Ramakrishna Paramahamsa on Karma Yoga

Sayings of Sri Ramakrishna



PATH OF WORK What is Karma Yoga?


814. Karma Yoga is communion with God by means of Work. Ashtanga Yoga or Raja Yoga is also Karma Yoga, if practiced without attachment. It leads to communion through meditation and concentration. The performance of the duties of householders (i.e., self-regarding as well as altruistic work, social and political)-doing them without attachment to the end that God may be glorified--is Karma Yoga. Again, worship according to the scriptures, silent repetition of the 'name' of God and other pious duties of this kind, are Karma Yoga if done without attachment and for the glorification of God. The end of Karma Yoga is the same (as of other Yogas), namely, the realization of God, impersonal or personal or both.  

815. In the case of a person endowed with the quality of Sattva (purity of being), action naturally falls off. Even if he tries, he cannot engage himself in action. God would not allow him to act. For example, the daughter-in-law who is with child is gradually relieved of her household work, and when the child is actually born, she is given nothing to do and is left exclusively to attend to the child. Those who are not endowed with the quality of Sattva have to attend to all worldly duties. With complete dedication to the Lord, they should behave like the servants in the house of a rich man. This is what is called Karma Yoga. Its secret consists in repeating the 'name' of the Lord and meditating on Him as much as one can, and at the same time attending to one's duties in the spirit of dedication described above.  

816. Whatever you offer to God will return to you a thousand fold. So at the end of all Karma (sacrifice), one has to pour a handful of water, dedicating the fruit of the Karma to Krishna.  

817. When Yudhishthira was about to offer even his sins to Krishna, Bhima warned him saying, "No, no, you should not do so; whatever you offer to Krishna will come back to you a thousand fold."


Devotion as a Safeguard in the Path of Work


818. Work without attachment, however, is exceedingly difficult, especially in this age. Hence communion by prayer, devotion and Love has been enjoined as better adapted to this age than communion by Work or Knowledge and philosophy. No one, however, can avoid work. Every mental operation is work. The consciousness, 'I feel', or 'I think', involves work. What is meant by the path of devotion in its relation to Work is that work is simplified by devotion to, or love of, God. In the first place, this love of God reduces the quantity of one's work by fixing one's mind upon one's own ideal, that is, God. Secondly it helps one to work unattached. One cannot love God and at the same time love riches, pleasure, fame, or power. He who has once tasted the drink prepared with the Ola sugar candy does not care for that made with molasses.  

819. In this age Work without devotion to God has no legs to stand upon. It is like a foundation on sand. First cultivate devotion. All the other things---schools, dispensaries, etc.-will, if you like, be added to you. First devotion, then work. Work, apart from devotion or love of God, is helpless and cannot stand.  

820. For this Kali Yuga, Naradiya-Bhakti, or communion with God by love, devotion and self-surrender as practiced and preached by the Rishi Narada, is enjoined. There is now hardly any time for Karma Yoga, i.e., for doing the various ritualistic duties laid on man by the scriptures. Don't you see that the well-known decoction of the medicinal roots known as Dashamula-pachana, is not the remedy for fevers of the present day? The patient runs the risk of being carried off before the medicine has had time to take effect. 'Fever mixture' is therefore the order of the day.  

821. A disciple: The pressure of work stands in the way of giving one's mind to God, does it not?  

The Master: O yes, no doubt, that is so; but a Jnani may work unattached, and then work will not harm him. If you sincerely desire it, the Lord will help you, and the bondage of work will gradually fall away.  

822. Sri Ramakrishna once said addressing Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, the great philanthropist of India:  

"Your nature is made of the Sattva i.e., the pure element which leads to illumination or true Knowledge. Only your Sattva is in that phase which makes you active and devoted to the doing of good works. Charity, compassion, kindness towards others, etc., are good if practiced without attachment. If they are so practiced, and are accompanied with Bhakti (devotion to the Supreme), they will lead to God."  

823. Should you think of God only at the time of meditation and remain forgetful of Him at all other times? Have you not noticed how during Durga Puja a lamp is kept constantly burning near the image? It should never be allowed to go out. If ever it is extinguished, the house-holder meets with some mishap. Similarly, after installing the Deity on the lotus of your heart, you must keep the lamp of remembering Him ever burning. While engaged in the affairs of the world, you should constantly tum your gaze inwards and see whether the lamp is burning or not.


Work as Service Equal to Worship



824. Sri Ramakrishna was one day expounding the gist of Sri Gauranga's cult in the following words: "This faith insists that man should at all times try to cultivate three things--delight in the 'name' of the Lord, loving sympathy for all living beings, and service to devotees. God and His 'name' are identical. Knowing this, one should take the 'name' of the Lord with great Love and fervor. The devotees of God should be respected and adored in the conviction that there is no difference between the Lord and his worshippers, between Krishna and the Vaishnava. With the knowledge that the whole universe is the household of the Lord, one should show pity to all creatures ... " Uttering the last words 'pity to all creatures' in a rather abrupt fashion, the Master went into Samadhi. Sometime after returning to a semi-conscious state the Master exclaimed, "Pity to creatures! Pity to creatures! Sirrah! you who are lower than even a worm, how dare you speak of showing pity to creatures! Who are you to show pity to them? No, no, it is not pity to creatures, but service to them in the consciousness that they are verily God Himself."


Work, a Means and not an End


825. Addressing a group of enthusiastic social reformers, the Master said: "You talk glibly of doing good to the world. The world to which you desire to do good--is it so small a thing? In the next place, pray, who are you to do good to the world? First, go through devotional practices and see God. Then it is that inspiration and power will come to you, and you may talk of doing good. Not till then."  

A devotee: Sir, do you mean to say that we are to give up all work until we have seen God?  

The Master: No, my dear sir. Why should you give up all work? Meditation, chanting of hymns, repetition of His holy 'names', and other devotional exercises--these you must go through.  

The devotee: I mean work connected with the world.  Should we give up all worldly affairs?  

The Master: You may attend to them too, just as much as you cannot do without, in order to live in this world. But you should, at the same time, pray to the Lord with tears in your eyes for His grace, and for strength to do your duties without the expectation of any reward or fear of punishment in this world or the next.  

826. You cannot get rid of work, because Nature will lead you on to it. That being so, let all work be done as it ought to be. If work is done unattached, it will lead to God. To work without any attachment is to work without the expectation of any reward or fear of any punishment in this world or the next. Work so done is a means to the end, and God is the end.  

827. Work is a means, if done unattached; but the end of life is to see God. Let me repeat that the means should not be confounded with the end--that the first stage on a road should not be taken for the goal. No, do not regard work as the be-all and the end-all, the ideal of human existence. Pray for devotion to God. Suppose you are fortunate enough to see God. Then what would you pray for? Would you pray for dispensaries and hospitals, tanks and wells, roads and alms-houses? No, these are realities to us so long as we do not see God. But once brought face to face with the Divine vision, we see them as they are--transitory things no better than dreams. And then we would pray for more light--more knowledge in the highest sense, more Divine love--the love which lifts us up from man to God, the love which makes us realize that we are really sons of the Supreme Being of Whom all that can be said is that He exists, that He is Knowledge itself in the highest sense, and that He is the eternal fountain of love and bliss.  

828. Referring to a devotee of his the Master once said:  

"Sambhu Mallick once talked of founding hospitals and dispensaries, schools and colleges=-of laying roads, sinking wells and digging tanks for the good of all. I said to him: 'Yes, but you must be unattached while doing good to others, and you must be careful to take up only such works as come in your way--such works, again, as appear to be of a pressing need. Do not seek them--do not seek more work than you can well manage. If you do, you will lose sight of the Lord. "


Work and Worklessness


829. When the pure Sattva arises in a man, he only meditates on God, and does not find pleasure in any other work. Some are born with this pure Sattva on account of their past actions. But one can develop this pure quality if one continues to perform unselfish work in a spirit of devotion and dedication to God. If there be Sattva with an admixture of Rajas, the mind slowly gets distracted in several directions and brings in its wake the egoistic feeling, "I shall do good to the world." It is highly hazardous for ordinary Jivas to attempt to do good to the world. But it is good if a man works, without motive, for the benefit of others; there is no danger in it. This kind of work is called Nishkama Karma. It is quite desirable to do such works. But all cannot do it! for it is very difficult!  

830. All have to do work; only a few can renounce it.  

That kind of pure Sattva is found only in a very few persons. If a person continues to perform his work with devotion and non-attachment, Sattva becomes purged of its Rajas element. And by virtue of this attainment of pure Sattva, he realizes God. Ordinary persons cannot understand this state of pure Sattva.  

831. Renunciation of work comes of itself when intense love of God swells up in the heart. Let them work who are made to do so by God. When the time is ripe, one must renounce everything and say, "Come, O my mind, let us watch together the Divinity installed in the heart."  

832. Sandhya loses herself in Gayatri; Gayatri loses herself in Pranava; Pranava in the end loses itself in Samadhi. So every Karma (Sandyha or the like) ultimately loses itself in Samadhi. l  

Samadhi l. The idea is this: Sandhya consists of the rituals and prayers performed by high-caste Hindus at sun-rise and sun-set. The most important part of it is the meditation on Gayatri (Rig Veda, III. 62. 10), the greatest Mantra of the Vedas. Pranava or 'Om' the mystic sound symbol of God, is prefixed to this magnificent Mantra. True meditation on 'Om' leads to Samadhi and realization of God. Thus Karmas, or pious duties of the type of Sandhya, have their ultimate end in God-realization.   

833. As long as the mind is not absorbed in Sachchidananda, man has to do both--call upon the Lord and attend to work in the world. But when the mind is absorbed in Him, there is no more need of any work. For example, let us take the illustration of the Kirtan. A man sings:  

"Nitai amar mata hati (My Nityananda is an elephant in rut)." When this is sung first, the singer pays attention to all details--the tune, time, melody, etc. But when his mind is a little absorbed in the song, he says simply "Mata hati, mata hati." At a further stage of absorption he says only, "Hati, hati." At a still further stage, he says simply "Ha, ha,'' and no further.  

834. So I say, in the beginning there is much fuss of Karma. But the more you proceed towards God, the less will it grow. Finally comes the complete renunciation of work and the attainment of Samadhi. Generally the body does not remain long after the attainment of Samadhi. But in the case of some it remains for the work of teaching the world. Sages like Narada and Divine Incarnations like Sri Chaitanya are examples of this. After a well is dug some throw away all the spades and baskets, but others preserve them with the idea that they may be of some use to any of their neighbors. Such great souls are moved with pity at the sight of the sufferings of the world. They are not so selfish as to care only for the attainment of Jnana for themselves.