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A Dialog on Karma Yoga with Swami Tyagananda

Swami Vivekananda's quote:
Karma Yoga is a method of purifying the mind through work. ... All fear and all desire to enjoy here or hereafter must be banished for ever by the Karma Yogi. The karma without desire of return will destroy selfishness, which is the root of all bondage. The watchword of the Karma Yogi is "not I, but Thou," and no amount of self-sacrifice is too much for such a person.



Question: Under capitalism, the goal of businesses is "profit", make money, sometimes at any cost. A business survives only if there is profit. If the goal is therefore profit, would karma yoga lead to complacent approach?

Karma yoga is not against "profit". It is understandable that no one would undertake an activity unless there is something to gain from it: the gain can be not only in terms of wealth but also peace of mind, joy and fulfillment. When we speak of profit, we must look at the total picture. If a business brings more wealth but also, along with it, more stress and anxiety, more feelings of guilt and regret, less sleep and peace of mind, then how much has been the overall profit. A related question is regarding profit "at any cost" What costs are talking of here? If my profit comes through immoral and unethical means, then I shouldn't be surprised that, even though I may make money, at some point I may be paying too heavy a price for it. In which case, I haven't really made any profit from my business, have I?

The important thing to remember is that financial profit does not automatically mean stress, anxiety, and lack of peace, etc. It is possible to be enormously successful in business and enormously wealth only when our practices are enlightened, which means, we employ basic principles of karma yoga in our work, which ensures that we gain not only financially but also, along with it, through more joy, peace and fulfillment for ourselves and also the people in our organization?and, ultimately, also our clients and society as a whole.


Question: Karma Yoga, Krishna in Bhagvad Gita, and other texts all tell us not to focus on the outcome or the results of our actions but remain focused on the actions. However, in corporate environment, the focus is all on goals, goals that are set early on. There are sales goals, marketing goals, quarterly goals, even individual performance goals. Is there a contradiction? Please clarify.

There is an ancient saying in Sanskrit: Even a fool does not undertake any activity without a motive. Setting goals is necessary and is a part of any disciplined activity. Not to focus on the outcome, as recommended by Sri Krishna in the Gita, does not mean that we should not be concerned about the outcome. What it means is that once we determine the goal and decide which the best course of action to attain that goal is, we need to focus completely on the action itself. If the means are perfected, the end is bound to come. The total focus on the action makes more of one's physical and mental energies available for the activity in hand, and that leads to more efficient work. Sri Krishna defines yoga as dexterity in action."


Question: There is a certain pleasure in success, especially when a business thrives and does better than competition. How does banishing desire to enjoy improve results? How can the term bondage be applied in terms of how we approach work.

It is natural that success will produce joy and an enlightened life does not mean we should reject success or be afraid of enjoying the fruits of success. An enlightened life means that we recognize that success and failure are natural outcomes in any activity and while we long for success, we need to accept the possibility of failure and be prepared for it. If we are prepared for it, we will be able to take our failures in our stride and not feel so depressed or depleted as not to be able to rise and try again. Success comes to those who don?t lose heart, and those who keep trying and never give up.

Another thing to remember is that there is joy in doing the work itself in the spirit of karma yoga. So even if the work fails, it won't be a total loss, since we have found some joy in doing the work in an appropriate way. An enlightened capitalist will eventually rise above the success/failure cycle natural to any business enterprise, and find greater meaning and fulfillment in doing the right work in a right manner for the right reason. Such a person discovers that the word "profit" has larger and wider meaning than simply making more and more money.


Question: What is the most practical way, at individual level and at organization level, to apply karma yoga to improve and gain success?

Applying the basic principles of karma yoga to gain success will require a firm conviction in the powers of goodness. The Vedas say that truth alone prevails. This is confirmed by the wisdom gleaned from the scriptures of all world religions. It may be possible to make short-term gains through means that are unethical or through ways that consciously inflict pain and suffering upon others, but in the long run such methods prove counterproductive. For a long-term success, honesty and moral practices in business alone prove productive. We must recognize that the best practices are those that bring the maximum amount of happiness and fulfillment to the maximum number of people. The nature of life is such that some people will suffer in any given situation. We cannot put an end to that. But we must make a sincere effort to see that we are not consciously contributing toward the suffering of others in order to bring happiness to ourselves.


Question: How can it applied to improve inter-personal relationships in an organization?

Mutual respect is the most important quality necessary for generating a healthy and productive environment in any organization. The simple truth is that we are all interdependent: in an organization the level of my own happiness and fulfillment depends on the happiness and fulfillment of the people I work with. It is not possible for me to be truly happy if I am surrounded by people who are angry, envious, or jealous. So taking good care of one's employees or colleagues is a way of really taking care of one's own self.


Question: Does karma yoga require businesses to redefine success?

In a way, yes. We must question our own values. Which is the greatest value for me? If my answer is only in terms of dollars, then I am in trouble. Money cannot buy everything. It can buy me "stuff" but not happiness, peace of mind, a loving relationship with my family and friends, and stress-free life. If success is measured in terms of all these things, and not simply in terms of wealth, then one's life becomes more meaningful.



We encourage you to particpiate in this dialog. Please click on the link and post your comments. Post Comments



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