How To Practice Karma Yoga & Which Sadhana is Better? (113)


Lesson 113 explains the practice of Karma Yoga talked about in CH3 of Bhagavad Gita, and enters 2nd section of CH12; traits of a wise person (jnani).

Source: Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 12, Verse 10, 11, 12, 13


  • We’ve seen that spiritual life comes with responsibilities (svadharma) in reference to your environment. Because often we attend to spirituality, but slowly starve other things.
  • What is duty (svadharma)?
    • Knowing world is interconnected. Meaning what I do, matters. Hence my acts not only affect world, but myself.
    • You are specifically connected to certain people. Thus what you do (how present self to world), DOES matter. Thus don't say “My place is insignificant in the world”.
    • You can either lose perspective with your success OR use it to benefit, which itself becomes your duty (svadharma).
    • 3 Challenges Doing Svadharma:
      1. When playing role (svadharma), your responsibilities undergo change with time. Script must change.
        • EG: Relationship undergoes changes. IF try to bring back what-was, then won't be happy.
      2. Spillover: Unsatisfied role in one situation, comes out in another role.
        • EG: can't express your discomfort towards boss at work, so take out at home.
      3. Manage Conflicts between roles. EG:
        • Your partner has important role, but you feel excluded. So there's some conflict.
        • One board member wants profits, another wants integrity.
        • One spouse into one form of spirituality, you’re in another. One or both disagree with other’s practice.
  • In last session we’ve seen that Upasana Yoga – Level 1 was Asthanga Yoga, which involves:
    • Again and again bringing the mind back from everything else to one object of meditation.
    • Purpose is to: Calm the restless mind excited by fountain of thoughts (personal, environment, memory, collective). Only way to stabilize is through deliberate training of focus. Effect is calmer, can enjoy things longer.
    • Done through: Āsana, Prāṇāyāma, Pratyāhāra, Dhāraṇa.
  • But what if you’re an active, outgoing, extroverted type, or find meditation uncomfortable? Karma Yoga L2 is prescribed…

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 12, Verse 10:

Saguna bhakti > Karma Yoga – Level 2

abhyāse api asamarthaḥ asi mat-karma-paramaḥ bhava ।
mat-artham api karmāṇi kurvan siddhim avāpsyasi || 12-10॥

If you are incapable of abhyasa yōga also, be devoted to My works. Even by doing works for my sake, you will attain liberation.

  • This is Karma Yoga Level 2.
  • abhyāse api asamarthaḥ: If abhyāsa-yoga is a struggle, then…
  • mat-karma-paramaḥ bhava: Commit yourself to life of activity, performing your duties within the society. And take the very society (family, friends, colleagues), as form of Ishvara.
    • IE: I am an employee of God. Doing all actions for sake of Bhagavan.
    • When you see society as form of the Lord, then more likely to incorporate dharma throughout the day.
    • Another way to say is: Ishvara is form of nimitta/upādāna-kāraṇa which puts this world together and sustains it. Meaning, my body-mind is not the doer.
      • What is the doer?
        • Ishvara as the intelligent/material cause (māyā), which facilitates cause-effect relationships.
        • EG: Gravity facilitates objects falling. So can’t say Gravity is the doer. Neither are the objects. Because without Gravity, objects wouldn’t have capacity to “do the falling”.
      • What is the doer if wish to prune garden?
        • Environment? No because it’s not making everyone prune.
        • Fingers, bones, prana?
        • Emotion of displeasure towards filthy garden?
        • Rational conclusion of “Garden needs pruning”? No, because conclusion needs knowledge of “branch, filthy, clean, safe, unsafe, long, short”.
        • Is it prārabdha karma? No because it has no awareness of it’s own.
      • Final doer: Consciousness illumining the causal body (māyā) is the impersonal
  • What’s the logic why Karma Yoga works?
    • Likes/dislikes are rooted in sense of individuality (ahaṅkāra). Meaning you’re unable to accommodate a larger understanding of reality.
    • Karma Yoga L2 involves subserving likes/dislikes to dharma.
    • What is dharma? Bhagavan.
    • Thus to follow dharma, implies I love or acknowledge presence of Lord (limitlessness).
    • The loved is obligated to love in return (in form of grace), called antaḥ-karaṇa-śuddhi.
  • Examples of Karma Yoga can be seen thought nature:
    • All rivers run down from Himalayas to serve mankind.
    • Trees produce fruits, not for their consumption, but to give it to others.
    • Cows give milk not for their own purpose.
    • Trees give shade, but they themselves remain in scorching sun.
    • STORY: Child sees mother was paid for her work to her boss. Child thought good way to make money. So billed mom $3 for 5 chores given to son. Next morning near bed, saw long bill: Cooking, feeding daily, teaching how to walk/talk, bathing, laundry, awoken when you were sick. Total: $0. Child then understood, the sheer love of mom made her give up her ongoingly personal likes/dislikes to serve her son.
    • In all examples, they are active contributors.
  • Avāpyasi siddhim: Following this, you will attain liberation. Not directly. But it will help you progress to UY L1 > UY L2 > Jnana-Yoga
  • SUMMARY: What is KY L2? Attempting to incorporate dharma throughout your actions (much as possible). While seeing the very dharma as Ishvara.
  • Next Verse: KY If absolutely must fulfill your likes/dislikes, yet still desire spiritual growth, then resort to KY L1…

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 12, Verse 11:

Saguna bhakti > Karma Yoga – Level 1

atha etat api aśaktaḥ asi kartum mat-yogam āśritaḥ ।
sarva-karma-phala-tyāgam tataḥ kuru yata-ātmavān ॥ 12-11॥

If you are not able to do this also, then, taking to My worship, renounce the results of all actions with self- restraint.


  • We’ve seen that KY L2 was about having mindfulness of Ishvara when performing actions, and capacity to make personal likes/dislikes subserve dharma (samanya/svadharma).
    • What makes KY L2’er follow this?
      • Knows actions AND results are part of the grand order. This body/mind is only an instrument through which the grand order dances, cries, smiles, talks, thinks.
      • By aligning this body-mind to the grand order, it’s then guided by it’s vast intelligence.
    • KY L2 called: niṣkāma-bhakti.


  • But what if you sincerely enjoy many personal likes/dislikes, and feel life is empty without them?
    • Then fulfill them, aligning all decisions/actions to the grand order (dharma).
    • No need to think of Ishvara while performing actions. Only think of Ishvara when results come.
    • Consider the results as: Ishvara prasāda. This is essence of KY
    • What does prasāda means? Tranquillity of mind / śāntḥ.
      • Meaning “I enjoy tranquillity of mind when no longer heavily invested in specific results happening”.
      • IE: Prasāda only possible when give up resistance to how things SHOULD / SHOULDN’T be.
    • atha etat api aśaktaḥ asi kartum: If unwilling/unable to commit yourself to putting the grand order the centre of your life, then take to sakāma-bhakti (KY L1).
      • Meaning continue fulfilling your rāga-dveṣa for sake of worldly/personal gains. And ensure actions follow level of ethics/morals. EG: Busy manager, CEO, coach, designer, composer.
    • sarva-karma-phala-tyāgam: But don’t call accomplishment “mine”. Take them as blessing of the grand order. Makes you more accommodative towards pleasant/unpleasant consequences.
  • Over time, KY L1 has 2 effects:
    • Sanctifies your personal desires. Hence relationship will purify towards them.
      • EG: Devout man who was also alcoholic came to Ramakrishna. How to stop drinking? Ramakrishna suggested to offer bottle to the alter. Man tried but felt guilty for giving his iṣṭa-deva So he stopped.
      • EG: As children we’re crazy about balloons at birthday party. IF balloon burst, upset. But at 25th birthday, balloons is almost inappropriate.
    • Rigid expectations of how things should/shouldn’t be, no longer have an emotional toll on you.
      • Because emotional tolls comes when attempt to OWN the results as “MINE”. Meaning you become less prone to manipulation/fear of own mind/environment.
      • This is called: having equanimity of the mind, prasāda-buddhi.
  • When verse says “dedicate your actions to Him”, it means: Accept fact that karma-phalam is only attainable because of His grand order.
  • KY L1 vs. KY L2:
    • KY L1 is being mindful of the grand order ONLY during consequences of your actions.
      • Common practice in India. We don’t think of Īśvara while making food. You think of who to make it for. But before eating, we offer to Bhagavān.
      • It’s the easiest sādhana of all.
    • KY L2 is being mindful of the grand order during current actions AND consequences of your actions.
  • Summary of KY L1:
    • Whatever results come, take it as given by Bhagavān. You are the kartā (I am a doer/cause), and Bhagavān is the karma-phala-dātā (deliverer of results of your actions).
    • Meaning, we consciously acknowledge Ishvara upon whatever happens.
      • Car turns on, think of Parameśvaraḥ.
      • Before eating.
      • Before going to sleep.
      • After waking up.
      • Arriving home.
    • Suppose person doesn’t even think of the grand order AFTER receiving results of his work? Then better luck next life. Because KY L1 is the lowest spiritual sādhana according to śāstra.
  • NEXT VERSE: Krishna wants to conclude discussion of spiritual sādhanās…

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 12, Verse 12:

śreyaḥ hi jñānam abhyāsāt jñānāt dhyānam viśiṣyate ।
dhyānāt karma-phala-tyāgaḥ tyāgāt śāntiḥ anantaram ॥ 12-12॥

Knowledge is indeed superior to Meditation (without knowledge) Meditation (with knowledge) is superior to mere knowledge. Renunciation of the results of actions (is superior) to meditation. There is peace after renunciation.

  • We need to remember that Arjuna is a mumukṣu (desirer of mokṣa). So in V12 Krishna points out 4 sādhanas for that end, which are actually 5 sādhanās (in V3-11) looked from a different standpoint.
  • End result of all sādhanās is śānti. Without a calm, composed mind… self-growth and self-knowledge doesn’t stick.
  • 4 sādhanās are:
    • Abhyāsaḥ: Meditation (without knowledge). (UY L1, V9)
      • Little interest and not understanding in knowledge of reality.
      • Mostly involves: āsana, prāṇāyāma (what constitutes 95% of Yoga classes today).
      • Lacks ātma-anātma-viveka / vairāgyam or any clarity pertaining to the micro/macrocosm.
      • Doesn’t know what he/she is really looking for. Other then some big experience.
      • Main goal is staying healthy.
    • Jñānam:
      • Not only jñāna-yoga, but in this verse mostly refers to knowledge of 4 puruṣārthas (basic knowledge).
    • Dhyānam: Meditation (with jñānam). (UY L1 + UY L2 + jñānam)
      • Mixture of Meditation AND jñānam.
    • Karma-phala-tyāga: KY L1 (V11)
      • Dedicating all karma-phalam to Bhagavān as Īśvara-prasāda.
  • Krishna says:
    • Jñānam is better then abhyāsaḥ (mechanical meditation).
    • Dhyānam (meditation with jñānam) is better then just jñānam. Internalizes it.
    • Even better then dhyānam is karma-phala-tyāga (KY L1).
  • Previous V3-11, Krishna lists KY L1 as the lowest. Here it’s placed as the highest. Thus seemingly contradicts previous ślokās.
    • 2 reasons for this…
      • REASON 1:
        • When associate results to the Lord, it immediately brings cheer/composure to your life. Leading to sharper thinking (less emotionally distributed).
      • REASON 2:
        • Krishna knows majority of people (even reading Gita) are only ready for lowest step.
        • Even mass of spiritual world finds KY L2 unappealing, reasoning, “I can’t enjoy myself if I’m doing everything for sake of the grand order”.
        • So Krishna’s intention is likely to encourage the majority to pursue KY L1, knowing it’ll eventually take them to KY
  • NEXT VERSE: Entering 2nd part of CH12: Characteristics of a Jñāni, mentioned in V13-19. V20 is conclusion.

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 12, Verse 13:

adveṣṭā sarva-bhūtānāṃ maitraḥ karuṇaḥ eva ca ।
nirmamaḥ nirahaṅkāraḥ sama-duḥkha-sukhaḥ kṣamī ॥ 12-13॥
(My devotee) is a non-hater of all beings, is friendly, compassionate, free from ‘mine-notion, free from ‘I’ –notion, same in comfort as well as discomfort, and forbearance.


  • Suppose a bhakta performs 5 sādhanas successfully and is now a jñāni / jīvanmuktaḥ.
    • Meaning to such a puruṣa, there’s no essential difference between “I” and Īśvara.
      • Just as wave and ocean are not two entities. But two different names for the ONE SAME water.
        • Meaning there’s no final substance called “wave”, “ocean”.
        • There is only ONE substance called “water”.
      • From this direct knowledge, the wave says, “Water alone is”, “I alone am”.
    • In other words, Brahman is not an object of knowledge, but the very “I” (the subject).
  • Question is: How does such bhakta conduct him/herself in the world? How do they deal with challenging situations, at home/work?
  • Purpose of knowing this is 3 fold:
    • Once know the highest expression of human being, you know what to aim for.
    • Whatever traits of a jñāni, you can turn into a value, thus speed up self-growth.
    • How do you (mumukṣu) know whether you are a jīva muktaḥ or not?
  • We will see jñānī can’t be identified by outer appearance (how talk/walk/dress, house, car, wedlock/single).
    • Rather jñāni exhibits certain perspectives towards: world, own hunger, challenging situations, interacting with sentient beings.
  • Lastly, this checklist is meant to be used in reference to yourself. Not in reference to judging who is/isn’t a jñāni.


  • adveṣṭā sarva-bhūtānāṃ: First virtue of jñānī is lack of feelings of belittlement/hatred TOWARDS sentient/insentient objects.
  • Let’s look at hatred from management AND jñāni
    • What is hatred?
      • ILL-WILL: Feeling of ill-will towards an object (hatred). It comes when certain behaviours or words trigger old patterns of thinking.
        • Can be resolved by not putting yourself in situations that trigger it.
      • ARISES WHEN: It arises as a strong emotional dislike towards an object, unguided by buddhi.
        • Therefore it reappears because not applying analytical capacity. IE: The higher the hatred, the lower the usage of buddhi.
      • YOURSELF: Hatred is actually making it about yourself. Meaning, desperately wanting THAT OBJECT to change according to MY view.
        • IF analyse, have no right to change others. Just as others have no right to forcefully change you.
        • Most you can do is change your perspective towards the hated object, until neutralized.
    • Again, what is hatred? Stopping at the emotional reaction. Then using intellect to justify, instead of to look into the subject matter.
  • JÑĀNI:
    • Why is there absence of hate in a jñāni?
      • Knows that every person is intrinsically good/pure. There’s no such thing as an impure person.
        • EG: One adharmic act doesn’t define the entire puruṣa.
      • Jñānī doesn’t hate because it only damages the hater (himsa onto the hater). The hated remains unchanged/untouched.
        • Rather looks for ways to help the individual (through prayer, education).
          • If all methods fail, then daṇḍa.
            • EG: Krishna > Kansa. Krishna asks Arjuna to apply daṇḍa on Duryodhana.
      • Jñāni doesn’t individuate forms, as though, having a separate existence. All forms resolve into Me. Just as the entire dream world is made out of the dreamer.
    • Result of not-hating?
      • Jñāni is friendly towards all.
        • Meaning doesn’t remove oneself from people. Because only way to know aspects of your personality is by exposing yourself to various interactions. It’s only way to remove hatred.
      • What about towards the highly adharmic?
        • Wishes no ill-will towards them. (EG: I wish they would ___).
        • At same time isn’t aloof towards them, but attempts to help.
  • NEXT WEEK: Continue V13, with another attribute: Absence of “my/mine”.

Keywords: abhyasa-yoga, ahankara, ahimsa, antah-karana-suddhi, asana, atma-anatma-viveka, bhagavan, dharana, dhyanam, ishvara prasada, ista-deva, istha, jiva-muktaḥ, jivanmukta, jnana, jnani, karma-phala-data, karma-phala-tyaga, karta, maya, moksa, mumukshu, mumuksu, niskama-bhakti, parameshvara, pranayama, prarabdha, prasada, pratyahara, purusa, purusarthas, purusha, purusharthas, raga-dvesa, raga-dvesha, ramakrishna, sakama-bhakti, santi, shanti, slokas, upadana karana, vairagyam

Credit for help in Bhagavad Gita teaching given to Swami Dayananda (Arsha Vidya), Paramarthananda & Chinmaya Mission.

Recorded 16 Feb, 2021


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