top of page



This kind of social action, without any self-interest is a simple way of training oneself in karma yoga . It is in fact the first thing that young people must learn. Identifying oneself with a cause, with a social purpose, one gets attracted by the charms and thrills of social service and the

innate satisfaction it provides.  Such social service done as a dedication to society without the least self-interest, and in a totally detached attitude of self-effacement, such action goes by the fascinating name of yajna, in Hinduism.

The word yajna, is one of those words from Hindu religion and spirituality which has no English equivalent. Roughly, it means sacrifice, either ritualistic in the conventional sense of Hindu orthodoxy, or a devotional act without an egocentric attachment.  In a broader sense, any action done for the good of others, done  with dedication and without desire or expectation or attachment or selfishness may be called a yajna.  Here 'dedication' means 'voluntary acceptance of suffering for the benefit of others'. The concept is elaborately dealt with in the third chapter of the gItA. The central purport is as follows.

When one acts, one has to take responsibility  for the good or bad effects of the action. Dexterity in action (karmasu kauSalaM) according to the gItA, is that manner of involvement in action in which the effects do not bind one in terms of AgAmi karma. Only when one has desire for the fruits thereof, is one bound by the implications of one's action. When one performs an action because it is one's duty to do it, as for example, when a judge sentences a criminal to death, the results of the action do not bind the judge. The judge does not incur any sin meting out a death sentence as part of his duty. This is yajna. The gItA urges that every action must be done in a spirit of yajna. That is the way to be involved in action and at the same time be free from the bondage of action. 
The ultimate aim being the eradication of all vAsanAs,


vAsanAs are quality-imprints of thoughts and actions of the past including all previous lives, left in the subconscious. The concept has been explained in 
The Path and The Paradox  in various contexts.

Both good and bad, from the mind-complex, one has to discover the right way to act in the living world, a way which does not result in the accumulation of further vAsanAs. The initial attempt in one's journey should be to avoid accumulating bad vAsanAs, that is, to stay away from sinful acts. To live in subservience to the calls and appetites of othe outer world is the origin of all sins. Such subservience contributes to 'inhuman' and 'undivine' vAsanAs piling  up in the mind. From vAsanAs to thoughts and from thoughts to actions is a very familiar chain. To break it, one has to substitute the evil vAsanAs by divine vAsanAs which arise out of puNya-karma, the karma which arises out of compassion and dedicated devotion to the divine  and the universal brotherhood of man. This substitution is not a simple process. One may think of the mind-complex as a large reservoir of vAsanAs, the contents of which cannot be poured out. So in order to 'substitute' good vAsanAs for bad ones, all one can do is really to 'pour' more and more good vAsanAs into the reservoir and dilute its badness. 

Punya karmas will create vAsanAs which will gradually overwhelm the pattern of sin that exists in the mind. The gItA gives us a clear recipe for exactly this breaking of the vAsanA-thought-action chain which takes us down the scale of samsAra. The gItA says: 'Do your assigned duty and do it in the spirit of yajna'. That is, do your duty because you have to do it. It is not important to do what you want to do but rather it is important to begin to like to do what you have to do. Do it without desire. Do it as if it were a part you have to play and you have no stake in your part. The real stakes are beyond the play. Within the play one should have no desire or attachment. This is the spirit of yajna.

The quality of a 'doer' of actions has been classified by the gItA in the standard three-fold way. The lowest type of  'doer'  has no control  (ayuktaH)  over himself. He is unsteady in his application. His low instincts and impulses prod him on to behave in a vulgar (prAkRta) way. And he becomes dishonest (SaTaH) and so unbending (stabdhaH) that he is stubborn in his errors and obstinate in his stupidity.  He is bent upon creating quarrels and disputes and so the world knows him to be malicious (naishkRtikaH). Avoiding all creative endeavours, productive or purposeful, he is a model of indolence (alasaH). Consequently he becomes unable to meet life's challenges and so is despondent (vishAdI). Naturally he postpones  (dIrgha-sUtrI) everything until it is too late.  Such a person is called a tAmasa-kartA: (gItA, 18 -28):

ayuktaH prAkRtaH stabdhaH SaTo naishkRtiko'lasaH /
vishAdI dIrgh-sUtrI ca kartA tAmasa ucyate //


No student, for instance, would like to belong to this category either in his student-life or afterwards.  We all know what it means to be a good student. We think that it is the type of work, described as that of the better 'doer' ( that is, better than the one  classified as tAmasa-kartA) described in the gItAitself, the doer who is called a rAjasic (=dynamic, passionate) doer. gItA 18 - 27:

rAgI karma-phala-prepsuH lubdho himsAtmako'SuciH /
harsha-SokAnvitaH kartA rAjasaH parikIrtatah /

Passionate, desiring to gain the fruits-of-actions, greedy, harmful, impure, full of delight and grief,

Such a person is constantly thinking of this reward or that result of his performance. Full of joy in success or of grief in failure, he is the typical restless teenager who is the fertile ground for all the ambitions of that age.  The world thinks of such a student as the right kind, since the general opinion is: how else can a student behave? We think that he has to be a go-getter, he has to be dynamic, pushing, aggressive, motivated by the carrots of rewards for his actions. 
But even here, when we project the ideas of karma yoga and the concept of dedication, the intelligent student himself gets genuine doubts as to whether such a one-upmanship is  right. Let us be more specific.  Consider the situation of a teenager, a university student  living away from his parents or guardians, in a hostel or dorm in the environment of a student population well-known for its dynamism, its restlessness, for a mixture of both narrow as well as sophisticatedly broad aims, and for its almost rudderless groping through this competitive world of aggression and one-up-manship. What is the norm for such a person in terms of right action? This is a question that constantly confronts young people because sharply conflicting pictures are presented to them by the 'adult' world of opportunism, camouflaged by a coating of fair play and justice.They very often see the tragic picture of so-called righteousness, expressed in the form of exhibitionist devotion, coexistent with a deep undercurrent of selfishness and dishonesty. Modern youth are in a dilemma. Their own educational ambitions seem selfish to them as they get ideas, prematurely perhaps,  for reforming the world and taking leadership in their own hands. A student's svadharma is to study, but a student with a superficial view of religion mistakenly believes that to concentrate on one's studies and try to score over one's fellow students is a selfish pursuit and so it encourages the very ego which religious spirituality decries. 

                                                        GO TO 9.3

bottom of page