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Karma Yoga in the Light of Bhagavad Gita: How Potent an Idea to Use?


Even as the propagators of new age philosophy are merrily making rounds with the tips of practicing Karma Yoga, there are clouds of doubt surmounting about its efficacy on the modern day society, which is mainly cross-cultural and miles away from vintage parlance of Sanskrit. Why they would subscribe to an idea that comes from a specific religious group, or for that matter is opposite to the present day ‘do or die’ philosophy?

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In this fast paced modern world, where every other person is seemingly stressed to match with the speed of life, in walked the new age philosophy, which in essence, is full of age-old ideas about living and leading the life to its fullest. In this bag of philosophy, Karma Yoga occupies the top spot. This is a part of five-part Yoga Philosophy, stemming out of Holy Bhagvad Gita (presented in the dialogue/verse form between Arjuna, the war general of the Pandavas out to fight against the Kauravas and the navigator of his chariot, Lord Krishna, who was actually the Lord of the Universe in disguise). Lord Krishna would want to pep up Arjuna, who would feel sorry to fight against his relatives and respected persons of the Kaurava camp. In the process, Krishna would unveil several mysteries of life, work (Karma) and its relation to the salvation process of the living beings.

All these were actually a part of an age-old Hindu Epic Mahabharata (Mahabharata & Gita), having strong liaison with mainstream Hindu Philosophy.  These factors naturally cast a doubt on its efficacy over a fast-growing cross-cultural community across the globe, leave alone its preaching, which is no less vintage in nature. Apparently it looks like a mismatch tool to fight against modern day curses like stress, strain, worry, job fatigue or frustration. Thus this paper probes the same through the explanations of Karma Yoga according to Bhagvad Gita, all the while weighing other factors that are assumed as obstructers to its efficacy.

Karma Yoga according to Bhagvad Gita
Karma Yoga (devotional action) is defined in the third chapter of Bhagavad Gita, the 18-chapter book, considered to have covered the entire Vedic Philosophy in its seven hundred verses.

According to Bhagavad Gita, our actions must be selfless and devotional in nature, lest the opposite ideas like greed, selfishness or desire would set roadblocks toward attaining total happiness, which is the ultimate want in a mortal.

In the process, Karma Yoga goes on to define the action and inaction, while establishing its premise on the fact that total happiness comes only when we are in a nishkarmya  (inactive) state.

Karma Yoga primarily probes and finds about the pros and cons of Karma (action), before cautioning about its nature and influence on the living beings. Finally it comes up with a guideline to successfully deal with Karma.

In verse 5 of Chapter III, the Almighty Lord Krishna says, ­“ Everyone is forced to act helplessly according to the modes of material nature; therefore, no one can refrain from actions even for a moment” (Arnold, Chapter III).

This is a universal truth, as human beings are engaged in multiple actions right from the birth to the moment of death, involving their body, mind, brain or the sensory. The nature of actions would determine the future course of actions, and this goes on and on. Identifying that, Karma Yoga infers that the detachment from all these actions is the key for liberation from earthly bondage. Since Karma is inescapable, it suggests to devote all of it to the service of the Almighty. In this way humans can escape the reactions of the work done and gradually would be capable to rise above the earthly miseries. Thus, this philosophy prescribes the ideal way of living by

1.      Abstaining from the bondage of Karma

2.      Devoting all the actions to the Almighty.

According to Bhagavad Gita, these two practices would enable humans to maintain their inner peace. Because, it is the attachment with Karma brings in either pain or pleasure, both of which are earthly and distracters of liberation. But what to do with the bulk of inescapable Karma? It then prescribes to devote all of them to the Almighty. The essence of Karma Yoga, thus lies in one single verse : Ma faleshu kadachana (never crave for the fruits of your labor). It clearly defines that earthly pain and pleasures are only two states of mind and/or body, which have no inkling with the infinite joy of liberation.

The Experiments

An experiment on the efficacy of Karma Yoga was conducted by a group of experts, where the two basic ideas of Karma Yoga, viz., Orientation of Duty and Abstinence from desire for reward, were put into a scale to test on a group of 75 executives. Then the results were compared with two sides of the human personality trait regarding conscientiousness, i.e., sense of duty and craving for achievement. The experts used hierarchical regression and a test for moderation. The gross outcome showed that persons operating with this philosophy were able to enhance both their duty orientation and life satisfaction. ( Mulla, Zubin, R 26-43)

This apart, several institutions (like Alcoholic Anonymous et al) are applying the idea of Karma Yoga to cure the lifestyle diseases like addiction or job-related worry or stress. This shows that it is already a recognized panacea for modern day problems. (Naylor).

Available Means and Modes
In this age of information, Karma Yoga is gaining ground too, with the advent of so many websites and publications, which are working in tandem to popularize the art and science of Yoga. There is no dearth of digital and other modes of information bank or programs to know and practice Karma Yoga. There are also many practice centers around the globe that teach Karma Yoga through experienced persons, save the software programs that help to learn about it at home. In all, this idea is no less handy than any other idea and thus has enough scope to attract the upcoming generation.

It doesn’t seem to be difficult to comprehend the idea of selfless work to remain free from earthly bonding and their appendages like pleasure and pain. On the other hand, the application of this idea can be instrumental in present day scenario, where the rate of unhappiness is rising and in turn multiplying the unrest in both micro and macro levels of the society. Since it clearly states about the effects of all of our actions, this theory of devotional action at least would help the modern people to stay away from daily stress and strain, which form the basement of  all physical and mental illness nowadays.

It is the clarity of the idea in the content that seems to have outsmarted its vintage form of expression, besides proving to be flexible enough for any interpretation to the convenience of modern age. The label of Hinduism on it fizzles out too, when one delves deep into this idea – it never mentions that only the Hindus would benefit out of it, or one has to follow the Vedic Philosophy in its entirety to practice Karma Yoga. And there is no other ritualistic strings attached to it as well; here all one needs to do is to tweak his/her perception about the concept of action and outcome, i.e., cause and effect in modern terms. It does not require any special shrine or even chanting the slokas from the ancient Sanskrit scripts either.

The experiments on its efficacy have also shown great results in terms of enhancing the productivity or self satisfaction in the individuals, besides proving to be a handy tool for tackling the lifestyle diseases.

Judging from the above situations, one can take this fact, that Karma Yoga is not bound by the mainstream Hindu philosophy and hence its content is open to the people irrespective of their religious standing.

Karma Yoga accepts that we are immersed in Karma (action) from dawn to dusk, save the sleeping break. In doing so, it recognizes the Karma in its totality and meets its challenges head-on by converting both pain and pleasure as learning experiences, rather than letting them govern the human mind, body and actions. It points out that there is no competition in the real path of life and humans need not succumb to the make-believe world of fulfillment through satiating their ego. The idea in Karma Yoga is flexible and thus time winning; it can be interpreted any which way one wants – the basics of it would still remain easy to attain and maintain. With such qualities, Karma Yoga establishes its efficacy and acceptability in today’s society beyond any doubt. On the contrary, it would rather become an attractive instrument to the newer generation to get rid of the modern day problems and  attaining a fuller, vibrant life. There is enough scope to build a rock-solid, unfazed character through Karma Yoga, which can outgrow the present day banes like worry, stress and strain, all the while establishing the belief in attaining the infinite joy at the end of a happy life.
































Works Cited


Arnold, Edwin. “Chapter III.” Bhavad-Gita. New York: Truslove, Hanson & Comba Ltd.,1900. 20 Oct. 2007.


Introduction. Mahabharata & Bhagavad-Gita.  Oct. 2007


Naylor, Tim “Managing Stress, Anxiety and Depression with the Help of Yoga.” A review of the lectures given by Rishi Vivekananda at the Botanic Gardens.19 Oct. 2007.


Zubin, R. “Karma Yoga: A conceptualization and validation of the Indian philosophy of work.” Journal of the Indian Psychology. 24 (No 1&2, 2006), 26-43. (2006). Abstract. 20 Oct. 2007.



Works Consulted
“Karma Yoga.” ABC of Yoga.” 19 Oct. 2007.


Govindarajan, Padman. “Secret of Action in Bhagawad-Gita.”

19 Oct. 2007.


Hopkins, Sharon. “Karma Yoga – the Art of Living.” 19 Oct. 2007.            228640.html


Russell, Michael. “Karma Yoga – The Yoga Of Selfless Service.”   EzineArticles 11          December 2006. 21 October 2007.—The-           Yoga-Of-Selfless-Service&id=382739

Vivekananda, Swami. “The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda.” Volume 1,           Karma-Yoga. 20 Oct. 2007.            lume_1/Karma-Yoga/Karma_in_its_Effect_on_Character


Sivananda, Swami. “Karma Yoga.” 20 Oct. 2007.


Chakravarti, S. Sitansu. “Consenquentialism And The Gita.” 2002. 20 Oct. 2007.              set.htm