About the Book
Conversations on the Science of Yoga is an encyclopedic series presenting the vast, timeless culture of yoga topic by topic through the voice of three generations of masters - Swami Sivananda Saraswati, Swami Satyananda Saraswati and Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati. The teachings are given in question and answer format with the inclusion of verses from the scriptures, connecting the modern experience with the classical tradition.
Karma Yoga Book I: Karma introduce the vast field of karma yoga, laying a foundation for understanding the more specific aspects addressed in subsequent volume. Karma is clearly presented in its many manifestations and mysteries. How to accept and live in harmony with karma is simply and practically explained, enabling a conscious relationship with karma to unfold. Included are: meaning and origins of karma; laws and classifications of karma; understanding samskara; and karma in the Bhagavad Gita.
Through the wisdom of these masters, a complete understating of karma yoga and a vision for its application in the modern era is interpreted for yoga aspirants around the world.
Conversations on the Science of Yoga is an encyclopedic series which brings together the collected teachings of two generations of masters - Swami Sivananda Saraswati of Rishikesh and Swami Satyananda Saraswati of Munger. Satsangs given by Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati on his numerous national and international tours also provide the answers to many questions on this vast subject. These luminaries represent a living tradition in which the eternal knowledge and wisdom of yoga has been passed from guru to disciple in a dynamic continuum from the early twentieth century to the first decades of the twenty-first century.
The series consists of sets of books which present the vast, timeless culture of yoga topic by topic, in question and answer format. In this way, complex and profound subjects such as karma yoga, hatha yoga and bhakti yoga, are presented in clear, simple language. These conversations on yoga reflect an ancient and enduring approach to the transmission of wisdom, in which spiritual aspirants seek answers to their questions at the feet of the guru. Many of the answers also include verses from the various relevant scriptures, connecting the modern experience with the classical tradition. It is through the lives and teachings of the masters that the scriptures are correctly and intuitively interpreted for each generation, ensuring that the light of these revelations continues to illumine and inspire the hearts and minds of all who aspire for spiritual upliftment.
Conversations on the Science of Yoga has been compiled from the rich archive of satsangs and writings, both published and unpublished, which is held at the Bihar School of Yoga, Munger. The organization of this material into the major branches of yoga and related topics creates a unique interpretation of the classical yogic sciences for the benefit of humanity in the modern era. Deeply founded in tradition, the teachings are both systematic and practical, addressing the needs of individuals and society at a time when adjustment to constant change is placing unprecedented pressure on people all over the world.
The Bihar Yoga tradition
Bihar School of Yoga is ideally placed to produce this major contribution to yogic literature. Founded in 1963 by Swami Satyananda Saraswati, the system known in India as Bihar Yoga and internationally as Satyananda Yoga, seamlessly integrates all facets of the yogic tradition, including the various branches of yoga, the philosophies which are fundamental to the yogic culture and the dynamism of self-realized preceptors which ensures that the teachings remain fresh and relevant in any age. This all-inclusive approach means that yogic practices are available as tools for holistic life management, while other vidyas, spiritual "sciences, such as Tantra, Vedanta and Samkhya provide a broad philosophical base. Emerging from this living tradition, Conversations on the Science of yoga is a unique and precious offering to humanity.
Swami Sivananda Saraswati (1887-1963)
Swami Sivananda was a towering spiritual force in the yogic renaissance which developed in India in the first half of the twentieth century. After serving as a doctor in Malaya, he returned to India to pursue his spiritual aspirations, and in 1924 was initiated into Dashnami sannyasa in Rishikesh. He founded the Divine Life Society, toured India extensively, wrote hundreds of books and inspired thousands around the world to practise yoga and lead a divine life. Swami Sivananda's eightfold path of yoga - serve, love, give, purify, do good, be good, meditate, realize - expresses his philosophy of service to humanity and continues to guide the work of the Bihar School of Yoga.
The system of karma yoga has grown out of the concept of karma, hence, understanding the nature of karma is a foundation for the effective practice of karma yoga, the theme of this Conversations series. While the concept of karma and its various levels of meaning is embedded in the culture of the East, in recent decades the word has entered the global vocabulary, filling a vacuum in both thought and language. Since the mid-twentieth century, there has been an international explosion of interest in the philosophies and understandings associated with the idea of karma; but although the idea has definitely arrived in foreign lands, the word 'karma' tends to be used in an oversimplified way. People talk of 'good karma' when something positive happens or is done, and 'bad karma' when there is a negative experience or action. Another common interpretation is to blame difficulties on karma in a way that shifts responsibility from the present to the past. By contrast, the spiritual culture of India has an ancient and powerful connection with the layers of meaning inherent in the word and the implications of these in daily life. It is the profound depth and importance expressed by this small word that Karma yoga Book 1: Karma explores and explains.
Life's great questions
The idea of cause and effect, which is inherent in the concept of karma, ultimately takes one back and back and back to contemplation of the original cause; discussing the original cause inevitably leads to questions about the nature of the universe; and thinking about the nature of the universe seems to be a path to wondering about the purpose of the individual within that vastness. Many find themselves lost in such circles of possibility. When one is lost, one seeks a guide. But who is qualified for the task?
These complex, often overwhelming but repeatedly asked questions, can only be answered by spiritual luminaries, for they alone have the ability to both penetrate the nature of such things, and express their understanding in a clear and useful way. In Karma, the seeker is ably guided by Swami Sivananda, Swami Satyananda and Swami Niranjanananda as they systematically map out the intricacies of the journey, flawlessly connecting the individual with the universal in a continuum of knowledge from ancient to modern times, as reflected by quotes from classic I scriptures, such as the Bhagavad Gita, the Ramayana and t e Holy Bible.
A map to follow
As the book progresses, one is taken from the big picture, involving overall definition, origins, and laws of the universe, to the finer points of a system which the Indian philosophical traditions have spelled out in remarkable detail. Karma is based on well-defined laws and classifications which have been discovered and validated by seers and sages throughout history. Swami Satyananda puts it succinctly: "The vedic seers created a technology of karma. They divided the karmas into categories in order to dispenses with them in a systematic manner." This thorough examination of the categories of karma gives a structure for understanding karma at a number of levels. Within this structure, the fivefold karmas look at the nature of action itself; for example, the nitya karmas are the actions of daily life, such as washing and eating, while the kamya karmas are actions done for selfish reasons and Nishiddha karmas are prohibited actions. Another grouping divides karma into three types according to its maturity. Swami Satyananda compares these to seeds at different stages: "All these units are put into three compartments for the time being: sanchita, the karmas in the storeroom, kriyamana, the karmas being sown in the field, and prarabdha, the karmas being harvested." Other methods of classifying karma are discussed, with the perspectives and interpretations from the three generations of masters providing seekers with- a map through the maze, showing how life is an intricate chain of cause and effect.
With these details of the overall concept in place, the journey takes a dive into the individual psyche via a close look at samskaras, the numberless impressions or archetypes that are embedded in the subconscious and unconscious layers of one's being. Every impression acquired through the senses is stored in the form of an archetype. These samskaras determine how one perceives, acts and behaves, and what one strives for in life. According to Swami Niranjanananda, "Samskaras are the impressions which form the conditioning of one's nature to react or respond in a certain way." The teachings in Karma guide the aspirant towards consciousness of the samskaras, an essential part of karma yoga, which is the practice, method and means to becoming aware of these hidden building blocks of life. Through awareness, one then develops the ability to manage their impact on the experience of life. Dealing with the influence of the samskaras is a skill that can be learned; once it is mastered, one is no longer a slave of the karmas and conditionings, and in this state of freedom, obstacles on the spiritual path dissolve.
The Bhagavad Gita is the story of a great warrior prince who is filled with doubt and delusion at the pivotal moment of his life. On the verge of launching a terrible but inevitable war, he gives way to despair and surrenders himself to the guidance of his divine charioteer, Sri Krishna. According to Swami Satyananda, "Only one topic is discussed in the Bhagavad Gita from the first chapter to the end of the eighteenth chapter: how to perform karma, how to express oneself totally, how to use karma for the evolution of the mind and the improvement of one's situations in life, and how to make karma a tool of yoga." The Bhagavad Gila is the most pointed scripture available on karma and karma yoga. The final chapter of Karma gives a glimpse into the contribution of the Bhagavad Gila on this topic, confirming the need for guidance from those with authority and refined wisdom. If even the great Prince Arjuna lost his way, how much more do the people of today, with limited exposure and learning about the nature and role of karma in life, need instruction and explanation from the seers of our time?
Karma provides the foundation for understanding the essence and substance of one's interactions in and with life, the purpose of it all and the means to make life a more harmonious and creative expression of one's highest potential. These understandings give the reader a firm foundation for further study and application of the knowledge to daily life, most directly through the practice of karma yoga. Karma launches the seeker on the transformative journey of karma yoga, shifting the starting point far from the limited, fatalistic idea of karma that is so widespread, into an expansive and beautiful concept of personal evolution. The responsibility for exploring that evolution belongs with each individual, as Swami Sivananda patiently explains: "Everyone learns lessons in this world and evolves.
God is only a witness. An individual has intellect and free will but out of his egoism does actions according to his own sweet will and reaps the fruits of evil actions. One can attain perfection and immortality through long struggle. When purity increases by practising virtuous actions, one becomes divine. God is not responsible."
Karma Yoga Book 2: Experience of Life is an in-depth journey into the eternal questions of existence. What is the cause and role of desire? Can suffering be overcome? What is the relationship between pain and evolution I How can disease be understood! Are we driven by destiny or freewill? Understanding these themes provides a framework for practising karma yoga, which views life as an opportunity for spiritual evolution. Karma yoga encourages conscious, positive interaction with life as a way of connecting with one's deepest nature, which is spirit. Through the wisdom of these masters, a complete understanding of karma yoga and a vision for its application in the modern era is interpreted for yoga aspirants around the world.
It is said that the human birth is difficult to attain, that it is precious and that even the gods desire it. Why? Because it is only through the human birth that one can consciously evolve, ultimately transcending the limited nature through self-realization. And yet, the experience of life is complex, often painful and fraught with duality. The desire for happiness drives and motivates actions and decisions about how to spend one's days and years, yet pain and suffering seem to regularly intervene. Peace of mind is elusive, contentment is short-lived, and underlying anxieties, disturbances and frustrations continually return, even when one's external life is safe and prosperous. How can suffering be overcome? If God is all-powerful and all-loving, why is there so much pain? If the purpose of life is self-realization, why is everyone so removed from that state? Is everything predestined or can the individual direct the course of his life? The philosophers and thinkers have much to say, yet the questions, theories and problems continue.
The yogic culture, being essentially practical, takes the matter beyond philosophy, offering a solution which is at once pragmatic and deeply intelligent. This solution provides a practical system in which life itself becomes a method of yoga, a sadhana for evolution, a process that transforms mundane activities into opportunities for transformation. That system is known as karma yoga, the yoga of action.
The role of karma yoga
Karma yoga is the yoga that can be practiced all day, whatever one is doing or involved with. The drama of life provides the materials for the practice: just as salt and water are needed for shatkarmas, and a peaceful place for practicing pranayama or meditation, the events of life are needed for practicing karma yoga.
In the process of practicing karma yoga, one's interaction with life is examined and attempts are made to understand and manage the mental fluctuations and reactions. This inevitably brings one face to face with two universal aspects in the experience of life: the play of desire and the presence of suffering. The spiritual culture of India gives much attention to the roles of desire and suffering, placing a great deal of importance on how they are dealt with. It could even be said that from a spiritual point of view, one's management of desire and suffering determine the outcome of life. It is the view of many spiritual traditions that wise handling of desire is the key to liberation from duality, which is seen as the source of suffering. It is apt, therefore, that Karma yoga Book 2: Experience of Life presents a close 100 at the wisdom of three modern yogic masters on these topics. In question and answer format, Swami Sivananda, Swami Satyananda and Swami Niranjanananda explain complex ideas in simple terms and show how these driving forces in life can be used to further one's evolution and growth towards spiritual maturity.
The controversy of desire
Desire is a controversial subject. While many philosophies say that bliss comes when desires are eliminated, society is obsessed with promoting them as a source of happiness. The consumer culture, which is fast becoming global, is based on constant and continual craving, both for material items and gratifying experiences. Many people do not know any other way of being in the world; they are completely caught up in a self-centered existence, based on the fulfilment of desires and devoid of skill in dealing with pain when it comes. In spite of the attractions of a life spent chasing desires, it is fundamentally flawed, as the gratifications are short-lived, the desires can never all be fulfilled, and the inner life is neglected. Change, however, often comes in the form of a crisis, and a search for a new way of experiencing life begins. At such a time, karma yoga offers a path to gradually balancing the outer and inner lives. It does not advocate denial of desire or denial of suffering. It accepts human nature and simply says, become aware, become a witness, observe oneself and see what happens next.
The method of karma yoga is to use the attributes of the human birth as the mans to lifting oneself to higher levels of consciousness: the characteristics that so often pull one down need to be purified, not denied. Desires can be pure and. impure, blindly followed or managed. The energy of desires can be squandered in sensual living or sublimated and channelled for spiritual purposes. Swami Satyananda realistically advises, "Instead of trying to eliminate or avoid desires, it is better to change the quality of the desire." As one progresses on the spiritual path, the nature of desire changes and desires as one knows them gradually drop away. According to Swami Niranjanananda, "In yoga, desires are not just blindly followed, but rather used to uplift the personality. The only indication that exists in yoga to measure the progress of spiritual development is the reduction of desires. As one evolves spiritually, the desires become fewer and fewer." This process is facilitated by the practice of karma yoga.
Suffering as a path to liberation
No one wants suffering. Yet the yogis say that suffering should be welcomed, not rejected. Pain and evolution, they say, go hand in hand. Swami Sivananda is straightforward about this, declaring that, "Misery is a blessing in disguise. Misery is the eye-opener in this world. Every suffering, every pain, every adversity moulds one little by little into the image of God." This can be a difficult concept to grasp; common notions are being turned on their head: the desires, the things that appear to bring happiness, are to be reduced, while suffering, a state of pain, is to be welcomed. Experience of Life looks at suffering from a number of angles, bringing helpful perspectives to this important but confusing aspect of living. What are the causes of suffering? What is the relationship between pain and evolution? How should ill health and disease be understood? What is the yogic approach to crisis?
Quotes from scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Vasishtha, Ramayana and the Holy Bible, as well as verses from the mystic poets, Mirabai and Kabir Das, lend their timeless resonance to the words of the modern seers. For example, in the Bhagavad Gita (6:23), Sri Krishna advises Arjuna:
Let severance from union with pain be known by the name of yoga. This yoga should be practiced with determination and with a non-despondent mind.
Thus he explains that it is identification with suffering and a weak mind that cause pain, declaring yoga to be the way out of that state.
Destiny and free will
When people suffer, they often wonder what they did to cause such misfortune. They wonder if it could have been avoided or was it their destiny, and therefore out of their hands? If fate or destiny prevails in life, then what of free will? What can be done to improve one's lot if all is predestined? Experience of Life investigates these questions of destiny and free will from the yogic point of view, including the place of astrology. The concept of karma is intimately connected with ideas about destiny and free will. Karma is often taken to mean that every occurrence in life is predestined due to deeds done in past lives. On closer inspection, however, this is not logical, as free will must have prevailed in the doing of those past deeds. Far from being a fatalistic theory, Swami Sivananda states that, "The doctrine of karma is diametrically opposed to the doctrine of fatalism. Rather, it is an incentive to act in order to better one's condition as it presupposes freedom of will. Freedom is the essence of karma, which gives opportunities for growth and evolution."
This freedom is fundamental to the practice of karma yoga, which is based on the belief that one can move beyond conditioned reactions so that behaviors and actions are conscious and performed without attachment. By performing action without attachment or identification with them, one does not accumulate further karmas from those actions. This simply means that one's mind is free of entanglements arising from actions and interactions. The responsibility rests with the individual to manage their desires, to learn from suffering, to discover how to base thought and action on a higher level of knowing, and so gradually bring oneself into alignment with the divine nature. The experience of life can only become a pathway to liberation when it becomes a conscious process, so that choices can be made with awareness and discrimination.
The philosophy of karma yoga is an optimistic one, viewing life as a platform and opportunity for upliftment. It says that through conscious and selfless management of life's experiences, one can not only have success at the worldly level, but also connect with one's deepest nature, which is spirit. In this way, through the process of life, harmony between the external and inner lives is attained.
Karma Yoga Book 3: Samsara, delves into the unknown dimension dying, death the afterlife, reincarnation, liberation, and the relationship between human effort and divine grace. The mystery of spirit and life beyond the material has obsessed the human psyche throughout history. Traditionally the realm of religion and philosophy, Samsara explores these themes from the yogic point of view, offering an approach to life that is affirming, uplifting, and guided by the profound knowledge of saints and sages.
Through the wisdom of these masters, a complete understanding of karma yoga and a vision for its application in the modern era is interpreted for yoga aspirants around the world.
It is said in the spiritual traditions that life is preparation for death. The opposite attitude is seen in materialistic belief systems in which death represents the ultimate loss. The great question mark punctuating the after-death state has always filed the topic of death clearly in the philosophy and religion folder. What happens after death is forever unknown and therefore brimming with possibilities - as such it is the domain of thinkers, of mystics, of revelation and ritual. In the words of Swami Niranjanananda, "The unknown is on both sides of birth and death; after death is the experience of the unknown and before birth also is the experience of the unknown." The human mind plays endlessly with this situation, responding in a multitude of ways to the process of dying, the experience of the spirit after death, and the relationship of the living with the dead.
Fear of death
In raja yoga, Sage Patanjali identifies fear of death as one of the five kleshas, or afflictions which cause human suffering. The fear of death is often expressed by clinging to life, a theme that has persisted across the ages in the quest for eternal youth. In modern times medical science has become increasingly caught up in this klesha. Cosmetic surgery is now commonly used to hide the evidence of ageing, while drugs and other forms of medical intervention are used to prolong life. This continues, even when the physical state leaves one dependent on others for basic needs and the quality of life declines significantly. The terminally ill or injured may be kept indefinitely alive by life support systems and some people even arrange to have their body preserved, hoping that science will find a way of restoring life. Ongoing medical developments are causing much thinking and social debate about the issue; for example, people are starting to face the possibility of extended old age, with all its attendant emotional, economic and social consequences. The question is being asked, is this what we really want?
In the West there has been a concurrent decline in religious observance. Consequently the beliefs and rituals that supported the process of death and dying have been lost by many. The undertaker is called rather than the priest, the clinical chapels of funeral parlours are replacing churches, and homogenous lawn cemeteries are taking the place of graveyards. In this brave new world, the subject is hidden and avoided, dying has become a medical procedure and death is taken care of by business people. Modernity is taking the soul out of death. By contrast, the though s and wisdom in Samsara are rich with profound beauty and eternal meaning. The need for this knowledge has never been greater. In a world obsessed by economics and scientific validation, the quest for understanding the deeply spiritual events of birth and death needs to be returned to those whose vision and knowledge are transcendental. In Samsara, three self-realized masters, Swami Sivananda, Swami. Satyananda and Swami Niranjanananda, answer questions about these mysteries with grace and insight, providing comfort and giving courage amidst the confusion and denial that is prevalent in secular society.
Rites of passage
The observation of rites of passage during transitions through life's various stages is universal in traditional cultures. The ceremonies and rituals are many and varied, but they all acknowledge that life is sacred and that times of change need the grace of a higher power to smooth the way. This deep social wisdom is being replaced in spiritually impoverished societies by expensive counselling sessions and seminars on change management. By contrast, traditional systems were community based and steeped in cultural expression. Swami Satyananda puts it in terms everyone can understand, "When somebody dies one must sing and dance, because one is responsible for the atmosphere all around." Prayer, chanting, song, dance, gathering, symbolism, worship, celebration, giving, feasting and fasting are all used to mark times of transition.
In Samsara, the Indian rituals surrounding dying and death are described. Their role for both the living and the departed is explained. Swami Niranjanananda tells us, "Thirteen days after the death, the ritual of shraaddha is performed. Shraaddha means the showing of gratitude to the departed person in order to help his spirit overcome the attachments of family and desire."
Belief in the continuity of the spirit is inherent in all such rituals. If the spirit continues, where does it dwell? What about heaven and hell? Are there other dimensions of existence? According to the yogic culture, there are other planes of existence, known as lokas. Remarkable detail about these lokas, and about the stages the spirit goes through on its journey towards eventual liberation from the cycle of birth and death is revealed in Samsara. According to Swami Satyananda, "Life is continuous and eternal; death is only a full stop before the next sentence."
The scriptures are an essential source on these fields of knowledge which are beyond mundane knowing. Bhagavad Gila, Manusmriti, Ramayana, Yoga Vasishtha and others summon the voice of the ancients into the twenty-first century, reminding us that a continuum of wisdom is part of the human heritage, regardless of time and place. The Ramayana (Ayodhyakanda, 23: 16) speaks directly about fate and effort:
He who is cowardly and powerless trusts in fate. The valiant, who are possessed of a strong mind, never seek shelter in fate.
Having delved thoroughly into these eternal mysteries of the soul, one is left wondering about the descent of grace as we traverse the lifetimes on the earthly plane. Are we alone, is it all dependent on individual effort and will? Or can the most subtle of experiences, that of divine grace, be a reality in anyone's life? These questions about the intersection of human effort and divine grace are answered in the final chapter of Samsara, bringing this vast topic to a gentle conclusion. Swami Sivananda tells us that, "Human effort and divine grace are interconnected," that each attracts the other. Swami Niranjanananda brings a fresh angle to the same idea, "Once excellence comes into life, once life is infused with positive qualities, positive thoughts, actions and behaviour, one becomes the recipient of God's grace." And Swami Satyananda speaks personally of his life and how he came to the conclusion that, "Nothing happens without God's grace. Whatever I received was through God's grace, not my own. God's grace is required. You need His grace, and in order to receive His grace, you have to be innocent, like a child."
Karma Yoga Book 4: Action with a purpose introduce the concept of karma yoga, an approach to life which is based on the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita given by Sri Krishna and the experiences of sages past and present. The karma yogi is inspired to maintain happiness and harmony within the complexities of everyday life. With the attitude and practice of karma yoga life is embraced with joy and arms wide open, using every experience as a stepping stone for inner transformation and spiritual growth. This yogic approach to life is illumined in relation to other branches and practices of yoga, ashram life, sannyasa, one’s involvement in the world and commitment to the spiritual journey.
Karma yoga is invisible yoga. Yet it is the yoga that must pervade all activity, if yoga is to be lived. Karma yoga is a way of being in the world that must become the substratum of conscious living, if the goals of spiritual life are to be realized. This applies to householders and sannyasins alike. Swami Satyananda placed great value on karma yoga, saying, "Karma yoga is the most important aspect of yoga in one's life. Life itself becomes yoga. Day-to-day work is yoga. The field is vast and inviting. Let the thrill and quiver of karma yoga transform all activities in life." Karma Yoga Book 4: Action with a Purpose, explores and explains the meaning of this dynamic, multi-faceted branch of yoga, inspiring aspirants to immerse themselves in its practice, and experience the subtle, ongoing transformation of daily life into a sacred act.
What is karma yoga? This question is often asked, and the replies are many and varied. It is a form of yoga that cannot be codified or superficially practiced, it cannot be taught in a classroom, or realized in meditation. It is possibly the most elusive, yet the most fundamental aspect of yogic culture, as with the perfection of karma yoga, every thought, act and deed is infused with freedom. The meaning of karma is 'action', so in simple terms, it is the yoga of action: when actions become imbued with yogic qualities, they become karma yoga. Actions must constantly be performed in life; hence, the practice of karma yoga transforms every moment into sadhana.
To develop such a way of life, understanding must be combined with experience. That understanding is comprehensively presented in this volume by a lineage of three modern masters who have lived the concept themselves and guided many thousands of aspirants on the path. A rare continuity of thought and wisdom shines through their words, as their personal experience of karma yoga is connected through the guru-disciple relationship. From Swami Sivananda to Swami Satyananda, and from Swami Satyananda to Swami Niranjanananda, they have learned one from the other, with humility, grace and ceaseless effort. Through their relationships, a dimension is added to this compilation that is not only unique, but also compellingly beautiful. From the brilliance of their own practice, these masters have become role models for generations of devotees, inspiring by example, as well as through satsang. Their explanations of the meaning and purpose of karma yoga flow from their minds as a natural outcome of their lives. This lived wisdom is underpinned by references to scriptures such as Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Vasishtha, Ishavasya Upanishad and the Holy Bible, merging ancient revelation with the needs of the present day.
The importance of karma yoga was recognized by Swami Sivananda, whose concept of integral yoga dissolved the boundaries dividing the branches of karma, bhakti, jnana, hatha and raja yoga. As a disciple, and later as a guru, this understanding was imbibed and developed by Swami Satyananda, who spread the idea of karma yoga around the world. Integral yoga, a hallmark of Satyananda Yoga, is described in Action with a Purpose, as it looks at the role of karma yoga in other yogas, and also in other traditions.
In the Bhagavad Gita, regarded as the most important scriptural source on karma yoga, Sri Krishna expresses this need for a variety of approaches, giving the essence of jnana, bhakti and raja yoga, yet always r turning to karma yoga. His logic is simple: action is inevitable in life, therefore transform action into a spiritual path. The idea of karma yoga is present in other faiths and philosophies, but it is the yogic tradition that has consciously analyzed and evolved its potential, taking it to a high level of sophistication and perfection.
Sannyasins and householders
The role of karma yoga in sannyasa and ashram life is vital; karma yoga is a major tool of the guru in the training of disciples. Personal stories from Swami Satyananda and Swami Niranjanananda bring fresh insight into how karma yoga is used by the guru to cut through the karmas of the disciples. Swami Niranjan's words summarize the power of karma yoga in sannyasa: "My achievement is not a result of practicing meditation. My achievement is because I was taught to confront and face the situations arising in the mind. That is the practical training which I have received, not the meditative training. This training given by the guru is karma yoga."
The Satyananda Yoga tradition makes it clear that karma yoga is not only for sannyasins in ashrams but should be applied in daily life by householders. This is also the message of the Bhagavad Gita, in which Arjuna is told that renunciation is not necessary or beneficial for him - he needs to maintain his role as a leader and perform his duties without attachment and with an even mind. Sri Krishna gives the message of karma yoga in a single verse: Perform action, o Arjuna, being steadfast in yoga, abandoning attachment and balanced in success and failure! Evenness of mind is called yoga.
Involvement in life
A debate about the role of action (karma) runs like a thread through Indian spiritual traditions - should karma be performed or renounced? From the times of the Vedas and Upanishads until the present day, the dialogue has continued, as the greatest thinkers and seers continue to be asked the question. This dilemma is the starting point of the Bhagavad Gita and is addressed by Sage Vasishtha in his teachings to Sri Rama. The controversy about the effects of action and inaction has stimulated detailed analysis of the matter, becoming the catalyst for the idea of karma yoga, and over time, the refining of the concept and its application to spiritual training.
The method of karma yoga is life affirming. In karma yoga there is no room for escapism or intellectualizing spirituality: full involvement without attachment is the art of karma yoga. Whatever one is doing, the internal process is the key to change. Rather than rejecting life, Swami Satyananda declares, "There must be a balance between excessive worldly interest and activity, and over-introspection. One must try to integrate the paths of extroversion and introversion. Great yogis, saints and sages throughout history expressed themselves in the outside world."
Action with a Purpose clarifies the meaning and significance of karma yoga within yogic culture. It shows how karma yoga provides a way of interacting with life that infuses every moment with dynamism, positivity and potential, taking everyday tasks and relationships beyond the mundane. With the practice of karma yoga, one's whole experience of life shifts into another dimension - gradually, the reactions and samskaras are recognized and managed, contentment, steadiness and strength of mind unfold, and the sattwic nature emerges.
Karma Yoga Book 5: Expressions of the Mind gives insight into the role of karma yoga for managing and purifying the mind, explaining how internal conflicts and challenges of daily life can be tackled with a new way of thinking as the limitations of the ego are transcended. Expectations and attitudes mould thoughts, words and behavior. With the attitude of karma yoga, the structure and working of the mind can be understood so that involvement with life becomes full of simplicity, peace and harmony. Once the attitude of the witness is developed the vast potential inherent in everyone is expressed creatively and the experience of meditation in action dawns. The bondage and limitations of conditioning give way to a spiritual awareness which can be cultivated to the point of perfection of serlf-realization.
Karma yoga may appear to be based around external activity, but this is a misconception. The sadhana of karma yoga occurs within the mind. External activity and interactions are the medium for the process of karma yoga, but they are not karma yoga. For a practitioner of karma yoga, the whole world becomes a field for sadhana, and all actions are performed for the sake of the yogic goal, not for their own sake. The yogic goal is to attain a pure state, beyond the conditioned self. Knowing this, the karma yogi sees each and every occasion, great or small, as an opportunity for mental purification.
Swami Sivananda makes this clear when he says, "Karma yoga is the effective sadhana for chitta shuddhi. The performance of actions without an eye on their fruits brings about purification of the mind." Karma Yoga Book 5: Expressions of the Mind, thoroughly explores this aspect of karma yoga, providing a detailed understanding of the relevant themes, from the points of view of three generations of masters who have trod the path, both personally and as guides of countless disciples.
The idea of purifying the mind, of developing immunity from reactions and the impact of situations, of living without identifying with one's thoughts and actions, of moving beyond the limitations of ego and being able to experience each moment as meditation, implies a deep faith in the capacity for human evolvement which is simply absent in most cultural paradigms. The existence of a refined system for accomplishing these high aims reflects the perfected psychology of the yogic tradition, and the unparalleled brilliance of its preceptors. Expressions of the Mind is compiled from material of a calibre arising from both the perfection of the system and the brilliance of the masters.
Renounce the doers hip
The average person experiences life from a self-centred perspective in which they identify unquestioningly with their body, mind and emotions. Functioning from this point of view, each individual is driven by conditioned perceptions and impressions of which they are largely unaware. In this state, a person's attachment to their thoughts, actions and feelings limits creativity by binding them to unconscious patterns of mind and behaviour. They believe that they are the doer, and consequently put pressure on themselves to achieve, to acquire, to enjoy, and to succeed, as this seems to be the path to happiness. However, this type of relationship with life means that when there is misfortune or failure, it is felt in a most personal way, and a cloud of suffering takes over. This way of being is ruled by the dualities, and one swings between likes and dislikes, pleasure and pain, ambition and disappointment, fulfilment and frustration. Karma yoga advocates the opposite approach. It optimistically declares that by letting go of the idea of being the doer and the enjoyer, one also lets go of expectations, ambitions, and t e limitations and disappointments that arise from them. reed from doer ship, one can become an instrument, or channel, through which intuition, or divine will flows. At this level, life becomes purely creative, as the mind opens and expands beyond its conditioned nature, allowing perception to become objective. Swami Satyananda clearly connects this attitude with karma yoga, saying, "One should not identify the ego with the situations, one should think, 'I am only an instrument, an agent; I am not the doer.' This is the spirit of karma yoga."
Facing the ego is an inevitable part of practising karma yoga. In the beginning, people don't really k ow what their ego is, or how it colours all that they think, feel and do. When yoga is adopted as a method for maturing and evolving the personality, awareness of the ego principle, or sense of 'l-ness', gradually develops. Recognition of the role of ego in one's reactions, feelings and obsessions, is part of the process of karma yoga. Without this, there is no karma yoga. The ego is the greatest obstacle to spiritual progress, as its power is usually disguised in the form of strong emotions or thinking patterns that dominate the psyche. Its ways are tricky and an expert in ego management is needed. The guru is that expert, and those who place themselves in the hands of a guru must be prepared for egodectomy.
Swami Niranjanananda aptly describes the ultimate need for a guru in dealing with the ego: "The yogis say that the final hurdle to cross in the process of self- realization is the ego. One doesn't need a guru to learn practices, but a guru becomes necessary to help overcome this last obstacle, the ego. The guru channels the ego and changes its direction. This process is called egodectomy." Paradoxically, with the reduction and channelling of ego, one does not lose one's self or become ineffective and unmotivated. To the contrary, such a person gains on all levels, as they have overcome the limitations of the small self, and merged with universal consciousness.
As progress is made on the path of karma yoga, peace of mind grows. Immunity to the dualities of life develops. The influence of the ups and downs, successes and failures, satisfactions and disappointments, reduces in intensity. The mind experiences a quiet, clear state: this is the attainment of purity. An effortless quality pervades such a person's actions and interactions, as their energy is used with perfect efficiency and effectiveness, and they are able to flow with circumstances, always adapting to the moment. Such a person is unfettered by inner struggle or conflict - the mind, emotions, energy and ego are managed, and as a result the barriers to higher states of knowing dissolve. During this stage of evolution, meditation in action becomes a reality.
When meditation in action is realized, there is an expanded awareness in which one is conscious of the full range of internal and external happenings simultaneously. With this expansion of mind, one's ability and capacity expand and a superior intelligence awakens, enabling excellence in all pursuits. Having rid the mind of the shackles of negativity' and stagnation, its energy is free to connect with the spiritual nature. Instead of being controlled by karma, one becomes the controller of karma and destiny. Remarkably, the entire process of karma yoga which can bring one to this sublime point is based on simply superimposing the attitude of witnessing onto one's daily duties, responsibilities and relationships. Such is the sophisticated psychology of karma yoga that it can take the sincere aspirant from the tamasic grip of the conditioned mind, to freedom of expression through sattwic action.
In Karma Yoga Book 6: For a Better World, karma yoga becomes seva, service to humanity, and worship of the divine in all. Swami Sivananda made the act of helping those in need a systematic path of yoga leading the practitioner to the innermost core of the self. Performing one’s duty wholeheartedly and striving for efficiency and equanimity in all actions is the prerequisite of karma yoga Awareness of the transcendental reality as well as commitment and service to the transcendental reality as well as commitment and service to the immediate environment are not contradictory but go hand-in-hand, leading to a complete life. The world can only change if the individual changes. If practised with sincerity and joy, karma yoga become the most direct way to personal transformation and the foundation on which to build a better world for all.
The meaning, purpose and culmination of yoga is union, or oneness. This union is often thought of in relation to the attainment of samadhi, the profound, mystic state in which the individual experiences a merging with the cosmic nature. There is, however, another concept of oneness in which the interaction of the individual with the world becomes the field for attaining union, as the many practical opportunities in day-to-day living are used for moving beyond the limitations of duality. Swami Sivananda describes this inclusive approach, which is available to everyone without delay, when he says, "Yoga is a way of life, not something that is divorced from life. Yoga is not forsaking action, but efficient performance in the right spirit. Yoga is not running away from home and human habitation, but a process of moulding an attitude to home and society with a new understanding. Yoga is not a turning away from life; it makes life spiritual."
This refreshing view of yoga opens our minds to the possibilities that exist here and now. It is a beautiful vision of life, giving immense value to the entire journey, whilst simultaneously benefiting others. The life lived by each individual affect that of many; hence, each person who strives for positivity and spiritual consciousness uplifts those around them through their actions and interactions. To walk this path a map or system is needed, as a special and particular way of thinking, doing and interacting must be cultivated. Karma yoga provides the map, showing how to use action as a means to integrate yoga into every moment while remaining involved in daily affairs. Karma 10ga Book 6: For a Better World explains how the sadhana of karma yoga is refined through the development of non-attachment, the ability to act with efficiency and equanimity, the transition to seva, and through seva to the offering of all action as worship.
Freedom from attachment
The concept of vairagya is vital to karma yoga, as it contains both the aspect of witnessing and the absence of identification with one's thoughts and actions. Detachment is a common translation of the Sanskrit word vairagya, used to describe a state of mind which yoga says is essential for spiritual growth. Unfortunately, the translation is inadequate, as being 'detached' can imply a lack of feeling and caring towards life. The term 'non-attachment' is a little closer, but Swami Niranjanananda explains that it is not quite right either, saying, "The word 'non-attachment' does not really exist in English. In Sanskrit it exists in the form of vairagya, to 'be free from attachment, without rejecting anything'. It represents a state of mind that is continuously observing the nature of events and is unaffected." The phrase 'without rejecting anything' is an important part of the definition in relation to karma yoga, as the karma yogi participates fully in whatever life brings, contributing to society with positivity and dynamism, thereby not only transforming himself, but helping to make a better world.
This theme is developed in the Bhagavad Gita (18: 10) when Sri Krishna redefines renunciation in his discussion with Arjuna, declaring that, "The man of renunciation, 'pervaded by purity, intelligent and with doubts cut asunder, does not hate a disagreeable work nor is he attached to an agreeable one." This description of renunciation makes no mention of giving anything up, rather it is based on positive internal qualities and an attitude beyond duality. There is no mention of meditation, austerity or seclusion, to the contrary, it is involvement in work that is specified. The importance of the Bhagavat Gita as a text on karma yoga is highlighted by the many references to it and quotes from it in For a Better World. The karma yogi, therefore, is involved in worldly affairs, but in a certain way. The events of life become the field of the karma yogi's sadhana. Sadhana purifies the individual, and when it is performed on the stage of the world, the process of purification spreads into the worldly domain.
There can be no karma yoga without vairagya, as remaining unaffected by the karmas is the key to liberation from them. Karma yoga says that freedom from karma is reached through perfection of karma. The perfection of karma means that it is no longer binding, it is devoid of negativity, and it is an expression of connection with one's deep, spiritual nature. In that state of perfection, life becomes a realization of divinity. How is karma to be perfected? What is perfection in action? Adopting the attitude of vairagya has been given as the first step in karma yoga. With vairagya in place, perfection of action becomes possible by cultivating two qualities: efficiency and equanimity.
Due to the all-encompassing nature of karma yoga, it is easy to forget that just as other branches of yoga are based on specific practices and lifestyles, so too is karma yoga. While hatha yoga prescribes shatkarmas, asanas and pranayamas, and raja yoga prescribes eight limbs starting with yama and niyama, karma yoga clearly prescribes the attributes which must be cultivated and nurtured as sadhana. Vairagya has already been mentioned as a fundamental quality which must go on in the background, a little like the operating system of a computer which influences all the other functions, while remaining hidden. Into this operating system go various programs which determine the way karma yoga is implemented: key amongst these are efficiency and equanimity.
Those who are new to the idea of karma yoga often assume that being unattached to the results of action means one won't be motivated and the task at hand will suffer. To the contrary, efficiency is one of the attributes Sri Krishna insists upon, and it is addressed in detail in For a Better World. The practice of efficiency in karma yoga creates a virtuous circle: when conscious effort for skill in action is made, one's awareness becomes keenly focused, the mind has to be one-pointed, a meditative quality arises, and the benefits extend far beyond a job well done, as deep mental purification and transformation occur. The benefits of such an accomplishment flow on beyond their source, as any action, task or relationship is part of a network of actions, tasks and relationships.
Equanimity is a sattwic state in which the mind remains calm and level in spite of success or failure, pleasure or pain. Such stability of mind is the opposite of most people's nature and conditioning, which ends towards highs and lows, excitement and depression, hope and disappointment. Equanimity is an outcome of vairagya, and a contributing factor to efficiency. The storms of emotion, whether they take us up or down, consume energy and cloud judgement, both of which reduce efficiency. It takes time to train the mind in steadiness, but when karma yoga is sincerely practised, equanimity gradually and spontaneously unfolds. Swami Satyananda speaks of this process when he says, "Mental balance is a sadhana, it is a means of taking care of the mind. The mind must become as clear as a crystal, as calm as a still pond. Through karma yoga, the personality becomes gradually more and more pure, until unbroken peace of mind is experienced.” Peace of mind in an individual has a profound effect on all who come in contact with that person, as no man is an island.
Karma Yoga Book 7: A Guide to Sadhana in Daily Life is a companion booklet to the Conversations books on karma yoga. It gives guidelines for the practical application of the principles of karma yoga provided in the main volumes, enabling aspirants to develop a sadhana appropriate to their particular life situation.
Sadhana is the personal effort every aspirant on the spiritual path must make in order to evolve. The sadhanas outlined in A Guide to Sadhana in Daily Life bring awareness and structure to the integration of the important branch of yoga into one’s thoughts, actions and interactions
Key concepts, including the yamas and niyamas of karma yoga, are presented in a practical format. Practices to aid implementation, understanding and reflection are clearly and practically outlined. These include keeping a spiritual diary, using the SWAN principle, practising the eighteen ITIES of Swami Sivananda and the meditation practice of antar mouna. Karma yoga children and the relevance of ashram life are discussed. Inspirational quotes provide further perspectives and insights, adding another dimension of richness to the experience of living karma yoga.
The purpose of the in-depth exploration of the branches of yoga contained in Conversations on the Science of Yoga is to inform and inspire aspirants to apply the principles of each branch in their own lives, that they may be uplifted and transformed by both the dynamism and subtlety of the yogic tradition. To accomplish this, the teachings must be lived; otherwise, the material has no value, it is merely words on pages. Successful implementation of the wisdom requires a simple, pragmatic approach, a map for the conscious living of life. The final volume of each Conversations set provides such a map. Titled A Guide to Sadhana in Daily Life, these practical, easy to follow booklets outline sadhanas for the various branches of yoga, be it karma, hatha, bhakti or raja yoga.
Sadhana is the personal effort every aspirant on the spiritual path must make in order to evolve. It is the practice, application, commitment and involvement without which yoga remains theory. The Guide to Sadhana in Daily Life booklets distil the essence of each branch of yoga, showing the way to personally experience the concepts and discussions which constitute the main volumes. While those discussions provide the basis for the integration of yogic ideas and principles in everyday life to enhance the quality of one's experience and expression, it must always be remembered that yoga is a practice which needs to be lived in order for its meaning, method and aim to be fully understood and embodied.
Each booklet gives the spiritual aspirant various possibilities which can be modified and adapted according to the time available, individual inclination and circumstances. They show that adding yoga to one's daily routine and developing a yogic attitude does not necessitate changing one's situation or station in life. With common sense and pragmatism, yoga can be applied to meet one's needs, whatever they may be.
In today's world, time is a major factor and good time management skills are essential for everyone. Those who seek to improve everyday life by including spiritual practices need to set aside some time each day, knowing that it is not the amount of time spent but the regularity and sincerity of the practice that are of paramount importance. Fifteen minutes a day of one- pointed awareness on a chosen practice is better than an occasional hour without focus or purpose.
This definition of spiritual practice is given in Sage Patanjali's Yoga Sutras (1: 14):
Sa tu dirgha kala nairantaryasatkarasevito drdhabhumih.
Practice, abhyasa, becomes firmly grounded by being continued for a long time with reverence, without interruption.
There are three conditions for practice or abhyasa: it should be done with complete faith; it should continue uninterrupted, and it should go on for quite a long time. When these three conditions are fulfilled, abhyasa becomes firmly established and a part of one's nature.
The Guide to Sadhana in Daily Life booklets offer tools to make this possible for everyone. To use the tools well, the desire to put theory into practice must be the motor and motivation of each aspirant, for only practice gives experience and only experience leads to change.
Inspired by the bounty of wisdom and information gleaned from Karma yoga Books 1-6, the final volume in the series, Karma yoga Book 7 is intended to help spiritual aspirants implement their understanding as they go through each day. To do this, one's attitude towards involvement in life must change. Karma means action in emotion, thought, word and deed; no one is free from action, even for a moment. Therefore, the path of perfecting one's actions is open to all. When karma yoga is truly practised it leads the aspirant towards attaining excellence and balanced expression in all spheres and interactions. Whether living alone, in a family or community, whether rich or poor, young or old, everyone has to face the myriad situations of everyday life and live with the consequences of their decisions, actions and reactions.
By improving the quality of daily life with the practice of karma yoga, the world of the aspirant naturally expands from the confines of the little notion of 'I, me and mine'. Strangers and the unknown start to be included, unity is seen in all beings and the divine force behind every aspect of creation is felt and responded to. Gradually, as the process of living sadhana unfolds, the karma yogi offers his being and life to the divine to help make this world a better place to live in: this is the culmination of yoga.
In hatha yoga the practitioner uses the body's flexibility, endurance, health and stamina to measure any change or progress. The raja yogi follows a roadmap which guides him stage by stage, providing built-in indicators of advancement. The bhakta and jnani assess their evolution by the perceived distance left to attaining their goal, merging with the Divine.
In karma yoga, change and progress is measured by life itself, which is a reflection of one's balance, excellence in performance, the relationships nurtured with other people, society and the environment. If one is attached, selfish, confused and not living in an appropriate way, life will tell that story. Conversely, if one is letting go of binding attachments, living with empathy for others, clarity of mind and simplicity of lifestyle, the narrative of life will be a reflection of that.
Hence, it is important for the aspiring karma yogi to discover areas in life which cause stress and uneasiness, learn how to manage these, and see each moment as an opportunity to bring a yogic quality into being. Karma Yoga Book 7 is a guidebook giving ideas, methods and tools for this dynamic and fulfilling journey.
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