Karma yoga can be practised as an entirely separate path of yoga. It is not necessary to practise karma yoga with a feeling of devotion1. But if you combine karma yoga with bhakti yoga, then the whole process becomes intensified; it becomes supercharged. Karma yoga alone is a powerful sadhana, but bhakti stimulates and accelerates the whole process. This is the main teaching of the Bhagavad Gita.
If you are already devotionally inclined, then you should definitely combine karma yoga and bhakti yoga. What better way is there to worship, to express bhakti than through your work? It is also a very productive form of worship that contributes directly to others.
The essence of karma yoga is awareness, detachment and renunciation of the fruits of actions'. When bhakti and karma yoga are combined, it becomes almost easy to renounce attachment to the fruits or rewards of one's actions. One merely sacrifices all actions and endeavours to the object of bhakti, whether it is the supreme, the guru or whatever. Actions, food, thoughts, objects, pleasures, etc. are all done for something outside yourself. All rewards, praise and fruits of one's work are dedicated to the object of devotion. Though one may enjoy or use the fruits, they are not done specifically for oneself, but as an act of bhakti. This is the way to rapidly harmonize the mind and reduce egoism.
This attitude of devotion also brings about detachment, for actions are not done for oneself, but for something outside one's individuality. The more the surrender of one's actions, the greater will be the detachment. One will cease to be swayed or upset by the ups and downs of life. One will do one's best in work and life, but there will be less buffeting. This is particularly powerful if you adopt the following attitude: "I do not serve . . . the Supreme alone serves." When you feel that you are not really acting but the tool, the instrument of something far greater, then you must become detached, and because of this you work much better and more effectively1.
This feeling of non-doership has been summed up in the following quotations: "Think that you are not you; that you do not exist. Think that it is that power which works in all things, also working through you. Practice will eventually reveal this secret to you."
Also: "One must realize through experience that it is He who makes us do everything. Never believe that you are the doer; you will gradually realize this through experience of the doer."
"Always cherish the thought that you are nobody. Whatever there is, it is only the power . . . you are only the medium." This attitude may be merely intellectual in the beginning, but eventually you will discover through experience that it is a sublime truth. Whether you feel this non-doing through the intellect or through personal experience, it leads directly to detachment. One becomes detached in all situations of life. This is the means to harmony, happiness and higher experience.
What about awareness? This is the other vital aspect of karma yoga. How does bhakti relate to increasing awareness? We have partly covered this in the subject of detachment, for the attitude of not being the doer automatically increases awareness. But there is another factor in bhakti yoga which intensifies awareness -
this is remembrance. Most people are unaware because of sleepiness or forgetfulness. Ifyou feel devotion towards something then you are more likely to remember. You are more likely to be awake. And certainly you are more likely to be aware. So a bhakta who remembers his guru, or personal form of the supreme, or whatever, is automatically more aware in all situations in life. This applies to work and karma yoga. The greater the devotion, the greater the awareness.
In the Uddhava Gita, Krishna said: "Surrender all fruits of actions to me and maintain ceaseless remembrance of me .. ." There is an old saying: "It's not what you do but the way that you do it." This applies exactly to bhakti and karma yoga. It does not matter whether a bhakta is rich or poor. A poor person can offer even the meanest object as devotion, yet if this is given with total feeling and sincerity, then it is far better than a rich man who gives vast wealth, but without the slightest devotion. It is the same with all acts and work. It is not the acts in themselves that are important, it is the feeling and sincerity behind them.
You can work and play in any way that comes naturally, but always remember your mantra, your guru or your personal deity or whatever. And it is bhava that is the keyword. This means intense feeling of devotion. It is this that can supercharge karma yoga and transform your life.
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