How to practice karma yoga?

Post By: Published on: December 15, 2016 Reading time: 5 minutes

What is karma-yoga?


  • All our actions (karma) are a manifestation or our sense of identity/ self-worth (asmitā).
  • After we act, we anxiously await the result of our action.
  • When the action is acknowledged, we experience an enormous feeling of achievement, action or ownership. However, when the feedback is negative, we become depressed, withdrawn and negative.
  • Furthermore, we experience this duality because the feedback reinforces our impression of ourselves, our self-worth (asmitā).
  • Additionally, our identity (asmitā) forms the basis of our values and conditioning (dharma).
  • In fact, our decision to like or dislike the stimulus and by extension, the source, is based on this conditioning.
  • Importantly, when we like the feedback, we draw closer to the source of the stimulus (rāga) and when we don’t like the feedback, we push the source away (dveṣa).
  • This movement of drawing close or pushing away is action (karma).
  • Lastly, as soon as we transact with any entity, we also create a bond (bandhana).

What are the characteristics of a bond (bandhana)?

Existential bond:

  • The first feedback which we receive confirm our existence. Consequently, this feedback becomes a critical need for our sense of existence
  • As a result, once we receive this validation of our existence, we immediately try to secure the source of this feedback.
  • So, we immediately build a bond with the entity which acknowledges our manifestation and try to maintain the bond to ensure that we never have to worry about our existence.

Transaction bond:

  • Once our existence is validated, we begin to transact with the other entity and a give-take or stimulus-response transaction is generated.
  • So, the bond generated in this manner is called a transactional bond

How do transaction bonds operate? Why are they important?

Sambandana (equal bond) in Sanskrit (sama = equal + bandhana = bond). Equal bonds exist when give and take occur in equal measure. This generally occurs in a marriage, where give and take is a continuous process. In fact, this is the reason marriages in India are called sambandh and in-laws are called sambhandi or samdi (of equal bond or relationship).

Ṛṇānubandhana or bond of debt in Sanskrit (ṛṇa = that of debt + bandhana = bond). All bonds other than sambandhana fall into this category. Ṛṇa or rṇ occurs when one give or takes more from the other, which occurs in almost all cases. The debt created has to be liquidated and if it is not completed in this life, it will spill over to the next. This is the basis for logic of rebirth or saṃsāra.

What happens to the debt that has been created?

  • Since all the karma accumulated is often not liquidated in a single transaction, the total debt which is accumulated is called sañcita-karma (accumulated karma)
  • The debt coming up for liquidation is called prārabdha-karma or undertaken karma.
  • The debt that is getting creating now, is called agami-karma or current karma.

Where does the debt reside? The debt resides in the soul (ātmā). The soul is the entity which leaves the body and moves to the next to complete reconciliation of its debt.

What is karma-yoga?

Since karma is the accrual and dissolution of debt, therefore, karma-yoga is the process of,

  • Dissolving existing debt
  • Not accruing debt.

Since all actions are performed by us as a manifestation of our identity, so this means that karma-yoga is the practice of sepatating our action (karma) from our sense of identity/ self-worth (asmitā).

How can we succeed in the practice of karma-yoga?

To practice karma-yoga, the following techniques are key to isolating the Self from its actions;

  • The ability to perform actions without saṅkalpa (desire for an outcome).
  • Trying to practice all actions as a sacrifice (yajñá).
  • Viewing all stimulus as well as feedback without judgement (without like nor dislike, in a dispassionate manner).
  • Additionally, practicing the ability to view the action of others without judgement and in a dispassionate manner.

Some important tips in the practice of karma-yoga.

Initially, there will be enormous internal conflict and fear of losing identity. However, over time there is better increased awareness of situations which result in improved discrimination (vivekam) and dispassion (vairagyam).

As a result, the yogi achieves a high level of situational awareness (sthithaprajñā) and this results in isolation/ separation of the Self/ identity/ sense of self-worth (asmitā) from the action itself.

When there is neither accrual or dissolution of debt, there is no Karma. This is karma-yoga.

Points to Ponder on bhakti-yoga.

Internal Tags: Karma, Dharma (conditioning)Stress and Situational AwarenessStress and pranaAwareness measures, Bhakti Yoga fundamentals, Jnana Yoga, Karma Yoga, Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga.

External Tags: Consciousness

  • What is karma-yoga?
  • Detail the elements of karma-yoga and how do they impact the yogi?
  • How is karma-yoga implemented?
  • What are the techniques of using karma-yoga in daily life?
  • Explain the different types of bonds?
  • What is ṛṇa or debt? How does it affect karma?


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