Wednesday November 21, 2018

Karma Yoga: The concept of work and duty, as defined by Swami Vivekananda

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Karma Yoga

Swami Vivekananda, the patriot saint, the torch bearer of Hinduism, had passed away but his teachings to humanity still lives on. One such teaching which he repeatedly spoke through out his life is about “Karma Yoga” – the concept of work and duty- the Karma Yoga. Before understanding what constitutes duty, we must first understand what constitutes Karma.

What Is Karma Yoga?

Swami Vivekananda Says:The word Karma is derived from the Sanskrit Kri, to do; all action is Karma.

Technically, this word also means the effects of actions. In connection with metaphysics, it sometimes means the effects, of which our past actions were the causes. But in Karma-Yoga we simply have to do with the word Karma as meaning work.” Therefore, all actions are Karma, from the most trivial actions like brushing the teeth to the highest elevating actions like meditation.

KARMA YOGA refers to all human activities performed with concentration, skill and finesse. The way to liberation is to perform your duties without attachment. In Bhagavad Gita Sri Krishna instructs Arjuna (all of mankind) to do their work most sincerely & with expertise and skill they have masterd, and without any attachment or expectation of rewards.

Types Of Karma Yoga:

  • Niskama Karma– work without attachment, which produces no bondage.
  • Sakama Karma-all work done for some end result, which leads to bondage for the doer.

More on “Karma Yoga” By Swami Vivekananda:

“Thus we are all doing Karma all the time. I am talking to you: that is Karma. You are listening: that is Karma. We breathe: that is Karma. We walk: Karma. Everything we do, physical or mental, is Karma, and it leaves its marks on us.”

What Is YOGA?

This is a much more confusing word. Yoga is generally understood as the activity of breath control or taking different body postures, or the activities mentioned by Pathanjali. But in Gita this word has a much wider and somewhat different meaning.

The word Yoga originated from the root ”YUJ” meaning Joining,tieing together etc. This word is used at innumerable places in the Gita with meanings like appropriateness, joining, expertise, attainment etc. The essential meaning of Yoga is explained by Sri Krishna himself as “Yogah Karmasu Kausalam” (Gita 2.50). Kausalam means a special talent, expertise or skill in doing something. So doing things with expertise is Yoga. A Yogi is one who does something with expert knowledge or skill. (according to speakingtree)

The goal of mankind is knowledge

Therefore, Karma is simple exertion of effort. Naturally the question arises, what is the ultimate goal of such efforts? Why should we perform actions?

Swami Vivekananda answers-

“The goal of mankind is knowledge. That is the one ideal placed before us by Eastern philosophy.Pleasure is not the goal of man, but knowledge. Pleasure and happiness come to an end. It is a mistake to suppose that pleasure is the goal. The cause of all the miseries we have in the world is that men foolishly think pleasure to be the ideal to strive for.”

Therefore, the ultimate goal is not pleasure, not temporary happiness but Knowledge (Atma-Jnana) that liberates one from the limited bondage of the universe.

In another place, he states- “I have already tried to point out that goal. It is freedom as I understand it. Everything that we perceive around us is struggling towards that freedom, from the atom to the man, from the insentient, lifeless particle of matter to the highest existence on earth, the human soul. The whole universe is in fact the result of this struggle for freedom.”

Means are as important as the goal

A question may arise- If the goal of all actions is Liberation, then does it mean there is no importance to the actions that are employed as means to attain the goal? Can any one indulge indiscriminately in any kind of actions?

As if to answer, Swami Vivekananda declared-“One of the greatest lessons I have learnt in my life is to pay as much attention to the means of work as to its end” in one of his lectures delivered at Los Angeles, California in 1900.

Hence, while doing one’s actions, and while performing one’s duties, one should first and foremost concentrate on the immediate job that is in front of a person. It often happens that one tends to ignore the immediate task at hand, by indulging too much in the goal to be attained.

This will result in a person being shabby at his work. Further, over-indulgence with the idea of attaining the goal will make a person blind towards righteousness or unrighteousness of the means. Such, a person will often end up having results that are quite unfavorable and sometimes opposite of what was intended.

That is why Swami Vivekananda cautions-

“Our great defect in life is that we are so much drawn to the ideal, the goal is so much more enchanting, so much more alluring, so much bigger in our mental horizon, that we lose sight of the details altogether.”

Any action that makes us go Godward is duty

As means are very vital to reach the goal, it is necessary to understand, what actions can serve as a means to attain liberation. Swami Vivekananda calls these actions “Duty”.

He says-

“Any action that makes us go Godward is a good action, and is our duty; any action that makes us go downward is evil, and is not our duty. From the subjective standpoint we may see that certain acts have a tendency to exalt and ennoble us, while certain other acts have a tendency to degrade and to brutalize us.”

Therefore, only those actions that constitute duty and lead us to exaltation can be considered as the means to Liberation. These are the duties that Hindu scriptures call “svadharma”. What is right and good for one may not be so for another person. Every person should understand his own inherent nature, his position and stage in life and perform those duties that take him towards Liberation.

Swami Vivekananda himself clarifies this-

“The Bhagavad-Gita frequently alludes to duties dependent upon birth and position in life. Birth and position in life and in society largely determine the mental and moral attitude of individuals towards the various activities of life. It is therefore our duty to do that work which will exalt and ennoble us in accordance with the ideals and activities of the society in which we are born. But it must be particularly remembered that the same ideals and activities do not prevail in all societies and countries”

But this does not mean that people perform any actions according to their fancies and call it dharma. Though svadharma is different for every person, there are universal principles that are common to everyone.

Swami Vivekananda says-

“There is, however, only one idea of duty which has been universally accepted by all mankind, of all ages and sects and countries, and that has been summed up in a Sanskrit aphorism thus: “Do not injure any being; not injuring any being is virtue, injuring any being is sin.” Therefore, people must decide their own svadharma, not on the basis of their fancies but on the basis of these universal principles and how their application will take them towards liberation.”

Work performed without attachment leads to highest realization. The next question is, how should one perform one’s duty?

Swami Vivekananda says-

“When you are doing any work, do not think of anything beyond. Do it as worship, as the highest worship, and devote your whole life to it for the time being. Thus, in the story, the Vyadha (hunter) and the woman did their duty with cheerfulness and wholeheartedness; and the result was that they became illuminated, clearly showing that the right performance of the duties of any station in life, without attachment to results, leads us to the highest realization of the perfection of the soul.”

Therefore, if the performance of duties in an unselfish manner, as an act of worship wherein the actions and its fruits are surrendered to God that leads to liberation. Hence, detached action is the key to liberation.

Swami Vivekananda summarizes this path of Karma-Yoga as-

“Karma-Yoga is the attaining through unselfish work of that freedom which is the goal of all human nature. Every selfish action, therefore, retards our reaching the goal, and every unselfish action takes us towards the goal; that is why the only definition that can be given of morality is this: That which is selfish is immoral, and that which is unselfish is moral.”

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Swami Vivekananda’s Quotes That Will Inspire You To The Fullest

Swami Vivekananda used to stress upon the universal brotherhood and self-awakening. He wanted the youth to get going and hence his inspirational thoughts were a motivation to many people for self-improvement especially for the youth of the country.

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Swami Vivekananda used to stress upon the universal brotherhood and self-awakening. Wikimedia Commons
Swami Vivekananda used to stress upon the universal brotherhood and self-awakening. Wikimedia Commons
  • Swami Vivekananda was behind the introduction of the Indian philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga to the Western world
  • Swami Vivekananda followed and carried on the philosophy of Ramakrishna Paramhansa
  • Swami Vivekananda’s mother had a great impact on him

Swami Vivekananda was a Hindu monk, a great orator, passionate patriot and one of the most celebrated spiritual leaders of India. He was the man behind the introduction of the Indian philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga to the Western world. In colonial India, Swami Vivekananda immensely contributed to the concept of nationalism.

Swami Vivekananda followed and carried on the philosophy of his guru, Ramakrishna Paramhansa forward with his teachings and worked towards the upliftment of the society and revival of Hindu spiritualism. He wanted to showcase Hindu religion on the world stage. Later, he found the Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission.

Also Read: India’s First Woman Lawyer: 10 Lesser Known Facts About Cornelia Sorabji

Swami Vivekananda was born on January 12, 1863, into an affluent Bengali family in Calcutta. His father was a successful attorney with considerable influence in society. Swami Vivekananda’s mother had a great impact on him. During his lifetime, he spoke a lot about spirituality and life motivation. Swami Vivekananda quotes became very popular among countrymen and he was seen as a spiritual idol for many.

Swami Vivekananda was born on January 12, 1863, into an affluent Bengali family in Calcutta. Wikimedia Commons
Swami Vivekananda was born on January 12, 1863, into an affluent Bengali family in Calcutta. Wikimedia Commons

Here, we have compiled few of the Swami Vivekananda’s inspirational thoughts that would fill you with much insight and spiritualism.

  1. “When I Asked God for Strength He Gave Me Difficult Situations to Face When I Asked God for Brain & Brawn He Gave Me Puzzles in Life to Solve When I Asked God for Happiness He Showed Me Some Unhappy People When I Asked God for Wealth He Showed Me How to Work Hard When I Asked God for Favors He Showed Me Opportunities to Work Hard When I Asked God for Peace He Showed Me How to Help Others God Gave Me Nothing I Wanted He Gave Me Everything I Needed.”

2. “This is the gist of all worship: to be pure and to do well to others. He who sees Shiva in the poor, in the weak, and in the diseased, really worships Shiva. And if he sees Shiva only in the image, his worship is but preliminary. He who has served and helped one poor man seeing Shiva in him, without thinking of his caste or creed or race or anything, with him Shiva is more pleased than with the man who sees Him only in temples.”

Also Read: 11 Must-Know Facts About Asima Chatterjee

3. “All power is within you; you can do anything and everything. Believe in that, do not believe that you are weak; do not believe that you are half-crazy lunatics, as most of us do nowadays. You can do anything and everything, without even the guidance of anyone. Stand up and express the divinity within you.”

Swami Vivekananda followed and carried on the philosophy of his guru, Ramakrishna Paramhansa. Wikimedia Commons
Swami Vivekananda followed and carried on the philosophy of his guru, Ramakrishna Paramhansa. Wikimedia Commons

4. After every happiness comes misery; they may be far apart or near. The more advanced the soul the more quickly does one follow the other. What we want is neither happiness nor misery. Both make us forget our true nature; both are chains-one iron, one gold; behind both is the Atman, who knows neither happiness nor misery. These are states, and states must ever change; but the nature of the Atman is bliss, peace, unchanging. We have not to get it, we have it; only wash away the dross and see it. Let people say whatever they like, stick to your own convictions, and rest assured, the world will be at your feet. They say, “Have faith in this fellow or that fellow”, but I say, “Have faith in yourself first”, that’s the way. Have faith in yourself-all power is in you-be conscious and bring it out. Say, “I can do everything.”

5. “Advance like a hero. Do not be thwarted by anything. How many days will this body last, with its happiness and misery? When you have the human body, then rouse the Atman within and say-I have reached the state of fearlessness!…and then as long as the body endures, speak unto others this message of fearlessness: ‘Thao art That’, ‘Arise, awake, and stop not till the goal is reached’.”

Also Read: 10 Must-Know Facts About Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan

6. “Remember the words of Christ: “Ask and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you.” These words are literally true, not figures or fiction. They were the outflow of the heart’s blood of one of the greatest sons of God who have ever come to this world of ours; words which came as the fruit of realisation, from a man who had felt and realised God himself; who had spoken with God, lived with God, a hundred times more intensely than you or I see this building.”

7. “Be not afraid of anything. You will do marvellous work. It is fear that is the great cause of misery in the world. It is fear that is the greatest of all superstitions. It is fear that is the cause of all our woes, and it is fearlessness that brings heaven even in a moment. Therefore, “Arise, awake and stop not until the goal is reached.”

8. “For a warrior, nothing is higher than a war against evil. The warrior confronted with such a war should be pleased, Arjuna, for it comes as an open gate to heaven. But if you do not participate in this battle against evil, you will incur sin, violating your dharma and your honour.”

January 12, swami Vivekananda's birthday, is celebrated as the National Youth Day in India. Wikimedia Commons
January 12, swami Vivekananda’s birthday, is celebrated as the National Youth Day in India. Wikimedia Commons

9. “Do not believe a thing because you have read about it in a book. Do not believe a thing because another man has said it was true. Do not believe in words because they are hallowed by tradition. Find out the truth for yourself. Reason it out. That is realization.”

10. “We are responsible for what we are, and whatever we wish ourselves to be, we have the power to make ourselves. If what we are now has been the result of our own past actions, it certainly follows that whatever we wish to be in the future can be produced by our present actions; so we have to know how to act. “

Also Read: 15 Amazing Facts About The Revolutionary Bhagat Singh

Swami Vivekananda used to stress upon the universal brotherhood and self-awakening. He wanted the youth to get going and hence his inspirational thoughts were a motivation to many people for self-improvement especially for the youth of the country. For his love for youth, January 12, his birthday, is celebrated as the National Youth Day in India. Swami Vivekananda’s motivational quotes are still followed at many of the country’s educational institutes.