Two young devotees help with digging in the greenhouse, performing seva or karma yoga as an offering of worship to the Divine.

Karma yoga

Be where you areGuru Sri Subramanium, founder of Skanda Vale
The monks and nuns of Skanda Vale who lead the temple worship are unmarried, unpaid renunciants (sannyasin) who perform all the daily ashram chores, such as cleaning and maintenance, as ‘karma yoga’ or selfless service. Nobody in our community receives any money or reward for their work.

Karma yoga is very much at the heart of our spiritual lives here in Skanda Vale, so we encourage pilgrims to work alongside us, and discover for themselves the satisfaction of offering work as worship.

What is karma yoga?

Karma yoga means selfless service – but it goes beyond the common understanding of ‘volunteering’ or ‘charity work’ – for it is performed as a heartfelt offering of love to the Divine. It is the process of harmonising our conscience, our desires, our thoughts, our words, and finally our actions into a focussed and powerful expression of selfless love.

Karma yoga requires us to do our best, to concentrate on the job in hand, and to cooperate with others in fulfilling our duty. In this way, karma yoga is an extremely effective way to help us overcome the negative and destructive effects of our ego. The practice of karma yoga forms the essential basis of a strong, happy and harmonious community.

A deeper understanding…

To really understand what is meant by ‘karma yoga’, we must first understand the true meaning of ‘karma’. Karma is the universal law of cause and effect, and it all begins in the mind.

If we observe our thoughts, most of us will find that we have a ceaseless internal discussion going on. Our minds are constantly comparing, seeking and appraising. We look outwardly for objects, people, careers, homes etc to make us happy. Our emotions get stirred, and we set out to possess these things. We want a reward, an experience – some sense of completion, or satisfaction for ourselves.

These single threads of thought, desire and deed twist together to form a chain of attachment, running from our hearts to these objects of attraction. Over time these chains become so numerous, and so tightly wound, that the Divine qualities in man; namely truth, peace, love, righteousness and non-violence, become swamped and obscured. We become disillusioned, confused, anxious and depressed.

Karma then becomes like a prison that cannot be unbroken in one lifetime. The original ‘I’ – the immortal soul of man, must take countless births until all the chains of karma are untied. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna explains:

When a man dwells in his mind on the object of sense, attachment to them is produced. From attachment springs desire and from desire comes anger. From anger arises bewilderment, from bewilderment loss of memory; and from loss of memory, the destruction of intelligence and from the destruction of intelligence he perishes.Bhagavad Gita

People talk about good karma and bad karma, as though one is to be avoided and the other embraced, but such distinctions are meaningless. Whether the chains are made of rusty iron or polished gold makes no difference; they have bound the soul. Liberation alone can confer bliss.

Krishna makes it clear that non-activity is not the solution to karma; we are naturally compelled to action by the needs of the mind and body. What creates our chains is not action itself, but our desire for the fruits, the rewards, of our action.

Krishna teaches us that liberation lies in offering all of our actions, and their fruits, to God. Work then becomes effortless and joyful. We become bold and fearless, developing pure devotion, feeling more and more that we are His instruments. By transforming all of our deeds into expressions of love for God, we transform karma into karma yoga. Krishna explains:

…those who, renouncing all actions in Me, and regarding Me as the Supreme, worship Me… For those whose thoughts have entered into Me, I am soon the deliverer from the ocean of death and transmigration, Arjuna. Keep your mind on Me alone, your intellect on Me. Thus you shall dwell in Me hereafter.
Bhagavad Gita

Freedom through desireless action

It is easier for a prisoner to slip his wrists out of a pair of handcuffs, than for him to break them using his own force. Karma yoga enables us to shrink our negative, selfish patterns of attachment so we may be free of the chains that bind.

Desireless action is true spiritual awareness. It ignites devotion and bliss, purifying the heart and mind to realize the presence of God in every particle of the universe. Karma yoga takes place in the mundane everyday activities of life, yet it enables us to manifest the Chaitanya – the Divine Cosmic Consciousness – that is present both within and outside us.

Realise that the Divine is in every single thing you do: Eat when you eat. Work when you work. Play when you play. And when you worship, worship God with all of your might, and all of your strength.Guru Sri Subramanium, Skanda Vale's founder

Practice karma yoga at Skanda Vale

Please come to reception straight after the Sri Ranganatha puja each morning, and we will assign you a simple task – it may include vegetable chopping, flower arranging, cleaning, gardening, or moving the food offerings, depending on what needs to be done that day. The school holidays are our busiest times of the year, and that is when we need the most help.

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