No other system documented the essence of karma yoga as carefully as the Indian scriptures, such as the Bhagavad Gita. This does not mean that other spiritual systems are ignorant of the implications and utility of karma yoga. Far from it. They just did not write about the subject in detail. Instead, the essence was conveyed by the spiritual master to his disciples on a personal basis. The teacher taught and demonstrated by personal example.
Let us look at Taoism. Intellectuals have wrongly interpreted Lao Tse, the sage who formulated Taoism (he did not invent Taoism, but merely put the ideas on paper). He expounded the idea that one should do only that which needs to be done. Many people thought that he was urging total complacency and laziness. Taoism was branded as the philosophy of idleness, but the critics have missed its essence. Lao Tse meant that people should act as though they are not acting. This is not laziness; it is letting the body-mind act in the way that comes naturally. It is allowing the body-mind to act in accordance with that which has to be done and simultaneously knowing that the true Self (Tao) does not really act. The Self is inactive and is the witness. This is karma yoga and is exactly the same as described in the Bhagavad Gita. This close correspondence should not surprise us, for basic truths are universal. They are not the monopoly of any one creed or nation.
The Tao says that one should flow with the current of life. Again this has been grossly misinterpreted. It means that one should try to act in the way that suits the situation as it really is. Don’t act from the ego. If circumstances demand that you be industrious or protect your property, then by all means do so. Do that which is demanded by the circumstances, that which is best for the whole. Only then is it right action.
The Tao is very much concerned with the perfection of action. The Fisherman, the carpenter, the builder and other craftsmen are skilled for one reason: they utilize the available materials and themselves in the best possible manner. They harmonize themselves with the tools at their disposal. If the muscles are overused, if one is beset by worries and tensions, if one is too egotistical, then the work will not be the best that can be achieved. This is admirably summed up by the following verse from the Tao Te Ching:
The man with power does not reveal that he possesses power; therefore he keeps his power. The man of lesser power tries continually to demonstrate that he has power; therefore, in fact, he is without power. The man of real power, the expert, does not really act, whereas the man of lesser power acts.
This is pure karma yoga. As the Bhagavad Gita says: “Yoga is efficiency in action.” Things happen in the way that they should for the given circumstances. A person on the path of karma yoga makes optimum use of the natural abilities and things available to bring about the best possible actions.