“In the Karma-Yoga no effort is ever lost, and there is no harm. Even a little practice of this discipline protects one from great fear of birth and death.” –The Shrimadbhagavad-Gita
Karma means Action. Any mental or physical action is called Karma. The result of this action is also called Karma -the Sanskara that we carry from one birth to another, i.e., the baggage of our past actions becomes our destiny in each new birth. Hence, the import of this philosophy of Karma extends from our worldly actions to the principle of cause-effect. Whatever we do, say or think has an effect on our conscious and subconscious mind, soul, environment, and the universe as a whole.
Based on this concept, Lord Krishna laid down the principles of Karma-Yoga in the Gita to perform right thought and action. Our destiny is predetermined only by our Karmas. As the arrow left from the bow is sure to hit its target if it is thrown in the right direction, similarly our Karma is sure to affect us depending u
pon the intention and thought with which it is performed. Here we need to understand the difference between Karma –action and Akarma –no action. Each of Karmas bearing fruit does not mean we should refrain from performing it at all, but performing it righteously. Again, Karma can be classified in two categories: Sakama Karma –Action with the desire of results and the Nishkama Karma –Action with no desire of results, i.e., selfless action. The Philosophy of the Gita propounds the precept of the Nishkama Karma –selfless action to be free from the cycle of birth and death to attain the goal –salvation.
Now the question arises how can anyone perform an action with no desire of its fruit? According to Gandhiji the Gita has answered this question. He says, “By desireless action means renouncing the fruits of action by dedicating all activities to God, i.e., by surrendering oneself to Him in body and soul.” Gandhiji’s whole life was based on this one particular philosophy of the Nishkama Karma. He believed that we should act not only for our dear ones, but also for the whole world –animals, the planet and the universe, as they all have been created by the One and the same God and it is man’s duty to respect His creation.
To understand the Karma-Yoga, it is pertinent to understand the Niskama Karma-desireless action or selfless action, an action performed without desiring or fearing the consequences –an action performed with indifference to the result. The Gita focuses more on the right attitude to perform right action rather than running away from Karma. When one is bothered about results, he acts with a selfish motive and self-interest and, then, the feeling of moral duty flees from him. Thus, according to Mahatma Gandhi, renunciation of fruit is the foremost principle to be adopted as part of our moral living. Lord Krishna says, “The Karma-Yogi by giving up the fruit of his actions does not lose it, but paradoxically enough gains it.” We reap what we sow, as is the desire, so is the fruit. According to Gandhiji, a Karmayogi, through his own actions and efforts, gains knowledge of perfection in terms of both, skills and spiritual enlightenment. The joy of performing an action with good intention and motive is self-rewarding.
Mahatma Gandhi first got acquainted with The Gita while studying in England. He befriended two English brothers who read it regularly and they asked him to join them for it. As Gandhiji did not know Sanskrit at that time, he chose to read first its English and later Sanskrit translation. After that his evolution began in terms of principles and precepts. The message conveyed in the second chapter of The Gita dealing with Karma-Yoga –the Yoga of action, i.e., discipline of mind and action, caught his mind. He started reading the Gita every day. Even during his imprisonment, he studied it in detail and later translated it into Gujarati. In the introduction to his
Gujarati translation of the Gita, he said, “…after forty years’ unremitting endeavor fully to enforce the teaching of the Gita in my own life, I have in all humility felt that perfect renunciation is impossible without perfect observance of ahimsa in every shape and form.” Mahatma Gandhi thought that the path of the Nishkama Karma is impossible without watching the principle of Ahimsa, as when there is no desire for the fruits of one’s actions, we are tempted to no forceful attempt or act of violence.
It is very important to note that the Karmayogis truly perform righteous actions without the minutest trace of egoism. They work for the sake of the work Nishkama Karma, often for the uplift of the poor and the deprived. One of the best known examples of the Karmayogis of the modern era is Mahatma Gandhi who struggled hard in all his national and later international consciousness for peace and harmony. He was little influenced by his personal likes and dislikes, prejudices and temptations. He cleaned his mind of the worldly clutter to view the problems of India and dedicated his selfless services for his countrymen. In a world, where most decisions are governed by intense friendships and enmities, Gandhiji was able to overcome this vice of attachment and desires to tread the path of Nishkama Karma, which is the lot of a Karma-Yogi. He had no personal friends, for all people were his friends and he had no enemies. He acted as per the demand of time and space –situation, for the good of his fellow beings. He was a true politician who had a strong mind and was clear in thoughts and so in actions. Hence by vocation he was a truthful politician and by aspiration he was a true Karmayogi. Karma-Yoga demands the attitude of detachment, where one does not get affected by the external factors and accomplishes his duties fearlessly without doubting or rather coveting the results. Gandhiji also saw that every action he did was part of the divine process of the universe governed by the will of the cosmic consciousness. He was only an instrument of the divine order, just following his active consciousness.
In the present day world, the principle of Nishkama Karma may seem insignificant as we live in a world where we have learnt to look for the profit of our action. But, Mahatma Gandhi also belonged to this world and through his practice of Nishkama Karma, Gandhiji gave a new vision and hope to humanity. Only a true Nishkama Karma-Yogi can really work for the welfare of humanity accepting the whole world as his family. The concept of moral action in Gandhian ethics holds action to be voluntarily performed with a disciplined mind and intention. An action is morally good if it is done as a divine duty irrespective of its consequence –happiness or misery. When the intent is not pure, the action bears no moral worth.
No one can achieve the ideals of Karma-Yoga without destroying one’s ego, which cannot be destroyed without surrendering oneself to selfless service to humanity. This selfless service can first be rendered at home and then in our social circle and then in the world at large .We do not need to have wealth and riches to offer selfless service. We can serve humanity with our body and mind only, i.e., action and intention. If one finds a poor sick fellow lying on the roadside, one should have enough compassion to attend to his needs with a purity of heart. It costs nothing. God is more pleased with such service for the deprived and the helpless than thousands of worship. Mahatma Gandhi wore this spirit of selfless service throughout his life. There is an incident when he brought Parchure Shastri, a leper to his Ashram and took to washing and attending to his wounds selflessly until he recovered. He had no fear of catching the infection himself, i.e., no fear of the consequence. His action gave him inner joy, which was his reward. His only philosophy was to give that selfless service, which you would be happy to receive from others –do as you would be done by. It is said that the more you give the more you are in tune with the cosmic energy that knows only to give. ‘To give’ is the divine law. A selfless service can be done only by a person who sees God in all around him. The Movement of freedom struggle was entrusted to him by a divine providence and he was unwilling to embrace what he considered unethical. He saw no man evil, just ignorant. He hated no one and preached to hate not the man, but the very evil in him. He was the only politician who went on to interpret the Gita from a metaphorical viewpoint –as a conflict of right and wrong in the human mind. The holy battleground of Kurukshetra occurs not on physical, but the moral plane of the human mind. Gandhiji struggled continually to master his negative qualities, fears and aggressions, while simultaneously enhancing his positive qualities. This all has been accepted by him in his book entitled, My Experiments with Truth. He never preached anything that he himself could not do. As a true Karmayogi, he lived to follow the path of truthfulness and righteousness to achieve spiritual enlightenment in his pursuit towards Nishkama Karma, because only a pure mind can guide a pure action –selfless service.