Doctrine of Karma – Philosophy of Karma

It is when, on account of our imperfect knowledge, we identify our true Self or Atman with the limitations of mind and body, we become selfish and are ready to do the things which brings us suffering and misery.


किं कर्म किमकर्मेति कवयोऽप्यत्र मोहिताः तत्ते कर्म प्रवक्ष्यामि यज्ज्ञात्वा मोक्ष्यसेऽशुभात् — Even wise men are deluded on this point, what is action and what is inaction. I shall tell thee the philosophy of work, by knowing which thou shalt attain to absolute freedom from all imperfections.Bhagavad Gita, Ch.4, 16.


Karma Yoga means literally “skill or dexterity in work”, and deals with all activity whether of body or mind. Recognizing that activity is an inevitable condition of life, that no human being can live without performing some kind of work , either mental or physical, it seeks through its teaching to show how this constant output of energy may be utilized to acquire the greatest spiritual enlightenment and to attain to perfection and absolute freedom.

There are five conditions necessary for the accomplishment of all mental or physical labor:

  1. We must have a physical body, it is the storehouse of energy.
  2. There must be present the sense of the ego as the doer or actor.
  3. We must have the instrument with which to work.
  4. We must have the desire or motive to work.
  5. There must be some sort of environment.

The results of actions performed under these five conditions are of three kinds:

  1. Those that are desirable because they help us to fulfill our aims in life, and bring us comfort and pleasure.
  2. Those which are not desirable.
  3. Those which are partly desirable and partly undesirable.

It is not possible to escape these results at every moment of our existence; since, as has already been said, the activity of our organism never ceases. Practically speaking, there cannot be absolute rest of body or mind.

If activity is inevitable and each action must produce its result, what can we do to make all such results harmonize with the highest ideal of life? To search for that which, in the midst of our varied activities of mind and body, remains always inactive. When we have found that and recognized it, we have understood the pur­pose of the philosophy of work, and can make our every effort lead us to the final goal of all religion, to the realization of Truth, and to the attainment of Blessedness. If we cannot do this, we shall be forced to go on reaping the fruit of our actions and continue in the suffering and misery which we now endure. By practicing the teachings of the philosophy of work, on the other hand, we shall not only bring freedom to the soul, but shall rise above all law and live on a plane above motion. From the subtlest atom up to the grossest material form, there is cons­tant motion. Nowhere is there rest. One thing, however, moves not; one thing is at rest, and Karma Yoga explains what it is, how we may realize it and make ourselves one with it.

That something which is beyond all activity, is called in Sanskrit Atman. It is the knower in us. If we use a higher discrimination and try to understand the nature of the knower, by observing our internal process while we are doing anything, we will know that the knower is constant. The knower is unchangeable and is not bound by the conditions which govern the changeable.

It is when, on account of our imperfect knowledge, we identify our true Self or Atman with the limitations of mind and body, we become selfish and are ready to do the things which brings us suffering and misery. Those who are living on this plane of sense perceptions, are like primitive beings. They do not believe in the existence of things which cannot be revealed by the senses. They cannot differentiate matter from spirit, soul from body, or the knower from the object known. Consequently they identify themselves with their mental and physical activity.

We must remember that the five conditions already described are absolutely necessary for any kind of work; but they can in no way influence or affect the Knower (Atman). Intellect, mind, body, and senses exist in relation to it and cannot be active if cut off from it ; but they are perpetually changing, while it is unchangeable. He who realizes this — that all things on the mental or physical plane exist only so long as they are in relation to the Atman, the absolute source of life and knowledge, sees that one which is inactive in the midst of all activity, and becomes a right worker. Such an one attains to perfection through his work.

Let the body work, then, while we remember that it is the mind and the sense organs which are working, and that we are in reality the Knower, the Atman. Anything else is not permanently connected with us. We have taken this body for the time being and are using it for the fulfillment of the highest purpose of life.

If anger or hatred or desire surge up within us, we have only to separate ourselves from that mental change and it will vanish. If passion arise, we have only to remember that we are the witness-like Knower of passion and it will subside. It is when we forget that we are the Knower, and become identified with anger, passion, or hatred, that we fall under their dominion.

Wise men work ceaselessly, being conscious at the same time that they are not working; allowing the body and mind to act, but seeking nothing in return. Those, on the other hand, who are passionate, ambitious, easily affected by joy or grief, gain or loss, are ordinary workers of the world. They are never happy, but are always disturbed, anxious, and uneasy. Yet all their wickedness, selfishness, attachment, and passion proceed only from ignorance of their true Self. ॐ तत् सत्। 

(..To be continued, 5th of a seven part series).

Author: Jyoti

Old-time Wikipedian, audio recording artist, graphic designer, professional programmer, and a blogger.

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