Karma Yoga – An Often Misunderstood Practice

By Stephanie Adams, all rights reserved

Karma Yoga is often misunderstood. In modern day conversations, we say I better do X so I can get good karma. Well, Karma is about doing something from an spontaneous and inspired heart space without regard to the fruit of your actions. Even if you are doing something “good”, if you are doing it in hopes to have “good karma” you are missing the point and practice of true Karma Yoga. If any of us are at war, we are all at war, at a deeper level. There is a karma collective on this planet and in this universe, as well as individual karma. Individual karma, allows you to experience the lessons and growth you are supposed to experience.

Ask yourself: Is there joy, ease, and lightness in what I am doing? If there isn’t, then time is covering up the present moment, and life is perceived as a burden or a struggle…It may be sufficient to change the how. “How” is always more important than “what.”…When you act out of present-moment awareness, whatever you do becomes imbued with a sense of quality, care and love—even the most simple action..a powerful spiritual practice…non-attachment to the fruit of your action is called Karma Yoga. pp. 56-57, , The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle

“Karma is internal, occurring within the spirit…we can think of Karma as a complex network of spiritual cause and effect in which we place our trust. Everything returns to its own state of balance. If we live well, in peace and love for others…our spiritual enrichment will inevitably travel back to us, perhaps along circuitous paths. We may not see the immediate effects of living in this way, but they will inevitably return to us and enrich our spirit by accumulation. In this way we are thoroughly in control of our destiny…

At a more profound level still, many people believe that karma and reincarnation are inextricably linked. This enables us to understand the differences in fortune that we experience in our lives on Earth – some rich, some impoverished, some at peace, some at war, and so on…our previous lives should not be visualized literally; material concepts cannot describe the ineffable.” p. 130 Discover Inner Peace, by Mike George.

Here is what Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras say about karma:

Karmas (actions and reactions). When you do something, there is a reaction ultimately to everything we do. But what comes first the chicken or the egg, the action or the reaction. Karma refers to everything we do or have done and its far-reaching affect on everything else. (YS 2:12) Karmas bring about the fruits of pleasures and pain.

When we practice truly detaching ourselves so that we can have preferences without attachments we can be free from disappointment and pain and can continually practice converting everything to happiness. Pain is avoidable if it has not yet come. What we overcome is future sorrow avoided. (YS 2:13-2:16)

“In the Bhagavad Gita, one of the oldest and most beautiful spiritual teachings in existence, non-attachment to the fruit of your action is called Karma Yoga. It is described as the path of ‘consecrated action’.” p. 57, The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle

We can flow with Karma by:

· Acting with loving kindness from your true nature whenever you are inspired to do so without being distracted by what you “should” or “should not” do, but by what inspires the true goodness within you.
· Leading by serving – be a great example by serving others with joy and gratitude and without expectation – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe states it perfectly:
“Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being.”
· Surrendering to the idea that “everything happens for a reason” and that we can choose to focus on the negative or the positive aspects of any event or experience.

Bhakti – Love & Life

By Stephanie Adams, all rights reserved

“The return to love is not the end of life’s adventure, but the beginning.
It’s the return to who you really are.” ~ Marianne Williamson

Bhakti from the root word bhaj means to share or to participate in, devotion or love. To love and build relationships by seeing universal energy, or God, as everything, and in everyone of us, is why we are here. It has become “normal” to focus most of our time and energy on achievements or success, but it is more “natural” to who we are to devote our energy to love, community, family, or relationship. “Who we are and who we become depends, in part, on whom we love.” p. 144, T. Lewis, M.D., et al, A General Theory of Love

Realizing that while it may be fashionable to live fiercely independent lives, we are actually hard-wired to live in families, communities, tribes. Our communities may look different today: internet networking, workplace relationships, therapists, spiritual teachers or communities, and the other community environments we create and participate in, are indicative of our natural instinctual drive toward relationship and community, or the tribal nature of humans.

“A state of true self awareness removes the egotistical need for us to judge, attack, criticize or control others. Any fear that others might be capable of arousing in us dissolves in the knowledge that we are one with them, even if they themselves are not aware of this.

The health of all our relationships with others, from the most to the least intimate, depends upon our relationship with our own self – our awareness. When we cultivate that awareness the garden we inhabit with others will bloom of its own accord.” pp. 32-33 Discover Inner Peace, by Mike George.

Yoga and Religion

By Stephanie Adams, all rights reserved

Yoga …in itself is not an institutionalized religion, per se. Hinduism is related to yoga through a common recognition of the Vedas as an authoritative source, and both Buddhism and Jainism share many of the core values of the Yoga tradition. But Classical Yoga is best understood as a system of spiritual practice, rather than a particular religion. Being non-sectarian in its essence, yoga represents a body of practices that may be fruitfully taken up by anyone who is serious about their spiritual development, regardless of their individual religious affiliation.

Although some people practice yoga out of devotion to a guru, there are others who follow their own guidance. Although yoga does not necessarily require belief in a Creator as we understand God in the traditional Western religious sense, the Yoga Sutra advocates devotion to Ishvara or the “Lord” who is described as an ultimate being forever unafflicted by worldly concerns. Whether this Lord is understood as God Almighty or as the yogic ideal of the liberated “Seer,” the decision about how to conceptualize Ishvara is (a) very personal one. By remaining deliberately ambiguous and non-dogmatic about such ultimate theological issues, the Yoga tradition establishes itself as a positive proponent for individual spiritual development for persons of all religious backgrounds and creeds.

The following are taken from writings from three world-renowned yogic scholars who have studied the ancient yogic texts for decades. Yoga is a non-sectarian science/philosophy. It has been used by religions, but it is not a religion.

Many yogic scholars today say that yoga is clearly not a religion, and does not conflict with religious beliefs. It is a science of mind that can be used to understand the body/mind and, if you choose, to enhance your personal spiritual beliefs. Think of the separation of yoga and religion as similar to the separation of church and state. Yoga was meant to be a safe haven for all.

Here are a couple examples:

Is Yoga a Religion? No. This confusion arose in our culture because Yoga evolved over thousands of years in the context of the spiritual and religious traditions of India. The practices of Yoga were appropriated into most of the different religious traditions of the East. When these teachings were first transmitted in the West, they were often taught by teachers who were also practicing one of the many forms of Hinduism, Sikhism, or Buddhism. The pure teachings of Yoga were therefore often mixed with the cultural and religious associations of the particular teacher.

Although the practices of Yoga were appropriated by these religious traditions, most of them dismissed Yoga as a secular science. Yoga is actually more correctly understood as a science of mind oriented towards understanding the mind/body relationship. Indeed we can see that many similar practices evolved and were appropriated into the religious traditions of the West. The pure teachings of Yoga have no theological orientation. The practices of Yoga when correctly taught will help anyone of any religious tradition deepen their own faith. Gary Kraftsow

When the word Yoga is mentioned, most people immediately think of some physical postures for relaxing and limbering up the body. This is one aspect of the Yogic science, but actually only a very small part and relatively recent in development. The physical Yoga, or Hatha Yoga, was primarily designed to facilitate the real practice of Yoga – namely, the understanding… So the actual meaning of Yoga is the science of the mind.

We all want to know more about our minds: how they work and how we can work with them. This field is closer to us than anything else in life. It may be interesting and useful to know how to fix a car or cook a meal or how atoms are split. But something that holds a more immediate and vital interest for thoughtful people is their own mind. What is the mind? Does it determine our behavior and experience or do we create and sustain its activity? What is consciousness? …

Patanjali is completely scientific in this respect. He sees Yoga as a rigorous science and never hesitates to give all the aspects of the practice and their ramifications. It is the duty of a scientist to understand and explain every aspect of his discoveries. It is just as when a chemist formulates a medicine. He has to explain its proper usage as well as any adverse reactions that could occur if not used properly.

Sir Swami Satchinanda in his commentary and translation of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Yoga does not belong to any religion. Christ was a great yogi. Buddha was a great yogi. Yoga is the expansion of consciousness. Om represents all aspects of God. It is beyond our intelligence and the moment we try to explain it, it will no longer be its true meaning. We can say this, Om is universal connectedness and represents three levels of wisdom/knowledge:

1) What we have gained so far,
2) Wisdom we will gain in the future, and
3) Wisdom beyond our intelligence.

–S. JayaKumar, Mysore, India

Ayidya & Assumed Identity

By Stephanie Adams, all rights reserved

Avidya/ignorance is seeing/thinking the following:

· Impermanence as permanent – yogic philosophy teaches impermanence – the world is always changing and holding onto the attachment of non-change is an illusion. The very nature of reality is impermanence. The world is always in a state of flux – it is nature’s way.

· Impure as pure – we are often in denial about our impurities

· Painful as pleasant – we are often seeking pleasure and that pleasure is really bringing us deeper pain

· Self as the non-Self – Our bodies are always changing every second. Yet, when we say things like “I am hungry” “I am tired” we’re really taking about our bodies and their conditions or qualities. If we say “my body is hungry” we are closer to the truth. When we say “I am ___________” we define ourselves as something that we are wholly not. (YS 2:5)

According to Donna Farhi, in the chapter titled “Assumed Identity” in her book Bringing Yoga to Life:

The first three verses of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (I.I – I.3) tell us that when we gain a grasp over the process of awareness, we too will see ourselves as we really are…

Patanjali tells us that when the mind is still we perceive ourselves and the world as they really are. The state of mind called Yoga is oftern compared to a crystal or diamond so pristine that it reflects back exactly whatever is presented to it (I.4I). This reflective consciousness does not add, subtract, edit or rearrange the perception to suit its own agendas…

Making assumptions is such an insidious habit that it is the basis of much of our trouble in everyday life, scrambling our perceptions so that we taint our relationships and smearing our perceptual process so that we cannot recognize our own true identity…. Maybe someone let us down long ago and now we assume that everyone around us is incompetent, and so we conduct all of our conversations in a patronizing tone that gets on the nerves of even our most patient acquaintance. This habit of projection complicates life immeasurably, which is not the direction we want to go if we want to be happy.

The truly contemplative mind, on the other hand, is neutral. This neutrality does not imply dullness, or inactivity but instead a kind of alert presence that is always available. The neutral mind is called the “witness.” When we’re witnessing from this neutral, nonpresumptive place, the “me” is absent – the me being whatever collection of things I have stockpiled to make up my identity…the process of Yoga is one of deconstruction – removing these assumed identities….Then when we see, we are seeing things as they really are…This choiceless awareness requires a radical form of honesty and acceptance: acceptance of self, acceptance of others, and acceptance of things just as they are…This relaxing into life affords us an immediate experience of happiness ad peacefulness that is not affected by life’s vicissitudes. (p. 176-78)

The Yoga of Relationship

By Stephanie Adams, all rights reserved

What does Yogic wisdom teach us about how we should treat others and how we can relate to others?

YS 1:33 maitri-karuna-mudito-peksanam sukha-duhkha-punya-
punya-visayanam bhavanatas-citta-prasadanam

· Cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked.

Patanjali suggests we develop these four attitudes or brahmavihara:

As householder yogis, these four attitudes can be most useful. If you go off and live in a cave, there is much less opportunity for testing your spiritual fitness. Most of us live real lives with all sorts of people and relationships that test us. Taking our Yoga off the mat and into the real world, can be a very powerful tool for personal growth and transformation. When we practice these four brahmavihara we can cease what I like to call the “spiraling” of emotions and mental unrest that comes from unresolved or unsettled relationships.

1) Friendliness toward the joyful – it is easier to start with this one to gain the confidence we need to live more compassionately toward all.

2) Compassion for those who are suffering – in words, this seems easy, but compassion and empathy are different than pity. Many of us are quite distanced from real suffering, so we may pity those who are suffering, but we don’t have compassion or understanding of their suffering. We further distance ourselves and see these people as invisible. We protect ourselves by “turning off” our feelings when we are faced with the magnitude of suffering in the world.

How can we develop empathy without being overwhelmed by it? We can start with what feels most real to us. Your greatest suffering can be turned into your greatest gift for developing empathy toward others. Where have you suffered in your life? The greatest gift Yoga has given to me is to learn that everyone has a story, and that most of us have been doing our best to survive our “story” in the best way we know how. Now, when I feel the impulse to judge someone or become disgusted by their behavior or way of life, I ask myself, “I wonder what his/her life has been like to lead them to choose this?”

Where this really starts to become beneficial is when we start to not see our individual suffering as separate. When we realize that everyone has a story, and that we all have suffering and joy in our lives, but they just exist at different levels and times. There is universal suffering and universal joy, and if we can see ourselves as part of something bigger, and begin to see everyone as some small part of ourselves, we can begin to develop more empathy and understanding and less judgment.

3) Celebrating the good in others – this again, seems easy, but in reality we find ourselves, often times, being jealous of the “good” in someone else’s life. If we can begin to truly feel delight in someone else’s virtues, we can begin to be inspired and not jealous. This can be difficult in a society that is so competitive and judgmental. It is popular to make fun of someone who is “perfect” or virtuous. We gain pleasure from seeing others fail and are obsessed with the tumultuous lives of celebrities. We like to point out all the ways, these people are NOT perfect, so we can seem more OK with ourselves. Practicing the yama, asteya, or not coveting, or wanting what others have, can help us to truly celebrate the good in others.

Spending time in the presence of someone who inspires and accepts you will help you to practice this third brahmavihara. We can actually spend time with a spiritual teacher, loving friend or relative, or we can hold an image of them when we meditate or pray. For example, if you are a Christian, you can hold an image of Christ with delight and celebration.

4) Practicing detachment or indifference toward those who have harmed us or others in word or deed is the most difficult of all the brahmavihara. The time and energy that goes into creating an enemy is completely not worthwhile. The negative energy and negative attraction we put into the feeling of hate will never serve us. If something does not “feel good”, that is our signal to turn our attention away from it. The ego tries to get us into creating enemy relationships so we can analyze and judge someone else so that we can feel “right” and better about who we are. At a much deeper level, we know this never works. It never feels quite right. We even try to get others involved in our “fight” and feel more justified in our behavior by the involvement of others. Or, instead, some of us become attached the idea of becoming a victim to someone else’s bad behavior. Of course, this is completely disempowering, and not useful.

Detachment toward the wicked does not mean we should allow someone to misuse or mistreat us. We can remove our selves from a relationship with this person completely and/or set discriminate and healthy boundaries while letting go of all the emotions and energy of attachment to that person.