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Dharma Dilemma and Karma Yoga
Vincent: Hello, Sundari. Thank you for writing to me despite all the trouble you are going through. My first email was very chaotic, as I was writing it the night before business negotiations with agents and the yoga studio owner. ☺ I spent half a night reading about dharma and I cancelled the negotiations next morning.
Sundari: No problem, Vincent. Dharma is a very difficult topic and impossible for one person to tell another what their personal dharma is.
Vincent: I am still not sure 100% if I should focus purely on inquiry like a sannyasi or continue my study and practice of yoga and healing arts.
Sundari: Why are these goals mutually exclusive? You are young, a parent and husband, you have responsibilities to fulfil. Vedanta is not going to tell you what to do, but it gives you the tools to help you make choices, which is karma yoga. Karma yoga, when practised properly, is really dharma yoga because no matter what action you take it is dedicated to Isvara as a consecration. It is understood that peace of mind only comes with the realisation that you are not in control of the dharma field, yet in taking the appropriate steps to act according to dharma and then relinquishing the results peace of mind is produced. It is true that, ultimately, the highest dharma is to commit to inquiry into your true nature, using the scripture as your means of knowledge. There is no purpose to life other than to know who you are and so live not as someone identified with being a person or someone who knows about the self – but to live free AS the self. However, there are specific dharmas for all the roles that are available to the jiva: father, parent, husband, teacher, businessman – etc. All the other dharmas subscribe to the overarching dharma as an inquirer, but you cannot ignore them without contravening dharma.
Vincent: From what I learned from you, a karmi eventually becomes a sannyasi?
Sundari: A karmi is someone identified with being a doer and one who uses self-knowledge to accomplish things in the world to get what he or she wants. Karma yoga is designed to negate the doer, IF it is understood and practised correctly. The point of karma yoga is not to destroy the doer or even necessarily its sense of doership. Doing will always take place, from the day we are born until the body dies. If one is alive one is doing something, even if we think we are doing nothing. Karma yoga is meant to clear the mind of enough likes and dislikes until it becomes composed enough to do sustained inquiry. Only inquiry removes the problem of doership because it shows that you, the self, cannot be the ego (doer) that is known to you. With this understanding you see that as the doer is only one constituent in all the factors in the field that need to be present for ANYTHING to take place, it becomes very clear that the jiva cannot be the doer. When that is clear, the doer can appear in you (awareness) even with a trace of doership, but you do not identify with it. If karma yoga is understood you will know it always works no matter what result you get. This is because life is not about getting what you want. It is about the one who does not want. So take whatever action brings peace of mind and consecrate the results to Isvara.
Sameness of mind towards success and failure with respect to action is another definition of karma yoga. When a result is looked upon as a success, attachment arises and when it is looked upon as failure, aversion arises. In fact there is no such thing as success or failure. Every result is in accordance with the laws of action. Laws are not made by anybody; they are made by the dharma field, or Isvara, so they can never go wrong.
This is very important for you to hear and understand: every result is a right result. The more you appreciate the laws, the more you are in harmony with the things around and you can find your place in the scheme of things. Action never really fails, it only produces results. A given expectation may be said to have failed, but the one with the expectation has not failed. That “I have failed” or that the action has failed is the wrong conclusion – only the expectation is the problem. So nobody fails. It is only a matter of wrong judgment because we are not omniscient and we cannot have the knowledge of all the factors that shape the results of the actions. Only Isvara has all knowledge of these factors.
Another definition of karma yoga is an attitude of gratitude, a loving consecration of one’s actions based on the understanding that life is a great gift that requires reciprocation. We must remember that we have the freedom in choosing and performing an action and whatever result comes is in accordance with the laws governing the action. This attitude of taking the result as it is, maintaining equanimity of the mind both in success and failure, is yoga.
Failure to appreciate this fact results in low self-esteem, the feeling that “I am a failure.” Or it results in constantly second-guessing yourself. The solution to low self-esteem is the understanding that one’s knowledge of all the variables in the field that produce results is and always will be limited, therefore the results of one’s actions can never be known. This is why karma yoga is common-sense logic – and the key to acting with confidence.
Action can produce likes and dislikes (vasanas) only if the result is looked upon as a success or failure. When the result is looked upon as a function of the invariable laws of action, or what is even better if it is looked upon as the grace of the dharma field, no new likes and dislikes are created. The existing likes and dislikes will no doubt create desires and produce actions, but new likes and dislikes are avoided. With this attitude towards the result actions born of likes and dislikes become the means of eliminating the very likes and dislikes themselves. The mind becomes free from the agitations of elation (rajas) and depression (tamas).
Two Types of Renunciant
So, yes, continued practice of karma yoga produces a mind capable of self-inquiry – and at this point one is no longer a karmi but a sannyasi. Sannyasi means a “renunciant,” and there are two types of renunciant: lifestyle and temperamental. A lifestyle sannyasi usually takes a vow of celibacy and dons orange robes, renouncing the world – or not. A temperamental sannyasi has the temperament of a sannyasi but lives in the world. We are both lifestyle and temperamental sannyasins, but we have not taken the vow of celibacy. The sannyasi can be both, such as a householder, like you.
It sounds like you are conflicted in what your dharma is because you and your wife do not share the same values. This can be a problem if one does not have karma yoga sannyasa, meaning taking all action as a consecration to Isvara, relinquishing results. Karma jnana sannyasa is the knowledge that although action is taken by the doer, it is not a doer.
Vincent: “Sattva is the best guna to cultivate” and “standing as awareness is the ultimate dharma”? So for now that’s what I focus on.
Sundari: Karma yoga produces a sattvic mind, correct. A mind that is pure and dedicated to inquiry into the true nature of the self is tranquil and contemplative. Contemplation is not something you do. It is the nature of sattva. It is not that the mind “becomes” sattvic; sattva is the nature of the mind when rajas and tamas are in balance with sattva. Self-knowledge removes the excess rajas and tamas which cause the agitation, which prevent you from experiencing your true nature, which is sat chit ananda: existence, consciousness, bliss. When the mind is sattvic, you automatically think dispassionately about things and discrimination comes naturally from such a mind.
Vincent: It looks like my dharma is changing towards sannyasi, but there is also rajasic energy that wants to create a yoga studio that would “shine with the light of healing and truth” ☺ and I have tools to do it. I can easily dissolve those rajasic desires with yoga and discrimination, and enjoy the bliss of awareness reflected in the sattvic mind. But how do jnanis decide to build a hospital, to teach or to build an ashram? Almost all of them eventually actively served the community. Did they, as jivas, have karma that bugged them to do it? They were too rajasic? Or they were just getting signs from Isvara/the environment that there is a need for hospital or teaching?
Sundari: There is nothing wrong with desire, especially when it is in harmony with creation and when automatically acted upon with karma yoga. The problem with desire is doership. Ram said that he had never met anyone with as much desire as his guru Chinmayananda. But his desire was totally in the employ of Isvara because he was not identified with being a person. He used the rajas to further the greatest “cause” there is, which is to serve the total. Krishna says to Arjuna, “I am the desire that is not opposed to dharma.” The thing to be very clear about is who desires what and WHY. Is it the ego looking for something – success, recognition – to “make a difference” or save the world? Motivation is the key. No matter what you do or don’t do, if it is in accordance with your nature and your abilities, if you take action consecrating every thought, word and deed to Isvara and take all results as prasad, it does not matter what you do. Isvara unfailingly takes care of the needs of the total, what use is control? As stated above, there is no such thing as success or failure, only results. As an inquirer the results you are after are those that produce peace of mind.
Vincent: Some jivas get a clear message from Isvara. ☺
Sundari: Yes, that’s true; but no matter what you do, whether or not you feel it is as clear as daylight or not, karma yoga is still the only way to proceed.
~ Om, Sundari