Karma Yoga: Pathway To The Divine

Walking up to the woman on the street I gave her a couple of blankets and a few loaves of bread. It was what I had in my car, and she needed them. Driving off, a smile came over my face. I never spoke of it until now, but it changed my life forever. Something happens when you serve another human with no intention for gain. It liberates you; it connects you with a force greater than yourself. It expands your path and lights the way home. It rights your karma.
The idea of karma and the path of karma yoga are not exactly the same thing. They are related, but they are actually different ideas or processes. Let me explain. Karma refers to the accumulation of cause-effect benefits/consequences over lifetimes and within the current reality system. Karma is what is delivered back to you from deeds you have done—and can be both “positive” or “negative” depending on the deed and the perspective. Karma Yoga is a specific spiritual path where one is engaged in acts of selfless service with no intention of reaping the benefits of any results—but instead, just for the sake of the service itself. Karma Yoga is the path of surrendering to one’s Dharma as the life meant to be lived by a person. It can be a one-time deed or a lifetime of dedication.
Let’s look at both of these a little bit more closely and see how we can engage the terminology more effectively in our reality today.
It’s become more and more “hip” to talk about and refer to karma. You have heard the word in movies and on the radio…“karma’s gonna get you” or “karma’s a b#%$”—referring usually to what will happen to someone else based on a specific decision which someone has made (usually deemed “bad”), and the idea that the “universe” will take care of the repercussions. It seems the biblical “eye for an eye”/revenge idea has been collectively replaced by the trustful knowing that people who do things to harm other people will one day be harmed themselves as “pay-back” from a higher source. It is this idea that life takes care of itself and what you put out into the world comes back to you. The same is true of “positive karma” where people realize that when you help others, you find that you too are helped.
Karma Yoga
Often referred to as Seva, Karma Yoga is one of the main known paths of yoga as a means to liberation and enlightenment. Where some folks might be drawn to Hatha Yoga—which includes engaging the body and breath in a series of postures and techniques—and others are attracted to Bhakti Yoga (the path of devotion), Karma Yoga is yet another possible path to walk whose results can bless the follower with liberation of the mind.
As not all people relate to reality in the same way, various yogic paths are meant to support different types of personalities and devotional styles. Some people find release in concentrating energy through the body, others through song and praise, some through self-reflection, and others through selflessly serving. It is the latter which describes the karma yogi. Mother Teresa is the most well-known and commonly thought of karma yogi; even though all of her thoughts and ways of execution are not known, her dedication to serving the sick and the afflicted has placed her into the category of one who practiced karma yoga.
If you have ever done volunteer work or helped someone out with something they could not do alone, and did not require anything in return, then you are a karma yogi, or at least you have practiced karma yoga. To me, this feeling of serving selflessly is one of the most elating feelings available to the human form. My kids absolutely love giving to the homeless and find it addicting even, to give without thought of return.
Karma Yoga in the World Today
In a world where most people are overly consumed with advancement, where personal gratification and success rank so high on the needs and wants scale of humanity, karma yoga seems like a rare gift and a secret portal many have yet to discover. Even though the idea behind the path is not for any benefits one might receive to be the reason why one would engage this yoga, the blessings are undeniable when one is truly practicing karma yoga. It is the ultimate act of surrender to direct your vital energy towards the benefit of another member of humanity. It is in this process where a person truly realizes that we are all One. The interconnection of all beings becomes undeniable when engaged in Karma Yoga.
Parenting and Karma Yoga
One place where karma yoga shows up in the world as a regular practice is in the duty of parenting. Even though every parent hopes to see their child one day turn around and recognize the work that went into raising them, parents do what they do for their child simply out of love. This qualifies these parents as karma yogis.
Where each individual path of yoga holds the reward of liberation for the follower, it is not necessarily for this reason that one engages the path of karma yoga, but rather for the act of giving and serving itself. One who is truly practicing karma yoga is completely in the present moment, feeling into the service they are rendering, experiencing the flow of energy and the reaching out of the heart space. It is within the process itself, within the act of service, where the gifts are undeniable.
One who practices selfless service throughout their lives has rid themselves from much of the selfish social conditioning which binds one to the wheels of karma, which is one of the reasons why the name was used. But karma also just means action—so one performing karma yoga is not simply sitting in meditation, not singing a hymn from the confines of the room or temple sanctuary, but is out in the world working, acting, and serving with their bare hands. This truly qualifies one for the showers of blessings that await one who is the karma yogi.
It is important when reflecting on the path of the karma yogi that we not get upon a high-horse and judge this path as the greatest or “better” path. Yoga is the unification of all the subtle bodies within the self, and some people find this alignment best when stretching their body with full awareness, others while serving in the world. However, even though a full-time karma yogi isn’t the position for everyone in the world, every person could truly benefit (and so could humanity at large) if we each took on a bit of karma yoga in our lives. Just one act of service can change someone’s life forever.