'Be' with Swami Venkatesananda

Life in the Spirit of Yoga

All the so called spiritual practices are normally confined to the morning or to the evening, and most of them involve nobody but you. But that is not life. Life is when you come out of your meditation room or your house, and you meet and have to live and work with others. If your yoga practice is yoga at all, it must enable you to live in a yogic spirit throughout the day. If that is not there, then your yoga practice was hallucination.

What happens in our daily life when this yoga spirit is cultivated, is called karma yoga. Karma yoga is not merely activity but life in the spirit of yoga, of harmony and of love; and this love and harmony are possible only when there is realisation of selflessness. There is a Buddhist expression ‘the absence of independent self existence’. Unless that is clearly realised (but not as an intellectual notion), yoga as a living thing is not possible and it does not become a living truth.

Yoga students ask what to do in the meantime. We are trying to intellectually understand what selflessness means. Logically it seems to be clear that there is no such thing as self, and yet we live and act as if we are an independent self existence. This means that there is disharmony between our philosophy and our life. This disharmony can only be removed in its totality by God’s Grace, but in the meantime we can also do something about it. That which we do in the meantime is also called karma yoga.

When the yogi in the fullness of his Self-realisation realises that there is no self, then selflessness is natural to him, and his actions are totally motiveless. In the absence of that Self-realisation, the action always has some motive, for the self is incapable of acting without a motivation. The selfish motive may be crude or refined and relate to some kind of selfish goal here or in heaven, but there is always a goal. This self can extend itself to cover a whole country or a religious sect. Though all these extensions appear to be better than a purely selfish action, it is not unselfish action, because that entity is merely an extension of myself. On the other hand the yogis also suggest that when the self is extended like this, it is possible for us to understand that in that diluted self (which is selfless to some extent) there is greater joy and greater happiness, and to hope that one day the total absence of self might result.