Understanding Karma Yoga and Dharma – and practicing these can help you, others, and the world live in a more peaceful and easeful manner.
With so many things happening around the world including natural disasters, global warming, terrorism, racism, and sexism, etc. it is only natural to wonder what you can do to help others who may be in a less fortunate situation than you or to help the earth itself. It can also be natural to doubt your ability, as one person, to make a difference. These questions and doubts are perfectly valid, and the reality is that there are a lot of different things that you can do and that each one of them will probably have little direct impact on these huge issues. However, mindful action – Karma Yoga – moves us toward right action – Dharma – and when we practice our Karma Yoga and follow our Dharma, then each small act begins to contribute to the universal good.
“To become more conscious is the greatest gift anyone can give to the world, moreover, in a ripple effect, the gift comes back to its source.” ~ David Hawkins
Karma Yoga is the Yoga of action. It is one of the four paths of yoga. Here in the U.S. most of us are more familiar with the path of Raja Yoga – the Yoga of self-control where the focus is on controlling the body, energy, senses, and mind to realize our true nature or unite with the divine. Following the path of Karma Yoga we use the ordinary actions of our day-to-day life to “wake up,” and become fully present and devoted to self, others, the divine. This practice of being fully present, aware, and devoted during our actions naturally moves us toward a state of union or awakening.
Somewhere along the Karma Yoga path the desire to do service and right action may ripen. While Karma Yoga is the Yoga of Action, Dharma can be translated as Right Action. As we perform our day-to-day activities with mindful awareness, we become more aware of how our actions affect us and others. From this expanded awareness the seed of loving kindness is planted, and the desire to perform right action for self and others grows. Along with this desire comes clarity and understanding of what our right action is in any given situation and at any given time.
Through regular practice, the concepts of Karma Yoga and Dharma can serve as roadmaps for each of us in moving forward in taking action to address challenges, injustices, and suffering that we see around us and throughout the world.
Here are six steps using Karma Yoga and Dharma that you can take to be the change, and help the world be a more peaceful and easeful place to live:
1. Practice Mindful Action.
Karma Yoga: Practice this often with small and large acts. If you can be mindful of simple tasks such as brushing your teeth, preparing your breakfast, greeting acquaintances, gathering your mail, then you will be better prepared to be present and aware at more challenging times of stress, indecision, or confusion. Start out by choosing one simple task that you do daily – and begin the practice of being mindfully present throughout this task every day.
2. Be open to your Dharma or individual right action.
As you practice your Karma Yoga, your own personal Dharma will become clearer. The Right Action in any given circumstance is different for every one of us and will vary from moment to moment. When you are faced with a decision regarding action, rather than following the path of others, check in with your self and decide on the best course of action based on your gifts and abilities.
3. Practice Loving-kindness.
Despite all of your best intentions – Karma Yoga and practicing our Dharma is, in the end, a practice, which means you won’t get it perfect, or even right, every time. When things don’t go as you expected or go “wrong,” observe the situation, yourself, and with loving kindness learn from the practice and move forward with the hope of doing better next time.
4. Be not attached to the fruits of the action.
A fundamental concept of Karma Yoga and the Dharma is not being attached to the outcome of your actions. This concept can be a tough one; yet is important. Despite our greatest efforts and intentions, things will develop in their own time and way. Over-attachment to certain outcomes may blind you to the chain of events that have been put into action, and you may begin to feel defeated, fatigued, or disenfranchised. When you release your attachments and aversions to certain outcomes, then your way will become light.
5. Be realistic.
Right action does not have to be some grandiose gesture, it can be as simple as smiling warmly at a stranger, offering your neighbor a helping hand, petting a lonely dog, volunteering for a local charity. There are times when we will have more than enough to share. Other times we will have more than we can juggle with family, work, health, finances, etc. leaving us few resources to contribute toward “saving the world.” Never underestimate the power of love and random acts of kindness. Regarding right action, Mirabai Bush said, “Be brave, start small, use what you’ve got, do something you enjoy, and don’t over commit.”
6. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
It’s a practice. Never stop practicing!
“Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi
Katey Hawes, owner and founder of Posabilities, Inc., is a physical therapist, registered yoga teacher, and yoga therapist.