November 25, 2012

Karma Yoga: How to Care Without Caring

"Though the unwise cling to their actions, watching for results, the wise are free of attachments, and act for the well-being of the whole world." Bhagavad Gita, Stanza 3.25, Stephen Mitchell Translation

Be unattached to the fruits of your actions.


What in the hell does that even mean?

This is a concept I've been struggling with lately, and I think everyone struggles with. It is the source of a lot of suffering, or dukkha, in all of our lives. It's hard to do something and not want it to turn out the way you bloody well want it to. I feel like it is definitely a Western societal issue: anxiety is so rampant, people talk about panic attacks like it's an okay thing to have; like everyone has them as a part of their normal functioning. I recently found an ad for Ativan in an old National Geographic magazine. Uh... what??

The Buddhist tradition describes viparinama-dukkha, or dukkha produced as a result of change, as "the anxiety or stress of trying to hold onto things that are constantly changing" (Wikipedia, "Dukkha"). What if we could be free of this anxiety... if change was something we could welcome? What if we could learn to truly embrace the unexpected, regardless of our actions? What if we could abandon the illusion of control completely?

According to the Bhagavad Gita, action is preferable to inaction.

"Do any actions you must do, since action is better than inaction; even the existence of your body depends on necessary actions". - Stanza 3.8
If you choose not to act, you have still made a choice. So why not do something? Okay. So, all things being equal, you might as well get off your duff and do something great. But what do I do? And what happens then?
"Self posessed, resolute, act without any thought of results, open to success or failure. This equanimity is yoga". - Stanza 2.48
Karma Yoga is all about this action/inaction thing, and attachment to the products of these. I think of it as being the concept of doing your best, and letting the cards fall where they may. It's a hard thing to not worry about whether you passed that test, whether your friend really forgives you, or whether you should have broken up with so and so. This next passage speaks directly to it:
"You have a right to your actions, but never to your actions' fruits. Act for the action's sake, and do not be attached to inaction." - Stanza 2.47
You have a right to do what you will, but the results of what you do will probably have nothing to do with you. There are bigger things at play, and probably a lot more people involved as well that are just doing what it is that they need to do. Maybe some great failure will end up teaching you some great life lesson. Who knows? As well, if we could all drop the worry piece from our lives, can you imagine the relief? Imagine what would happen if we could just do whatever we knew best to do in the moment, and weren't hoping for a certain outcome. Our past worries wouldn't bother us, because we could know we did our best right from the seat of our soul. We could live in the "now"... and also be free of our future worries.
"So do not be concerned with the fruit of your action - just give attention to the action itself. The fruit will come of its own accord. This is a powerful spiritual practice. In the Bhagavad Gita, one of the oldest and most beautiful spiritual teachings in existence, non-attachment to the fruit of your action is called Karma Yoga. It is described as the path of "consecrated action."
         When the compulsive striving away from the Now ceases, the joy of Being flows into everything you do. The moment your attention turns to the Now, you feel a presence, a stillness, a peace. You no longer depend on the future for fulfillment and satisfaction - you don't look to it for salvation. Therefore, you are not attached to the results. Neither failure nor success has the power to change your inner state of Being. You have found the life underneath your life situation." - Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now
It's not that I don't care about what happens. I do care. It's my life. I care very much how things turn out. It's that I trust that things will work out. Krishna's got my back, yo.
"Listen, Arjuna: I will tell you how you can know me beyond doubt by practising nonattachment and surrending yourself to me." - Stanza 7.1
The Big Goal, the end of dukkha, is, after all, the attainment of enlightenment. Down with dukkha, up with enlightenment! I feel like, at least for me, not being in control is a great source of worry, despite the fact that control is completely illusory. All we have in this life is what happens to us and how we choose to react. I act in accordance with what I want to produce in my life, and I totally freak out about whether it will actually pan out that way. But when has the Universe ever let me down? 
"Abandoning all desires, acting without craving, free from all thoughts of "I" and "mine", that [person] finds utter peace." - Stanza 2.17
Let's hope.

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