Gurumayi Chidvilasananda’s Virtue for June 24, 2018


Commentary by Siddha Yoga Meditation Teacher Garima Borwankar

In every language, there are words that are so rich in meaning that scholars devote long stretches of time to teasing out their different denotations and connotations, their nuances and subtleties. Scholars do this to get a more complete view of these words and to analyze how their use may shape our perspective of our world.

Gurumayi has imparted the virtue for June 24, 2018: karmaṇyatā. This is a beautiful word, a dynamic word, a multifaceted word, one that is bountiful with meaning. And it is an amazing virtue. It is perfect for all seasons of our lives. It is a virtue that we should carry in our awareness all the time, in whatever we do.

Karmaṇyatā is a word in both the Sanskrit and Hindi languages, the meaning of which may not be possible to capture in its entirety in any other language. It refers to the bhāv, or the stance, one ought to hold within when engaged in action. When karmaṇyatā is understood and implemented, our actions shimmer. The many layers of meaning hidden in the word karmaṇyatā are revealed—some of them being diligence, vivacity, strength, earnestness, conscientiousness, and loyalty.

Karmaṇyatā is derived from the Sanskrit word karmaṇya, which describes one who performs actions with skill and diligence. Many scriptures from India, such as the Rig Veda, Atharva Veda, Ishavasya Upanishad, Bhagavata Purana, Agni Purana, and more, expound on karmaṇyatā and extol it as the way to perform actions; they assert that to act with karmaṇyatā is the only way to live.

On the face of it, the word karmaṇyatā might seem very action-oriented. Yet as much as the virtue of karmaṇyatā may be evident in actions performed outwardly, seated deep within it are also many subtle qualities. karmaṇyatā encompasses both enthusiasm and patience, activeness and peace, liveliness and gravity, vigor and sweetness. Enthusiasm without patience can leave chaos in its wake; vigor without sweetness can become intimidating for others. For karmaṇyatā to be present in your actions, you must allow both its apparent and its subtle meanings to ripen your way of doing things, to bring maturity to your perspective and approach.

Karma—”action”—is intrinsic to the universe. There are certain actions which we may think we are performing instinctively. In fact, these actions may not be instinctive per se. We learned a while back how to perform them, and we have by now done them for so long that they have become habitual. They have become so natural that they don’t require intentional thought for us to proceed every time.

Then there are actions, both mundane and spiritual, that require us to pay greater attention each time they are performed, no matter how many times we have done them before. Although these actions may become part of our daily rhythm and even our being, we still need to refocus each time we perform them. We need to return to the intent and purpose of these actions again and again.

Whether you are a teacher, a chef, an architect, or a monk, you must fulfill the dharma of your role to a T. You must direct your actions to achieve the purpose of your work. karmaṇyatā—with all its innumerable and rich meanings—is exhibited in an action that is performed with intent and purpose. And not just any intent and purpose, but those that extend goodwill to others. A teacher’s intent is to ensure that the students learn, imbibe, and instill in themselves the value of giving back to this world. A chef cooks a meal intending it to be delicious, nutritious, and fulfilling. An architect plans and constructs an edifice with the intent and purpose of making it a sanctuary for anyone who is going to abide or work there. A monk renounces attachment to worldly possessions and status so that they may serve God and humanity with a single-minded focus.

What happens when an action is performed without the knowledge of karmaṇyatā ? Most of the time when we perform actions, we expect something in return. Quid pro quobecomes our guiding principle. No matter how many times this transactional behavior gets us into trouble, we keep recreating the same scenario, we keep following the same pattern. We find it difficult to get out of our rut. And then we get confused as to why things aren’t going the way we planned.

At times like this, we must ask ourselves: Could it be that our actions lack a purpose that has goodwill inherent in it? Could it be that we are not thinking of others’ welfare? Discerning the answers to these questions requires self-inquiry, genuine contemplation.

There is a subtle yet significant point to understand here. We may be performing an action that, from all outer appearances, seems beneficial to others. However, if we have tied to that action a desire to win recognition, accolades, or some other fruit for ourselves, we are not truly embodying the spirit of karmaṇyatā. On the other hand, when we approach an action simply because it is our dharma to perform it, we can be assured that we have embraced all that karmaṇyatā holds in its glimmering folds.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna explains to Arjuna:

कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन।
मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि॥

karmaṇyevādhikāraste mā phaleṣu kadācana  |
mā karmaphalaheturbhūrmā te saṅgostvakarmaṇi  ||

You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction.1

This teaching from Lord Krishna is simple yet abstruse. It may feel like the meaning of it hovers just beyond your grasp; it is tantalizingly close but ever so slightly beyond your reach. Yet when you are able to understand this teaching in its entirety, you recognize how it can be a beacon for you and for all humanity.

You might think “Although this teaching is laden with immense power, isn’t it very hard to practice?” You may wonder “How can I stay detached from the fruits of my actions? How can I even perform an action if I have not conceived of what I am going to get out of it? Isn’t it my birthright to get something in return?” Yes, it is true that this mysterious teaching will take time to understand and unfold.

When Lord Krishna was teaching the great warrior Arjuna that he should not be attached to the fruit of his action, Arjuna too was confused and bewildered. Arjuna was a warrior and, as such, his dharma was to fight a righteous war. But his affection for his kinsmen had made him blind to his dharma. He was unwilling to conquer and vanquish his enemies. The outcome that Arjuna sought was to not have to go to war with them. This is the fruit that he had become attached to, and it was tempting him to avoid taking the right action.

Patiently, Lord Krishna continued to elucidate his teaching for Arjuna, so that it would enter Arjuna’s heart and Arjuna would learn all that it entails. The Lord said to Arjuna that he should always perform actions that are his duty to perform. He explained to Arjuna that the purpose of his actions was to restore dharma, righteousness, in the world, even if that meant fighting his loved ones.

If you are not able to clearly grasp the true meaning of this teaching initially, don’t get discouraged. Because of your eagerness, you may wish to immediately attain the state of not being attached to the fruit of your actions. What needs real work is moving toward this state. That is your sadhana. At first, if you are not able to relate to the true meaning of the teaching, don’t be disheartened. Always know that the nectar of the teaching is attainable. What needs real work is the refinement of your understanding. That is your sadhana.

Therefore, it is of utmost importance to have faith that you can get there, you can begin to understand and imbibe the essence of Lord Krishna’s teaching little by little. As you follow the way of karmaṇyatā, you may at first get just a glimpse of the Truth. However, as you must know, when you stay with something—when you are steadfast in striving to achieve your purpose—in time you do realize that purpose. It does become manifest. Your experience of the Truth becomes more constant as the glimpses you have of the Truth accumulate.

Here is an analogy that illustrates what happens when you take the virtue of karmaṇyatā into consideration. Any artist may use the right technique, ensuring that the angles, the lines, the colors, the textures in their work all follow the rules of the painting textbook or what they learned from their teachers. Then there are those artists who know and apply the right techniques—and their artwork squeezes the viewer’s heart. It stimulates their brains. There is magic in their work.

So you can have a painting—or you can have a painting.

Embrace karmaṇyatā in whatever you do. Your relationship with karmaṇyatā should be like that between water and wetness, a flame and luminosity— one cannot exist without the other.

In conclusion, I would like to leave you with something I’ve heard from Gurumayi which I feel perfectly encapsulates the essence of karmaṇyatā:

If you are focused only on performing actions that make you feel good about yourself, and on attaining so much for yourself by doing them, then you are missing the point of the yoga of action. Remember: your actions should be like the sound waves that reverberate when a master musician strikes the drum, filling the atmosphere with music. The vibrations of your actions should carry goodness out into the world.

May I hold the awareness of karmaṇyatā as I tread the field of actions.
1Bhagavad Gita 2:47, in The Bhagavad Gita, introduced and trans. by Eknath Easwaran (Nogales, CA: Nilgiri Press, 2007).
Click here to share