Lotus Flower

The Altruistic Philosophy of Karma Yoga and How it Can Lead to Self-Realization

Lotus Flower

By Divya Patwari

The Gita is a poem, which helps those “˜who wander in the region of the many and variable.’ It inspires pilgrims of all sects who are in search of the inner ways to the city of God.

It has been a powerful shaping factor in renewal of spiritual life and has secured an assured place among the world’s greatest scriptures. It is believed that one receives illumination through the text.

The 700-verse scripture is part of the Hindu epic “˜Mahabharata’. The scripture contains a conversation between Pandava prince Arjuna and his guide Lord Krishna on a variety of theological and philosophical issues.

Due to a war for the throne within the family, Arjuna turns to his charioteer for counsel on the battlefield. He is struggling to understand himself, his fellows and the real nature of the universe in which he is placed.

There are many versions and interpretations of the Gita. Swami Vivekanand’s allegory of the war appealed to me the most. He wrote “This Kurukshetra war is only an allegory. When we sum up its esoteric significance, it means the war which is constantly going on within man and between the tendencies of good and evil.”

Yoga in the Bhagavad Gita refers to the skill of union with the ultimate reality or the “˜Absolute.’

In his commentary, Zaehner says that the root meaning of yoga is “yoking” or “preparation”; he proposes the basic meaning “spiritual exercise”, which conveys the various nuances in the best way.

These are some concepts in the Gita that appealed to me:


Karma yoga is often understood as a yoga of selfless (altruistic) service. The word karma is derived from the Sanskrit kri, meaning ‘to do’. In its most basic sense karma simply means action, and yoga translates to union. Thus karma yoga literally translates to the path of union through action.

Action done devotedly and whole-heartedly, without attachment to the results makes for perfection. Since it is impossible for living beings to avoid action all together, the Bhagavad Gita therefore offers a practical approach to liberation in the form of Karma yoga. The path of Karma yoga upholds the necessity of action. However, this action is to be undertaken without any attachment to the work or desire for results. Bhagavad Gita terms this “inaction in action and action in inaction”. The concept of such detached action is also called “Naiskarmya”

Krishna, in the following verses, elaborates on the role actions, performed without desire and attachment, play in attaining freedom from material bondage and transmigration:

“To action alone hast thou a right and never at all to its fruits; let not the fruits of action be thy motive; neither let there be in thee any attachment to inaction. Fixed in yoga, do thy work, O Winner of wealth (Arjuna), abandoning attachment, with an even mind in success and failure, for evenness of mind is called yoga.”

For the Gita, The path of works is a means of liberation. (But action without attachment to its results) Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi writes, “The object of the Gita appears to me to be that of showing the most excellent way to attain self-realization,” and this can be achieved by selfless action, “Desireless action”.

Jawahar Lal Nehru the first Prime Minister of independent India, commented on the Gita: “The Bhagavad-Gita deals essentially with the spiritual foundation of human existence. It is a call of action to meet the obligations and duties of life; yet keeping in view the spiritual nature and grander purpose of the universe.”

Gita attracts all those souls who have a relish for action. Action is for self-fulfillment. We must find out the truth of our own highest and innermost existence and live it.


He who finds his happiness within, his joy within and likewise his light only within becomes divine and attains to the beatitude of God. The roots of the modern day concept of “˜loving oneself’ lie in ancient old scriptures like the “˜Gita.’

Krishna makes Arjuna understand that to do good onto others is not only to give them physical comforts or raise their standard of living. It is to help others to find their true nature, to attain true happiness.


Arjuna wants to know “What happens to the soul who attempts and fails?” (referring to yoga) “He who cannot control himself, though he has faith with the mind wandering away from yoga, failing to attain perfection in yoga, what way does he go, O Krsna?”

This question is very similar to something that comes habitually to our minds; what if we attempt and yet fail? We are always struggling in relationships and always apprehensive of following our dreams.

The answer to this given by Krishna is intriguing. It settles one’s doubts in doing good in this world.

Krishna pacifies Arjuna by explaining that no man of honest life can come to grief. No good man can come to an evil end. God knows our weaknesses and the efforts we make to overcome them. We must not despair for even failure. No sincere attempt will go without its reward.

The parts mentioned here is a very small section of the Gita. But I hope it inspires you to pick up the book and give it a read.

When the human soul becomes enlightened and united with the concept of the Divine, fortune and victory, welfare and morality are assured. Human perfection is a marriage between high thought and just action. This according to the Gita, must be the aim of man.

Looking for More? Here’s 10 Reasons Why Yoga Can Change Your Life

divya 150x150 Insight: The Enchanting Rituals of an Indian WeddingABOUT THE WRITER

Hailing from Assam, India, Divya Patwari is an avid tea drinker who holds a Bachelors degree in Political Science and a Masters in Fashion Management.  She is always “˜in pursuit of happiness’ and wishes to travel all across Europe. Patwari’s studied John Locke and Rousseau, loves Julius Caesar and has a knack for reading minds. She’s always in love and welcomes you to join her in finding out the “˜Joie De Vivre’ together.


Photo by llee_wu

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