Continuing our discussion on the characteristics of a Karm Yogi, we were taught earlier that performing our duties to the fullest with the mind attached to God is the essence of Karm Yog.
What then are these duties? Let us begin understanding the basics of our duties, work and action.
Until the mind and intellect reach a state where they are absorbed in God-consciousness, physical work performed in an attitude of duty is very beneficial for one’s internal purification. Hence, the Vedas prescribe duties for humans, to help them discipline their mind and senses. In fact, laziness is described as one of the biggest pitfalls on the spiritual path:
“Laziness is the greatest enemy of humans, and is especially pernicious since it resides in their own body. Work is their most trustworthy friend, and is a guarantee against downfall.” Even the basic bodily activities like eating, bathing, and maintaining proper health require work. These obligatory actions are called nitya karm. To neglect these basic maintenance activities is not a sign of progress, but an indication of slothfulness, leading to emaciation and weakness of both body and mind. On the other hand, a cared for and nourished body is a positive adjunct on the road to spirituality. Thus, the state of inertia does not lend itself either to material or spiritual achievement. For the progress of our own soul, we should embrace the duties that help elevate and purify our mind and intellect.
In the 9th verse of 3rd chapter, Shree Krishna begins to explain what duties we humans are to perform and where to look for guidance.
yajñārthāt karmaṇo ’nyatra loko ’yaṁ karma-bandhanaḥ
tad-arthaṁ karma kaunteya mukta-saṅgaḥ samāchara
Work must be done as a yajña (sacrifice) to the Supreme Lord; otherwise, work causes bondage in this material world. Therefore, O son of Kunti, perform your prescribed duties, without being attached to the results, for the satisfaction of God.
Shakespeare said: “For there is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Similarly, work in itself is neither good nor bad. Depending upon the state of the mind, it can be either binding or elevating. A knife in the hands of a robber is a weapon for intimidation or committing murder, but in the hands of a surgeon is an invaluable instrument used for saving people’s lives. The knife in itself is neither murderous nor benedictory—its effect is determined by how it is used.
Work done for the enjoyment of one’s senses and the gratification of one’s pride is the cause of bondage in the material world, while work performed as yajña (sacrifice) for the pleasure of the Supreme Lord liberates one from the bonds of Maya and attracts divine grace. Since it is our nature to perform actions, we are forced to work in one of the two modes. We cannot remain without working for even a moment as our mind cannot remain still. If we do not perform actions as a sacrifice to God, we will be forced to work to gratify our mind and senses. Instead, when we perform work as a sacrifice, we then look upon the whole world and everything in it as belonging to God, and therefore, meant for utilization in his service.
Lord Vishnu instructs in the Shrimad Bhagavatam,
gṛiheṣhv āviśhatāṁ chāpi puṁsāṁ kuśhala-karmaṇām
mad-vārtā-yāta-yāmānāṁ na bandhāya gṛihā matāḥ (Bhāgavatam 4.30.19)
“The perfect karm yogis, even while fulfilling their household duties, perform all their works as yajña to me, knowing me to be the Enjoyer of all activities. They spend whatever free time they have in hearing and chanting my glories. Such people, though living in the world, never get bound by their actions.”
The spirit of karm yog is to see the whole world as belonging to God, and hence meant for the satisfaction of God. We then perform our duties not for gratifying our mind and senses, but for the pleasure of God.