Essence of karma to be performed according to Karma-yoga and How does Karma work ?


This article explains how does karma work and importance of performing karma, as advised by scriptures or Saints, without expectations and maintaining equanimity about outcome of the karma.

1. Karma is associated with the physical body

        Wherever there is association with the physical body, there is association with the karma. For example, the awakened state. Where there is no association with the physical body, there is no association with the karma. For example, the dream or deep sleep state.

2. Flow of karma continues uninterrupted

        Once karma begins, its flow continues uninterrupted till Moksha is attained .Even when the day of Deity Brahma ends and the Dissolution of the Universe takes place, karma survives in the seed form and with re-Creation of the Universe the same seed of karma sprouts all over again.

तेषां ये यानि कर्माणि प्राक् सृष्ट्यां तिपेदिरे ।

तान्येव तिपद्यन्ते सृज्यमानाः पुनः पुनः ॥ – Vishnumahapuran, Ansha 1, Adhyaya 5, Shloka 60

Meaning : Karmas which are performed before the Dissolution of the Universe and are unfulfilled, remain dormant in the form of subtle seeds along with the jivas during Dissolution. When the recreation of the Universe begins, these karmas get assigned to the newly evolved jivas.The evolution of the living beings is dependent on the prarabdha resulting from the karma in the previous birth

अव्यक्ताद्य्वयक्तयः सर्वाः प्रभवन्त्यहरागमे ।

रात्र्यागमे लीयन्ते तत्रैवाव्यक्तसंज्ञके ॥ – Shrimadbhagwadgeeta, Adhyaya 8, Shloka 18

Meaning : At the approach of (Deity Brahma’s) day, all manifestations proceed from the unmanifested state; at the approach of night, they merge verily into that alone, which is called the unmanifested.

भूतग्रामः स एवायं भूत्वा भूत्वा लीयते ।

रात्र्यागमेऽवशः पार्थ भवत्यहरागमे ॥ – Shrimadbhagwadgeeta, Adhyaya 8, Shloka 19

Meaning : The very same multitude of beings (that existed in the preceding day of Brahma) being born again and again, merge (into the unmanifested), in spite of themselves, O Partha, at the approach of night and re-manifest at the approach of day.

आब्रह्मभु वनाल्लोकाः पु नरावर्ति नोऽजु र् न ।

मामुपेत्य तु कौन्तेय पुनर्ज न्म न विद्यते ॥ – Shrimadbhagwadgeeta, Adhyaya 8, Shloka 16

Meaning : All the worlds, including the realm of Brahma, are subject to return; but after attaining Me, O Arjun, there is no rebirth.

3. Karma and the mind (the reference here is to the intellect)

A. Desire leads to performing of karma

काममय एवायं पुरुष इति । स यथकामो भवति तत्

क्रतुर्भवति यत् क्रतुर्भवति तत् कर्म कुरुते यत् कर्म कुरुते , तदभिसंपद्यते ॥ – Bruhadaranyakopanishad, Adhyaya 4, Brahman 4, Vakya 5

Meaning : Man is a desirous creature. He is driven by the desires to act. Whichever activity he performs, becomes his karma and whatever karma he performs, experiences the fruit of that karma.

B. कर्म बीजं मनःस्पन्दः । – Yogavasishṭha

Meaning : The seed of karma is embedded in the vibrations of the mind.

C. Mind – the promoter of karma of mind, speech & body

        With regard to human beings (superior birth), animals (average birth) and birds (inferior birth) the one that takes shelter of the mind, speech and body, and one that is promoter of the karmas having characteristics as mentioned ahead, is very much the mind.

D. Karma remains adhered to the ego

        If you cast off your ego, the beastly form of karma will automatically be hurled away. An egoistic collection of karmas is the ‘karma beast’. The karma resulting from ego is ugly and one that entraps in bondage.

E. An individual begets a birth as per his karma in previous births

        There is justice in the administration of nature. The quality of a jiva’s life is directly dependent on its karma of previous births. Birth is neither a chance nor an accident. It is the direct outcome of our own karma from previous births. It is the karma from the past, meaning the previous birth that decides an individual’s character. Here, every individual is responsible for the karmas that he performs

F. An ordinary individual faces unhappiness birth after birth

        If it is assumed that an ordinary individual is 100% unhappy in the current birth, then the proportion of unhappiness that he will suffer in subsequent births is as provided in the table ahead.

Birth Proportion of Unhappiness (%)
1. Present birth 100
2. First birth in future 110
3. Second birth in future 120
4. Third birth in future 130

        Since an average individual does not perform spiritual practice, he keeps generating a ‘give-and-take’ account with others and thus gets entrapped in bondage. Besides, mistakes committed during the performance of karma increase the demerits. This only compounds the unhappiness birth after birth. This explains why once the downfall starts, it is difficult to come out of it birth after birth.

4. How to perform karma without getting entrapped in it ?

A. Refrain from sakam karmas performed with the desire to acquire worldly happiness; for desires and sanskars originate from them.

B. Never leave any karma incomplete.

C. Every karma should conclude with happiness at least at the psychological level.

D. Instead of performing karmas we like and attain happiness, true happiness lies in doing whatever we do with interest and doing things as advised by the scriptures or Saints.

E. Do not desist from karma

नियतं कुरु कर्म त्वं कर्म ज्यायो ह्यकर्मणः ।
शरीरयात्रापि च ते न सिद्ध्येदकर्मणः ॥

                     – Shrimadbhagwadgeeta, 3.8

Meaning : Do you perform obligatory karma; for karma is superior to not performing karma; and even the bare maintenance of the body would not be possible if you are inactive. With the fear of sinning while performing karma, never give up karma. In a state of meditation or a Jivanmukta state, karma automatically ceases to exist.

F. Maintain equanimity about the success-failure of karma.

G. Do not have expectations about the fruit of karma : Be it karma or its fruit, absolute sacrifice of love, attachment and desire is essential.

H. Performing akarma-karma

योगयुक्तो विशुद्धात्मा विजितात्मा जितेन्द्रियः ।
सर्वभूतात्मभूतात्मा कुर्वन्नपि न लिप्यते ॥

– Shrimadbhagwadgeeta, 5.7

Meaning : With the mind purified by devotion to performance of karma, and the body conquered, and senses subdued, one who realises one’s self as the self in all beings, he remains untainted, even though performing karma.

I. To be able to reach a stage of being karmatit, allow things to happen as destined : Become a dried leaf caught in a storm. Go wherever the storm takes you. No destinations, no rest, no shore, just keep drifting. Perform this experiment. Let things happen on their own. Let there be neither reaction, nor even slightest of resistance. Once you begin to drift like a leaf, you will get a slight glimpse of the karmatit state. This itself is samarpan (Complete surrender).

J. Sacrifice of all resolves is the state of yogarudha.

5. Essence of Karma-yoga is incessant performance of

swadharma (Own Dharma)karma and prescribed duties, devoid of all attachments

A. Any karma except the one performed as swadharma becomes a bondage

Karma implied by Karma-yoga is not just any karma; it is karma as prescribed by the Vedas, meaning abiding by our Dharma.

यज्ञार्थात्कर्मणोऽन्यत्र लोकोऽयं कर्मबन्धनः ।
तदर्थं कर्म कौन्तेय मुक्तसङ्ग: समाचर ॥

– Shrimadbhagwadgeeta, 3.9

Meaning : The world is bound by karmas other than those performed for the sake of Yadnya; do you, therefore, O son of Kunti, perform karma for Yadnya alone, devoid of attachment.

B. It is essential to perform karma as prescribed in the scriptures for uniting people

  • Just as the ignorant perform karma more out of attachment to karma, so should the knowledgeable, who do not have attachment, perform karma to unite people. The ignorant has a personality defect of attachment. The knowledgeable is not attached; this is the only difference. (Great men like Bhishma, Dronacharya and Krupacharya had no attachment. They expected neither kingdom nor a piece of land on the earth. They had nothing to do with victory-defeat. The way they perform karma of fulfilling individual duties and karma of fighting the battle was without attachment, Arjun too is expected to emulate them. He should refrain from extreme attachment, wickedness and ignorance chosen by Duryodhan.) – Shrimadbhagwadgeeta, 3.25

  • A spiritually evolved individual should not educate the ignorant people who are attached to performing karma prescribed by the scriptures. He should not ruin the faith in karma. On the contrary, he should himself perform meticulously all karmas prescribed by the scriptures and should get them performed by ignorant people.- Shrimadbhagwadgeeta, 3.26

C. Performing worldly karma as duties

Whatever happens in an individual’s life is as per his destiny; but instead of getting entrapped in Maya (The Great Illusion), we should perform the worldly tasks with a sense of duty. We should avoid getting entrapped in the related Maya.

6. Causes for getting entrapped in Karma

        Five types of affliction

अविद्या अस्मिता राग द्वेष अभिनिवेशाः पंचतस्य क्लेशाः ।

– Sage Patanjali

        The meaning of this sentence is :

  • Avidya : Avidya means ignorance about the self.

  • Asmita : Asmita means ego, ‘I’, ‘mine’

  • Rag : In Sanskrut, rag means love

  • Dwesh : Hatred

  • Abhinivesh : Body-consciousness, believing that ‘the body is me’.

        We develop love, attachment for objects or individuals that give us happiness. On the other hand, we develop hatred for people or objects that cause sorrow. Karmas associated with attachment, hatred, etc. are always faulty and entrap us in bondages of karma.

सुखानुशयी रागः दुःखानुशयी द्वेषः ।

Meaning : Loving others begets love, and hatred begets sorrow.

7. A karma performed as a duty does not entrap in the bondage of karma

कार्यमित्येव यत्कर्म नियतं क्रियतेऽर्जुन ।
संगं त्यक्त्वा फलं चैव स त्यागः सात्त्विको मतः ॥

– Shrimadbhagwadgeeta, 18.9

Meaning : When obligatory work is performed, O Arjun, only because it ought to be performed, leaving attachment and fruit, such relinquishment is regarded as sattvik (Sattva-predominant).

Akarma-karma : Performing karma as duty, does not generate demerit-merit.

8. Once liberated from the bondage of karma, we attain God

शुभाशुभफलैरेवं मोक्ष्यसे कर्मबन्धनैः ।
संन्यासयोगयुक्तात्मा विमुक्तो मामुपैष्यसि ॥

– Shrimadbhagwadgeeta, 9.28

Meaning : Thus shall you be freed from the bondage of karmas, bearing good and evil results; with the heart steadfast in the Yoga of renunciation, and liberated you shall come unto Me.

Reference : Sanatan Sanstha’s Holy text ‘Introduction to Karmayoga’ and ‘Importance, Characteristics and Types of Karma