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Yogah Karmasu Kousalam

Many spiritual teachers in the past have commented on Yoga in several different ways. But since these words come from Lord Krishna himself, it carries more weight and has better clarity of expression. The following verse is from Srimad Bhagavad Gita (2:50) :

|| buddhi yuktō jahātīha | ubhē sukṛta duṣkṛtau

tasmād yōgayā yujyasva | yōgaḥ karmasu kauśalaṁ ||

Meaning: One endowed with wisdom wins over good and bad karma in this very life. Therefore, devote yourself to Yoga. The art of doing karma with equanimity of mind is Yoga.

This is a very apt definition of Yoga given by Lord Krishna himself. Although it appears very simple, it carries a profound meaning.

Man is bound by the result of his own karma (actions), both good and bad. Once an action is performed, one cannot disown the consequence of his action. Thus, good and bad karma become the cause for merit and demerit, forcing one to experience the consequences accordingly, which in turn make him perform more karma, based on his tendencies and thus resulting in more and more lives. The only way to escape from this cycle of karma is through Yoga.

Lord Krishna describes Yoga as the skill of doing karma. Does it imply that any work done with skill becomes Yoga? For example, can robbery be considered as Yoga, if it is done skillfully? Here, Lord Krishna does not state that doing good karma alone with skill counts as Yoga. He simply says that Yoga is the art of doing any karma with equanimity of mind. Further, he also stresses that one who is wise, goes beyond karma. We must understand this point clearly.

One cannot live in this world without doing karma. And experiencing the result of karma is also inevitable. So how can one escape from this cycle? The only way out is to remain unattached, even when the senses are engaged in their respective actions, by clearly understanding through experience that all this is nothing but Nature’s play, and realizing oneself to be rooted in the Eternal Being, who is just a witness to this play of creation.

Mere intellectual understanding of this secret, however, is not enough. Unless one understands this through experience, one cannot remain without getting caught in the karmic web. This is possible only if one can be in this state of awareness every moment and observe all actions performed by the senses as distinct from himself. Only such a person can perform karma with equanimity.

Kusala karma in this verse does not simply mean performing actions with dexterity. It denotes an action that does not produce a counter action, which in turn can become the cause for another action. Karma done with a restless mind results in a reaction. But when karma is done with equanimity of mind, it does not lead to a counter action. The chain of karma ends there. How is it possible?

Attachment and aversion are the reasons for the cycle of karma to be continued, which really are two sides of the same coin. One may be associated to any object in two ways. The first is the bond due to love (raga), which Vedanta calls attachment. The second is the bond due to hatred (dvesha). When we either love or hate a person or an object, we always tend to think of that person/object. That means we are being associated with that person/object, either in a positive or a negative way. This bondage due to association is what ties a person to the karmic results.

One who can remain without attachment-aversion, even when he performs karma, is not bound by it. But when these are the forces driving the entire world, how can one remain unaffected by this trap? The answer to this is practice of Yoga. Be wise and understand this secret. The senses dwell on external objects due to their attraction for them. One who can observe through meditative contemplation that this is the play of Nature, taking place within one’s body, and realize himself to be the witness of this play, will never be bound by karma. This is because, his faculties do not act depending upon his likes-dislikes, instead, they act as per the rule of Nature. He is only an observer.

When one can maintain this state of equanimity, the fetters of love and hatred cannot bind him. Hence, he is untouched by the fruits of his actions, which takes him beyond the ambit of karma. This precisely was the state in which Lord Krishna remained and performed his divine play. Hence, he was untouched by the fruits of his actions. Great souls like King Janaka, Jada Bharata, Ashtavakra and others too lived their lives in such an exalted state and went beyond karma.

The actions performed when in such a state cannot create any further karma, since the actions are not backed by the compelling forces that set the wheel of karma moving. Hence such karma is known as kusala karma or skillful action. The karma performed in this state is known as Yoga. It is due to this type of karma that a person can go beyond sin and virtue.

Lord Krishna elucidates how a wise person should perform such kusala karma and go beyond the ambit of karma. It is through this practice that one can reach the state of Jivanmukta (a liberated soul while still living in the body), go beyond the cycle of birth and death and attain salvation. But, is this a small feat? Definitely not. If it were, then why does Lord Krishna himself say that only one in million can accomplish this feat? Any spiritual practice is full of challenges. It is a battle with oneself, where there are no external enemies. The aspirant’s mind is both his friend and enemy.

Why did he talk about wisdom? Wisdom is a level above the mind. It implicitly means that one can attain perfection in this practice only if he can rise above the mind and observe the activities of the mind by remaining stationed in the wisdom level.

There are more profound insights of this verse. What we studied here is the commonly known meaning. We shall discuss the yogic insights in a later post.

All rights reserved. This article has been translated by Padmaja A, which was originally posted in on August 20, 2009. The content or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express permission of the publisher.

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