The Yoga of Selfless Service

Karma Yoga or “selfless service” is the first of the Four Paths of Yoga, and in Swami Sivananda’s Yoga of Synthesis, it is where we begin aligning our focus to the benefit of humanity so that we may further step into the experience of Self.

Karma Yoga is a path of purifying our heart and counteracting the influence of egoism. This Yogic path involves the dedication of our work as an offering, with no thought of personal reward. The Law of Karma is one of the fundamental doctrines not only in Hinduism, but also in Buddhism and in Jainism.


The Practice of Karma Yoga

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1. Right Attitude

Action (Karma) of some kind or the other is unavoidable. This we know. But what binds us to phenomenal existence (known in Sanskrit as Samsara) is not the action, but the idea of doership and enjoyership. If we instead act as a participant in the cosmic activity of Nature, without expectation of personal gain, our actions become part of the ineffable goodness dwelling in all living beings. Consider the possibility of work as worship – an act of cosmic love, mercy, and tolerance. Put it into action. Experience it firsthand for yourself.

2. Right Motive

When action is done without the expectation of fruits, it is allowed to become liberating – as the action itself is born from the space of selflessness. Karma Yoga can be practiced at all times, under all conditions, anywhere there is a desire to do selfless service and purify the heart.

3. Opening to Self

Try on the idea that you are only an instrument and that the inner peace is working through you. Become attune with the cosmic energy or the Infinite. Putting this into practice, we free ourselves from the bonds of Karma and enjoy peace. Karma, then becomes Karma Yoga, preparing our heart and mind for the reception of Knowledge of the Self. An amiable, loving social nature arises within.

4. Serving the Self in All

By detaching ourselves from the fruits of our actions and offering them up to the Supreme, we learn to sublimate the ego. By working unselfishly, each job is a teacher of some sort. We learn different skills by doing different jobs. Each job has different requirements in terms of time, degree of concentration, skills or experience, emotional input, physical energy, will. Whatever job we are doing, we try to do well. Be humble and free, rejoice in the welfare of others.

Swami Vishnudevenanda on Karma Yoga:

When you serve, you have to serve in every condition, all types of people. Then only you will see whether you are improving or not. You can test yourself. In Karma Yoga, you have to work with and serve every type of person – good and bad, and people who may not like you. People will scold you but still you must see the same God in them. Do you know the strength of mind at that time? It’s not easy. Every day you are thrown into the fire, and each time you come out successfully with an ‘Oh thank God, I passed another test.’