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Karma Yoga: Elevating Your Soul Through Everyday Actions

We, common people, cannot afford to go in for renunciation, go to a Himalayan forest or somewhere like that and do a penance.

Nor can we afford to spend hours and hours upon meditation or नामस्मरण: we have thousands of chores to do. Then how can we bring about our own spiritual development?

The way has been described by the second verse of the ईशावास्योपनिषद. The first line of the verse runs something like this-

कुर्वन्नेवेह कर्माणि जीजीवेछत समा.

It means something like: by doing Karma, one should wish to live for 100 years. It means that our chores are not to be seen as obstacles on the spiritual path.

Instead, they need to be adopted as an indispensable part of life. In fact, it is by doing कर्म that we can hope to live long.

An active person alone can expect to live long, not the lazy one. The old person, who just sits at the same place and gives instructions to his son, daughter-in-law or grandson: instructions like, "Bring a glass of water for me" or "Bring a cup of tea for me" - is not likely to live long.

All his physical, intellectual and mental abilities are bound to wear off soon.All our abilities are just like machines that can get rusted if they are not used at all.

So one needs to keep all of one's abilities in use if one wants to live a long life. So कर्म is an inextricable part of life- something that no one can do without.

So the first line underscores the importance of कर्म. The next line indicates how to do it.The first part of the next line runs something like this- 

एवं त्वयि नान्येथेतोस्ति

It means something to the effect: for you, which means for common people like us, there is no way other than this. The next part of the same line is: 

न कर्म लिप्यते नरे

It means something to the effect- by doing कर्म this way, the कर्म does not cover the doer, which means it does not affect the doer badly.

So the कर्म needs to be done in such a way that it does not badly affect the doer. In which way should we do the कर्म so that it will not badly affect the doer? 

The verse does not explicitly tell us anything about it, but we can guess it from the first line of the earlier verse- 

ईशावास्यं इदं सर्वं यत्किंच जगत्यां जगत

It means something to the effect: whatever exists in the world, it should be covered with the Divine, which means should be perceived as the Divine.

It means that whatever we do for others, it should be taken as working for the Divine. If a daughter -in -law serves her ailing father- in- law, she should take it not as a service to the old man but to the Divine.

Every कर्म (Karma) that we do should be taken as a service to the Divine. If taken this way, every कर्म can be a worship of the Divine.

Far from being obtrusive to spiritual progress, every कर्म can be conducive to it if it has been done in this spirit. Let us see how. Let us consider the spiritual benefits of this practice one by one:

1) It makes us remember the Divine every now and then. We tend to remember the Divine only when we are in a danger, a tendency that can be detrimental to spiritual progress. This practice can help us to overcome that tendency.

2) The feeling of being a servant of the Divine gets embedded in the mind. Once that feeling gets embedded in the mind, one is not likely to suffer from superiority complex for one reason or another.

3) Even those tasks which appears boring and tiresome for us may become a pleasure if we take them in this spirit.

The task of looking after the ailing father-in-law may become a burden for the daughter-in-law, so much so that she may begin to wait for the death of the old person.

However, the same task can be a pleasure for her if she takes it as a service to the Divine.

4) One puts the best of one's abilities in the task that they are doing if he considers it to be a service to the Divine.

The Woman who cooks for the Divine naturally puts the best of her culinary abilities in the cooking: it is no less than the Divine who is going to have the food, after all.

If one takes every task this way, one naturally exerts all of one's abilities to the utmost use possible and may help one to live long: this is where the second line is subtly related with the first one.

5) One ceases to bother about the material benefits of the work if one takes it this way. The women who cooks for the Divine will not bother about what others say about her cooking.

She will not be overjoyed if her cooking has been praised by others. Nor will she become distressed if others criticize her cooking: she knows that God is always pleased with whatever has been offered to him as a service and whether God is pleased by her or not is the only thing that matters for her.

So done in this kind of spiritual spirit and perspective, every कर्म can bring about our spiritual development. It is the only way out for common people like us.

So let us do every कर्म as a service to the Divine and thereby bring about our own spiritual development.

Dr. Jogeshwar Nilkanth Nandurkar Jogeshwar holds Ph.D. in English, he is a teacher of English, Sanskrit and Marathi. He started writing from age 13 and has written in many columns. He has also directed several plays, group dances and songs.
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