Karma yoga, serving others or ourselves?

Many yogis love buzz words like “activism,” “seva”, “humanitarianism,” and the list goes on. But do these words accurately describe the true intentions behind our actions?

Karma yoga, the discipline of action, and seva (selfless service) are practices intended to promote humility and reduce egoism. Yet many so called “do gooders” only serve to fulfill desires of the ego and use charitable acts to acquire bragging rights. Swami Sivananda in The Pseudo Karma Yogi article warns against deluding ourselves about the true practice of karma yoga:

A rich person gives a donation of several thousand pounds to a university out of his reserve fund of a hundred thousand. He builds a temple and puts his name on the marble slab in front of the temple in bold letters. This is not karma yoga. This is pompous advertisement for acquiring name and fame. On the other hand, an ordinary labourer who earns a few shillings from the sweat of his brow may offer his money in charity by feeding a few starving or sick people, and may himself starve on that day. This is real self-sacrifice. This is real karma yoga.

Many aspirants prefer to do some pleasant work, some writing, some collection of flowers for puja, arranging books in the library, some typewriting, some kind of supervision and management work, etc. They dislike works such as drawing water and hewing wood, cleaning dirty utensils, washing clothes, sweeping, cooking, cleaning bedpans and nursing the sick. They consider these works as menial. They have not tried to understand the real spirit of karma yoga and Vedanta.

via Pieces Of Me

Be sincere at heart if you tread the path of karma yoga. Do not run after the shadowy toys of name and fame. Name and fame are illusory. They are mere vibrations in the air. This world is unreal. Care not for little perishable things. Care for the everlasting reality only. Do constant selfless service silently with thoughts of God and bhava within, and realize the indwelling presence. Become a true karma yogi.

Does it really matter if the karma yogi’s motives are altruistic or self indulgent if someone in need reaps the benefits? Do you agree with Sivananda’s claim that people who donate money are not practicing true karma yoga?

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Patience Steltzer is the Assistant Editor for the World Affairs Current at Yoga Modern. She spends her time drawing, painting, sewing, writing, and practicing/teaching yoga in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas. After a lifetime of having no idea what to do with her creativity and energy, she discovered yoga allowed her to find the beauty and excitement in stillness. Since then, she has dedicated herself to sharing her love of yoga with others to help them find the joy she has.

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