Karma Yoga

by Vidagdha Bennett

At the heart of Sri Chinmoy's spiritual path is the ancient Indian concept of Karma Yoga. To anyone who cherishes the romantic notion that the spiritual life is best described as "meditative seclusion", or to anyone who is simply allergic to work as such, Sri Chinmoy's emphasis on Karma Yoga can pose an initial stumbling block.

What is Karma Yoga? Sri Chinmoy explains, "Karma Yoga is desireless action undertaken for the sake of the Supreme." He frequently refers to it as "selfless service."

Here in the West, the whole trend of our education and upbringing inculcates certain fixed ideas in us. We believe, for example, that some work is more important than others; we measure the value of work according to its ultimate success or failure; we work in order to gain some tangible result.
But selfless service runs contrary to these ideas which have become embedded in our consciousness. Those who practise selfless service welcome opportunities to serve mankind, or rather, to serve God in and through mankind. Nor do they place superior value on mental work as opposed to physical labour. The simple action of sweeping a floor, for example, if performed in a meditative consciousness, can serve the world as effectively as the most complex academic research. Finally, a Karma yogi works without expectation. He works because he sees and feels a divine purpose inside his work.

Karma Yoga, in essence, is an expression of humility. If someone does not care for name or fame or outer success, if his only desire is to fulfil God in humanity, then he is willing to undertake work which others might shun. Mother Teresa was a striking embodiment of this selfless dedication.
Sri Chinmoy is fond of quoting Lord Krishna's sublime message to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita: "Thou hast the right to act; but claim not the fruits thereof." The mark of a truly spiritual person is that he is not attached to the results of his work. " His detachment," Sri Chinmoy writes, "defies both the crushing blows of failure and the ego-gratifying surges of success."

What then attracts someone to follow the path of Karma Yoga? Sri Chinmoy reveals, "In Karma Yoga we progress toward union with God through our selfless actions." Thus Karma Yoga stands alongside the mighty paths of Bhakti Yoga (love and devotion) and Jnana Yoga (knowledge) as one of the main gateways to God-realisation.

In comparing these three paths, Sri Chinmoy says, "It is easy for a Bhakta to forget the world, and for a Jnani to ignore the world. But a Karma yogin's destiny is otherwise. God wants him to live in the world, live with the world and live for the world."

While Sri Chinmoy's path embraces both Bhakti Yoga and Jnana Yoga, it is the contribution of Karma Yoga that is particularly significant. In Sri Chinmoy Centres around the world, selfless service involves offering athletic events, musical concerts, meditation classes and art exhibits to the public. With the exception of the races, these activities are offered free of charge. Each event involves countless hours of planning, postering and so forth.
Again, in their day-to-day lives, many of Sri Chinmoy's students work at small businesses—which Sri Chinmoy refers to as Divine Enterprises. These include vegetarian cafes and restaurants, healthfood stores, florists, laundromats, printing presses and discount stores. Here they try to create a spiritual atmosphere and vibration to inspire their customers.

Sri Chinmoy's students take their selfless service as a form of higher responsibility. If a seeker genuinely accepts the world as such, then he tries to contribute something to the wellbeing of the whole.

Sri Chinmoy himself, even at age 76, constantly performs dedicated service for humanity. He offers prayers, composes devotional songs, draws birds that are symbolic of the soul, gives prayerful concerts around the world, answers spiritual questions, and even physically lifts overhead people from all walks of life who work for the betterment of the world. Each second of his day is a ceaseless self-offering to humanity.

It is Sri Chinmoy's own dynamic example that has set the tone for his students. Such is the way of a spiritual Master. Lord Krishna did not merely give advice to Arjuna before the Battle of Kurukshetra; he himself became Arjuna's charioteer in the battle. Similarly, there is nothing that Sri Chinmoy asks of his students which he himself does not do to his utmost capacity.
As he himself has said, "The Karma yogins are the real heroes on the earthly scene."