Karma yoga means meditative dynamism -a simple definition, yet with profound implications. One must be wide awake, and yet not conscious of the little self. One must forget oneself, while simultaneously being involved in intense activity. The body and mind perform multitudinous actions, yet one remains in a state of contemplation, of meditative awareness. This is the ideal, but it cannot occur by thinking about it – practice and effort are necessary.
It is very easy, however, to deceive yourself into thinking that you are practicing karma yoga, whereas it is really false karma yoga. This leads to delusion and there is absolutely no change in your being. Many people perform various types of philanthropic work: they donate huge sums of money to trusts and benevolent societies, or they organize charities, social services, etc. Of course, these acts bring many material benefits to others; in this sense they are positive and worthwhile actions. But at the same time, these benefactors don’t necessarily achieve meditative experiences. Why? The reason is simple: they are often doing ‘selfless work’ for a selfish purpose, for an ulterior end, perhaps for admiration or status.
Certainly this is not karma yoga, no matter how good the social repercussions. It is not necessary to be a welfare or social worker to practise karma yoga. One must merely do the work in hand with as little sense of ego as possible, whether it is farming, nursing, engineering, office work or whatever. It is the attitude and feeling, not the action itself that is important. When work is done for a higher or spiritual purpose then it becomes karma yoga; if not then it is merely work. A tribesman kills an animal for food, while a hunter often kills an animal for sport. The action is the same, but the motive is different. It is the same with karma yoga – the attitude must be changed, but not necessarily the action. Changing the actions and work without a change in attitude will never lead to any significant experience.