1. Introduction to path of Action or Karmayoga
The word path of Action or Karmayoga conjures images of social workers, charity workers and volunteer workers. However, in most cases as the charity work done by most of these social and volunteer workers is done at an emotional level or for publicity or fame, it does not constitute path of Action or Karma yoga in the real sense of the word.
Some people think that going about their day to day duties or doing their jobs properly and honestly constitute the path of Action. But this is again not true, i.e. doing this does not translate into their spiritual growth.
So what exactly is the path of Action or Karma yoga?
2. Some basic concepts
Before we go into the details of path of Action or Karma yoga, let us understand a few basic concepts
2.1 Law of Karma
As per the science of Spirituality, every action or deed that we do earns us a fruit. The fruit is in the form of a merit or demerit depending on whether it is a good or bad deed respectively and a give-and-take account with the person or persons involved in the act.
- Merits give us happiness and demerits give us unhappiness proportional to the intensity of the good or bad deeds that we did.
- Nobody can escape from the fruits of his actions.
- If the fruits of our actions are not enjoyed or suffered in this very birth (and this happens in most cases) then we have to take another birth to undergo them. In such cases we have to wait till circumstances are conducive again on Earth region (Bhūlok) for us to undergo them. That is till such time that the other people we have to complete our give-and-take account with are also there on Earth and the times on Earth are also conducive for the type of life we have to undergo. For example if we have to undergo lot of hardship as a result of demerits that we have collected then we have to wait for an overall period of hardships on Earth for us to be born.
- It is understandable that one would not like to undergo the results of demerits. However why would one not want the results of merits? One of the reasons we should not want merits is that in the course of enjoying the fruits of our merits either in this or subsequent births we would do further deeds which would then incur further merits or demerits. This would trap us in an endless cycle of life and death as a result of the incomplete give-and-take account with people. In the present times on Earth, when Righteousness (Dharma) has gone down, the level of demerits with which we are born and the possibility of gaining further demerits during the course of one’s life are quite high. Hence the life of a spiritually average person is filled with more unhappiness than happiness. Thus we get sucked into a vortex of perpetual unhappiness with comparatively lower periods and lesser intensity of happiness.
2.2 Kriya or Kruti
Kriyā are those actions of ours that do not result in either merits or demerits. Generally speaking these are our unintentional and involuntary actions like blinking, sneezing, etc.
‘Karma’ literally means action or deed done with intent. However please note that the word ‘action’ or ‘deed’ is not limited to just physical actions like walking, talking, smiling, etc. but includes all actions of the 5 sense organs, 5 motor organs, mind and the intellect. From a spiritual perspective however karma refers to those actions that result in merits or demerits. However even actions done without intent, e.g. unintentionally bumping into someone while walking on the road do earn us a demerit if the bump causes the other person some slight harm. But 80% of the extent of demerit earned depends on the intent.
(Please note that the word ‘karma’ used here is not synonymous with karma as in destiny.)
2.4 Akarma-karma (Nonaction-action)
- This is the pinnacle of spiritual growth or the highest possible level achievable as per the path of Action.
- This is possible only in the case of spiritually evolved people above the 80% spiritual level. However the process of actions becoming akarma-karma starts at the 80% spiritual level and become absolute only at the 100% spiritual level.
- Here even voluntary/intentional actions like helping others happen as ‘kriya’.
- Examples of ‘akarma-karma’ type of deeds are the actions of these spiritually evolved people, when in complete communion with God. In this state as they have lost all body consciousness (refers to going beyond the consciousness of all the bodies, viz. physical, mental, causal and supracausal bodies), the fruits of their actions do not belong to them. Also as these highly evolved people are so merged with God, whatever deed happens through them happen only as per God’s wish. Thus all their actions are basically non-actions.
- The importance of attaining this state or level is that thereafter the person is set free from the trap of the fruits of his actions.
- As people at this advanced spiritual level cease to identify with their 5 senses, mind and intellect, they not only do not generate merits or demerits but also are freed from their entire destiny and sanchit (accumulated give-and-take account). Hence they are liberated from the cycle of birth and death.
3. Definition of path of Action
The path of spiritual practice that gives guidance about
- Why we do actions or deeds?
- Why our actions or deeds trap or bond us?
- How to do actions or deeds without getting trapped in their fruits?
- Which actions or deeds liberate us from the bond of the Great Illusion (Māyā), i.e. cycles of birth and death?
- What is the importance of continuing doing actions even after attaining the state of Liberation when still embodied (Jīvanmukta)?
4. Some other definitions of the path of Action
- Doing actions or deeds in a manner that will result in spiritual growth or Liberation or God-realisation.
- Doing all our actions or deeds, even the so called material or worldly actions, in such a way that no new impressions are created in our mind, thereby freeing us from the trap of bond of these impressions.
- Doing all deeds or actions as per Righteousness, without any attachment and without any expectation of the fruits of our actions.
- Doing all actions or deeds with the clear experience that I am not doing it but God or the power running the universe is doing it, i.e. doings actions without ‘doership’. In simple terms doership means thinking that we are doing the actions, not God.
(One may think that giving up of doership would result in irresponsible behaviour or lack of efforts. However we must understand that the path of Action advises us to make all efforts as if everything is in our hands, but to think about the fruits of these actions as if nothing is in our hands.)
5. Benefit to seekers of other paths of spiritual practice
Even seekers following other paths of spiritual practice like the paths of Meditation or Devotion benefit in their spiritual practice if they complement their regular spiritual practice with the path of Action.