Karma Yoga

Karma yoga, or the "Yoga of action" is a form of yoga based on the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, a sacred Sanskrit scripture of Hinduism. Of the three paths to realization, karma yoga is the process of achieving perfection in selfless action. Karma Yoga is primarily the practice of selfless service to humanity whereby a spiritual seeker attempts to give their actions selflessly without hoping for merit, fame or glory. This tendency for a human being to have attachment to 'reward' from action is termed in the Bhagavada Gita: the 'fruits of action' - meaning whatever one might gain from action, especially from the observation and applause of others.

Practicing Karma Yoga eventually takes the seeker to the point of mental purification, oneness with humanity and inner peace by continually offering action selflessly to God and humanity. Ultimately Karma Yoga practise brings true Knowledge of the Self and prepares one to be receptive to the divine light of God.

The Practicing of the selfless service in Karma Yoga is believed to lead with its purification of the mind and heart, to the turning of one's life into a spiritual act as a whole. In this practice, one is seen as being used as an instrument in the hands of God without expectation of reward in return but rather an act of worship.

अर्जुन उवाच

ज्यायसी चेत्कर्मणस्ते मता बुद्धिर्जनार्दन ।
तत्किं कर्मणि घोरे मां नियोजयसि केशव ॥

arjuna uvaca
jyayasi cet karmanas te
mata buddhir janardana
tat kim karmani ghore mam
niyojayasi kesava

Arjuna said: O Janārdana, O Keśava, why do You urge me to engage in this ghastly warfare, if You think that intelligence is better than fruitive work?

व्यामिश्रेणेव वाक्येन बुद्धिं मोहयसीव मे ।
तदेकं वद निश्चित्य येन श्रेयोऽहमाप्नुयाम्‌ ॥

vyamisreneva vakyena
buddhim mohayasiva me
tad ekam vada niscitya
yena sreyo 'ham apnuyam

My intelligence is bewildered by Your equivocal instructions. Therefore, please tell me decisively what is most beneficial for me.


लोकेऽस्मिन्द्विविधा निष्ठा पुरा प्रोक्ता मयानघ ।
ज्ञानयोगेन साङ्‍ख्यानां कर्मयोगेन योगिनाम्‌ ॥

sri-bhagavan uvaca
loke 'smin dvi-vidha nistha
pura prokta mayanagha
jnana-yogena sankhyanam
karma-yogena yoginam

The Blessed Lord said: O sinless Arjuna, I have already explained that there are two classes of men who realize the Self. Some are inclined to understand Him by empirical, philosophical speculation, and others are inclined to know Him by devotional work.

न कर्मणामनारंभान्नैष्कर्म्यं पुरुषोऽश्नुते ।
न च सन्न्यसनादेव सिद्धिं समधिगच्छति ॥

na karmanam anarambhan
naiskarmyam puruso 'snute
na ca sannyasanad eva
siddhim samadhigacchati

Not by merely abstaining from work can one achieve freedom from reaction, nor by renunciation alone can one attain perfection.

न हि कश्चित्क्षणमपि जातु तिष्ठत्यकर्मकृत्‌ ।
कार्यते ह्यवशः कर्म सर्वः प्रकृतिजैर्गुणैः ॥

na hi kascit ksanam api
jatu tisthaty akarma-krt
karyate hy avasah karma
sarvah prakrti-jair gunaih

All men are forced to act helplessly according to the impulses born of the modes of material nature; therefore no one can refrain from doing something, not even for a moment.

कर्मेन्द्रियाणि संयम्य य आस्ते मनसा स्मरन्‌ ।
इन्द्रियार्थान्विमूढात्मा मिथ्याचारः स उच्यते ॥

karmendriyani samyamya
ya aste manasa smaran
indriyarthan vimudhatma
mithyacarah sa ucyate

One who restrains the senses and organs of action, but whose mind dwells on sense objects, certainly deludes himself and is called a pretender.

यस्त्विन्द्रियाणि मनसा नियम्यारभतेऽर्जुन ।
कर्मेन्द्रियैः कर्मयोगमसक्तः स विशिष्यते ॥

yas tv indriyani manasa
niyamyarabhate 'rjuna
karmendriyaih karma-yogam
asaktah sa visisyate

On the other hand, he who controls the senses by the mind and engages his active organs in works of devotion, without attachment, is by far superior

नियतं कुरु कर्म त्वं कर्म ज्यायो ह्यकर्मणः।
शरीरयात्रापि च ते न प्रसिद्धयेदकर्मणः ॥

niyatam kuru karma tvam
karma jyayo hy akarmanah
sarira-yatrapi ca te
na prasiddhyed akarmanah

Perform your prescribed duty, for action is better than inaction. A man cannot even maintain his physical body without work.

यज्ञार्थात्कर्मणोऽन्यत्र लोकोऽयं कर्मबंधनः ।
तदर्थं कर्म कौन्तेय मुक्तसंगः समाचर ॥

yajnarthat karmano 'nyatra
loko 'yam karma-bandhanah
tad-artham karma kaunteya
mukta-sangah samacara

Work done as a sacrifice for Viṣṇu has to be performed, otherwise work binds one to this material world. Therefore, O son of Kuntī, perform your prescribed duties for His satisfaction, and in that way you will always remain unattached and free from bondage.

सहयज्ञाः प्रजाः सृष्टा पुरोवाचप्रजापतिः ।
अनेन प्रसविष्यध्वमेष वोऽस्त्विष्टकामधुक्‌ ॥

saha-yajnah prajah srstva
purovaca prajapatih
anena prasavisyadhvam
esa vo 'stv ista-kama-dhuk

In the beginning of creation, the Lord of all creatures sent forth generations of men and demigods, along with sacrifices for Viṣṇu, and blessed them by saying, "Be thou happy by this yajña [sacrifice] because its performance will bestow upon you all desirable things."

देवान्भावयतानेन ते देवा भावयन्तु वः ।
परस्परं भावयन्तः श्रेयः परमवाप्स्यथ ॥

devan bhavayatanena
te deva bhavayantu vah
parasparam bhavayantah
sreyah param avapsyatha

The demigods, being pleased by sacrifices, will also please you; thus nourishing one another, there will reign general prosperity for all.

इष्टान्भोगान्हि वो देवा दास्यन्ते यज्ञभाविताः ।
तैर्दत्तानप्रदायैभ्यो यो भुंक्ते स्तेन एव सः ॥

istan bhogan hi vo deva
dasyante yajna-bhavitah
tair dattan apradayaibhyo
yo bhunkte stena eva sah

In charge of the various necessities of life, the demigods, being satisfied by the performance of yajña [sacrifice], supply all necessities to man. But he who enjoys these gifts, without offering them to the demigods in return, is certainly a thief.

यज्ञशिष्टाशिनः सन्तो मुच्यन्ते सर्वकिल्बिषैः ।
भुञ्जते ते त्वघं पापा ये पचन्त्यात्मकारणात्‌ ॥

yajna-sistasinah santo
mucyante sarva-kilbisaih
bhunjate te tv agham papa
ye pacanty atma-karanat

The devotees of the Lord are released from all kinds of sins because they eat food which is offered first for sacrifice. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, verily eat only sin.

अन्नाद्भवन्ति भूतानि पर्जन्यादन्नसम्भवः ।
यज्ञाद्भवति पर्जन्यो यज्ञः कर्मसमुद्भवः ॥

annad bhavanti bhutani
parjanyad anna-sambhavah
yajnad bhavati parjanyo
yajnah karma-samudbhavah

All living bodies subsist on food grains, which are produced from rain. Rains are produced by performance of yajña [sacrifice], and yajña is born of prescribed duties.

कर्म ब्रह्मोद्भवं विद्धि ब्रह्माक्षरसमुद्भवम्‌ ।
तस्मात्सर्वगतं ब्रह्म नित्यं यज्ञे प्रतिष्ठितम्‌ ॥

karma brahmodbhavam viddhi
tasmat sarva-gatam brahma
nityam yajne pratisthitam

Regulated activities are prescribed in the Vedas, and the Vedas are directly manifested from the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Consequently the all-pervading Transcendence is eternally situated in acts of sacrifice.

एवं प्रवर्तितं चक्रं नानुवर्तयतीह यः ।
अघायुरिन्द्रियारामो मोघं पार्थ स जीवति ॥

evam pravartitam cakram
nanuvartayatiha yah
aghayur indriyaramo
mogham partha sa jivati

My dear Arjuna, a man who does not follow this prescribed Vedic system of sacrifice certainly leads a life of sin, for a person delighting only in the senses lives in vain.

यस्त्वात्मरतिरेव स्यादात्मतृप्तश्च मानवः ।
आत्मन्येव च सन्तुष्टस्तस्य कार्यं न विद्यते ॥

yas tv atma-ratir eva syad
atma-trptas ca manavah
atmany eva ca santustas
tasya karyam na vidyate

One who is, however, taking pleasure in the self, who is illumined in the self, who rejoices in and is satisfied with the self only, fully satiated-for him there is no duty.

नैव तस्य कृतेनार्थो नाकृतेनेह कश्चन ।
न चास्य सर्वभूतेषु कश्चिदर्थव्यपाश्रयः ॥

naiva tasya krtenartho
nakrteneha kascana
na casya sarva-bhutesu
kascid artha-vyapasrayah

A self-realized man has no purpose to fulfill in the discharge of his prescribed duties, nor has he any reason not to perform such work. Nor has he any need to depend on any other living being.

तस्मादसक्तः सततं कार्यं कर्म समाचर ।
असक्तो ह्याचरन्कर्म परमाप्नोति पुरुषः ॥

tasmad asaktah satatam
karyam karma samacara
asakto hy acaran karma
param apnoti purusah

Therefore, without being attached to the fruits of activities, one should act as a matter of duty; for by working without attachment, one attains the Supreme.

कर्मणैव हि संसिद्धिमास्थिता जनकादयः ।
लोकसंग्रहमेवापि सम्पश्यन्कर्तुमर्हसि ॥

karmanaiva hi samsiddhim
asthita janakadayah
loka-sangraham evapi
sampasyan kartum arhasi

Even kings like Janaka and others attained the perfectional stage by performance of prescribed duties. Therefore, just for the sake of educating the people in general, you should perform your work.

यद्यदाचरति श्रेष्ठस्तत्तदेवेतरो जनः ।
स यत्प्रमाणं कुरुते लोकस्तदनुवर्तते ॥

yad yad acarati sresthas
tat tad evetaro janah
sa yat pramanam kurute
lokas tad anuvartate

Whatever action is performed by a great man, common men follow in his footsteps. And whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues.

न मे पार्थास्ति कर्तव्यं त्रिषु लोकेषु किंचन ।
नानवाप्तमवाप्तव्यं वर्त एव च कर्मणि ॥

na me parthasti kartavyam
trisu lokesu kincana
nanavaptam avaptavyam
varta eva ca karmani

O son of Pṛthā, there is no work prescribed for Me within all the three planetary systems. Nor am I in want of anything, nor have I need to obtain anything-and yet I am engaged in work.

यदि ह्यहं न वर्तेयं जातु कर्मण्यतन्द्रितः ।
मम वर्त्मानुवर्तन्ते मनुष्याः पार्थ सर्वशः ॥

yadi hy aham na varteyam
jatu karmany atandritah
mama vartmanuvartante
manusyah partha sarvasah

For, if I did not engage in work, O Pārtha, certainly all men would follow My path.

यदि उत्सीदेयुरिमे लोका न कुर्यां कर्म चेदहम्‌ ।
संकरस्य च कर्ता स्यामुपहन्यामिमाः प्रजाः ॥

utsideyur ime loka
na kuryam karma ced aham
sankarasya ca karta syam
upahanyam imah prajah

If I should cease to work, then all these worlds would be put to ruination. I would also be the cause of creating unwanted population, and I would thereby destroy the peace of all sentient beings.

सक्ताः कर्मण्यविद्वांसो यथा कुर्वन्ति भारत ।
कुर्याद्विद्वांस्तथासक्तश्चिकीर्षुर्लोकसंग्रहम्‌ ॥

saktah karmany avidvamso
yatha kurvanti bharata
kuryad vidvams tathasaktas
cikirsur loka-sangraham

As the ignorant perform their duties with attachment to results, similarly the learned may also act, but without attachment, for the sake of leading people on the right path.

न बुद्धिभेदं जनयेदज्ञानां कर्मसङि्गनाम्‌ ।
जोषयेत्सर्वकर्माणि विद्वान्युक्तः समाचरन्‌ ॥

na buddhi-bhedam janayed
ajnanam karma-sanginam
josayet sarva-karmani
vidvan yuktah samacaran

Let not the wise disrupt the minds of the ignorant who are attached to fruitive action. They should not be encouraged to refrain from work, but to engage in work in the spirit of devotion.

प्रकृतेः क्रियमाणानि गुणैः कर्माणि सर्वशः ।
अहंकारविमूढात्मा कर्ताहमिति मन्यते ॥

prakrteh kriyamanani
gunaih karmani sarvasah
kartaham iti manyate

The bewildered spirit soul, under the influence of the three modes of material nature, thinks himself to be the doer of activities, which are in actuality carried out by nature.

तत्त्ववित्तु महाबाहो गुणकर्मविभागयोः ।
गुणा गुणेषु वर्तन्त इति मत्वा न सज्जते ॥

tattva-vit tu maha-baho
guna gunesu vartanta
iti matva na sajjate

One who is in knowledge of the Absolute Truth, O mighty-armed, does not engage himself in the senses and sense gratification, knowing well the differences between work in devotion and work for fruitive results.

प्रकृतेर्गुणसम्मूढ़ाः सज्जन्ते गुणकर्मसु ।
तानकृत्स्नविदो मन्दान्कृत्स्नविन्न विचालयेत्‌ ॥

prakrter guna-sammudhah
sajjante guna-karmasu
tan akrtsna-vido mandan
krtsna-vin na vicalayet

Bewildered by the modes of material nature, the ignorant fully engage themselves in material activities and become attached. But the wise should not unsettle them, although these duties are inferior due to the performers' lack of knowledge.

मयि सर्वाणि कर्माणि सन्नयस्याध्यात्मचेतसा ।
निराशीर्निर्ममो भूत्वा युध्यस्व विगतज्वरः ॥

mayi sarvani karmani
nirasir nirmamo bhutva
yudhyasva vigata-jvarah

Therefore, O Arjuna, surrendering all your works unto Me, with mind intent on Me, and without desire for gain and free from egoism and lethargy, fight.

ये मे मतमिदं नित्यमनुतिष्ठन्ति मानवाः ।
श्रद्धावन्तोऽनसूयन्तो मुच्यन्ते तेऽति कर्मभिः ॥

ye me matam idam nityam
anutisthanti manavah
sraddhavanto 'nasuyanto
mucyante te 'pi karmabhih

One who executes his duties according to My injunctions and who follows this teaching faithfully, without envy, becomes free from the bondage of fruitive actions.

ये त्वेतदभ्यसूयन्तो नानुतिष्ठन्ति मे मतम्‌ ।
सर्वज्ञानविमूढांस्तान्विद्धि नष्टानचेतसः ॥

ye tv etad abhyasuyanto
nanutisthanti me matam
sarva-jnana-vimudhams tan
viddhi nastan acetasah

But those who, out of envy, disregard these teachings and do not practice them regularly, are to be considered bereft of all knowledge, befooled, and doomed to ignorance and bondage.

सदृशं चेष्टते स्वस्याः प्रकृतेर्ज्ञानवानपि ।
प्रकृतिं यान्ति भूतानि निग्रहः किं करिष्यति ॥

sadrsam cestate svasyah
prakrter jnanavan api
prakrtim yanti bhutani
nigrahah kim karisyati

Even a man of knowledge acts according to his own nature, for everyone follows his nature. What can repression accomplish?

इन्द्रियस्येन्द्रियस्यार्थे रागद्वेषौ व्यवस्थितौ ।
तयोर्न वशमागच्छेत्तौ ह्यस्य परिपन्थिनौ ॥

raga-dvesau vyavasthitau
tayor na vasam agacchet
tau hy asya paripanthinau

Attraction and repulsion for sense objects are felt by embodied beings, but one should not fall under the control of senses and sense objects because they are stumbling blocks on the path of self-realization.

श्रेयान्स्वधर्मो विगुणः परधर्मात्स्वनुष्ठितात्‌ ।
स्वधर्मे निधनं श्रेयः परधर्मो भयावहः ॥

sreyan sva-dharmo vigunah
para-dharmat sv-anusthitat
sva-dharme nidhanam sreyah
para-dharmo bhayavahah

It is far better to discharge one's prescribed duties, even though they may be faulty, than another's duties. Destruction in the course of performing one's own duty is better than engaging in another's duties, for to follow another's path is dangerous.

अथ केन प्रयुक्तोऽयं पापं चरति पुरुषः ।
अनिच्छन्नपि वार्ष्णेय बलादिव नियोजितः ॥

arjuna uvaca
atha kena prayukto 'yam
papam carati purusah
anicchann api varsneya
balad iva niyojitah

Arjuna said: O descendant of Vṛṣṇi, by what is one impelled to sinful acts, even unwillingly, as if engaged by force?


काम एष क्रोध एष रजोगुणसमुद्भवः ।
महाशनो महापाप्मा विद्धयेनमिह वैरिणम्‌ ॥

sri-bhagavan uvaca
kama esa krodha esa
mahasano maha-papma
viddhy enam iha vairinam

The Blessed Lord said: It is lust only, Arjuna, which is born of contact with the material modes of passion and later transformed into wrath, and which is the all-devouring, sinful enemy of this world.

धूमेनाव्रियते वह्निर्यथादर्शो मलेन च।
यथोल्बेनावृतो गर्भस्तथा तेनेदमावृतम्‌ ॥

dhumenavriyate vahnir
yathadarso malena ca
yatholbenavrto garbhas
tatha tenedam avrtam

As fire is covered by smoke, as a mirror is covered by dust, or as the embryo is covered by the womb, similarly, the living entity is covered by different degrees of this lust.

आवृतं ज्ञानमेतेन ज्ञानिनो नित्यवैरिणा ।
कामरूपेण कौन्तेय दुष्पूरेणानलेन च ॥

avrtam jnanam etena
jnanino nitya-vairina
kama-rupena kaunteya
duspurenanalena ca

Thus, a man's pure consciousness is covered by his eternal enemy in the form of lust, which is never satisfied and which burns like fire.

इन्द्रियाणि मनो बुद्धिरस्याधिष्ठानमुच्यते ।
एतैर्विमोहयत्येष ज्ञानमावृत्य देहिनम्‌ ॥

indriyani mano buddhir
asyadhisthanam ucyate
etair vimohayaty esa
jnanam avrtya dehinam

The senses, the mind and the intelligence are the sitting places of this lust, which veils the real knowledge of the living entity and bewilders him.

तस्मात्त्वमिन्द्रियाण्यादौ नियम्य भरतर्षभ ।
पाप्मानं प्रजहि ह्येनं ज्ञानविज्ञाननाशनम्‌ ॥

tasmat tvam indriyany adau
niyamya bharatarsabha
papmanam prajahi hy enam

Therefore, O Arjuna, best of the Bhāratas, in the very beginning curb this great symbol of sin [lust] by regulating the senses, and slay this destroyer of knowledge and self-realization.

इन्द्रियाणि पराण्याहुरिन्द्रियेभ्यः परं मनः ।
मनसस्तु परा बुद्धिर्यो बुद्धेः परतस्तु सः ॥

indriyani parany ahur
indriyebhyah param manah
manasas tu para buddhir
yo buddheh paratas tu sah

The working senses are superior to dull matter; mind is higher than the senses; intelligence is still higher than the mind; and he [the soul] is even higher than the intelligence.

एवं बुद्धेः परं बुद्धवा संस्तभ्यात्मानमात्मना ।
जहि शत्रुं महाबाहो कामरूपं दुरासदम्‌ ॥

evam buddheh param buddhva
samstabhyatmanam atmana
jahi satrum maha-baho
kama-rupam durasadam

Thus knowing oneself to be transcendental to material senses, mind and intelligence, one should control the lower self by the higher self and thus-by spiritual strength-conquer this insatiable enemy known as lust.