Karma Yoga at Burren Yoga Centre
For anybody who is completely new to Karma Yoga, this post explains some of the background where it comes from, and also some tips when experimenting with it for the first time.
Historical Types/Paths of Yoga
Yoga is an ancient body of knowledge and is over 5,000 years old. Meditation has always been the corner stone of yoga and there are also many other practices to support the main meditation practice. These various practices and techniques help to tame and quieten the mind, improve the energy flow within the inner channels, remove energy blocks and also inner mental conflicts and awaken love and joy within one’s being. And to bring all aspects of one’s being into union.
One of the first mentions of Yoga in written texts was in the Upanishads. These ancient texts described 3 paths of yoga.
Gyana yoga: This was a path of yoga of true knowledge… which looks into the truth of who we are, and what we are experiencing. This path uses intellectual inquiry to examine our own being and our existence. To examine and analyse to see whether we are the body… whether we are the thoughts… or whether we are other than the thoughts and the body. This involves intense and systematic inner inquiry and only those with exceptional intellectual abilities would be able to train their external sense organs in order to the level required to discern between external substance and that which is transitory. It also required renunciation of the enjoyment of objects and an intense desire for the release from the endless cycle of births and rebirths.
Bkakti yoga: This path used the emotions in other to elevate our consciousness and to help awaken inner love, joy and bliss and to bring our consciousness to higher states where we actually experience the oneness of all. This path of yoga uses chanting and listening to sacred scriptures as well as other practices to help cultivate the love of God. It has been defined as a practice of devotion toward God, solely motivated by the sincere, loving desire to please God, rather than the hope of divine reward or the fear of divine punishment
Karma yoga: This was the yoga through action, the path which was recommended for laypeople and householders who had to work in order to survive. This allows one to bring intellectual inquiry to every task that one has to do in one’s daily life. To use every opportunity to examine one’s inner world of thoughts, emotions, inner reactions and then to learn to let go of any inner obstacles which may be holding us back.
Guidance for first experiments with Karma Yoga
It is advised to watch one’s thoughts… to watch one’s emotions… while carrying out the task in hand. This task could be doing the washing up, or setting the tables, or cleaning the kitchen. Putting in one’s best effort to do the task to the best of one’s ability, but not looking for reward, or recognition for the good effort one is making.
What comes up for each person is very different. For one person what may come up is feelings of love and happiness being able to help others or simply satisfaction in doing a good job, and enjoying the care and attention one is giving to the task, and staying present with each action and being in the present moment. It can be like merging with one’s environment, merging with one’s actions, merging with the oneness of all, and a feeling of ‘simply being’ and ‘doing’ can arise with a peacefulness and contentedness and joyfulness of mind.
For others, some inner discontent may arise. This may manifest as uncomfortable thoughts or emotions, and for some people it can bring up inner pain, distress, resentment and sometimes angry outbursts.
The advice given is to ‘watch the thoughts’ as they arise. In time, to try to see where these thoughts may be stemming from. For example is it really the task at hand that is bringing up the thoughts, or is it some inner mental picture or inner attitude that is colouring and stirring up the thoughts and emotions.
The longer term goal is to identify inner conflicts that may be holding one back in life… such as feeling too precious about oneself… and learning to try to let go of the thoughts and surrounding reactions and emotions, and to simply enter into a present state of mindfulness with one’s actions, and trying to do the best one can with the current task at hand to the best of one’s abilities… without expectation of outcome or looking for rewards or recognition or thanks. To drop ‘the doer’ from the action is karma yoga.
One of the primary goals is reduction of the ego clinging. Reducing those ‘self-precious’ thoughts and attitudes that can be holding oneself back in life. Reducing those inner conflicts that can cause us so much pain and resentment and even stir up anger, as a result of our inner ego.
Background Philosophical ideas
Karma yoga is based on a general understanding of karma and reincarnation. It is believed that a human is born with certain tendencies (Samskaras), both positive and negative, from their previous lives, which push them toward performing certain actions in this present one. This process continues until the individual attains a zero balance (no karma remaining), where in one achieves liberation.
For every action that we perform, there arises a reaction, or karma that we then carry with us. If we do ‘good deeds’ then we develop good karma, and if we do bad deeds then we develop negative karma which must at some stage in our spiritual evolution be released or purified.
For a beginner, one can view Karma Yoga as doing something joyfully and for the good of others, and that this the builds up positive karma. However, in time one is encouraged to transcend this stage to not weighing up what one is doing in terms of what one may receive… but to even let go of this, and to enter fully into the task at hand… to enter fully into the present moment…and to ‘simply be’… not weighing it up in terms of what one will get.
Some may describe this as a meditation through action.
Karma Yoga at Burren Yoga
Recognising that this is also your Holiday as well as a yoga retreat, this important yoga component has been incorporated in a light practical way which ensures all who come get to experience the Karma yoga concept and the centre still benefits is a very practical way which is good for all on the retreat.
During our retreats, we take it in turns to clear the tables and counters in the kitchen, load the dishwasher, wash and dry any dishes that do not fit into the washer, clean the kitchen, sweep the floors and set the table for meals. And to also help out by taking the bedlinen off the bed before you leave.
Karma Yoga is such an important aspect of yoga, and has the potential to truly transform one’s life, that one does ‘take the chance’ that even though negative emotions can arise when some people face these tasks, it is important to introduce people to this process. It also helps produce an environment where the retreat participants are actively involved in helping each other and in helping the centre to function in an enjoyable and self-participating way.
The atmosphere that this creates is one of deep respect and consideration of others.
On a weekend this may take up 1 hour of each participant’s time, and over a week possibly 2 hours.
We welcome any questions, or discussion about Karma Yoga and hope that it fosters a connection and bonding between the group, as well as an introduction to an important path of yoga that each of us can bring into our daily lives.