Karma is an interesting word in today’s society, in that it can have two meanings:
1. luck or fate – something outside of our control
2. an action or situation that occurs as a direct result of actions we had previously made – something our actions inspired to occur, and therefore very much in our control
Even though the two common interpretations of karma could seem to be opposites of each other, it is my understanding they are actually two sides of one coin – the side we can see and the side that we can’t see. Karma is essentially the universe’s way of balancing out actions. Sometimes we experience the balance within our lifetime, and we can see the results of the seeds we have sown – good or bad. Sometimes, however, what we experience is partially the result of actions and deeds we did in a previous life, the effects of which simply took longer to come to fruition. Because our conscious minds may not be aware of what our souls did on a previous journey, the type of karma that comes to us from a previous lifetime can seem a bit unfair.
And, this is where the practice of Karma Yoga plays an important role.
Help a person (or organization) through their difficulties to ease the burden they are experiencing, and you help them move towards emotional balance in this lifetime. But as well, assisting others without personal gain also helps us balance out any times in our past (either this lifetime or previous ones) when we exhibited selfishness. What is selfishness other than operating our lives as if we had no connection to those around us? We are all connected, and when we match our actions to fit the belief that we are all various expressions of one energy, we find grace by treating others as we would like to be treated. We find grace by treating others as if they were us, because on some level, they are. At our most basic level, we are all divine spirit.
As said in the Yoga Sutra 1.33: [excerpt] “In relationships, the mind becomes purified by cultivating feelings of goodwill towards those who are virtuous.” (translation Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati) Through Karma Yoga, it may appear we are assisting another for their benefit, but in fact we are also assisting ourselves to remain, or return to, being whole. Through our action, we can find Yoga.
Karma Yoga is truly about finding and working towards balance, because balance is another way of saying non-dualism, another meaning for “yoga.”
In fact, the entire 1.33 sutra demonstrates what non-duality looks like, how to behave towards others as if they were the same person as oneself: when another is happy, be happy, when another is sad, console them, when another is working towards a virtuous goal, assist them, when another is on a (perceived) wrong track and making mistakes, don’t let the mistakes stop you from pursuing what you feel to be your divine path.
To me, Karma Yoga is more than simply donating my time to assist others. Karma Yoga also means working toward a goal that benefits all beings, working to create a more healthy environment for all of us. It is looking at the “big picture” and thinking of how my actions affect the entire community within which I live and operate.
How does Karma Yoga feature in your life?
About the Author
Michelle Dortignac, founder of Unnata® Aerial Yoga, is an E-RYT 200 certified Yoga instructor of close to 20 years, while during most of those years also being a professional aerial acrobatics performer. Her most influential Yoga teachers include Dharma Mittra, Alan Finger and Cyndi Lee.