Of themselves actions are neutral, neither good or bad. It is the doer’s motive that determines the quality of the action. Actions which spring from selfishness leave similar tendencies behind creating more and more agitations; but selfless actions lead to their exhaustion. We must, therefore, learn to act renouncing the ego and egocentric desires. This is more easily said than done however, because these are powerful and deep-rooted urges. The baser urges can only be eliminated by working in a spirit of dedication to a higher and nobler ideal. To act with a spirit of surrender is to act in the spirit of yagna.
Yagnas were the most popular community rituals known in Vedic times. On the banks of a flowing river, in a grand structure erected for the purpose, people assembled in a spirit of utter dedication. Everyone worked together without a selfish motive. Each person tried to contribute toward the yagna. Their only purpose was the common welfare of all. As a single happy community all invoked the blessings of the Lord.
This yagna spirit was later completely veiled from the people, and only the pomp and show of ritual continued to attract the attention of the masses. At such a time it must have been a revolutionary concept to have Lord Krishna expound karma yoga to them in the language of the already known ritual.
Every action can become a sacred yagna if we act without ego or egocentric desires. Even the dreary, dull, daily routines from all walks of life can be divinised into sacred worship (puja) if we perform them as offerings to the Lord. We generally act in dedication to wife or to children; and naturally our achievements are small and limited. Our abilities will increase according to the glory of the altar of our dedication.
Two features must be maintained in all actions:
1. It must be performed efficiently, and
2. It must be undertaken and executed without attachment.
If we are to gain mental poise and beauty from the work undertaken, we should be efficient in the performance of all our actions. People tend to be efficient while performing their own work, but when it comes to volunteer or social work, they become careless and inefficient and work only half-heartedly. Without a high ideal, people do not find an altar high enough to negate their ego and egocentric desires in order to execute a selfless program of work. To be released from the bondage of our past is to rediscover a freed personality, capable of seeing life as it is and reacting to life spontaneously without being controlled by innate tendencies. So, let us do all our actions in a spirit of dedication to the Lord – then our work, good or bad, or indifferent will become a continuous worship of Him.
– excerpted from ‘Acting in the yagna spirit’ written by Pujya Gurudev Swami Chinmayananda
compiled in the Mananam series book ‘Seva – an act of worship’