Science of Karma & Art of Karma Yoga

The main element of Karma is that it is desire-based and outcome-driven.
Keywords: Karma, Yoga, Religion, Spiritual, Bharata, Karmayogi, Rama, Lawful, Ethics
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Karma symbols such as the Endless knot are common cultural motifs in Asia. Endless knots symbolize the interlinking of cause and effect, a Karmic cycle that continues eternally.


From the first breath until the last, there is always Karma – कर्म, for every sentient life form. Doing, and living, are forever inextricably intertwined. Karma is defined as an action, deed, duty that has its effects and consequences.

Karma is generated to earn a livelihood, maintain one’s health – body or mind, obtain wealth for comforts, power for status/position, perform rituals, acquire knowledge, provide for kith & kin, etc., thus making it central to one’s life. Karma is a scientific examination and exploration of life. The main element of Karma is that it is desire-based and outcome-driven. There is no life without Karma!

The Endless knot is visible in the center of the Nepalese temple prayer wheel.

One of the greatest verses the Bhagavad Gita that is often talked about but highly misunderstood & misinterpreted is :

कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन |

मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि || 2.47 ||

karmaṇyevādhikāraste mā phaleṣhu kadāchana

mā karma-phala-hetur bhūrmā te saṅgo ’stvakarmaṇi

Karmani – in action, eva – only

te – your,  adhikarah -choice 

phaleshu– in the results , ma kadachana – never 

karma-phala-hetuh– the author of the results 

ma bhu – do not be, akarmani – in inaction

te – your, sangha -attachment,  ma astu-let  it not  be.

“Your choice is in action only, never in the results thereof. Do not think you are the author of the results of action. Never be attached to inaction”.

This verse is also called the karma Chatus sutrI, the four sutras of karma कर्म.

A  sutra is an aphorism, a short formula, that cannot be refuted or replaced.  It is full of meaning and can be understood only with a commentary.

The four sutras of karma in the above verse are:-

  1. karmaṇyevādhikāraste – one’s connectedness is to karma alone
  2. mā te saṅgo ’stvakarmaṇi – never to  be attached to inaction
  3. mā phaleṣhu kadāchana– never  to be attached to results
  4. mā karma-phala-hetur bhuh –  do not think you are the author of results of action 

This verse is the tipping point that sees the metamorphosis from karma कर्म into karma Yoga कर्म योग!

The general misunderstanding is that karma/ work must be done without expecting a result. How is it possible to renounce the result when actually it is the result that inspires the action? 

Bhagavan Krishna did not mean to say not to think of the fruits or results of the action. 

It is a  clear statement that –  one has a choice only over the action but never about the results! The results are governed by laws which only the Almighty known as Isvara has authority over. 

“Therefore Oh Arjuna, may you not consider yourself as the author of the results of action”

The expectation is natural, not a problem, but the reaction to the result makes all the difference. When a person understands that results are reaped by the many unknown factors that come into play which one does not have control upon, the resulting attitude helps in the graceful acceptance of the results received. If the result is not according to one’s expectation then one can freely exercise a different choice of action, change the course of the plan and act on it again!

The definition of Karma Yoga is further expounded in next verse from the Bhagavad Gita : 

योगस्थ: कुरु कर्माणि सङ्गं त्यक्त्वा धनञ्जय |

सिद्ध्यसिद्ध्यो: समो भूत्वा समत्वं योग उच्यते || 2.48||

yogasthaḥ kuru karmāṇi saṅgaṁ tyaktvā dhanañjaya

siddhyasiddhyoḥ samo bhūtvā samatvaṁ yoga uchyate

Dhanañjaya – Oh Dhananjaya ( Arjuna)  yogasthaḥ – being steadfast in Yoga 

saṅgaṁ – attachment   tyaktvā – abandoning

siddhyasiddhyoḥ – with reference to success and failure

Samah – equipoised bhūtvā  – the being

karmāṇi – the actions Kuru – perform

Samatvaṁ – equanimity yoga uchyate – is called yoga

“Be steadfast in the performance of your duty, O Arjuna, abandoning attachment to the result and remaining the same in success and failure. Such equanimity is called Yoga.”

KarmaKarma Yoga
Karma is devoted to phala  (result)Karma Yoga is devoted to prayojana (purpose,meaning)
Karma is limited hence phala is perishableKarma yoga being a beautiful cognitive change,  its  phala result is ananta –  infinite
Karma is externalKarma Yoga is internal
Karma is self-centeredKarma yoga is for Self-evolution
Karma keeps changingKarma yoga is a steadfast unchanging mindset
Karma emphasises actionKarma yoga is based on the thought, the intent
Karma is bindingKarma yoga is liberating
Karma magnifies the doerKarma yoga glorifies surrender
Karma could include illegitimate, ignoble, violent  actionsKarma yoga encompasses only ethical, noble and righteous actions
Karma never satisfiesKarma yoga treads on realisation of truth and gives contentment
Karma mortgages happiness to the future by thinking of karma phalaKarma yoga derives joy in the present by focusing on prayojana
Karma seeks pleasureKarma yoga brings peace

Sri Rama’s brother Bharata is one of the finest examples of a Karmayogi!

Bharata is absolutely innocent about the causes of Rama’s exile, it does not even occur in his perception and he is totally devastated upon his older brother’s departure. Nevertheless, he had to certify his love &  devotion to Rama, when clouds of doubt flowed in and out from Mother Kausalya, Nishadaraja Guha, Sage Bharadwaj, brother Lakshmana, and even later in the mind of Sri Rama himself who, a little before the completion of 14 years of exile, sends Hanuman to assess Bharata’s state of mind in parting with his possessions of their forefathers’ kingdom, state – abounding in riches, horses, elephants, chariots, cavalry, treasury et al which he owned for fourteen years.

Bharata reverentially receiving Rama’s padukas as a symbol of his rulership

Bharata moves everyone with his unfailing loyalty, nobility and tender love for Sri Rama, ruling Ayodhya only as a custodian of the throne, on which were installed Rama’s padukas.

Upon Rama’s lawful return, Bharata abandons all lordly comforts and exiles himself to a nearby village – Nandigram, living in a thatched hut. Bharata was a King but lived like an ascetic, exactly as Rama had. 

As an exemplary karma yogi, perhaps Bharata’s penance as a ruler was greater than Rama’s exile!


  •  Bhagavad Gita Volume 2- by Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati ( Arsha Vidya Gurukulam)
  • The vision of Karma Yoga – by Mahamahopadhyaya Swami Tattvavidananda Saraswati

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Pavithra Srinivasan

Pavithra Srinivasan is a Visiting Fellow of India Foundation. She is an acclaimed Bharatnatyam dancer, and founder of Arsha Kala Bharathi.

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