When we delve into the yoga of works, the Bhagavad Gita immediately comes to mind as a primary text. The Gita explores the questions of what constitutes a yogic attitude in action and compares it to the normal standpoint about work. The major difference lies in the inner standpoint and attitude taken by the person undertaking the action. Many people try to judge things by the type of work undertaken. Charity, philanthropy, altruistic work appear to be ‘yogic’ in their minds. Feed the hungry, care for the sick, these are examples of things that ordinarily fall under the rubric ‘karma yoga’. Yet the Gita makes it clear this is not the true distinguishing characteristic. Such works may be undertaken with a sense of pride or ego, they may be done for motives of fame, acclaim, or to curry favor with others. This makes them works of the ego and self-aggrandising in their intent and effect. The Gita clarifies that the inner attitude of self-surrender, removal of the ego and its motives from the action, and alignment of the action with the divine purpose represent the true basis of karma yoga. In such cases, even actions that outwardly appear to be negative are yogic in their essence. That is how Sri Krishna could counsel Arjuna to fight and win victory in the battle he was facing.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “The ordinary life consists in work for personal aim and satisfaction of desire under some mental or moral control, touched sometimes by a mental ideal. The Gita’s yoga consists in the offering of one’s work as a sacrifice to the Divine, the conquest of desire, egoless and desireless action….”

“…the Gita is the great guide on this path. Purification from egoistic movements and from personal desire and the faithful following of the best light one has are a preliminary training for this path….”

“The first step in Karmayoga of this kind is to diminish and finally get rid of the ego-centric position in works, the lower vital reactions and the principle of desire.”

“Any work can be done as a field for the practice of the spirit of the Gita.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter V Growth of Consciousness, Means and Methods, pp. 95-96

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at http://sriaurobindostudies.wordpress.com and podcast at https://anchor.fm/santosh-krinsky He is author of 17 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.