The first element in Karma Yoga

We go to the country. What a beautiful scene, marvellous, but people who live there, they just look. What’s happened? If we stay there for a week, we don’t see it anymore. Something’s coming between, a perception: “Yes, I know about that. That’s of no interest.” All the zest and the life has gone out of that experience, but yoga will bring it back if we practise it.

The first element in the Karma Yoga is to become independent of the success, or failure, or what they call the ‘fruits’. That doesn’t mean the effect, the immediate effect, but it means the ultimate fruits, like people thanking you. Fruit takes time. If you plant a tree, the effect is that the tree is standing up, but the fruits come much later, don’t they? I’m thinking about the fruits that will make my planting of the tree much less efficient and take away all the joy from the movements of planting the tree.

The second element is to become empty, to be able to empty ourselves. We want to fill everything, have as many experiences as possible, as many possessions as possible. There’s no space.

Socrates was once walking with a man who knew everything, and they passed an orchard and Socrates pointed to the trees. He said, “What a fool the farmer is, you see. If he planted the trees closer together, he’d get double the number of trees in there.” The other man said, “No, if he planted them close together, they couldn’t grow. There’s no space.” Socrates said to him, “Same with your knowledge: you need some space in your mind to be able to empty.”

In the yoga psychology, time of emptying is very important, and we can use the times when our lives become empty. Our teacher said this to a pupil once. He said, “The times of emptiness can be the times of inspiration.” Most of the pupils forgot this, but one remembered and he kept on asking about it: “How do you make the mind empty?” The teacher said, “As you’re so keen, I’ll give you some special instruction, but you’ll have to perform a particular preparation for two weeks then you’ll have to fast for a couple of days. Then you come to the temple at dawn.”

He did this very carefully, and then he fasted for two days, and then he came to the temple at dawn. He saw the teacher in his full robes, looking enormously impressive, with a huge staff, and he came in. Then the teacher boomed at him. He said, “I’ve got something very important to tell you. An opportunity like this is very rare,” and he crashed his staff down. Then there was emptiness.

The pupil began to think, “What’s happening? Why is he doing this?” He thought, “There’s no use thinking this.” Then, in that emptiness, he began to feel a light. Then the teacher said, “Interview is over. Go away.”

Afterwards, he found, at times when he had to wait, instead of thinking, “When is that bus coming? Why don’t they come? They make these appointments and then they don’t keep them,” instead of that, he could enter into that emptiness and there’d be a light.

The teacher told him. He said, “Now, remember this: the time will come when you’ve built something up with enormous care and labour. You’ve put your whole love into that. It’s become the whole world to you. Then something happens, a storm, or somebody viciously kicks it to pieces. Now there’s emptiness. Now, if you can avoid feeling that emptiness by fury, or regret, or sorrow, give up those thoughts. In that emptiness – the whole universe was in that thing; now it’s taken away – in that emptiness you’ll get a light.”

This is a time to remember. At a time of great crisis in life, great disappointment, when we’ve been betrayed, when we’ve been very disappointed, when somebody’s been most ungrateful or turned on us, these are the times. We put our trust there and it’s all broken. Now there’s emptiness, and in that emptiness, at these times, we can make great yogic progress.

The next principle is to make the dead live. A pupil said to the teacher, “These old texts like the Gita, they’re dead. Maybe they were alive when teachers spoke them and the people heard them, but now they’re dead. They’re dead texts. Nothing can make the dead live again. The dead… What’s dead can’t live again.” The teacher said, “It can.”

He took him out for a walk and they passed the farm, where the teacher knew the farmer, and he got some hay. They passed along and saw a horse, and he held out the hay. He said, “This hay is dead, isn’t it?” The pupil said, “Yes.” He said, “I’m going to make it live.” He held it out to the horse. The horse began to eat the hay.

He said, “Now the dead hay is becoming the vigour and splendour of the horse. These dead texts, if you take them into yourself, not just look at them or read them – if the horse just looks at the hay, it won’t do him any good – but if you take them into yourself, they will become vigour, and splendour, and wisdom in you. When you learn a Gita text by heart, take it into yourself and it will come to life in you.” The pupil said, “It might be with some of them, but what about these theological texts on reincarnation, for instance?”

There’s a text. This is the one from Chapter 2, Verse 22: ‘As leaving aside worn-out garments, a man takes others, new ones. So, leaving aside worn-out bodies, to other new ones goes the embodied soul.’ He said, “That’s a theological thing. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not true, but how can this be incorporated into a man? He either believes it or he doesn’t. It’s a bit more satisfactory to think you have another chance, but who’s to say?”

The teacher said, “No, you’re wrong if you think like that. You must think much more deeply than that.” The pupil thought and thought, but he couldn’t come up with anything much, so the teacher said, “All the time you are putting on attitudes, and thoughts, and status, and position, and convictions, and biases, and a personality. You think that’s you, but no, these are only clothes.”

“They go on, and they get more and more worn out. You become more and more repetitive, and your thoughts and actions become more and more tatty and dead, but you can’t throw them off. Now think of them as clothes that you can throw off and take on new ones.” “I never do that. I always do this. That’s me. That’s how I am.” “No, all these,” he said, “They’re clothes. You can throw them off. In these ways,” he says, “The texts can be brought to life.”

This was from Bhagavad Gita – Zen & Gita – T.Leggett – 1-8-1984

© Trevor Leggett

Titles in this series are:

Part 1: Yogas of the Gita are Yogas for when life is in crisis
Part2:  What does non-attachment to the results mean?
Part 3: The first element in the Karma Yoga
Part 4: There should be some creative expression
Part 5: Inspiration in science
Part 6: Zen & Gita Q&A 1 01.08.1984

Part 7: Zen & Gita Q&A 2 01.08.1984

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