Karma Yoga

Last updated: December 21, 2023

What Does Karma Yoga Mean?

Karma yoga is one of the four classical schools of yoga alongside Jnana (knowledge or self-study), Bhakti (devotion) and Raja (meditation), each offering a path to moksha (spiritual liberation) and self-realization.

Derived from the Sanskrit term for "action", karma is understood by both Hindu and Buddhist traditions to be the sum of a person’s deeds in past, present and future states of existence. In yoga, karma is known as the path of action, or selfless service towards others.

Karma yoga is considered to be one of the most practical and effective means of spiritual development.


Yogapedia Explains Karma Yoga

Karma yoga was first outlined in the Bhagavad Gita, the 700-verse Hindu scripture estimated to date back to somewhere between the 5th and 2nd centuries B.C.E. The Bhagavad Gita offers several approaches to liberation from suffering, self-realization and connection with the Divine, of which Karma yoga is arguably the most practical.

The text highlights the importance of selfless action, in which service is offered from the heart, with full attention and awareness.

Attachment to the outcome of one’s actions is said to bring suffering, particularly when something is expected in return. In order to truly practice Karma yoga, the practitioner must act with no expectations and serve others without thinking of the results.

As such, Karma yoga diminishes the ego and helps to dissolve any sense of separation between self and other. Acting in this way is believed to purify the mind, and it is considered the most virtuous approach to service.

Although volunteering one’s time and effort is a common example of Karma yoga, the concept teaches that all actions, even the most mundane, can become part of one's spiritual path. It is considered the attitude to the action, rather than the action itself, which makes something Karma yoga.

As such, the essence of the practice is to act with the right motives, in the right way, to the best of one's ability whilst surrendering attachment to the outcome.

To Karma yogis, selfless action is a form of prayer and connection with the Divine. Some teachings even suggest mantra chanting whilst engaging in Karma yoga, in order to purify the mind and develop a selfless mindset.

Practicing Karma yoga also involves fully accepting one's dharma (duty in life) in order to let go of selfish desires.

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