Thoughts on yogaḥ karmasu kauśalam
Yogaḥ karmasu kauśalam — this indeed is a remarkable statement of the Gita that sets the premise of the karmayoga elaborately spoken in the Gita. But what does karmakuśalatā mean? Is it mere skilfulness in work, meticulousness, professionalism and excellence in work? What is it exactly? If this is the case then can a circus man having high level of skilfulness be called karmayogi? Can his action be called karmayoga? Let’s try understanding karmakuśalatā beyond its literal meaning. The word kuśala in its root sense means attentiveness, mindfulness, concentration, happiness and all these for a sacred cause.
In the context of Karma Yoga in the Gita, karmakuśalatā demands much awareness and right attitude not only towards work, but also towards people, society and the world. What is the purpose of the work, how does it impact the world also become very essential.
How can one perform such action of perfection with the touch of the antarātman in it?
The answer is nishkāmakarma (Desireless action). And doing any work without desire is a hard nut to even comprehend. How can we be without any desire? Even if we decide to do desireless work there is a desire in it. And any action done based on decisions taken by mind cannot be called as karmayoga because mind has its own limitation and impurities.
Understanding what karma is in itself a great endeavour, the Gita refers to different forms of Karma alone for us to understand and assimilate. Some of the forms of karma mentioned in the Gita are, karma, akarma, vikarma and so on…
karmaṇo hyapi boddhavyaṁ boddhavyaṁ ca vikarmaṇaḥ,
akarmaṇaśca boddhavyaṁ gahanā karmaṇo gatiḥ. Gita 4.17
One has to understand about action as well as to understand about wrong action and about inaction one has to understand; thick and tangled is the way of works.
Even the wisest of wise also fails to understand what Karma means (kavayo’pyatra mohitāḥ). Going within and finding the real guru and the shastra is the only way through which one can truly understand the meaning and essence of Karma.
Karmayoga in its real sense means to rise above the ordinary consciousness and operate from the higher level of consciousness. A true or right attitude is that when any and every action/work is performed from that state of higher consciousness and not from the ordinary consciousness which is limited, deluded and ignorant. Every action must be an expression of the higher consciousness, must have in it the touch of the Divine, must be performed as an offering to the Divine, as a worship to the Divine. When one has this attitude in action he knows how to act rightly and has the karmakuśalatā in him.
The true Karmayogi is beyond likes and dislikes, right and wrong and all the forms of dwandva or binaries which delude our mind. For him the driving force of all action is nothing but the Divine.
Dropping all the desires, going beyond all the binaries and three gunas in us, the karmayogi lives and does all the actions for the Divine. He does not allow any non-divine action/thoughts/aliments arise in him. And actions performed in that state is the true action.
The one who does action in that state of being is united with the divine. One must remember that the true selfless action happens and is not done. This happens when one is in contact with one’s inmost being, the true Self of one, the Divinity within.
Only he who is in constant touch with the Divinity within is the fittest instrument through whom the selfless work can happen. It is because of that deep and constant contact with the inmost being, the selfless action happens naturally, and then when that happens one’s inmost being dances with the joy.
How to achieve this? It is by constant remembrance of the Divine. It is by constantly holding the Divine in one’s consciousness that one can arrive at that perfection. It takes time but it is possible for all of us. With all our sincere efforts, we all can achieve that. What is needed is that satata-smaraṇa-śīlatā or the constant remembrance of the divine. That is the right attitude, that will show us when, where and how to perform the right action.
Every aspect of our life must be an offering to, and an adoration of the Divine. That indeed brings the karmakuśalatā. Let me conclude it with a beautiful verse from the Saundarylahari of Shankaracharya:
जपो जल्पः शिल्पं सकलमपि मुद्राविरचनं
गतिः प्रादक्षिण्यक्रमणमशनाद्याहुतिविधिः |
प्रणामः संवेशः सुखमखिलमात्मार्पणदृशा
सपर्यापर्यायस्तव भवतु यन्मे विलसितम् ||
japo jalpaḥ śilpaṃ sakalamapi mudrāviracanaṃ
gatiḥ prādakṣiṇyakramaṇamaśanādyāhutividhiḥ |
praṇāmaḥ saṃveśaḥ sukhamakhilamātmārpaṇadṛśā
saparyāparyāyastava bhavatu yanme vilasitam ||
Oh, Supreme Divine Mother, Whatever action of mine, may it be intended for and dedicated to Your worship:
May my speech become recitation of Your name as prayer (japa),
May all my actions become gestures of Your worship (mudras),
May all my movements become a circumambulation around Your form (pradakshina),
May all my food and drink become offerings to You as oblations to divine fire (havan),
May all my resting and sleep become prostrations to You (pranam)
May all my worldly pleasures and enjoyments be transformed into acts of devotion to you (seva).
- Sampadananda Mishra