Karma Yoga – A critical analysis of Self-enquiry and Self-awareness

Karma Yoga is a term that is often used to describe one who is engaged in duty and action as the means to realize the Self. The questions that need to be asked are – Who is the doer? What is meant by duty? What is meant by action? What is meant by inaction? What is meant by yoga while engaging in karma or action? And finally, who is that who does the duty and who is that who is in yoga?


For one to say that they engage in their ordained or rightful duty while remaining steadfast on the Supreme Goal that is the Self will result in a clear division and thereby, the rise of two entities – a doer and a goal. The truth expounded in innumerable discourses and treatises is that the Self is the doer but remains as the non-agent, is the witness and beneficiary and yet is untainted by action, inaction and fruits of the action and inaction.


The truth is one will not discover anything new as the Self is ever-existent. All that is required is to remove the extraneous which is achieved through sadhana, one of which is karma yoga.


To quote Jagadguru Adi Shankaracharya from Vivekachudamani “Brahma Satyam Jagat Mithya, Jivo Brahmaiva Na Parah” – meaning that only Brahman is the Truth, the universe is an illusion, and the individual is none other than the Brahman.


Raja Janaka of Mithila (conferred the title of Janaka Rajarshi), a jeevanmukta and disciple of Vyāsa Maharshi continued to discharge his duties as the king of Videhanagar while remaining in the bliss of the Self for eternity. His prarabdha demanded that he be the king and perform his rightful duty even though he had realized the Self.


What is the meaning of realization of the Self? Is there any entity in this universe besides the Self for one to realize, experience and attain?


The meaning of realization of the Self is that the I is the Self. For that, the false ‘I’ which is the ego needs to be examined and realized to be nothing but the mind which is a bundle of thoughts created by the false ‘I’. The ancient method of neti-neti nyāya is advised wherein through a rigid process of negation of identity, one arrives at the indivisible, subtlest of the subtle and infinite Absolute.


This Absolute may be called Supreme Self or Brahman or Adi Shakti etc. but its unmanifest, undefinable and inconceivable nature can be known and experienced only with the help of this body – an accumulated mass of innumerable births and deaths.


It is this false ‘I’ that associates with the body and thereby emotions, likes and dislikes, hate, malice, deceit, envy, jealousy, attachment, love, affection and the six formidable obstacles of kāma, krodha, lobha, moha, mada and mātsarya manifest.


Is it possible to be aware of the Self and hold on to the one thought of the doer who is the Self? It is the Self that is the intellect that gives way to intuition when the mind that creates delusion, ignorance and lack of discrimination merges into its true nature – the Self.


The prarabdha which is the sesha (remainder) will fall off once its purpose is realized. But what is its purpose? This accumulated mass is a bundle of thoughts created in the mind that has never been created and is in the unmanifest state.


Jnāna yoga, through the yoga of knowledge where knowledge itself is the yoga (union with the Self) is suggested for those who remain steadfast on the Supreme Goal throughout their existence. After, realizing the Supreme Goal that is the Self, they continue to live as a jeevanmukta till their physical frame drops off.


Karma yoga, through the yoga of action is stated for those who are ordained to engage in action and who surrender every action and its fruits to the Self. They have only right to action and not to its fruits or its cause. These devout yogis (here yogis refer to those who engage in duty and action as ordained surrendering every action, inaction, word, thought and its fruits to the Self) assiduously abide by the righteous manner. Righteous here means to pray that every duty and action undertaken is in the best interest of all and the individual is only an instrument in the hands of the Supreme Self. What is important here is the purity of thought, action, inaction and word which is bereft of malice, deceit, envy, jealousy and spite.


The reason is that the whole universe is the Self and every entity is the Self. As long as one associates ‘I’ with the body, one will have to suffer the consequences of good and bad deeds. When one begins to investigate their origin and present, they will find that there is nowhere to go, nowhere to come and nothing to be seen, heard, known, realized and experienced.


All that is required is TO BE. Hence, the Vedic mantra  पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदं पूर्णात्पूर्णमुदच्यते 
पूर्णस्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते 
 शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः 
Om Puurnnam-Adah Puurnnam-Idam Puurnnaat-Puurnnam-Udacyate |
Puurnnasya Puurnnam-Aadaaya Puurnnam-Eva-Avashissyate ||
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||

must be pondered over – that which is full and wholesome is the Self (Consciousness), this which exists inside is also the Self (Poorna), from this Self (Poorna) is the manifested Self (Poorna) which is known as this world and taking Poorna from Poorna; only Poorna remains. IT IS PEACE PEACE PEACE.


The Self is infinite, incomprehensible, beginningless, endless and non-dual. The question of secondary or tertiary or multifarious elements emerging from Poorna having a unique identity is nothing more than the work of the false ‘I’ – ego, mind and intellect. Hence, self-enquiry is the recommended path.


What is the meaning of self-enquiry? It is to enquire who is that eternal entity that resides within the body and pervades all. Everything is in IT and IT is everything and yet IT remains untainted by action, inaction and fruits of action and inaction remaining as a non-agent always.


If that enquiry is done always, it will be known and experienced that what is seen, the one who sees and the sight itself is the Self. Various sadhanas have been suggested as the means for self-enquiry. It is for the sadhak to hold on to that sadhana as the way for the mind to merge in itself where only the Self exists.


The Mundaka Upanishad states, “The pranava is the bow; the arrow is (your) self and the target is the Supreme Brahman. Aim steadily, deliberately and hit the mark. Like the arrow gets imbedded, lost therein and become THAT.


In that pranava, earth and the sky, intervening space, mind and all the vital forces are interwoven. The one, Self is that. That realize. From other talk, refrain. This is the bridge that leads to Immortality.


Mediate on Self as “OM”. May you thus safely cross beyond darkness.” This is the purport of surrender extolled by Rishis, saints, philosophers and yogis from the days of yore.


As one contemplates on I and recites I at all times, the falsehood slowly drops off. Every atom in this body will resonate that I and this is Self-awareness.


Apramāda is vigilance and resoluteness that is the first step towards a neutral state – Existence devoid of emotion as the false connection to the body has been done away with. I am is what the scriptures have said to be Satchitananda – that can be called as silence, bliss or consciousness. One does not attain self-awareness by renunciating and abstaining from action, for every being created is bound to action and cannot remain even for a second without engaging in action.


The key is to renunciate the fruits of actions, inactions, thoughts and speech by resonating I within at all times. This will help one detach from the illusory notions of me, mine and myself and attain Self-awareness.


Internal renunciation, chitta suddhi and awareness combined with neutrality is the real meaning of karma yoga. To watch the three states of waking, dream and sleep as a witness with the falsehood and ego giving way to the pure radiant bliss of the Self is the meaning of karma yoga.


The sensory organs, mind, ego, intellect should first withdraw and then dissolve into the Self to ensure that it does not manifest. This is the true meaning of karma yoga wherein the prarabdha that is the body will exist only till ordained. It is important to note that once one remains in the bliss of the Self, no action, inaction, word, thought or will is deemed to exist or occur as all sense of agentship and doership has been dissolved. Only the Self exists.


To be happy within the Self, with no desire or like or dislike, to be bereft of thought and therefore, the mind and ego, to be the Silence, Chit, Existence and Consciousness is the meaning of karma yoga.


Detachment is a natural state and will not require any effort but till that is attained, effort is necessary. Though bliss is one’s natural state, effort, sadhana and persistence with fervour and determination is imperative.


Experience of bliss has to be continuous and without interruption, the state of awareness must flow without obstacles or falsehood and the realization of I must be in entirety.


This is the true purpose of one’s birth. What must be known is that every action, inaction, word and thought in one’s life has already been ordained. All that is required for one is to BE.

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