Question: Our first question is, we would like for you to define the term Karma Yoga and the second part to that would be how would you suggest that we, as lay people, manifest that form of yoga in our lives?
Ram Dass: Well in the simplest sense you could say that Karma Yoga is using your Karma as a way of coming into union with God. It’s using the stuff of your life. It is usually used as the way you work in the world. And whether or not that work in the world is a vehicle for spiritual awakening. In books like the Bhagavad Gita, Karma Yoga is specified as Krishna saying to Arjuna “Do what you do, but offer the fruits of it to me.” That’s what Karma Yoga is. So in that sense, it has a devotional quality to it.
And it’s interesting that in Vivekanada’s book on Karma Yoga, Karma Yoga and Bhakti Yoga are usually put together in the little volumes. They are published together because there is such a relationship. Because Karma Yoga really says that you serve others as a way of serving God. You serve others as a way of putting flowers at the feet of God, of honoring God. And you do seva or service as a technique of doing that.
Once you are starting to awaken, you look around for practices to purify and to help you awaken. And most people see meditation clearly as a practice, because meditation doesn’t get anything else done, so it must be getting you enlightened. It’s a clear, simple yoga. And you say, “Well, I do yoga, and I do my meditation and then I go to work or then I live life. Or then I’m going to do good.” Or something like that.
Karma Yoga is the taking of the things you do every day with other people, of service, things like that, and making those all into an offering. And so it’s an attitude that one has. It’s an attitude of offering, and it’s an attitude of seeing how the actions you are performing mean so much more.
So, the way we are going to talk about it is through the act of doing service; what is the relation of the service you do to your coming to God? And there are different ways that works. It can work in a devotional sense, where I am talking to you as my offering to Maharajji. This is my Karma Yoga, I am doing this now as service to you, but it’s an offering to him. And that’s work on myself. Can you hear all of the components of that?
I also can do it without the devotional component, but doing it from a meditative point of view, called Meditation in Action. Those of you that might have seen Chögyam Trungpa’s book called Meditation in Action in which when I’m washing a pot, I don’t wash the pot as the offering to Maharajji. I just come into the process of washing the pot until I’m fully in the moment, and I quiet my mind into washing the pot until there is just washing of pot-ness going on. And that is also Karma Yoga.
Karma Yoga is that which will bring you to yog or union into the One, and it takes the stuff you do every day to do that.
Question: Would you please speak about right action?
Ram Dass: Speak about right action. In the final analysis, right action is what is called doing one’s Dharma. It means action that does not have associated with it attachment or aversion. And therefore it does not create Karma in and of itself. Now this is a very complex concept, and I don’t want to get too head trippy, but I’d really like to get this one through because it is an interesting one.
In the Bhagavad Gita there are two injunctions that are very clear about action: One is, “Do not be identified with being the actor.” Krishna is saying to Arjuna, “You are a warrior and this is a Dharmic war you are going to fight. Go fight it, but don’t think you are the fighter. It’s really me, God, that’s doing it. You are just an instrument in it. Don’t get so caught and let your ego run away. Don’t think you’re doing it.” So the first injunction is Don’t be identified with being the actor. In other words, let your mind pull back from identifying with the doing.
The common question in this culture is “What are you doing?” “What do you do?” “Hi, what do you do?” See, doing is the identification. And we’re constantly suckering each other into identifying with the doer. “I worked all day.” “I made love.” “I ate.” “I walked.” “I did.”
The other way of looking at it, and it’s a different… it’s a critical shift of consciousness is, “I am” and there is doing. It’s a different place. Like your heart is beating, but you’re not beating your heart. You’re not saying, “Beat, damn it.” “I’d like to talk to you, but I’m busy doing. Excuse me.” So it’s all going on automatic, so to speak. Or base brain. Or whatever you want to call it. So, we’re talking about non-identification with being the actor is the first component.
Now think of all the things in your life that you do, and then imagine them happening, because they are. Like when you drive a car, most of you do it without identifying with being the doer. You usually think about something else while you are driving. You are not being the driver.
Now take the next injunction: The next injunction is, “Be not attached to the fruits of the action.” Like if you are a parent raising a child, first of all don’t be identified with the fact that you are “raising the child”. You are a being. All of this is happening because it’s the appropriate action that is happening. You are resting in your being and there is doing happening. You are being careful of the biological safety of the child and the love and so on.
The other thing is that how the child turns out is how the child turns out. Your attachment to how the child is going to turn out is going to affect the way you do the act. You did the act as impeccably as you can. Because that is your Dharma. It is your duty. It is your role to play. You find yourself in that unique Karmic predicament.
Your Karma defines your Dharma. The situation you find yourself in defines a condition under which there are appropriate actions to be done. The place you do those appropriate actions from is a place of rest inside your being. Then the actions occur and the outcomes happen. And you stay at rest. That’s the pure act of Karma Yoga.
So, that is right action. But see, it’s a hard one to hear. Did it come through? Did you hear that issue? I mean it is so far out for us to hear that, because it runs so counter to the way we think about the way we act every day. We’d never think of that. But in India, it’s interesting, they have a very deep sense of the term Dharma. Of doing my Dharma. It’s just an appropriate thing you do. Because that’s the part you play.
And as I listened in, I realized that like in my taking care of my father in those last years, my being in that relationship, I was taking care of my father. And I noticed that at the beginning of it, because I was a Westerner, I was sort of milking it a little bit. You know, here I am taking care of old Dad. And then after a while I heard it more clearly, and there was just the appropriateness of I was the son, and he was my father, and I was honoring the father and he needed help and there I was.
And I ended up playing the part, but when we were together it had very little to do with that. I mean that was all going on, but the bed pans and all were all just part of our process of being together. And I did as I could, and sometimes he was happy and sometimes he wasn’t. But I was doing it as well as I could.
A lot of our anxiety is because we are attached to how it is supposed to come out, which doesn’t allow God to play.
Because I could do everything I could do for Dad as impeccably as I could and he wouldn’t notice it. If my doing it was connected with his response, then I was unhappy. But it was an offering. It was my part to play. And I was just feeling my way into my part. And then not getting caught in being the player. So the part was just happening. It was just happening. My father was being cared for. And there was honoring of father and here we were.