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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Karma and Karma Yoga

Sunday 9/18/11 Meditation based on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras
Saraswati Andrea Lee and Chitra Jessica Sunshine
Starseed Yoga and Wellness of Montclair, NJ

OM Shanti call/response lead by Chitraji. 

“Turn every action into Yoga with the magic wand of right attitude.” - Master Sivananda

Usually when we think of karma, we think of it as an effect. For example, if you don’t water a plant, its karma is to die. But not watering the plant is also a karma. Karma is a term for both the cause and the effect. It refers to an action and the reaction. Having the plant is a karma. Taking care of the plant is a karma. Watching the plant blossom or die, is a karma. Our lives are filled with karmas that we are living out from past lives and present decisions. Karma exists personally, in our communities, our families and friends, globally and universally. You reap what you sow. Karma is a cosmic law that allows us to learn and understand why we make certain choices. Under this law, we are not trapped but rather freed. We are in power.  Look for the cause and effect in all situations to grow in all ways. Take note of repeated actions, as they only make certain karmas stronger. Certain acts that are repeated over lifetimes, create grooves in the mind, are called samskaras, and take clear focused attention to let go of.  Become conscious of your actions and intentions. The question, “What does it mean?” can be changed to “What is the purpose? What can I learn? How can I help?”

Karma Yoga
The essential principle of Karma Yoga is changing the motives behind our actions, changing the intention from selfish to selfless. This allows us to ask ourselves why we do what we do. A yogi will do everything for the sake of another.  Even your work can be Karma Yoga.  [Ask yourself, "Why do I go to work, why do I want money?"  "Is it because I need to pay for rent, buy food, and support myself and my community?"  "Or is it because I want to buy a fancy car or the biggest house?"  If you can support yourself and community while having a fancy car, know that it is not wrong.  But what does the fancy car mean to you?]  If our attachments to material items are stronger than our desire to help others, we are not being Karma Yogis.   Instead, create the desire to be desire-less and help others.  When we take the selfishness out of our actions, we take the “I” out of the center so that God may come in. Does that make sense? If our lives are centered around “I/me/mine” we do not have time for "you/us/we" or room in our hearts for anyone else. God is in all our heart of hearts, so helping another is like serving God or serving in God’s name. Karma Yoga is preparation for meditation.

“During Karma Yoga you meditate on what you are doing. You watch your feelings and the mind. It is mental training. Through Karma Yoga, your heart, mind, and body will soon be cleaned.”
- H.H. Master Sri Gurudev Swamiji Satchidananda

Karma and Karma Yoga come from the same root word "kri" which in Sanskrit means "to do" and can also be translated as action. In the first example, action is understood as cause and effect. In the second, which we will discuss now, action is understood as service. Simply put, Karma Yoga is the practice of selfless service and the practice of living your daily life in the spirit of non-attachment. You may have heard it referred to as meditation “off the cushion” because it asks that we be clear, peaceful and one-pointed in the work we do for others.

One way to better understand Karma Yoga is to think of a fruit bearing tree, for instance, an apple tree. Why does a tree give off fruit or flowers? Is it because of the praise and thanks that it gets for providing us with food and beauty?  This is unlikely because we rarely give thanks to the tree. Is it because it knows the that more it gives to us the better we will treat it? Probably not considering the state of our environment. So what propels it to give? It is because it is the duty of the tree to do so. And each year at roughly the same time that tree will continue to bear fruit without being asked or rewarded and without demanding gratitude. When we see ourselves as in this manner, we can understand our place in the ecology of selfless service that is Karma Yoga.

With that in mind Karma Yoga can be broken down into two parts: Action and Intention. The Action is whatever you are doing with peaceful, clear and one-pointed attention. The Intention is your inspiration for that action and non-attachment to the results of that action. But, rest assured that Karma Yoga does not mean you need to be Bill Gates. Any act that you do in the spirit of Yoga is Karma Yoga, as long as you remain unattached to the fruits of your labor. This includes the work you do as citizens of your community, as parents, as volunteers, and even the work you do for pay. Remember, the positive intention of your work paired with your lack of attachment to the results of that work, are what make Karma Yoga. Working for pay is one way that you might support yourself in order continue giving to others. It’s like the mother and child on a plane in distress. The mother must first provide oxygen for herself to sustain her so that she can in turn save her child. We need to nourish ourselves and keep ourselves in good health in order to serve completely and to the best of our abilities. Like much of yoga, we must maintain a balance between nurturing ourselves and being of service to others.

Karma Yoga is enough to save your soul.  Look to nature for inspiration.  At the core of every human, every animal, every thing, is the soul.  The soul is eternal, all knowledge, and blissful.  It is the exact same in each one of us, each a version of the Divine.  Everything in nature is God and lives its life for others.  Think of the apple tree again.  Each year is produces apples for us to eat but does it ever eat one apple?  No.  It just gives and gives, without looking for praise or thanks.  Its job it to produce a fruit, but it never once says "hey, can I have a taste?"  Think about what that means for your own job.  If you do a good job, you know you did a good job.  That is enough.

From the Bhagavad Gita (The Song of God), the ancient text recounting the journey of Arjuna the warrior, one of the most highly studied and quoted sacred scriptures from India, in Book Two: The Yoga of Wisdom, it states...

"2:47  As for you, do the work that comes to you - but don't look for the results.  Don't be motivated by the fruits of your actions, nor become attached to inaction.
"2:48  Equanimity of mind is Yoga.  Do everything, Arjuna, centered in that equanimity.  Renouncing all attachments, you'll enjoy an undisturbed mind in success or failure.
"2:49  Work done for the sake of some results is much lower than that done in mental equilibrium, Arjuna.  Wretched are those motivated by the fruits of their actions.
"2:50  The one who has trained the mind to stay centered in equanimity, in this life, has cast aside both good and evil karma.  Therefore, by all means practice Yoga; perfection in action is Yoga."

What is perfection in action?  A perfect act is one that hurts none and brings harmony to at least one. 

In the Book Three of the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna informs Arjuna that in acting out his duty without attachment, one “gains the Supreme.” And that’s the paradox. In giving of ourselves to others and in being unattached to the result of our gift, we do gain something. That something is peace.

I’d like to share one of my favorite stories about the butcher and the yogi...

"Once there was the yogi who sought enlightenment.  His actions included daily silent meditation and seeking out food in the village.  His intention was to gain magical powers.  One day he was meditating under a tree when bird-droppings landed on his shoulder. Angered he looked up at the bird with such hate that he burned the bird to ash.  I guess he had a little ego left to tame, because he thought this was a great indication of the progress he had made in his spiritual life.  Later that day, while out asking for food, he knocked on the door of a humble housewife.
Her voice replied, "I’m a little busy, please wait."
So he had to wait. He waited but felt a little angry thinking, "Why is this lady making me wait? Is she not aware of my powers?"
Inside the house, the lady was busy serving her sick husband.
After some time, the lady came out. Upon seeing the yogi angry, she said, "Here there are no birds to burn."
The yogi was taken aback. How did she came to know of this incident?
She replied, "I am serving my sick husband all the time. This act of service must have brought some powers with it, thus I have a clear mind and your actions were reflected in it."
If you want to know more, go and ask the village butcher.
"But why?" thought the yogi. “His duty is to prepare and sell meat. What could he possibly have to teach me?”
Curious, he went anyway.
When he arrived the butcher acknowledged the yogi and told him that after he closed the shop and went home to care for his sick parents, he would then be able to speak with the yogi.
The yogi was surprised again that he was asked to wait, but nevertheless he did.
Upon returning, the butcher sat with the yogi as he asked him questions about his spiritual life. How could a butcher and a simple housewife have gained such power?
The answer the butcher thought was simple. He said, “I do my butcher’s work and take care of my parents. I realize that it is my duty and part of my life’s plan. I’m not doing for my own sake but for the people. Thus my mind is calm, clear and peaceful.”

By practicing selfless service we perform meditation in action and further train the mind to be clear and peaceful. We wish that you will all find passion and joy in your duties and share that wealth with one and all.

Practice of Brahmari Pranayama and Visualization Meditation.

Closing Peace Chants
Asaato Maa Sad Gamaya
Tamaso Maa Jyotir Gamaya
Mrityor Maa Amritam Gamaya
Lead us from unreal to Real
Lead us from darkness to the Light
Lead us from the fear of death to the knowledge of Immortality.
OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti
Lokaah Samastaah Sukhino Bhavantu
May the entire universe be filled with Peace and Joy, Love and Light

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