In yoga there are four main paths. There is Raj yoga, which is one of the most commonly practiced including Asana and meditation. There is Bhakti Yoga, which is the Yoga of devotion, Jnana Yoga which is that of self enquiry and contemplation. And then there is Karma Yoga, the yoga of action and selfless service.
We cannot talk about selflessness without also talking about Karma Yoga. Karma Yoga is often overlooked as menial, and a lesser form than the other Yogas. But the truth is, it takes great practice and fortitude to understand Karma Yoga.
Karma Yoga can bring immense joy and fulfilment, but to reach that place is a challenge to navigate the mind. When it comes to action, the ego usually wants something back. Whether it's a thank you or validation for what you have done, or to gain something in the form of acquiring skills.
In the same way that we must always come back to our breath in meditation, we must always come back to selflessness in Karma Yoga. To do the actions of a task, but with the ego leading the reigns, is not Karma Yoga, it is simply action.
When we practice Karma Yoga, it can be helpful to take a moment at the start of the day to set an intention: “I will serve selflessly during this day.” We must keep this self reflection throughout the day.
Karma Yoga doesn’t mean to say you don’t have boundaries. You can still say no. In fact, actioning because you don’t have boundaries is also not Karma Yoga as it is still action controlled by the mind or compulsion. Karma Yoga is truly selfless as you operate without the self: it requires “less self” in order for it to be possible.
So is it possible to truly practice Karma Yoga? Is there ever a moment where we are fully free from the voice of the mind or ego?
The important thing to remember is that we must be accepting of where we are in the moment. To have humbleness that there is still an element of mind within us. But also to realize that our ideas and expectations are an illusion. We don’t need to be perfect to begin. Otherwise, we would never do any Karma Yoga! At every moment we have the possibility to be present. Then overtime, it moves us to a place of equanimity.
When we discuss the idea of acting from a place without self, we are talking about self with a small “s”, or the lower self. The lower self is the part of ourselves that wants money, nice food to eat, and has opinions: essentially the ego. There is nothing wrong with the ego, we need it in order to live. But this lower self is constantly changing.
Now, the Self with a capital “S” is the higher Self. It is that which is beyond all of the material and superficial aspects of ourselves. The lower self comes and goes, yet something always remains. That something, is the higher self. In the same way that we have memories, but within those memories is presence. That presence is the true Self.
What we are seeking in spirituality is some part of ourselves that is inherently true. Something unchanging, unfathomable, infinite.
When we perform an action from this higher Self, this is Karma Yoga. Every person has this spark within them.
The mind is in it’s own ratrace and through silence we can see our truth, and sink deeper into presence.
Consciousness is the moment of awareness that is free from thought, emotion, feeling, story.
Selflessness is less of the “self” and more of the “Self”.