Search & Read
Karma means action, but in the context of the pursuit of liberation it means proper action. Yoga means proper attitude. Doing the right actions with the right attitude is karma yoga. There are three types of actions based on the qualities inherent in the karma field.
Karma yoga is intended to prepare one for liberation and the preparation basically consists of developing a mature, dispassionate mind. So these scripturally enjoined karmas promote inner growth. They are called niskama karmas. Nis means “not” and kama means “desire.” So these are actions that are not based on my desires for tangible results like money, fame, status, pleasure, children and so forth. They should be considered compulsory actions – assuming the desire for liberation.
What are these karmas? They are called the Big Five Worship (pancha-maha-yajna). There is no tangible benefit from these karmas. One of these practices does not replace the other. Just as eating only dessert at the expense of other nutritious foods is not enough, all five are necessary. Each one affects a different part of the psyche, and the psyche as a whole needs to be healed. These practices are the essence of karma yoga because they directly contribute to spiritual growth.
1. Worship of God in any form (deva yajna). It may be a ritual sacrifice (yaga) or a puja in front of an idol or a photo. It can be telling the beads, visiting a temple, doing service or giving money to a church or mosque.
2. Ancestor worship (pitr yajna). Unconditional reverence for parents, even difficult ones. This excellent psychology and is a very important practice because most psychological dysfunction is picked up from our parents, even good parents. So worship of parents neutralizes emotional problems picked up in childhood.
3. Worship of scriptures and the authors of the scriptures (brahma yajna). Regular study of the meaning of the scripture. Develops our understanding, removes ignorance and cultivates devotion for the truth.
4. Service to humanity (manusya yajna). All forms of social service are included in this category. Most conflicts are the result of a dualistic mentality. Serving people dissolves this attitude.
5. Worship of all sentient beings (bhuta yajna). Nature worship. We are part and parcel of a delicately balanced ecosystem. How we relate to the other conscious beings in our environment has a powerful effect on our state of mind. If you revere nature you will never be selfish. Vegetarianism is a bhuta yajna.
Are these formal rituals that need to be done at a specific place at a specific time in a specific way? If you are a vedika and follow the lifestyle proscribed in the Vedas, yes. But what if you are a Western person living a different lifestyle yet committed to self-inquiry? In this case these “rituals” should be done internally. For example, whenever you think of your parents you should see if the feeling accompanying the thought is one of love. If it isn’t you should look into the reason why you have a problem with them. You should “heal” the relationship in your mind by understanding, for example, that they can only be what they are, that they did their best according to their conditioning. You should find a place in your heart to accommodate them and give them credit for the good qualities they instilled in you. They are no longer in your life physically perhaps, but they are still in your mind. They are part of your mind and your mind is made out of you and until you have a loving feeling about that part of your mind you will not be free to inquire properly. Once you have dissolved the negativity bring an image of them into your mind and fill the image with love. Keep the love flowing to the image as long as possible.
You are constantly in touch with nature. Your environment is nature. So to worship nature you should be continuously mindful of the condition of your environment, serving it and beautifying it all the time. This includes your body which is your most intimate contact with nature. This does not necessarily mean that you join the Nature Conservancy or the Sierra Club or fight to save the whales, although these activities qualify as nature worship, only that you keep your environment in mind continually and do those actions that purify and beautify it: recycle, use biodegradable products, avoid food and products that involve cruelty to animals, etc.
Service to humanity is not a grand gesture, a conscious do-gooding intended to save the world. Such efforts smack of ego, self-conscious virtue and often desire for recognition. Worshipful service simply means responding appropriately to legitimate, small, everyday requests for help, particularly giving your time to help others.
Desire-prompted activities that basically contribute to our material well-being. These activities do not directly contribute to preparing the mind, but they are scripturally sanctioned because indirectly they make it possible to pursue liberation. They are not considered sins as long as they do not compel the individual to violate dharma. In fact the Vedic scriptures proscribe a number of rituals for getting money, property, certain types of children, rain, etc. They are neither encouraged nor discouraged.
Prohibited actions. These actions build unhelpful vasanas that take the doer away from liberation. Violence in thought, word and deed, lying, cheating, stealing, gambling, drinking alcohol, taking drugs, excessive sex solely for pleasure, etc. are examples of this class of karmas. They are considered sins because they produce a dull and agitated mind.