On Karma Yoga – Part 1/2

Sri Ramakrishna

I’ve just had a comradely disagreement with a lightworker who has devoted a chapter in his recently-completed book to examining the view that people who “do” have missed the boat, that enlightenment calls upon us to “be.” He says that he has used me as an example of a person who is pre-occupied with “doing” and with doing trivialities at that (I’m paraphrasing). I am neglecting the deeper spiritual aspects of human existence, etc.

This particular criticism is one J.G. Bennett made of Aldous Huxley in Bennett’s book, Spiritual Psychology, if I remember correctly. (I no longer have the book handy.) The criticism was that Huxley could have been enlightened had he applied himself to meditation instead of writing books. Because he chose to write books instead, he failed to become enlightened before he died.

It’s not my intention to defend myself. Any defense would be, and would be seen to be, self-serving. But I do intend to defend my spiritual discipline, karma yoga, from the charges against it and to reassure lightworkers that “doing,” or karma yoga, is every bit as efficacious in the pursuit of enlightenment as “being,” or meditation.

At the same time, I don’t want to be backed into a corner by accepting my colleague’s split between “doing” and “being.” The karma yogin aims to “be while doing” so it isn’t wise to place the two in separate, airtight compartments.

There is no escaping readers knowing that I have chosen to be a waiter at the banquet of Ascension. For myself, I’ve put aside estimations around personal enlightenment to serve the wider community and the Divine Plan for this age. That doesn’t mean that I somehow disown that enlightenment is the purpose of life. But the entire galactic fleet are serving the Earth and don’t face a need to defend their choice. And neither do I.

There are other terrestrials who also make this choice as well. In Buddhism, a bodhisattva chooses not to enter Nirvana, though entry is merited, to serve the wider community. His decision is not held to be unwise.

Jesus did not tell his disciples to meditate but to take no thought for themselves and to go out as a shepherd among wolves and serve the people. So a choice to serve instead of meditate (though the two are not mutually exclusive) is acknowledged in scripture.

But I’d like you to know that even addressing the allegation leaves me in a difficult position. To do so means to appear as if I’m acting as a spiritual teacher and in my view spiritual teachers properly should have attained at least sahaja nirvikalpa samadhi and I have not. It’s not my ambition to be a spiritual teacher but to be a waiter at the banquet of Ascension – in my case, a communicator. That was the assignment I accepted and that is my dharma, my assigned role.

Now let’s look at karma yoga as a spiritual path.

All Paths Lead to God

One of Sri Ramakrishna’s purposes in coming as an avatar was to validate that all religions are paths to God. He would repeat to his circle of devotees:

“As many faiths, so many paths.” (1)

“All religions and all paths call upon their followers to pray to one and the same God. Therefore one should not show disrespect to any religion or religious opinion.” (2)

“One may have … single-minded devotion to one’s own religion; but one should not on that account hate other faiths. On the contrary, one should have a friendly attitude toward them.” (3)

That did not mean that some religions saw things mistakenly. That too is true. But God knows the intention of the heart, whether mistakes are made or not.

“Every religion has errors. Everyone thinks that his watch alone gives the correct time. It is enough to have yearning for God. It is enough to love Him and feel attracted to Him. Don’t you know that God is the Inner Guide. He sees the longing of our heart and the yearning of our soul. Suppose a man has several sons. The older boys address him distinctly as ‘Baba’ or ‘Papa,’ but the babies can at best call him ‘Ba’ or ‘Pa.’

“Now will the father be angry with those who address him in this indistinct way? The father knows that they too are calling him, only they cannot pronounce his name well. All children are the same to the father. Likewise, the devotees call on God alone, though by different names. They call on one Person only. God is one, but His names are many.” (4)

Sri Ramakrishna himself reached God by following a number of religions.

“I had to practise each religion for a time — Hinduism, Islam, Christianity. Furthermore, I followed the paths of the Saktas, Vaishnavas, and Vedantists. I realized that there is only one God toward whom all are travelling; but the paths are different.” (5)

The same acceptance was extended to the various paths within any one religion, such as the paths of bhakti, karma, jnana, and raja yoga.

“If people feel sincere longing, they will find that all paths lead to God.” (6)

“If a man prays to Thee with a yearning heart, he can reach Thee, through Thy grace, by any path.” (7)

Different Paths Have Been Designed to Suit Different Temperaments

Sri Ramakrishna held that the Divine Mother (or Holy Spirit) designed the different paths to suit the different tastes and fitnesses of the devotee.

“God Himself has provided different forms of worship. He who is the Lord of the Universe has arranged all these forms to suit different men in different stages of knowledge. The mother cooks different dishes to suit the stomachs of her different children. Suppose she has five children. If there is a fish to cook, she prepares different dishes from it — pilau, pickled fish, fried fish, and so on — to suit their different tastes and powers of digestion.” (8)

“Don’t you know what difference in taste is? Some enjoy fish curry; some, fried fish; some, pickled fish; and again, some, the rich dish of fish pilau. Then too, there is difference in fitness. I ask people to learn to shoot at a banana tree first, then at the wick of a lamp, and then at a flying bird.” (9)

In the case of my colleague, who criticizes “doing” as opposed to “being,” he appears to overlook the fact that all paths eventually lead to God and that reaching God is the only important thing.

“It is like your coming to Dakshineswar by carriage, by boat, by steamer, or on foot. You have chosen the way according to your convenience and taste; but the destination is the same. Some of you have arrived earlier than others; but all have arrived.” (10)
“The important thing is to reach the roof. You can reach it by stone stairs or by wooden stairs or by bamboo steps or by a rope. You can also climb up by a bamboo pole.” (11)

(Continued in Part 2)

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