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"Yoga of Action: How to Work" is an analysis of Karma Yoga or the science of action. Lessen your daily stress by applying time-tested methods of work suggested by Vivekananda and at the same time learn why you really work.


Swamiji, what is the exact meaning of the word 'karma' as it is used in Karma Yoga?

The word 'karma' is derived from the Sanskrit kr, to do; all action is karma. Technically, this word also means the effects of actions. In connection with metaphysics, it sometimes means the effects of which our past actions were the causes.

But in Karma Yoga we have simply to do with the word 'karma' as meaning 'work'. (1:27)

 

Where will work take us? Do we have any specific goal?

 

The goal of mankind is knowledge. That is the one ideal placed before us by Eastern philosophy (1:27)

 

Knowledge? I thought what everyone is angling for is pleasure.

 

Pleasure is not the goal of man, but knowledge. Pleasure and happiness come to an end. It is a mistake to suppose that pleasure is the goal. (1:27)

 

I don't agree with you, Swamiji. There must be very, very few--if--indeed there are any who want knowledge above everything else, while almost everyone wants happiness. I am yet to meet anyone who says 'I want to be miserable.'

 

The cause of all the miseries we have in the world is that men foolishly think pleasure to be the ideal to strive for. After a time man finds that it is not happiness, but knowledge, towards which he is going, and that both pleasure and pain are great teachers, and that he learns as much from evil as from good. (1:27)

 

How exactly does this learning mechanism function?

 

As pleasure and pain pass before the soul, they leave upon it different pictures, and the result of these combined impressions is what is called man's 'character'. If you take the character of any man, it really is but the aggregate of tendencies, the sum total of the bent of his mind. You will find that misery and happiness are equal factors in the formation of that character. Good and evil have an equal share in molding character, and in some instances misery is a greater teacher than happiness. (1:27)

 

How can you say that?

 

In studying the great characters the world has produced, I dare say, in the vast majority of cases, it would be found that it was misery that taught more than happiness, it was poverty that taught more than wealth, it was blows that brought out their inner fire more than praise. (1:27)

 

Granted that knowledge is the goal; the point is how do we reach it? Where do we find knowledge?

 

Knowledge is inherent in man. No knowledge comes from outside; it is all inside. What we say a man knows should, in strict psychological language, be what he discovers or unveils; what a man learns is really what he discovers by taking the cover off his soul, which is a mine of infinite knowledge. (1:28)

 

This is interesting. Could you please elaborate, Swamiji?

 

We say Newton discovered gravitation. Was it sitting anywhere in a comer waiting for him? It was in his own mind; the time came and he found it out. All knowledge that the world has ever received comes from the mind; the infinite library of the universe is in your own mind. The external world is simply the suggestion, the occasion, which sets you to study your own mind, but the object of your study is always your own mind. The falling of an apple gave the suggestion to Newton and he studied his own mind. He rearranged all the previous links of thought in his mind and discovered a new link among them, which we call the law of gravitation. It was not in the apple nor in anything in the centre of the earth.

All knowledge, secular or spiritual, is therefore in the human mind. (1:28)

Why is every one of us not aware of this if it is really 'inside', as you say?

 

In many cases it is not discovered, but remains covered, and when the covering is being slowly taken off, we say, 'We are learning.' And the advance of knowledge is made by the advance of this process of uncovering. The man from whom this veil is being lifted is the more knowing man, the man upon whom it lies thick is ignorant, and the man from whom it has entirely gone is all knowing, omniscient. There have been omniscient men and, I believe, there will be yet; and that there will be myriads of them in the cycles to come. Like fire in a piece of flint, knowledge exists in the mind; suggestion is the friction which brings it out. So with all our feelings and actions-our tears and our smiles, our joys and. our griefs our weeping and our laughter, our curses and our blessings, our praises and our blames, every one of these we may find, if we calmly study our own selves, to have been brought out from within ourselves by so many blows. The result is what we are. All these blows taken together are called karma--work, action. (1:28-29)

 

That means, more the number of these blows the more the karma?

 

Every mental and physical blow that is given to the soul-by which, as it were, fire is struck from it, and by which its own power and knowledge are discovered is karma, this word being used in its widest sense. Thus we are all doing karma all the time. I am talking to you: that is karma. You are listening: that is karma. We breathe: that is karma.

We walk: that is karma. Everything we do, physical or mental, is karma, and it leaves its mark on us. (1:29)

 

We are doing karma all the time and yet most of the time we are not aware of it. Only the gross, tangible karma we can see and feel. but not the subtle. unseen karma going on at deeper levels.

There are certain works which are, as it were, the aggregate, the sum total, of a large number of smaller works. If we stand near the seashore and hear the waves dashing against the shingle, we think it is such a great noise, and yet we know that one wave is really composed of millions and millions of minute waves. Each one of these is making a noise, and yet we do not catch it; it is only when they become the big aggregate that we hear. Similarly, every pulsation of the heart is work. Certain kinds of work we feel and they become tangible to us; they are, at the same time, the aggregate of a number of small works.

 

If you really want to judge the character of a man, look not at his great performances. Every fool may become a hero at one time or another. Watch a man do his most common actions; those are indeed the things which will tell you the real character of a great man. Great occasions rouse even the lowest of human beings to some kind of greatness, but he alone is the really great man whose character is great always, the same wherever he be. (1:29)

 

This link between karma and character is intriguing.

 

Karma in its effect on character is the most tremendous power that man has to deal with. Man is, as it were, a centre, and is attracting all the powers of the universe towards himself, and in this centre is fusing them all, and again sending them off in a big current. Such a centre is the real man---the - almighty, the omniscient--and he draws the whole universe towards him. Good and bad, misery and happiness, all are running towards him and clinging round him; and out of them he fashions the mighty stream of tendency called character and
throws it outward. As he has the power of drawing in anything, so has he the power of throwing it out.

 

All the actions that we see in the world, all the movements in human society, all the works that we have around us, are simply the display of thought, the manifestation of the will of man. Machines or instruments, cities, ships, or men-of-war, all these are simply the manifestation of the will of man; and this will is caused by character, and character is manufactured by karma. (1:29-30)

 

So karma is linked with the manifestation of the will too?

 

The men of mighty will the world has produced have all been tremendous workers--gigantic souls, with wills powerful enough to overturn worlds, wills they got by persistent work, through ages and ages.

 

Such a gigantic will as that of a Buddha or a Jesus could not be obtained in one life, for we know who their fathers were. It is not known that their fathers ever spoke a word for the good of mankind. Millions and millions of carpenters like Joseph had gone; millions are still living. Millions and millions of petty kings like Buddha's father had been in the world. If it was only a case of hereditary transmission, how do you account for this petty prince, who was not perhaps obeyed by his own servants, producing this son whom half a world worships? How do you explain the gulf between the carpenter and his son, whom millions of human beings worship as God? It cannot be solved by the theory of heredity.

 

The gigantic will which Buddha and Jesus threw over the world, whence did it come? Whence came this accumulation of power? It must have been there through ages and ages, continually growing bigger and bigger, until it burst on society in a Buddha or a Jesus, even rolling down to the present day.

 

All this is determined by karma, work. No one can get anything unless he earns it. This is an eternal law. (1:30-31)


I disagree. I have seen too many people enjoying without deserving it, and others, suffering for no fault of theirs. The law you speak of is no law at all; even if it is. I would say it is not eternal.

 

We may sometimes think it is not so, but in the long run we become convinced of it. A man may struggle all his life for riches; he may cheat thousands, but he finds at last that he did not deserve to become rich, and his life becomes a trouble and a nuisance to him. We may go on accumulating things for our physical enjoyment, but only what we earn is really ours. A fool may buy all the books in the world and they will be in his library, but he will be able to read only those that he deserves to. And this deserving is produced by karma. Our karma determines what we deserve and what we can assimilate. (1:31 )

 

That would mean our karma is responsible...

 

We are responsible for what we are; and whatever we wish ourselves to be, we have the power to make ourselves. If what we are now has been the result of our own past actions, it certainly follows that whatever we wish to be in future can be produced by our present actions; so we have to know how to work. (1:31)

 

What is the use of knowing how to work? Everyone works in some way or other in this world.

 

But there is such a thing as frittering away our energies. With regard to Karma Yoga, the Gita says that it is doing work with cleverness and as a science; by knowing how to work, we can obtain the greatest results. You must remember that all work is simply to bring out the inherent power of the mind, to wake up the soul. The power is inside everyone, so is knowing; the different works are like blows to bring them out, to cause these giants to wake up. (1:31)


Compiled from The Complete Words of Swami Vivekananda, vol. 1:27-31.
(Advaita Ashrama, Calcutta, 1977). Courtesy of The Vedanta Kesari.