Karma Yoga: Spontaneous Action Free from Attachment and Desire

“Nothing matters but the soul. Nothing counts in the long run but service.” Alice A Bailey/Master DK
All the world’s religions emphasise the importance and value of Karma Yoga or service – to others, the community, the world. In The New Testament (which is littered with such references), Mark recounts Christ teaching: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all;” and in Philippians 2:4: “not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Satya Sai Baba extolls us to “love all, serve all”, and the great Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita has a whole chapter (3) dedicated to The Yoga of Action: “In this world there is a two-fold path taught by me long ago: [the path of] knowledge…and [the path of] action, the yoga of the yogis. Of these two ways, Krishna maintains that “he who by the mind controls the senses, and yet is unattached while engaging action’s organs in action [Karma Yoga], is superior.”
This “action” that Krishna describes is action of a particular, rarified type and tone, it is what Krishnamurti called “correct action”. But what is this action or service, what does it mean “to serve all” as Sai Baba puts it, or anyone for that matter and why is it so important in the quest for liberation and self-knowledge?
The dynamic will of the soul
Service cannot be limited to any specific type of activity and it has nothing to do with occupation, role or position; simply because one happens to work in an area of social need e.g. does not necessarily equate to a life of service. Nor is service based on good intentions, which are widespread, or being thoughtful or kind. Positive as these human qualities are, acts of kindness are not necessarily demonstrations of service or karma yoga; neither is service determined by motive (the desire to “do good” e.g.).
The desire to serve itself comes from the source of all goodness in man – the soul, anchored in the heart; the effectiveness or otherwise of any type of service is directly related to and dependent upon the degree to which the soul is directing and infusing the activity. If, after responding to the soul’s initial call to act along a certain line, action is dominated by the personality or ego (we are using the term “ego” according to Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi’s definition: ego he says, “is nothing other than the false sense of “I”), the effectiveness and impact of the work will be limited.
Service or Karma Yoga is action consistent with the dynamic will of the soul. A necessary factor in any such action is therefore self-sacrifice; sacrificing the lower self (ego/personality) for the so-called higher (the soul); becoming consciously aware of and laying aside self centred/ego-centred wishes, ideals, images and constructed objectives of, e.g., the result or aim of action along any particular line.
Ego (self) is conditioned and deeply attached, attached to that which it finds pleasurable or comforting; to a belief system, a person, or persons, a place, a book or series of books, anything in fact that is familiar. Actions undertaken from such a limited source are polluted from the outset, and, rooted in ignorance, will inevitably add to the prevailing discord, no matter the area of activity, the motive, hope or intention – however noble.
Despite its protestations and assertions to the contrary, ego, being conditioned, does not know what “correct or right” action is, as Krishnamurti called it, and as such it cannot truly engage in service/karma yoga, or claim to serve. Although ideals, such as brotherhood, unity, peace, tolerance etc, which emanate from the soul and are consistent with “divine intent”, are fondly spoken of, due to the dominance of the ego, they remain unrealised and instead of harmony destructive self-centred patterns are repeatedly set in motion – karmic streams of force, in which we flounder again and again. As Bhagavan Ramana states “The fruit of karma passes. But action [by the ego] leaves behind the seed of further action [and therefore karma] leading to an endless ocean of action and not at all to moksha (liberation/freedom).”
“Correct action” is action free from the production of karmic seeds; incorrect or self-centred action, rooted as it inevitably is in conditioning, attachment and desire, will by contrast always lay “the seeds of further action”, and often leads to chaos.
We see the fruit of this pattern in the world around us. In all areas of life, individually and collectively, separation and conflict, selfishness and greed characterize modes of living and systems of governance. From economic, social and political inequality to religious intolerance, poverty and environmental injustices to terrorism and war, the world, as devised by mankind, is deeply divided, and in many ways, dysfunctional. The external forms within which our daily life takes place are expressions of the collective consciousness of humanity – the root or initiating impulse from which activity and forms take shape and advance.
“Give and ask naught”
The personality/ego may believe in the ideal of service (mind loves an ideal – peace, brotherhood, love) and see the goodness of selfless action; it may form an image of service and seek to live up to that image, and indeed some good may be achieved, but like all images it will be a conditioned limited view and to some degree will form an obstacle to correct action. Freedom from the inclinations, the desires, fears and attachments inherent in the life of the ego, will allow such restrictive tendencies to be overcome, right action to take place allowing a true server to be born.
As Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, He, “who controlling the senses by the mind, O Arjuna, with the organs of action without attachment, performeth the yoga by action, he is worthy.” Non-attachment is essential; the great Indian sage, Nirsargadatta Maharaja taught that, “Discrimination will lead to detachment; detachment will ensure right action; right action will build the inner bridge to your real being [the Self].”
Such “right” action is the action of the soul – action free from choice and the time-bound rumination of thought. The soul does not choose and act, there is no “weighing things up” and eventually deciding; from a position of vision, unconditioned knowledge and pure love, the soul simply acts. as the Master DK (writing through Alice A. Bailey), puts it in a letter to a disciple, “you need to acquire that divine indifference which leaves the soul free to serve – untrammelled by personality reactions.” This is truly right or correct action, karma yoga or service; rare indeed in the world.
Action that precipitates unhindered from this holy source will always be harmonious, even if disruptive to, for example, the existing socio-economic system, or destructive of a civilization that has run its course. Such clean (unpolluted) action is the hallmark of a true human being; someone who does not identify with the ego and knows beyond doubt that he/she is part of a united whole. As the great Indian avatar Anandamayi Ma, revered as an incarnation of the feminine principle, and known to millions simply as Mother, put it; in service, “you will come to know by direct perception that the person served, the one who serves, and the act of service are separate only in appearance.”
The handicap to ‘correct’ action or service then, is the identification of the “I” with the personality/ego, from this identification grows the idea of individual doer-ship. This is a powerful factor in the obstruction of soul action, and is inevitable as long as the notion of an individual “I” or ego persists. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna explains: “the one who perceives that all works are done by the powers of material Nature truly understands and thus does not consider oneself as the doer.” Furthermore, “Surrendering all actions to Me [Krishna or soul], with thy thoughts resting on the supreme Self, from hope and egoism freed, and of mental fever cured, engage in battle [action].”
Freedom from this idea of individual doer-ship and the inflated image it creates is not accomplished through abstaining from activity, but through the negation of ego, through non-attachment and the overcoming of desire/fear. The Master DK points to the sustaining action of the sun as an illustration of the attitude required: “Lord of my life, how can I do the duty of this day yet seek detachment? Meet every need yet free myself from ties and bonds? God said: the Sun draws near and vivifies the Earth. Naught can it take from out the Earth. Live likewise. Give and ask naught.”
Such action, which is free from reward of any kind allows for spontaneous or effortless action (something Krishnamurti repeatedly spoke of) to occur. Spontaneous action is the opposite of conditioned, reward-based action, and is a central element within Taoism and Zen. The idea of “non-doing” is central in Taoism. This does not mean absence of action, but the negation of doer-ship and imposition, not trying to assert one’s own will on the natural movement of life but “going with the flow”. Lao Tzu (founder of Taoism) taught the importance of being quiet and watchful, tuning within to become aware of what Helena Blavatsky called the Voice of the Silence.
Zen also teaches what we might call The Art of Action; moving from forceful action to spontaneous action, which is a form of unrestrained freedom experienced through the application of intense discipline as awareness or choiceless observation, as Krishnamurti called it. Not freedom to do as we want irrespective of consequences, but freedom from attachment, from desire and fear. Such is the pure action of the soul in which no sense of separation is experienced; as the Master DK says, “To stand really free is to stand in the clear unimpeded light of the soul, which is basically and intrinsically group consciousness,” that is, without any sense of individual doer-ship or separation.
In order for the soul to act free from limitation, the mind needs to be still, quiet, uncluttered, detached. As Nisargadatta Maharaj said, “A quiet mind is all you need. All else will happen rightly [correctly], once your mind is quiet.” Stillness and therefore purification of the mind – the “root cause” – is essential for actions to be wholly “correct”; and it is only “correct” action that can create the forms, structures and modes of living required to bring about peace and usher in a civilisation rooted in goodness.
This is why Krishnamurti and other great teachers have emphasized that lasting fundamental change in society is dependent upon the individuals within society changing: “to change it [society/the world] you have to change yourself. When you begin to change yourself, you begin to change the society.” Because, as is clear “You [we] are the world, and the world is you [us]. Therefore you [we] have a tremendous responsibility.” A “responsibility” to the world, a responsibility to serve the needs of the time as we understand them, and at the same time a responsibility to free oneself from the obstacles to “correct action”; as the Master DK states, “the outer life of service will become arid and full of personality unless it is paralleled by a growing sensitivity to the impulses of the soul.” The primary responsibility is to stand aside, to negate totally any sense of doer-ship, all else will follow naturally and spontaneously.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
“Nothing matters but the soul. Nothing counts in the long run but service.” (MasterDK DNA Vol1)
All the world’s religions emphasise the importance and value of service (to others, the community, the world) or Karma Yoga. In The New Testament (which is littered with such references), Mark recounts Christ teaching: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all;” and in Philippians 2:4: “not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
Satya Sai Baba says something similar, extolling us to “love all, serve all”, and the great Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita has a whole chapter (3) dedicated to The Yoga of Action: “In this world there is a two-fold path taught by me long ago: [the path of] knowledge, the yoga of the Sankhyas, and [the path of] action, the yoga of the yogis. Of these two ways, Krishna maintains that “he who by the mind controls the senses, and yet is unattached while engaging action’s organs in action [Karma Yoga], is superior.”
This “action” that Krishna describes is action of a particular, rarified type and tone, it is what Krishnamurti called “correct action”; and is also known as  sevā in Sanskrit, or service. But what is this action or service, what does it mean “to serve all” as Sai Baba puts it, or anyone for that matter? How does it manifest and why is it so important in the quest for liberation and self-knowledge?
The dynamic will of the soul
Service cannot be limited to any specific type of activity and it has nothing to do with occupation, role or position; simply because one happens to work in an area of social need e.g. such as a medical professional, a carer or social worker, a teacher or aid worker, an artist, musician or writer, does not necessarily equate to a life of service. Nor is service based on good intentions, which are widespread, or being thoughtful or kind. Positive as these human qualities are, acts of kindness are not inherently demonstrations of service or karma yoga; neither is service determined by motive (the desire to “do good” for example), or the level of benefit any action may or may not bring to another/others.
The desire to serve itself comes from the source of goodness in man – the soul (or jiva), anchored in the heart; the effectiveness or otherwise of an action of service is directly related to and dependent upon the degree to which the soul is directing and infusing the work, or not. If, as is common, after responding to the soul’s initial call to act along a certain line, action is dominated by the personality or ego (we are using the term “ego” according to Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi’s definition: ego he says, “is nothing other than the false sense of “I”), then the quality of service will be poor, the impact weak and largely ineffective.
Service or Karma Yoga then is action consistent with the dynamic will of the soul. A necessary factor in any such action is therefore self-sacrifice; sacrificing the so-called lower self (ego/personality) for the so-called higher (the soul); becoming consciously aware of and laying aside petty self centred/ego-centred wishes, ideals, images and constructed objectives of the result or aim of action along any particular line.
Ego (self) knows nothing outside the inhibiting patterns of thought it has been subjected to, has accumulated and now believes in. It is deeply attached, attached to that which it finds pleasurable or comforting; to a belief system, a person, or persons, a place, a book or series of books, anything in fact that is familiar. As Bhagavan Ramana explained, ego relies on attachment to forms (including thought forms) for its existence:“Holding onto [grasping and attaching] form it [ego] rises; holding form it remains; holding and feeding on form it thrives. Leaving one form, it takes hold of another. When sought, it takes flight. Such is the ego ghost [phantom self] with no form of its own.”
Actions undertaken from such a conditioned, and therefore limited source (as the overwhelming majority of actions are), are polluted from the outset, and, rooted in ignorance, will inevitably add to the prevailing discord, no matter the area of activity, the motive, hope or intention – however noble.
Despite its protestations and assertions to the contrary, ego does not know what “correct or right” action is, as Krishnamurti called it, and as such it cannot truly engage in service/karma yoga, or claim to serve – to be the one that serves.
Although ideals, such as brotherhood, unity, peace, tolerance etc, which may well emanate from the soul and be consistent therefore with “divine intent”, are fondly spoken of, due to the dominance of the ego, destructive self-centred patterns are repeatedly set in motion – karmic streams of force, in which we flounder again and again. As Bhagavan Ramana states “The fruit of karma passes. But action [by the ego] leaves behind the seed of further action [and therefore karma] leading to an endless ocean of action and not at all to moksha (liberation/freedom).” “Correct action” is action free from the production of all karmic seeds.
Incorrect or self-centred action, rooted as it must be in conditioning, attachment and desire, will always lay “the seeds of further action”, and often leads to chaos, because that is the nature of the source from which it springs. We see the fruit of this pattern in the world around us. In all areas of life, individually and collectively, separation and conflict, selfishness and greed characterize modes of living and systems of governance. From economic, social and political inequality to religious intolerance, poverty and environmental injustices to terrorism and war, the world, as devised by mankind, is deeply divided, and in many ways, dysfunctional. The external forms (socio-economic-political structures) within which daily life takes place are merely an expression or reflection of the interior world of humanity, the collective ego or consciousness; the root from which activity and forms take shape and advance; this is the source, the initiating cause.
The illusion of security
In its purest form, service or karma yoga is not possible within the limitations of the ego’s constructed sense of self. It may aspire to serve, it may believe in the ideal of service (mind loves an ideal – peace, brotherhood, love) and see the goodness of selfless action; it may form an image of service and seek to live up to that image, but like all images it will be a conditioned limited view and, instead of facilitating service it will add to the obstacles or illusion of correct action.
As long as identification of the “I” with the body (physical, mental, emotional) remains, the focus – more or less – will be the satisfaction of desire (including the desire to serve if such a desire exists), the avoidance of pain and establishing security, which is impossible but unacknowledged; as Krishnamurti said, “there is no such thing as security, this restless demand for security is part of the observer, the centre [ego], the monkey….[but] it can never find it [security]….the desire for thought to be secure is the way of uncertainty, is the way of insecurity.” In the recognition of this fact, he concludes, lies security. In other words, give up desire and the attachment to that which creates the illusion of security (all forms), turn within and the certainty one yearns for will be known. It is the desire for security and the habitual tendency of looking for it (and happiness) externally (in “the world”) that creates fear and perpetual discontent, because like all desires it moves the mind outwards away from the inner centre where peace, and the source of correct action lies, and into the world of fluctuating forms and empty images.
Desire, fear and attachment form the Trinity of Entrapment and Inhibition; a crushing force that either poisons totally or limits in varying degrees the quality and tone of action. It is only when there is freedom from these stifling tendencies that the ego will fall negative to the positive influx of energy from the soul, and in all radiance a true server will be born.
As Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, He, “who controlling the senses by the mind, O Arjuna, with the organs of action without attachment, performeth the yoga by action, he is worthy.” For service to be, non-attachment is essential; the great Indian sage, Nirsargadatta Maharaja taught that, “Discrimination will lead to detachment; detachment will ensure right action; right action will build the inner bridge to your real being [the Self].”
Such “right” action is the action of the soul – or the action of the man/woman free from ego, free from all attachment; action free from choice and the time-bound rumination of thought. The soul does not choose and act, there is no “weighing things up”, looking at pros and cons and eventually deciding; from a position of vision, unconditioned knowledge and pure love, the soul simply acts. This is truly right or correct action, karma yoga or service; rare indeed in the world.
Service or Karma Yoga, then, is the soul in action; the very act of taking incarnation by the soul is itself an act of service, one that involves a specific sacrifice. Not “self-sacrifice”, in the sense of the ego giving up its desires and habitual inclinations – something it will never willingly do – but soul sacrifice: the sacrifice of what we might call the eternal peace of “the higher”, the realm of soul consciousness (Manasic plane), for involvement in “the lower”, the physical plane.
Free from attachment, fear and desire, soul action proceeds, not from the conditioned mind, but from the heart/mind. As the Master DK puts it in a letter to a disciple, “you need to acquire that divine indifference which leaves the soul free to serve – untrammelled by personality reactions.”
Action that precipitates unhindered from this holy source will always be harmonious, even if disruptive to, for example, the existing socio-economic system, or destructive of a civilization that has run its course. Such clean (unpolluted) action is the hallmark of a true human being; someone who does not identify with the ego and knows beyond doubt that he/she is part of a united whole. As the great Indian avatar Anandamayi Ma, revered as an incarnation of the feminine aspect of deity and known to millions simply as Mother, put it; in service, “you will come to know by direct perception that the person served, the one who serves, and the act of service are separate only in appearance.”
“Give and ask naught”
The handicap to ‘correct’ action or service then, is the identification of the “I” with the personality/ego; with the mind, which is constantly filling and re-filling itself, moving outwards into the sensory world, into agitation and away from the Silence of the Real; and attachment to the contents of the mind – which, from the standpoint of the personality, is consciousness. From this identification grows the idea of individual doer-ship. This is a powerful factor in the obstruction of soul action, and is inevitable as long as the notion of an individual “I” or ego persists, whereas, Karma Yoga or service is action free from any sense of (individual) doer-ship.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna explains: “the one who perceives that all works are done by the powers of material Nature truly understands and thus does not consider oneself as the doer.” Furthermore, “Surrendering all actions to Me [Krishna or soul], with thy thoughts resting on the supreme Self, from hope and egoism freed, and of mental fever cured, engage in battle [action].”
Freedom from the ego and this idea of individual doer-ship and the inflated image it creates is not accomplished through abstaining from activity. As Krishna makes clear. “Man winneth not freedom from action [karma] by abstaining from activity, nor by mere renunciation does he rise to perfection [freedom from ego]. Nor can anyone, even for an instant, remain really actionless; for helplessly is everyone driven to action by the qualities [gunas] of nature.” Here He is also pointing to the impersonal, impelling source of activity. The sustaining action of the Sun is perhaps the model of such an ideal, as the Master DK says writing through Alice A. Bailey, “Lord of my life, how can I do the duty of this day yet see detachment? Meet every need yet free myself from ties and bonds? God said: the Sun draws near and vivifies the Earth. Naught can it take from out the Earth. Live likewise. Give and ask naught.”
Action purified, freed from the limitations of the self, rests upon awareness; becoming aware through observation, of who it is that is acting at any given moment. Observation with honesty of mind, sincerity of spirit and crucially, detachment, as indicated by Maitreya the World Teacher and head of the spiritual hierarchy.
“Non-doing”
The source from which actions flow constitutes the means of action, and as Krishnamurti explained, the nature or quality of the ‘end’ is contained within the means; there is in fact only the means. Cause and effect are tightly interwoven – effect is tied to, conditional upon its cause. Hence the need to “perform thou right action,” as Krishna stated; “right” or correct action, “correct under all circumstances”, is something Krishnamurti repeatedly talked about.
The world in which we live is not an expression of “correct” action; its forms, structures and modes of living have been constructed by fragmented acts flowing from conditioned mind/s, corrupted by attachment and desire. And Krishnamurti made clear that, if the mind is attached to “an idea, to a concept, to some value, or to a person. Action springing from that [point] must always be corrupt.” He further explains that our (self-centred) actions are based on the past [conditioning], on our accumulated ideas, beliefs and hopes, and as such there is “no spontaneous action.”
Spontaneous or effortless action (something else Krishnamurti repeatedly spoke of) is the opposite of conditioned, reward-based action, with its fear-inducing inhibitions. Spontaneous thought/action is also a central element within Taoism and Zen.
The idea of “non-doing” is central in Taoism. This does not mean absence of action, but the negation of doer-ship and imposition, not trying to assert one’s own will on the natural movement of life but “going with the flow”. Lao Tzu (founder of Taoism) taught the importance of being quiet and watchful, tuning within to become aware of what Helena Blavatsky called the Voice of the Silence.
Zen also teaches what we might call The Art of Action; moving from forceful action to spontaneous action, which is a form of unrestrained freedom experienced through the application of intense discipline as awareness or choiceless observation, as Krishnamurti called it. Not freedom to do as we want irrespective of consequences, but freedom from attachment, from desire and fear. Such is the pure action of the soul in which no sense of separation is experienced; as the Master DK says, “To stand really free is to stand in the clear unimpeded light of the soul, which is basically and intrinsically group consciousness,” that is, without any sense of individual doer-ship or separation.
Pure or “correct” action will naturally take place when that which obstructs and distorts is overcome; that troublesome entity is the ego, or false “I”. A construct of the mind, which is determined to assert its own separate will, and is, as Krishnamurti makes plain, the “root cause”, the “creator” of all the chaos in the world. So, “Having found the root cause” he asks, is the mind “capable of dissolving the cause and therefore bringing about a different action in life;” action that is correct “under all circumstances.” Mind is described in the Ageless Wisdom teachings as an intermediary sitting between the soul and the brain, in the same way that, on a higher turn of the wheel, the soul is described as the “divine intermediary”, between the mind and the Monad/Atman or Self.
In order for the soul to act unimpededly, the mind, which as we now know it, is nothing other than a bundle of thoughts, needs to be still, quiet, uncluttered, detached. As Nisargadatta Maharaj said, “A quiet mind is all you need. All else will happen rightly [correctly], once your mind is quiet.” Stillness and therefore purification of the mind – the “root cause” – is essential for actions to be wholly “correct”; and it is only “correct” action that can make manifest the forms, structures and modes of living required to bring about peace and usher in a civilisation rooted in goodness.
This is why Krishnamurti and other great teachers have emphasized that change in society is dependent upon the individuals within society changing: “to change it [society/the world] you have to change yourself. When you begin to change yourself, you begin to change the society.” Because, as is clear “You [we] are the world, and the world is you [us]. Therefore you [we] have a tremendous responsibility.” “Responsibility” to act correctly, to purify the “root cause” of action; to free oneself from the constraints of conditioning, from all forms of attachment and the false identification of the “I”; to get out of the way. All else will follow naturally and spontaneously.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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