<-- Back
Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda


Karma Yoga
(Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda Vol I)

* Karma and its effect on character

  • Goal of life is Knowledge and not pleasure. Knowledge, sacred or secular, is inherent in man; external world is just a suggestion, but object of your study is always your mind.

  • 'Every mental and physical blow that is given to the soul, by which, as it were, fire is struck from it, and by which its own power and knowledge are discovered, is Karma, this word being used in its widest sense.'

  • If our present is the result of our past Karma, then our future will be determined by our present Karma; so we have to know how to act.

  • Great moral-giants like Buddha and Jesus, having omniscient wills, are results of unselfish work done in many lives. Unselfishness is more paying but people do not have patience to practice it.

  • Ideal man is one who finds peace even in activity and intense activity in solitude.

  • We have to start by trying to be unselfish in whatever work comes our way; by practice we become more and more unselfish, till we are able to manifest the knowledge within.

* What is Duty

  • Duty is impossible to be defined clearly in objective terms; subjectively anything that takes us towards God is good and our duty.

  • One idea that is universally accepted by humankind as duty is 'non-injury to any being'. Further relative duty depends on birth and position in life & society.

  • Man should not be judged by the nature of his duty but by the manner and spirit in which he performs it.

  • Duty done properly leads to higher stages like 'work as worship' and further 'work for work's sake'. The philosophy behind Karma-yoga is the same as in other yogas i.e. attenuating lower self and manifestation of higher Self.

  • Duty is seldom sweet; love greases its wheels for its smooth functioning; duty requires continuous denial of lower desires which helps manifest higher self. 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.

  • Story of Vyadha-Gita illustrates that if duty is done cheerfully, whole-heartedly and without attachment then it leads to highest perfection of the soul.

* We help ourselves, not the world

  • Every Religion has philosophy, mythology, and rituals; rituals consists of symbols (e.g. Cross - older than Vedas; Swastika - older than Buddhism, found in Babylon and Egypt). Study of rituals and symbols forms a part of Karma-Yoga.

  • Science of Karma-Yoga involves relation between word and thought; words are great force in higher philosophy as well as in common life. To know the nature of force of word and use it well constitutes also a part of Karma-Yoga.

  • Each man manufactures a world for himself and life is good or bad according to the state of mind, it is neither by itself. In helping the world, we help ourselves become pure and perfect; unattached work alone can save us from the pain of vain expectations, the world will go on with its happiness and misery.

  • The world is like dog's curly tail, it will never be straightened; when we know this we won't be fanatics. Level-headed, calm and cool nerved people alone can do good work and help themselves; fanatics can never do that.

  • Important points:
    1. 'We are all debtors to the world and the world does not owe us anything.'
    2. 'There is a God in this universe. It is not true that this universe is drifting and stands in need of help from you and me.'
    3. 'We ought not to hate anyone. This world will always continue to be a mixture of good and evil.'
    4. 'We ought not to be fanatics of any kind, because fanaticism is opposed to love.'

* The Ideal of Karma-Yoga

  • The paths to the goal of Mukti are broadly divided into four (work, worship, knowledge, psychic), based on the different temperaments seen in aspirants; Mukti is the goal of all nature, sentient as well as insentient.

  • That which is unselfish is moral and good, that which is selfish is immoral and bad; Karma-Yoga is attaining the goal of Mukti through unselfish actions, though details of actions can vary as per time, place, and circumstances. Karmayogi depends on unselfish actions alone for achieving the goal, he/she may not bother about philosophy, soul, God etc.

  • Can we do good to the world? In absolute sense no, but relatively yes. Sum-total of pleasures and pains displayed on earth ever remains same.

  • Millennium ideas - God is coming and then all will be perfect on earth - are for fanatics; Christianity was propagated and flourished on this idea (mostly among slave masses). In modern times, this idea takes the form of Equality, Liberty and Fraternity. 'Inequality is the very basis of creation. At the same time the forces struggling to obtain equality are as much a necessity of creation as those which destroy it.' Both the above forces would remain in the world.

  • There are two methods to get out of this world-machine: either give up all desires and stand aside (Jnana-Yoga) or plunge into inside and learn the secret of performing work (Karma-Yoga).

  • Karmayogi works without any selfish-motives and does not seek fruits of actions. Truly, we are not bodies and we really don't work! We are the Self!

  • Buddha- the ideal Karmayogi - work like him and be Buddha!

* Each is great in his own place

  • Karma-Yoga has to deal with three factors which are characteristics of all nature: activity (rajas), inertness (tamas), and equilibrium between activity and inertness (sattva).

  • Duty and morality has gradations based on one's state of life and surrounding circumstances e.g. 'resist no evil' is applicable only for highest sattvika people and is counter-productive for huge section of humanity; also it can be a duty in certain circumstances to resist evil.

  • 'Our first duty is not to hate ourselves, because to advance we must have faith in ourselves first and then in God.'

  • Karmayogi understands the highest ideal of non-resistance and also understands that resisting evil is a step towards that ideal.

  • '…man must be active in order to pass through activity to perfect calmness.'

  • Each man should take up his own ideal, rather than copying another's ideal, and strive for it. We should not judge others by our ideal at the same time should strive to make the ideal as near as Truth.

  • The duties of ideal house-holder are described in detail in Maha Nirvan Tantra.

  • Essence of all teachings of Sanatan Dharma is - the condemnation of all weakness. Fear is the sign of weakness. Each is great in his own place (story of a king's question as to who is great - householder or monk); duty of one is not the duty of other.

* The secret of work

  • Best help is spiritual, next is intellectual and last is physical. Spirituality is the true basis of all activities of life. Only by making men pure and of spiritual character, can the world be changed.

  • 'Non-attachment' to the work - central theme of Gita; character - sum total of samskaras; every thought and action creates samskaras. Once a man is truly and firmly established in good character, he is fit for higher step - desire of Liberation.

  • Knowing that the entire nature is only for the education of the soul, be unattached to the work. Work like master not like slave, work through freedom and love i.e. work entirely unselfishly.

  • Attachment comes when results are expected; working without expectation of results lead to freedom. Might and mercy guide the conduct of men in the world; might is selfishness, mercy is heaven itself.

  • To convert work in Karma-Yoga, there is also an alternate way : work as 'worship' if you believe in personal God.

  • Mahabharata story of golden mongoose - example of complete self-sacrifice

  • '… you see what Karma-Yoga means; even at the point of death to help anyone, without asking questions. Be cheated millions of times and never ask a question, …'

* Non-attachment is complete self-abnegation

  • Vibrations of thoughts and actions attract similar vibrations hence good thoughts and actions help us as well as others while evil thoughts and actions injure us and others. Good and evil are not water-tight compartments, they are interconnected.

  • Real happiness is in unselfishness i.e. eternal and entire self-abnegation and this denial of limited 'I' or Nivritti is the basis of all yoga, ethics, morality, religion; unselfishness is God.

  • The world and ourselves are for each other; selfishness says, 'world is for my enjoyment and this selfishness is due to attachment. No one is dependent on our charity; in helping others we help ourselves.

  • Once we imbibe the idea that 'world does not depend upon us for anything and we can help none', we are free from the pain of reaction from work.

  • Story of Shuka's steadiness, wisdom in Janaka's court.

  • Practice is most important in any yoga; any one of the yoga practiced sincerely is capable of taking us to the goal.

* Freedom

  • Law of Karma = law of causation; law = tendency of a series to repeat itself. Nyaya school of philosophy in India had defined this 'repeating sequence', this 'law' as Vyapti (the principle of association); one chittavritti simultaneously giving rise to other related chittavrittis. Law of causation is only an aspect of this grand principle of association. Thus all is in mind.

  • Our universe is that portion of existence which is characterised by time, space, and causation; beyond our limited perceptions & imaginations, there can't be any 'law' for the existence/being. Hence 'free-will' is an oxymoron; 'will' refers to the portion of being which is perceived/thought of - a segment bound by time, space, causation - and as bound it can't be 'free'! True 'Being', which is always freedom itself, gets 'bounded' in time, space, causation ('will', 'law') and then reverts back to freedom.

  • Only by forgetting our true infinite real nature can we cling to life (in this world or any other). 'Until we give up the thirst after life, the strong attachment to this our transient conditioned existence, we have no hope of catching even a glimpse of that infinite freedom beyond.' Two ways to give-up everything related to finite existence: 'neti-neti' and 'iti-iti'; former for exceptional few and later for vast majority of humanity using science of work i.e. Karma-yoga.

  • 'I and mine' are the tentacles of selfishness, of misery, of attachment. Karma-yoga says that, destroy these tentacles and then work as much as you wish! That is "Vairagya", non-attachment - the basis of all Yogas.

  • Two ways to be non-attached: those who don't believe in God have the difficult way to depend entirely on their will and discrimination; the other less difficult way is to offer fruits of action to God, to be instruments in the hands of God and surrender to Him completely.

  • Duty as understood normally is an idea on lower plane; 'The only true duty is to be unattached and to work as free beings, to give up all work unto God. All our duties are His.' 'What is duty after all? It is really the impulsion of the flesh, of our attachment; and when an attachment has become established, we call it duty.' 'It is a disease. So when attachment becomes chronic, we baptise it with the high-sounding name of duty.' 'Karma-Yogis must throw this idea of duty overboard.'

  • Highest Sattvika type of people are not known to the world; they are calm, silent, dissolved in Love and pass away unnoticed! Next are the Rajasa type, who preach the ideas of the first type; these preachers and helpers of humanity still have some ignorance left in them. By working we only purify ourselves, not help the world; the infinite Lord is ever watchful of everything in the world. Giving up fruits of work and being unattached, we can attain the Freedom - the goal of Karma-Yoga.

( Readers can go through the book fully by downloading the Vol I of Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda here )

----------- Om Tat Sat -----------