Eventually, of course, the aim is to jump beyond the fetters of both good and bad, for these are really relative terms. But this transcendence only occurs in states of higher awareness, and its meaning is beyond the realm of intellectual discussion. Until these stages of illumination, however, one must try to substitute so-called negative, adharmic actions by positive, dharmic actions. Disharmonious thoughts and actions have to be replaced by harmonious thoughts and actions. In a sense, one uses a thorn (good actions) to remove another thorn (bad actions). Afterwards, both thorns are thrown away. People often say that it is one’s duty to help others. This is a very noble sentiment, but actually for most people this is pervaded with a strong odour of hypocrisy. Most people help others merely to help themselves; to gain praise, social status and many other rewards. However, this becomes less and less with increased awareness. The more aware an individual becomes, the less selfish he will become. One actually starts to help other people for their sake, and less for one’s own sake. But in the initial stages of karma yoga it is important to realize that any work undertaken, even that done under the guise of philanthropy, is more than likely motivated by an egotistical reason. Accept this and don’t try to project the altruistic image. If you practise your dharma you will help yourself, by gradually purifying the mind, increasing concentration and becoming more contented. As a by-product you will also be helping other people, either directly or indirectly. Don’t expect praise for your work; it is not deserved, for you are doing the work to help yourself; your efforts to do karma yoga will lead you to higher levels of awareness, not your fellow humans, at least not directly. Why expect praise? It is your privilege to work. It is your privilege to do karma yoga for your own happiness and spiritual evolvement. Don’t expect anything in return.
Try not to take yourself or your work so seriously. The world will continue without you. Don’t become fanatical but work as well as you can under the given circumstances, with as much detachment and awareness as possible. There is a law of karma. The Hindu, Buddhist, tantric, yogic and other scriptures of India have written reams and reams of information on this subject. In the Bible of Christianity, it is beautifully summed up as follows: “.. . whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap.”
Newton also defined the idea of karma for science: to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. This applies to every action in life. As you do and think, so you become; at least on a mind-body level. If you think and act selfishly, then you will tend to become more selfish in the course of time. If a person is greedy, then after a while greed will become the predominant aspect of his personality. His ego drives will be intensified in order to satisfy his greed. In this manner, the thoughts and aspirations of the mind flow most easily in that direction in which it has been habituated. The mountain streams of the monsoon rainfall will follow the riverbeds that have been carved out by previous downpours. All these mental desires prevent the influx of meditation, for they tend to increase the power of the individual ego. The aim of karma yoga is to follow one’s dharma, which tends to diminish ego identification. The aim of karma yoga is to follow the dictates of the individual constitution, those actions which come naturally without effort. This type of karma is dharma and leads to lessening of the bondage of the ego. If you do your dharma, with awareness, then you will automatically start to harmonize with your environment. There will be less mental tension and conflict.
An action is only correct if it is the right action for you under the given circumstances. The same action may be wrong for another person under the same or different circumstances. Know that your actions can lead you to higher experiences and enlightenment, if they are done as karma yoga.