Karma Yoga: The Path of Enlightened Action
This chapter presents the teachings of the Bhagavad Gı̄tā regarding karma yoga, the path of enlightened action, and its application to leadership. The words karma and yoga have become a regular part of everyday discourse in the West, and this chapter proposes to contribute to the understanding of these ubiquitous terms. In this chapter, we will also focus on the path of detached action as a framework for performing selfless service. Many scholars and practitioners believe that the philosophy of disinterested selfless action, niṣkāma karma, is the most distinctive contribution of the Gı̄tā to the field of practical spirituality. It is perhaps true that nowhere else is the doctrine of disciplined action enunciated with such clarity and granularity as it is in the Bhagavad Gı̄tā. This path of enlightened action is explored in great depth as an alchemy of sage-hood, the realization of one’s Highest Self.
The universality and pervasiveness of action in human life is a veritable fact—nobody can remain action-less even for a moment. Indian philosophy postulates that all actions performed with the desire for self-referent results cause bondage. If we cannot remain without performing actions and all self-centered actions lead to bondage, is there a way out of this relentless cycle of action and reaction? This chapter presents the Gı̄tā’s well-ascertained answer to this enigmatic question. This chapter also briefly discusses the law of karma, since a proper understanding of karma yoga also assumes a clear grasp of the operation of this inexorable law, as conceived within the framework of the Indian spiritual paradigm. The doctrine of karma is far more complex than its popular characterization: “What goes around comes around.”