava is Karma. Lord Krishna says: “Work incessantly. Your duty is to work but not to expect the fruits thereof.” The central teaching of the Gita is non-attachment to work. Breathing, eating, seeing, hearing, thinking, etc., are all Karmas. Thinking is the real Karma. Raga-dvesha (likes and dislikes) constitute real Karma.

How Karma is Fashioned

Man is threefold in his nature. He consists of Iccha, Jnana and Kriya. Iccha is desire or feeling. Jnana is knowing. Kriya is willing. These three fashion his Karma. He knows objects like chair, tree. He feels joy and sorrow. He wills – to do this, or not to do that.

Behind the action, there are desire and thought. A desire for an object arises in the mind. Then you think how to get it. Then you exert to possess it. Desire, thought and action always go together. They are the three threads, as it were, that are twisted into the cord of Karma.

Desire produces Karma. You work and exert to acquire the objects of your desire. Karma produces its fruits as pain or pleasure. You will have to take births after births to reap the fruits of your Karma. This is the Law of Karma.

Kinds of Karma

Karma is of three kinds, viz. Sanchita or the accumulated works, Prarabdha or the fructifying works, and Kriyamana or the current works. Sanchita is all the accumulated Karmas of the past. Part of it is seen in the character of man, in his tendencies and aptitudes, capacities, inclinations and desires. Prarabdha is that portion of the part of Karma which is responsible for the present body. It is ripe for reaping. It cannot be avoided or changed. It is only exhausted by being experienced. You pay your past debts. Kriyamana is that Karma which is now being made for the future. It is also called Agami or Vartamana.

In Vedantic literature, there is a beautiful analogy. The bow-man has already sent an arrow; it has left his hands. He cannot recall it. He is about to shoot another arrow. The bundle of arrow 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 Agami. Of these, he has perfect control over the Sanchita and the Agami, but he must surely work out his Prarabdha. The past which has begun to take effect he has to experience.

Actions are of three kinds, viz., good, bad and mixed. Good Karmas make you a god or angel in heaven. Bad Karmas throw you in lower wombs. Mixed actions give you a human birth.

Every work is a mixture of good and evil. There can be neither absolute good work nor absolute bad work in this world. This physical universe is a relative plane. If you do some action, it will do some good in one corner, and some evil in another corner. You must try to do such actions that can bring the maximum of good and the minimum of evil.


The Law of Karma

The Doctrine of Karma forms an integral part of Vedanta. The Law of Karma is one of the fundamental doctrines not only in Hinduism, but also in Buddhism and in Jainism.

As a man sows, so he shall reap. This is the Law of Karma. It expounds the riddle of life and the riddle of the universe. It brings solace, satisfaction and comfort to one and all. It is a self-evident truth. Fortunately, the Westerners have also begun now to acknowledge its importance and veracity. The Americans have now full belief in this doctrine. Every sensible man will have to accept it. There is no other go.

A close study of this law gives encouragement to the hopeless man, to the desperate and ailing. Destiny is created by man’s thoughts, habits and character. There is every chance for his correction and improvement by changing his thoughts and habits. The scoundrel can become a saint; the prostitute can become a chaste lady; a beggar can become a king. This mighty law provides for all this.

The Doctrine of Karma only can explain the mysterious problem of good and evil in this world. The Doctrine of Karma only can bring solace, contentment, peace and strength to the afflicted and the desperate. It solves our difficulties and problems of life. It gives encouragement to the hopeless and the forlorn. It pushes a man to right thinking, right speech and right action. It brings a brilliant future for that man who lives according to this universal law. If all people understand this law correctly and discharge their daily duties carefully, they would rise to sublime heights in the ladder of spirituality. They will be moral and virtuous and have a happy, peaceful, contented life. They can bear the burden of Samsara with patience, endurance and strength of mind. There will not be any room for complaint when they see the inequalities in birth, fortune, intelligence, capacities, etc. There will be heaven on earth. All will rejoice even in suffering. Greed, jealousy, hatred, anger, passion will vanish. Virtue will reign everywhere. We will have a glorious Satya Yuga now with peace and plenty everywhere. Blessed is the man who understands and lives in the Law, for he will soon attain God-consciousness and become one with the Law-giver! Then the Law will no longer operate on him.

What is Karma Yoga?

Karma Yoga is consecration of all actions and their fruits unto the Lord. Karma Yoga is performance of actions dwelling in union with the Divine, removing attachment and remaining balanced ever in success and failure.

Karma Yoga is selfless service unto humanity. Karma Yoga is the Yoga of action which purifies the heart and prepares the Antahkarana (the heart and the mind) for the reception of Divine Light or attainment if Knowledge of the Self. The important point is that you will have to serve humanity without any attachment or egoism.

Action of some kind or the other is unavoidable. You cannot keep quiet without doing anything. What binds you to phenomenal existence or Samsara is not the action but the idea of doership and enjoyership. Karma binds when it is done with a selfish motive, with the expectation of fruits. But when action is done without the expectation of fruits, it is liberating. If you act as an instrument in the hands of the Lord, as a participant in the cosmic activity of Nature, without expectation of fruits, that Karma will not bind you. Karma, then becomes Karma Yoga. Work unselfishly. Feel that you are only an instrument and that the Lord is working through you. Surrender the actions and their fruits to the Lord. You will be freed from the bonds of Karma and enjoy peace.

The practice of Karma Yoga prepares the aspirant for the reception of knowledge of the Self. It makes him a proper Adhikari (aspirant) for the study of Vedanta. Ignorant people jump at once to Jnana Yoga, without first having a preliminary training in Karma Yoga. That is the reason why they fail miserably to realize the Truth. Various impurities lurk in the fourfold mind (Antahkarana). The mind is filled with likes and dislikes, jealousy, etc. They only talk of Brahman. They indulge in all sorts of useless controversies, vain debates and dry, endless discussions. Their philosophy is only on their lips. In other words, they are lip-Vedantins. What is really wanted is practical Vedanta through ceaseless, selfless service. Selfless service is the only way to remove the impurities lurking in the mind.

Two things are indispensably requisite in the practice of Karma Yoga. The Karma Yogi should have non-attachment to the fruits of actions. He will have to dedicate his actions at the altar of God with the feeling of Ishvararpana. Non-attachment brings freedom from sorrow and fear. Non-attachment makes a man absolutely bold and fearless. When he dedicates his actions at the Lotus Feet of the Lord, he develops devotion to God and approaches Him nearer and nearer. He gradually feels that God works directly through his Indriyas or instruments. He feels no strain or burden in discharge of his works now. He is quite at ease. The heavy load which he felt previously on account of false notion has vanished out of sight now.

Practice of Karma Yoga

The practice of Karma Yoga does not demand that you should possess enormous wealth. You can serve with your mind and body. If you find a poor sick man lying on the road side, give him some water or milk to drink. Cheer him up with sweet, encouraging words. Put him in a carriage and take him to the nearest hospital. If you have no money to pay for the carriage, carry the patient on your back and see that he is admitted into the hospital. If you do service like this, your heart will be purified. God is more pleased with such sort of service for the poor helpless people than with the service done by rich people with pomp and vanity.

If any one is suffering from acute pain in any part of the body, at once shampoo the affected part very quickly. Feel, when you massage, that you are shampooing the body of the Lord (Virat). Repeat your Ishta Mantra or any name of the Lord while shampooing. Pray also from the bottom of your heart: “O Lord! Remove the pain of this man. Let him rest in peace. Let him possess good health.” Feel, when you massage, that the energy from the cosmic source, Hiranyagarbha, is flowing continuously through your hands. Some neophytes are afraid their energy will be depleted by massaging another person. This is a serious mistake. The more you give, the more yu will get. You will be in tune with the cosmic energy or the Infinite. This is the divine law.


Qualifications o a karmic yogi

A Karma Yogi should be absolutely free from lust, greed, anger and egoism. Even if there are traces of these Doshas, he should try to remove them. He should not expect any kind of fruits for his actions herein and hereafter. He should not have any desire for name and fame, approbation, thirst for applause, admiration and gratitude. He must have a spotless character. He should try to possess this gradually. He should be humble and free from hatred, jealousy, harshness, etc. He should always speak sweet words. How can a proud and jealous man, who expects respect and honour from others, serve others ? He should be absolutely fearless. A timid man is absolutely unfit for Karma Yoga. He is fit to assist his wife in cleaning utensils in the kitchen in the morning and in washing her clothes in the evening.

A Karma Yogi should have large heart. He should be free from crookedness, meanness, miserliness and selfishness. He should be absolutely free from greed, anger and egoism.

A Karma Yogi should have an amiable, loving social nature. He should be able to move and mix with everybody without distinction of caste, creed or colour. He should have perfect adaptability, tolerance, sympathy, cosmic love and mercy. He should be able to adjust with the habits and ways of others. He should have an all-embracing and an all-inclusive heart. He should always have a cool and balanced mind. He should have presence of mind also. He should have equal vision. He should rejoice in the welfare of others. A man who is easily irritable and who can easily be offended for trifling things is absolutely unfit for the path of Karma Yoga. He should have all the organs under perfect control. He should lead a very simple life. He should bear insult, disrespect, dishonour, censure, infamy, disgrace, harsh words, heat, cold and the pain of diseases. He should have absolute faith in himself, in God, in scriptures and in the words of hid Guru. If he leads a life of luxury, if he wants everything for himself, how can he share his possessions with others ? He should burn his selfishness to the very root. Let me remind you the words of the Gita: “Restraining and subduing the senses, regarding everything equally, rejoicing in the welfare of all, these alone come to Me.” Such a man becomes a good Karma Yogi and reaches the goal quickly.


Benefits of Karma Yoga

By doing selfless service you purify your heart. Egoism, hatred, jealousy, ideas of superiority and all the kindred negative qualities will vanish. You will develop humility, pure love, sympathy, tolerance and mercy. Sense of separateness will be annihilated. Selfishness will be eradicated. You will get a broad and liberal outlook on life. You will begin to feel oneness and unity. Eventually you will obtain knowledge of the Self. You will realize One in all and All in one.

Generally people are impatient and they expect Siddhis after doing a little service. The real Karma Yogi who serves people with humility and Atma Bhava (seeing God in every face) becomes a real ruler of the world. He is honoured and respected by all. The more service you do with Atma Bhava the more power, energy and capacity you get. Practice this and feel.

If you really want to grow in the spiritual path you must do all sorts of service daily till the end of your life. Then only you are safe. Do not stop doing service when you have become a famous Yogi. The spirit of service must enter every nerve, cell, tissue and bone of your body. It must become ingrained in you. Then only you will become a real, full-blown, practical Vedantin. Is there any greater Vedantin or Karma Yogi than Lord Buddha ? He still lives in our hearts, because that spirit of service was ingrained in him and he spent his whole life in serving others in a variety of ways. He is indeed a magnanimous soul, one without a second. You can also become a Buddha if you apply yourself diligently to selfless service with the right mental attitude.

In the practice of Nishkama Karma Yoga, there is no loss of effort. There is no harm. There is no transgression also. Even a little of this practice can protect you from great fear of rebirth, of death with its concomitant evils. You will reap the fruits of Karma Yoga, viz. Jnana. There is no uncertainty here. The path of Karma Yoga eventually leads to the attainment of Bliss of the Self.

May you all attain purity of heart through constant selfless service. May you all shine as dynamic Karma Yogins radiating joy, peace and bliss everywhere. May you all rejoice in the welfare of all beings. May your minds be fixed in the Lord while your hands are in the service of humanity. May you all understand the principles and techniques of Karma Yoga. May all your actions become offerings unto the Lord. May you all attain Kaivalya Moksha through the practice of Karma Yoga in this very birth.








The Bhagavat Gita (Lyrics in Sanskrit by Anuradha Paudwal)

Karma Yoga – Yoga of Action

From The Bhagavad Gita

(Commentaries by Swami Shivananda, The Divine Life Society, Rishikesh.)

The Blessed Lord said:

Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer in sacrifice, whatever you give, whatever you practise as austerity, O Arjuna, do it as an offering unto me.
–Gita, Ch.9, Verse 27.

He who is devoted to the path of action, whose mind is quite pure, who has conquered the self, who has subdued his senses and who realises his Self as the Self in all beings, though acting, he is not tainted.
-Gita, Ch.5, Verse 7.

“I do nothing at all,” thus would the harmonized knower of Truth thinks-seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, eating, going, sleeping, breathing.
-Gita- Ch.5, Verse 8.

[Note: Commentary: The liberated sage or a jnani always remains as a witness of the activities of the senses as he identifies himself with the Self or Brahman. He thinks and says, “I do not see; the eyes perceive. I do not hear; the ears hear, I do not smell; the nose smells, etc.” He beholds inaction in action as he has burnt his actions in the fire of wisdom.]

The Blessed Lord said:

He, who does actions, offering them to Brahman (the Lord) and abandoning attachment, is not tainted by sin as a lotus leaf by water.
-Gita, Ch.5, Verse 10.

Yogis (Karma Yogis), having abandoned attachment, perform actions only by the body, mind, intellect and even by the senses, for the purification of the self.
-Gita, Ch.5, Verse 11.

The united one (the well poised or the harmonized) having abandoned the fruit of action attains to the eternal peace; the non-united only (the unsteady or the unbalanced) impelled by desire, attached to the fruit, is bound.

[Note; Commentary: ‘Santim Naitikam’ is interpreted as ‘peace born of devotion or steadfastness’. The harmonious man who does actions for the sake of the Lord without expectation of the fruits and who says, “I do actions for my Lord only, not for my personal gain or profit,” attains to the peace born of devotion, through the following four stages, viz., purity of mind, the attainment of knowledge, renunciation of actions, and steadiness in wisdom. But the unbalanced or the unharmonised man who is led by desire and who is attached to the fruits of the actions and who says, “I have done such and such an action; I will get such and such a fruit,” is firmly bound.]

The Blessed Lord said:

As the blazing fire reduces fuel to ashes, O Arjuna, so does the fire of knowledge reduce all actions to ashes.
-Gita, Ch.4, Verse 37.

[Note: Commentary: Just as the seeds that are roasted cannot germinate, so also the actions that are burnt by the fire of knowledge cannot bear fruits, i.e., cannot bring man to this world again for the enjoyment of the fruits of his actions. This is reducing actions to ashes. The actions lose their potency as they are burnt by the fire of knowledge. When the knowledge of the Self dawns, all actions with their results are burnt by the fire of that knowledge just as fuel is burnt by the fire. When there is no agency-mentality (the idea “I do this”) when there is no desire for the fruits, action is no action at all. It has lost its potency.]

The Blessed Lord said:

Neither agency nor actions does the Lord create for the world, nor union with the fruits of actions; but it is Nature that acts.
-Gita, Ch.5, Verse 14.

[Note: The Lord does not create agency or doership. He does not press anyone to do action. He never tells anyone: “Do this or do that.” He does not bring about union with the fruits of actions. It is Prakriti or Nature that does everything.

The blessed Lord said:

He who has renounced actions by Yoga, whose doubts are rent asunder by knowledge, and who is self-possessed- actions do not bind him, O Arjuna.
-Gita, Ch. 4, Verse 41.

[Note: Commentary: Sri Madhusudana Sarasvati explains Atmavanta as ‘always watchful.’ He who has attained Self-realisation renounces all actions by means of Yoga or the knowledge of Brahman. As he is established in the knowledge of the identity of the individual soul with the Supreme Soul all his doubts are cut asunder. Actions do not bind him as they are burnt in the fire of wisdom and as he is always watchful over himself.]

The Blessed Lord said: The world is bound by actions other than those performed for the sake of sacrifice; do thou, therefore, O son of Kunti (Arjuna), perform actions for the sake (for sacrifice alone), free from attachment.
-Gita, Ch. 3, Verse 9.

[Note: Commentary: Yajna means sacrifice or religious rite or any unselfish action done with a pure motive. It means also Isvara. The Taittiriya Samhita (of the Veda) says “Yajna verily is Vishnu” (1-7-4). If anyone does actions for the sake of the Lord, he is not bound. His heart is purified by performing actions for the sake of the Lord. Where this spirit of unselfishness does not govern the action, it will bind one to samsara however good or glorious it may be.]

The Blessed lord said: As the ignorant men act from attachment to action, O Bharata (Arjuna), so should the wise act without attachment, wishing the welfare of the world.
-Gita, ch.3, Verse 25.

[Note: Commentary: The ignorant man works in expectation of fruit. He says, “I will do such and such work and will get and such and such fruit (reward).” But the wise man who knows the Self, serves not for his own end. He should so act that the world, following his example, would attain peace, harmony, purity of heart, divine light and knowledge. A wise man is one who knows the Self.

The Blessed Lord said:

Let no wise man unsettle the mind of ignorant people who are attached to action; he should engage them in all actions, himself fulfilling them with devotion.
-Gita, Ch.3, Verse 26.

[Note: Commentary: An ignorant man says to himself, “I shall do this action and thereby enjoy its fruit.” A wise man should not unsettle his belief. On the contrary he himself should set an example by performing his duties diligently but without attachment. The wise man should also persuade the ignorant never to neglect their duties. If need be, he should place before them in vivid colours the happiness they would enjoy here and hereafter by discharging such duties. When their hearts get purified in the course of time, the wise man could sow the seeds of Karma Yoga (selfless service without desire) in them.]

The Blessed Lord said:

He whose intellect is unattached everywhere, who has subdued his self, from whom desire has fled,- he by renunciation, attains the supreme state of freedom from action.
-Gita, Ch.18, Verse 49.

Thy right is to work only, but never with its fruits; let not the fruits of action be thy motive, nor let thy attachment be to inaction.
Gita, Ch. 2, Verse 47.

[Note: When you perform actions, have no desires for the fruits thereof under any circumstances. If you thirst for the fruits of your actions, you will have to take birth again and again to enjoy them. Action done with expectation of fruits (rewards) brings bondage. If you do not thirst for them, you get purification of heart and you will get knowledge of the Self through purity of heart and through the knowledge of the Self you will be freed from the round of births and deaths.

Neither let thy attachment be towards inaction thinking “What is the use of doing actions when I cannot get any reward for them?”]

The enjoyments that are born of contacts are only generators of pain, for they have a beginning and an end, O Arjuna: the wise do not rejoice in them.
-Gita, Ch. 5, Verse 22

[Note: Man goes in quest of joy and searches in the external perishable objects for his happiness. He fails to get it but instead he carries a load of sorrow on his head.

You should withdraw the senses from the sense-objects as there is no trace of happiness in them and fix the mind on the immortal, blissful Self within. The sense-objects have a beginning and an end. Separation from the sense-objects gives you a lot of pain. During the interval between the origin and the end you experience a hollow, momentary, illusory pleasure. This fleeting pleasure is due to Avidya or ignorance. He who is endowed with discrimination or knowledge of the Self will never rejoice in these sensual objects. Only ignorant persons who are passionate will rejoice in the sense-objects.]

That pleasure which arises from the contact of the sense-organ with the objects, which is at first like nectar, and in the end like poison – that is declared to be Rajasic.
-Gita, Ch. 18, Verse 38

The contacts of the senses with the objects, O son of Kunti (Arjuna), which causes heat and cold, pleasure and pain, have a beginning and an end; they are impermanent; endure them bravely, O Arjuna.
-Gita, Ch. 2, Verse 14

He who sees inaction in action and action in inaction,
he is wise among men; he is a Yogi and performer of all actions.

From The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi
(Edited by David Godman)

Questioner: The Gita seems to emphasize Karma Yoga, for Arjuna is persuaded to fight. Sri Krishna himself set the example by an active life of great exploits.

Sri Ramana Maharshi: The Gita starts by saying that you are not the body and that you are not therefore the Karta (the doer).

Question: What is the significance?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: It means that one should act without thinking that oneself is the actor. Actions will go on even in the egoless state. Each person has come into manifestation for a certain purpose and that purpose will be accomplished whether he considers himself to be the actor or not.

Question: What is Karma Yoga? Is it non-attachment to Karma (action) or its fruit?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Karma Yoga is that Yoga in which the person does not arrogate to himself the function of being the actor. All actions go on automatically.

Question: Is it non-attachment to the fruits of actions?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: The question arises only if there is the actor. It is said in all the scriptures that you should not consider yourself to be the actor.

Questioner: So Karma Yoga is ‘Kartritva Buddhi Rahita Karma’ – action without the sense of doership.

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Yes. Quite so.

Questioner: The Gita teaches that one should have an active life from beginning to end.

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Yes, the actorless action.

Question: If one remains quiet how is action to go on? Where is the place for Karma Yoga?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Let us first understand what Karma is, whose Karma it is and who is the doer. Analyzing them and enquiring into their truth, one is obliged to remain as the Self in peace. Nevertheless even in that state the actions will go on.

Question: How will the actions go on if I do not act?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Who asks the question? Is it the Self or another? Is the Self concerned with actions?

Questioner: No, not the Self. It is another, different from the Self.

Sri Ramana Maharshi: So it is plain that the Self is not concerned with actions and so the question does not arise.

Question: I see you doing things. How can you say that you never perform actions?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: The radio sings and speaks, but if you open it you will find no one inside. Similarly, my experience is like the space; though this body speaks like the radio, there is no one inside as a doer.

Question: I find this hard to understand. Could you please elaborate on this?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Various illustrations are given in books to enable us to understand how the jnani can live and act without the mind, although living and acting require the use of the mind. The potter’s wheel goes on turning round even after the potter has ceased to turn it because the pot is finished. In the same way, the electric fan goes on revolving for some minutes after we switch off the current. Prarabdha (predestined Karma) which created the body will make it go through whatever activities it was meant for. But the jnani goes through all these activities without the notion that he is the doer of them.

It is hard to understand how this is possible. The illustration generally given is that the jnani performs actions in some such way as a child that is roused from sleep to eat eats but does not remember next morning that it ate. It has to be remembered that all these explanations are not for the jnani. He knows and has no doubts. He knows that he is not the body and he knows that he is not doing anything even though his body may be engaged in some activity. These explanations are for the onlookers who think of the jnani as one with a body and cannot help identifying him with his body.

Question: I want to do Karma Yoga. How can I help others?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Who is there for you to help? Who is that “I” that is going to help others? First clear up that point and then everything will settle itself.

Question: That means ‘realise the Self.’ Does my realisation help others?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Yes, and it is the best help that you can possibly render to others. But really there are no others to be helped. For the realised being sees only the Self, just as the goldsmith sees only the gold while valuing it in various jewels made of gold. When you identify yourself with the body, name and form are there. But when you transcend the body-consciousness, the others also disappear. The realised one does not see the world as different from himself.

Question: Would it not be better if saints mixed with other people in order to help them?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: There are no others to mix with. The Self is the only reality. The sage helps the world merely by being the real Self. The best way for one to serve the world is to win the egoless state. If you are anxious to help the world, but think that you cannot do so by attaining the egoless state, then surrender to God all the world’s problems, along with your own.

Question: Should I not try to help the suffering world?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: The power that created you has created the world as well. If it can take care of you, it can similarly take care of the world also. If God has created the world it is His business to look after it, not yours.

Question: Is the desire for Swaraj (political independence) right?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Such desire no doubt begins with self-interest. Yet practical work for the goal gradually widens the outlook so that the individual becomes merged in the country. Such merging of the individuality is desirable and the related Karma is Nishkama (unselfish).

Question: If Swaraj is gained after a long struggle and terrible sacrifices, is not the person justified in being pleased with the result and elated by it?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: He must have in the course of his work surrendered himself to the higher power whose might must be kept in mind and never lost sight of. How then can he be elated? He should not even care for the result of his actions. Then alone the Karma becomes unselfish.

[Note: Comments by David Godman: Practitioners of Karma Yoga, the Yoga of action, aim to evolve spiritually by selflessly serving and assisting others. Although it is spoken of highly in the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Ramana Maharshi generally discouraged his devotees from following this path since it presupposes the existence of an “I” who is going to perform the good deeds and ‘other people’ who are in need of assistance. He only encouraged it if he felt that particular devotees were incapable of following the paths of Jnana (knowledge), Bhakti (devotion) or Raja Yoga (meditation).

If an aspirant were unsuited temperamentally for the first two methods (Jnana and Bhakti), and circumstantially on account of age for the third method (Yoga), he must try the Karma marga (the path of Karma Yoga). His nobler instincts become more evident and he derives impersonal pleasure. The man also becomes duly equipped for one of the three aforesaid paths.

Sri Ramana Maharshi stressed that to be successful, the Karma Yogi must be free of the notion that he himself is helping others, and that he must also be unattached and indifferent to the consequences of his actions. Although he rarely gave Karma Yoga more than a lukewarm endorsement he did admit that both of these conditions would be met if all actions were performed without the ‘I am the doer’ idea. ]

-Gita, Ch. 4, Verse 18.

For, verily the true nature of action (enjoined by the scriptures) should be known, also (that) of forbidden
(or unlawful) action, and of inaction; hard to understand is the nature (path) of action.
-Gita, Ch.4, Verse 17.

He whose undertakings are all devoid of desires and (selfish) purposes, and whose actions have been burnt
by the fire of knowledge, -him the wise call a sage.
–Gita, Ch.3, Verse 19.

Having abandoned attachment to the fruits of actions,
ever content, depending on nothing, he does not do anything though engaged in activity.
-Gita, Ch.4, Verse 20

To one who is devoid of attachment, who is liberated,
whose mind is established in knowledge, who works for the sake of sacrifice
(for the sake of God), the whole action is dissolved.
-Gita, Ch.4, Verse 23.

(From The Bhagavad Gita ~Translated by Swami Shivananda, Rishikesh)

‘In that which is night to all beings,’ says the Bhagavad Gita, ‘men of self-control are awake; and where all beings are awake, there is night for the contemplative who see.’

The meaning of this passage is that to the unenlightened the supreme reality is like night; while trying to understand it they see darkness and confusion. But the enlightened are fully awake with regard to reality. Further, the physical world of names and forms is clear as day to the unenlightened, but the enlightened see in it the darkness of night.

An Upanishad says: ‘The self-willed Supreme Lord inflicted an injury upon the sense organs in creating them with outgoing tendencies; therefore with them a man perceives only outer objects, and not the inner self. But a calm person, wishing for immortality, beholds the inner self with eyes closed.’

[Note: From Katha Upanishad, Part II, Canto 1. “The Self-existent Lord pierced the senses outward and not within oneself. Therefore one sees the outer things and not the inner Self. Some wise man, however, seeking immortality, and turning his eyes inward, sees the indwelling Self.”

Swami Ranganathananda from Belur Math compared the out going tendencies of the senses to a barn door with hinges that allow the door to swing open in outward direction only.]

The worldly man directs his sense organs to the enjoyment of physical objects; but a spiritual seeker, by means of spiritual disciplines, turns his organs toward the inner self.

The mind is by nature pure and clear, and capable of reflecting reality. The impurities in it, which distort the image of reality, are created by desires and attachments. Being foreign to it, they may be removed; and this is effected through the practice of disciplines. Thus the unenlightened man becomes enlightened.

It is direct perception that gives an object the stamp of reality. God and the soul, which form the very basis of religion, appear unreal or vague to the unenlightened because neither of them is directly perceived, whereas physical objects appear real and clear because they are directly perceived. It is a commonly accepted view that direct knowledge is obtained through the senses, and indirect knowledge through the testimony of another – a man or a book. A person may sometimes have an intellectual idea of God or the soul, yet they are not vital to him because they are not proved by direct knowledge. There is, however, a possibility of deception in many so called direct perceptions by the sense organs. A mirage is perceived by the eye and yet it is not real. Any abnormal physical condition can distort a man’s view of external objects; for instance, a rise in the bodily temperature may conjure up many unreal visions, which appear to be directly perceived.

Be that as it may, direct knowledge cannot be repudiated by indirect knowledge. The apparent reality of the physical world cannot be negated by the mere testimony of the scriptures or the mystics, but only by the direct experience of another kind of reality, which Vedanta calls Brahman (the Supreme Reality). This direct experience can be obtained by spiritual disciplines, which in Hinduism are called Yoga. Christ said: ‘Seek and you will find; knock and it will open.’ Here he referred to spiritual disciplines and direct experience.

The real meaning of the scriptures becomes revealed to one who has practised spiritual disciplines. The scriptures of the different religions cannot be reconciled if one emphasizes only the letter and overlooks the spirit. For instance, Christianity, on the basis of the Bible, believes in the Trinity and regards Christ as the only begotten Son of God. Islam, on the basis of Koran, strongly upholds the unity of God and denies that He can ever beget a son. But it is often forgotten that the scriptures can only indicate the supramental reality, and never directly describe its true nature. According to the Vedas, a knower of Brahman transcends the scriptures.

The prophets use inadequate human speech to describe what is beyond mind and speech; they also shape their teachings to suit the requirements of the place, time, and the understanding of their devotees. Therefore in order to understand the real meaning of the scriptures or the teachings of the prophets, one must acquire inner experience through the practice of spiritual disciplines. If the prophets of different religions were to meet, they would certainly say that they were proclaiming the same truths; but the gibberish and the grimaces of their fanatical followers never come to an end.

The Hindu philosopher, unlike Plato, is not content with a merely intellectual understanding of reality; for such an understanding is not of much value in times of practical need. Reality must be directly known, and the knowledge of reality should then be applied in daily life. The Sanskrit word for philosophy is Darsana, which means ‘seeing’, and not mere love of knowledge. What is the use of philosophy if it does not enable a man to commune with reality? And has one who communes with reality any further need of philosophy? The ultimate goal is direct communion with the spirit, and this communion is made possible through spiritual discipline.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna asks Krishan: ‘Under what compulsion does a man commit sin, in spite of himself, and driven, as it were, by force?’

Krishna replies: ‘It is desire, it is wrath, which springs from rajas.’ Know that this is our enemy here, all devouring and the cause of all sin.’

The direct manifestation of rajas is the insatiable fire of desire, which envelops knowledge and is the foe of wisdom. Under the pressure of rajas, a man harbours greed, lust, and anger. Rajas attacks a person through the senses, and the mind, and the understanding, veiling knowledge and deluding the embodied soul. Stern spiritual disciplines are necessary to control rajas.

As has been stated before,
in Hinduism the general name for spiritual disciplines is yoga, which means, literally, union of the individual self with the Supreme Self, and also the method of this union.

There are different kinds of yoga suited to different temperaments. The kind of yoga that is applicable to a man is determined by his innate tendencies. Though there are as many minds as there are human beings, yet the Hindu psychologists speak of four general types; active, emotional, introspective, and philosophical; and for each there is an appropriate yoga.

It is true that each mind contains some of the four traits, one particular trait is dominant and this dominant trait indicates the type of the spiritual discipline a person should pursue.

Work when performed as a spiritual discipline is called Karma Yoga. It is the predominant topic of the Bhagavad Gita, though the book deals with other Yogas as well. The purpose of the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita is to solve a moral problem. Krishna, an avatar, was the teacher, and Arjuna, a warrior, the disciple. There was a bitter quarrel between two royal families of cousins. The family to which Arjuna belonged was the more righteous. Truth and justice were at stake, and Arjuna was determined to defend them. At first Krishna and the other wise men tried their utmost to make a peaceful settlement, but on account of the intransigence of the other family, they failed. War became inevitable.

Among the combatants on both sides, Arjuna found brothers, uncles, teachers, sons, nephews, and friends- to whom he was bound by a thousand ties of love, respect, and affection. Clearly foreseeing that the destruction accompanying the war would be followed by family disintegration and social chaos, he was reluctant to accept the responsibility, and said to Krishna that he would like to retire from the battlefield, go into a forest, and lead the life of a religious mendicant. Confused, he asked Krishna to show him the path of duty.

Arjuna’s dilemma was caused by his confusion about the two ideals, which, from time out of mind, have moulded the Hindu pattern of life. These are the disciplines of action and renunciation, distinctly laid down for two types of mind. The discipline of action is followed by the majority of men, who believe in social obligations and who do not explain away the world and the individual ego as unreal. They seek happiness here and hereafter. But a few persons who realise self-knowledge to be the supreme duty of life and who are convinced of the transitory nature of all material experiences either on earth or in heaven follow the discipline of renunciation, and seek liberation from bondage to the phenomenal world.

Both disciplines are necessary to preserve the social stability; but their spheres must not be confused. Arjuna obviously was not ready for the discipline of renunciation because he was conscious of his duty to society and was still attached to his relatives and friends, whose death he anticipated with sorrow. Certainly he had not attained that spiritual elevation from which one sees the illusory nature of worldly values, good or evil. He talked about renunciation only as an escape from the unpleasant duties of life.

Krishna characterised this attitude as ‘lowness of spirit, unbecoming a noble mind, dishonourable, and detrimental to the attainment of heaven, which every warrior covets.’ He advised Arjuna to plunge into action and fight in a spirit of non-attachment: ‘He who sees non-action in action, and action in non-action, he is wise among men, he is yogi, and he is the doer of all actions.’ ‘He who is free from the notion of egotism, and whose understanding is undefiled- though he slays these men, he really slays them not nor is he stained by the result of slaying.’ This non-attachment is the secret of work as a spiritual discipline.

[Note: Compare, for instance, where a judge, in accordance with law, carries out his duty as a judge and passes a sentence of death upon some criminal, and the state executioner carries out such death sentence.]

Mere karma or action is different from karma yoga, or action as a spiritual discipline. Karma is what is done, a deed. Activity is seen everywhere, both in physical nature and in man. Nature is active; for one sees activity in the stars and the planets, trees and rocks; space itself is vibrating. And there is something in the very makeup of man- the spirit of rajas – which drives him into action in spite of himself. His body is active when he is awake; his mind is active, both in the waking and dream states; and his heart, lungs, and other organs are always active, even in deep sleep. The body cannot be kept alive if one remains inactive. The preservation of the social order, too, demands constant and vigilant action. Even religious disciplines, such as prayer, worship, and meditation, are forms of activity. Though actionlessness may characterize a certain form of spiritual experience, it cannot be attained without previous practice of the discipline of action.

By means of action, according to Hindu philosophers, one promotes a harmonious relationship between men, and deities, and subhuman beings, and thus keeps the ‘wheel of creation’ moving. All created beings are interdependent and sustain one another by their actions. Thus action has a cosmic significance. He who ignores the cosmic significance of action and works only for his selfish purpose lives in vain. ‘He who cooks only or himself eats sin.’ According to the Bhagavad Gita, when the Lord in the beginning created men, He planted in them a propensity for action and gave the mandate that they should not only multiply by work but also thereby fulfil desires for happiness.

When work is done without any desire for personal gain it becomes spiritual action. Such work is utterly different from the mechanical action seen in the inorganic world, or the instinctive action seen in the inorganic world, or the instinctive action at the infra-rational level, the egocentric action of an average person.

Ordinary karma has a binding quality. It creates and leaves behind subtle impressions, which at a future time and under favourable conditions become the causes of new actions. The new actions likewise create another set of impressions, which in their turn become the causes of yet other actions. So man works impelled by necessity; he has no freedom. Now the question arises as to how one can avoid the bondage of the causal law and work as a free agent. The solution lies in karma yoga.Karma yoga is the secret of action. It gives the worker evenness of mind in gain and loss, success and failure.

How is one to acquire evenness of mind? There are two elements in all voluntary actions. First, there is the immediate feeling of pleasure or pain arising from the contact of the senses with their objects; and second, the longing for the result which generally provides the incentive for action. The sensations of pleasure and pain, though inevitable, are impermanent; therefore calm souls endure them without becoming distracted. Even when sensations are pleasant one should not be attached to them, because after they disappear one misses them, and if they persist too long one feels bored. As regards the result, it should not be the incentive for action. The illumined person does not work for a result. ‘To the work alone,’ the Bhagavad Gita says, ‘you have the right, never to its fruit. Do not let the fruit of action be your motive; and do not be attached to non-action.’

This is the meaning of the statement that your left hand must not know what your right hand does. Every action, following the causal law, will surely produce its fruit; why long for it? ‘Wretched are they who work for results.’ If an action is done without attachment to its fruit, evenness of mind is sure to follow. Action should be natural and spontaneous, prompted by the exigencies of a situation. When you see a needy person, you should spontaneously help him if you are capable, without taking into consideration what you may gain in return. A karma-yogi may even participate in a war to protect law and order, provided he is unselfish and free from greed and passion.

It is not renunciation of action itself, but renunciation of the longing for the fruit, that is the secret of karma yoga. As long as a man remains conscious of his social obligations or sees wrong being done to others, he cannot remain inactive. It is true that at an advanced stage of spiritual progress one gives up all actions and remains absorbed in contemplation, thereby enjoying real peace. But mere abstention from action is not spiritual non-action, which is experienced when one forgets oneself in the contemplation of God.

‘He who restrains the organs of action but continues to dwell mentally on the objects of the senses deludes himself and is called a hypocrite.’

[Note: From the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 3, verse 6.

“He who, restraining the organs of action, sits thinking of the sense objects in mind, he of deluded understanding is called a hypocrite.”]

Therefore, for an active mind, it is positively harmful to renounce obligatory action on the false pretext of cultivating the attitude of non-action. Furthermore, the relinquishment of duty for fear of inflicting physical suffering upon oneself or others does not bring about the desired fruit of spiritual non-action. One must not shun a duty because it is disagreeable, nor become attached to it because it is agreeable. But if an active person cheerfully performs a duty because it is to be done, and renounces all attachment to its result, he obtains the fruit of renunciation, namely, inner peace.

Hinduism recommends total renunciation of the world for the attainment of the highest good. But true monastic life, however desirable, is not easy; genuine monks are few and far between, and false monks are a real nuisance to society. Therefore Hinduism asks average men to perform their duties as householders and at the same time preserve the spirit of renunciation. What is needed is not renunciation of action, but renunciation in action. The ordinary duties of life should not be abhorred, but selfishness must be suppressed.

The eighteenth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita explains various factors of karma-yoga, such as knowledge, the doer, understanding, firmness, and happiness. The doer’s knowledge, without which he cannot perform any voluntary action, should be characterized by an all-embracing sense of unity in the midst of diversity. Likewise, the doer himself should be free from attachment and egotism, endowed with fortitude and zeal, and unruffled by success or failure. Right understanding is that by which he can discriminate between good and evil, bondage and liberation, work and rest. Right firmness is accompanied by unswerving concentration and control of the mind and senses. Right happiness may be like ‘poison’ at first but is like ‘nectar’ in the end; it is born of direct self-knowledge and acquired by steady practice.

[Note: From the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 18, verse 37.

“That which is like poison at first but in the end like nectar- that pleasure is declared to be Satvic, born of the purity of one’s own mind due to Self-realisation.]

And lastly, action itself, in order to have a spiritual meaning, should have a bearing upon the social welfare and be performed without attachment and aversion.

To summarize the secrets of karma yoga:

First, give up brooding over the fruit of action. Brooding begets attachment; attachment, the desire to possess; frustrated desire, anger; anger, delusion; delusion, self-forgetfulness; and self-forgetfulness brings about ultimate destruction.

Second, do not be a beggar. Give all you can but never ask for the fruit. It is not work that wears one out but constant thinking about its fruit.

Third, pay as much attention to the details of work as to its ultimate goal. Once you have a mental picture of the glorious goal you expect to attain, you may for the time being drop it from your thought and be busy about the dreary details. Idealize the real, then you will realize the ideal. The real cause of failure in our various undertakings is to be found most often in our carelessness about the details.

Fourth, one should remember that there is no such thing as a perfect action; every action contains an element of perfection, just as fire contains smoke; the imperfect element of the action cannot affect the doer if he is totally unselfish. A judge, in condemning a criminal to death, does not incur sin.

From what has been said it will be noticed that one can practise karma yoga without believing in a conventional religion or God, or adhering to any creed. Simply through unselfish action one can gradually attain to the state of inner peace and freedom which is reached by a religious devotee through love of God or by a mystic through contemplation. ‘Be good and do good’ seems to be the essence of the teaching of Buddha, who cut himself away from the dogmas and creeds of the popular Hinduism of his time. But the goal is more easily reached by average persons if their actions are inspired by certain religious beliefs make non-attachment easier to practise.

Broadly speaking there are two kinds of religion: one, the dualistic, associated with the Personal God, and the other, the non-dualistic with impersonal reality, though it may be argued that the latter cannot properly be called religion. Dualists aim at self-realization through philosophical discrimination. Action performed in the right spirit can help both dualistic and non-dualistic aspirants to realize their respective ideals.

Dualists should realize that God alone is the real doer, and that man is an instrument in His hand. They should work for God’s satisfaction, and see God in all living beings. Service to men is a form of worship. A devotee of God feels blessed that God has chosen him as one of His instruments. To him success or failure is beside the point. He considers himself a sword in God’s hand, and lets God use him in any manner He likes. He feels a joy in being made, a joy in being used, a joy in being broken, and a joy in being finally thrown aside after his mission is fulfilled. As a result of selfless action, the devotee’s heart is purified. It becomes free of ego, lust, and greed. The pure man sees in his own heart, and in the hearts of others as well, vivid reflections of God. ‘He treats all beings alike and attains supreme devotion to God.’ Infinite compassion flows from his universal heart. The Lord says in the Bhagavad Gita: ‘By devotion he knows Me, knows what in truth I am and who I am. Then, having known Me in truth, he forthwith enters into Me.’

A follower of non-dualism, too, can attain self-realization through action. At the outset he should practise discrimination between the Self and the non-self. He should realize that the Self is the immortal spirit, the serene witness of the activities of the non-self, whereas the non-self, consisting of the body, sense organs, mind, and ego is the doer, the instrument of action, and the enjoyer of fruit. The Self is the unchanging infinite, and the non-self the mutable finite. It is obvious that the Self and the non-self, spirit and matter, are as different from each other as light and darkness. Yet on account of Maya the Self identifies itself with the non-self and regards itself as both the actor and the enjoyer of the fruit of action. Thus the pure and the ever free Self becomes a victim of the pleasure and pain of the phenomenal world. The goal of non-dualistic spiritual discipline is to separate the Self from the non-self and to enable it to realise itself as the witness of the activities of the non-self.

A non–dualist practising karma yoga should perform work in the light of discrimination between the Self and the non-self. He should keep in mind that though a deluded person thinks he is the doer, it is really the non-self, which is the agent, the instrument of action, and the enjoyer of the fruit. The sensations of pleasure and pain, through contact with agreeable and disagreeable objects, are natural for the senses. The wise man remains the witness of their appearance and disappearance without coming under their control. To him all actions are the ‘preoccupation of the senses with their objects,’ of nature with nature, of gunas with the gunas. (Guna is quality born of nature: Read page ‘Satttwa, Rajas and Tamas’).

The Self or spirit, by its proximity, animates insentient nature and itself look on as one unconcerned. It acts like a lamp, whose light enables a man to perform either a good or a bad deed and experience an appropriate result, while remaining itself the unconcerned witness. ’”I do nothing at all,” thinks the non-dualist, for in seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and tasting; in walking, breathing, and sleeping; in speaking, emitting, and seizing; in opening and closing the eyes- he is assured that it is only the senses that are busied with their objects.’ Working without attachment, he remains ‘untouched by sin, as a lotus leaf by water.’ He thus dwells happily in the body, the ‘city of nine gates,’ neither working nor causing work to be done, though outwardly appearing to be active. He sees non-action in action. Even when the body and mind are intensely active, he sees the Self as the actionless spirit immersed in peace; this is the real non-action of an illumined soul.

The result of such discipline is purity and serenity of mind. The man of pure mind engages in hearing about the Self, reasoning about the Self, and lastly, contemplating the Self with unwavering devotion. In the depths of contemplation, he realizes his inner spirit as identical with the supreme spirit of the universe. He experiences the oneness of existence. ‘With the heart concentrated by yoga, viewing all things with equal regard, he beholds himself in all beings and all beings in himself.’

The enlightened person sees God manifested both as the One and as the many. He communes with the One in the silence of meditation, and with the many through work. Thus to him the farmyard, the laboratory, the battlefield, or the market is as proper a place for communion with God as the temple, the cloister, the mountain cave, or the monk’s cell. But this lofty attitude cannot be maintained unless a person has become firmly rooted in the oneness of existence.

Karma yoga can be an effective spiritual discipline for persons who seek knowledge of God or knowledge of the Self. The result in either case is purification of the mind, followed by love of God or knowledge of the Self. In the final stage all actions drop away, and the devotees are completely absorbed in their respective ideals. For a dualist there remains a slight distinction between himself and God, though the ordinary notion of ego associated with the idea of possessiveness has been transcended. In self-realization complete unity is experienced. Afterwards both the dualist and the non-dualist can resume their outer activities for the welfare of the world. Even then they practise daily communion with God or with the Self. Christ, after his hard work of spiritual ministration during the day, retired in the evening from the multitude to commune with his Heavenly Father. As the lives of illumined souls have been completely transformed by the knowledge of truth, their actions are free from the slightest trace of selfishness. It is such actions that confer lasting blessings upon mankind.

(By Swami Nikhilananda
Sri Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore)