Karma Yoga: The Path of Action

There are many ways of expressing what's inside of us. Partly, yoga may help us to reach our inner most selves and to shine our own unique light more clearly for all to see. It is said that each of us comes to life with a purpose, with gifts, and it is our duty to share these gifts with others in our lives. Don't hide it under a bushel…let it shine.

While some yoga practices work on controlling the inner landscape, the path of karma yoga strives to also work in the external world. The word Karma means "action." A karma yogi or "karmin" (worker) chooses a path designed to enrich the world around him/her as a means of gaining self-realization or to deepen the connection to the outer landscape. In our culture the familiar adage "It's your karma" has become synonymous with the expression "What goes around, comes around." The possibility is alive in our hearts that we may indeed receive in equal measure to what we give. This belief, though well intentioned, is a misconception of the true practice of karma yoga which mandates that one give purely for the sake of giving with no attachment to receipt of any boon or special cosmic treatment. Even better one should give anonymously. Then do we reap what we sow? The late Swami Rama, founder of The Himalayan Institute in Pennsylvania who is best known for the Menninger Institute experiments documenting his amazing yogic prowess said "…external love is one step toward freedom," meaning freedom from the law of karma or the effects of one's actions.

In our yoga school, we encourage this kind of selfless giving. What we find is that when one's practice begins to open the heart, this giving becomes a natural, automatic reaction. It may start simply with being more apt to hold the door for someone or yield to a passing vehicle, instead of the often habitual guarding one's place or sprinting to be next in line. We catch ourselves thinking, "It's your blood pressure" as we smile at those who feel the need to hustle through life, securing prime space. A recent assignment asked students to write a kind letter to a co-worker or neighbor, secretly. Something that would make them feel terrific without ever knowing the author! We also annually assist a large church in our area in feeding several hundred of Houston's homeless a full Thanksgiving feast. At first many vegetarian students balked at being asked to cook the frozen turkeys that are donated (but people can't eat them frozen!) So we questioned their motives for helping. Was their desire to alleviate hunger or to judge the hungry? The result is that once each year the oven is fired up for a non-veg meal and several dozen turkeys do not die in vain. We also find that more folks want to work the serving line, but God sees those of us who scrub pans and haul trash just the same. Our community has comes to rely on us to pitch in for a variety of projects. And what our students do on an individual basis is truly inspiring.

The term karma-yoga first appears in the Bhagavad Gita (Lord's Song) written in the 3rd or 4th century B.C. While numerous texts discuss the karmic implications of one's actions and intentions in this life, karma, it is said, may be carried over from the past into future lives. Whether you adhere to the belief of reincarnation or not, your practice in the "now" need not be influenced. Find out what moves you to action. You can still practice the karma yoga of selfless giving which never fails to warm the heart. The Persian poet Jalaluddin Rumi wrote "Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground." So why not start right there?

Contributed by Kathryn Bumbaugh —Yoga Hmmm Teacher

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