Karma Yoga is Work. Or more appropriately, it is action, but the core concept is all about work. Not only work, but work for its own sake. Work performed with no lust for compensation or reward. Work for the sheer beauty of having performed a worthy service. It is a road to the Divine.
In the Bhagavad-Gita, Sri Krishna tells Arjuna that:
“aspirants may find enlightenment by two different paths. For the contemplative, is the path of knowledge: for the active is the path of selfless action” (Prabhavananda and Isherwood, 1995: p17). Notice that it is not enough to work, but it must be done with non-attachment. This is the key. This is where I failed for years, when I first chose to pursue my Will.
Or as appears in the Book of the Law (CCXX, I:44):
For pure will, unassuaged of purpose, delivered from the lust of result, is every way perfect.
That is not how it began —
Karma Yoga is Pain. It is getting up each day and doing your Work for the sole reason that it is worth doing. It is tiring and by its very nature, thankless. Five years ago, I realized that I worked not for the joy of accomplishing my goals, though I did relish that, but for the recognition and appreciation that I received from my peers. Or at least, that I would theoretically receive... Sometimes gratitude and appreciation came, sometimes it did not, and when it did not I was devastated and became filled with resentment toward my brethren. It was horrible.
As a Magician, I eventually realized that my work was not theirs and that my satisfaction should come from my own recognition of my accomplishments and not the expected appreciation of others. I had been disappointed by their failing to see me or my effort; later I was disappointed by their not volunteering to serve with equal dedication and personal sacrifice.
Expectations… expectations are premeditated resentments. We say it all the time in the Continuum. So, I went about my business attempting to cultivate this non-attachment. I prepared feasts, performed rituals, organized special events, and tried not to dwell on whether others participated in or appreciated the same.
It took a lot of time and I thought of quitting a few times, but I am not one to admit defeat. I steadily persevered. It is what we do, as Magicians. I meditated. I evaluated the reason behind everything I did. I refused to do that which was not in line with my new path: work for work’s sake.
Eventually it happened — I remember it well: It was the summer of my Birthday Death and Rebirth. I prepared three feasts in eight days, focusing solely on my mission, neither bickering with my partner nor snapping at my brethren, while they enjoyed themselves. This, after all, was what I wanted… no? I wanted my Sisters and Brothers, my family— the reason I came to the Order — to have the best experience possible while I took joy in their joy and in doing my Work.
I came home with this epiphany in my heart. Karma yoga was not just something to practice when convenient, but also when it was the least convenient thing on the planet, like that week. I must continue to strive for perfection and success in my endeavors, without concern for those of others (or their recognition of mine), but must leave behind the ego and the selfish desires.
I also resigned the position of Seneschal. I had fulfilled my goals there and could accomplish no more than to train my successor. I resigned not out of resentment, but from completion… and this was well. Then, I set my sights higher: Kaaba Colloquium (an important milestone on my path to NOTOCON).
Never before had we hosted a regional event. I had experience coordinating small events and this seemed the best way to serve the Order and my local brethren while remaining true to myself. I had attended Spring Kaaba in Atlanta and wanted to bring it home to my community, so many of whom had never traveled from our Valley or had met so few of the Brethren from other bodies and none of the Leaders of the Order. It was a great opportunity.
As a bonus, perhaps they would be inspired to strive for more in their work and in ours, or learn a new skill they could take with them into their everyday lives, or maybe they would be moved to take on a position in running the body. The possibilities were exciting, but best of all was receiving our traveling brethren, the Kaaba team and attendees, in warmth and hospitality, as is our custom.
I coordinated the event and only attended half the workshops so that I could prepare the food myself. Such Love did I pour into everything I did… This was my gift to my local Brethren and I fairly glowed with the satisfaction of a job well done. I was rewarded with my own joy and peace. I felt connected to my path completely. I had modeled selflessness recognizably (by me) a second time, on the way to imprinting permanent patterns of behavior.
“The admirable man controls his senses through the power of his will. All his actions are disinterested. All are directed along the path to Brahman” (P&I p17-8).
Karma Yoga is Love. It is performed out of Love for everything and everyone, All and None. This is the Love of non-attachment. Not the jealous, greedy love of the average person, but Love under Will. It purifies the mind, heart, and soul. It lays the Foundation for that Knowledge we all aspire to at some point in our lives: Knowledge of Self. Karma Yoga is therefore also a path to the Higher Self.
Our compassion and acts of selflessness take us to deeper truths. Through selfless action we can eradicate the ego that conceals the Self. Detached, selfless action leads to liberation. Such action is not just work, it is karma yoga.
— Mata Amritanandamayi Devi
Since I found out it existed, I have always wanted to bring NOTOCON to Salem (even before the temple moved to our fair city). Four years later, I wrote my proposal after the Kaaba Officers suggested we might not need to wait until 2009 e.v., as I had envisioned.
I have experienced so much love and hospitality at home and by traveling to various local bodies for initiations, small events, and, of course, NOTOCONs. I wanted to give it back on a LARGE scale with a vision to reflect and transmit the delight from my experiences. It seemed the logical choice for me, as I wrote in my letter to the Conference Committee:
Carae Sorores et Fratres of the NOTOCON Committee,
Please accept this proposal as an offer and oath to coordinate and host the 2007 National OTO Conference. You will find attached a basic proposal outlining where I am presently in its development.
I have had the honor of attending two consecutive conferences and hope that I have learned from the examples set by my brave Sistren who guided these events into beautiful fruition. We each have our own backgrounds and skill sets, but we all began our careers in the OTO learning the same fundamentals of Fraternity and Hospitality.
When one attends NOTOCON it is for the express purpose of gathering within the bonds of our Fraternity; to bask in the company of our brethren. Without the hospitality of our hosts, however, it would be a pale shadow of that which each of us finds in our own Thelemic communities.
I have built much of my work within the Order around these two concepts, learning to walk the path of Karma Yoga; to do the work without thought to the reward or recognition that may result.
I see hosting NOTOCON as the obvious next step on my Fool’s Journey… the ultimate opportunity to receive and entertain my Brethren ‘with kindness and without reward’; in short to emulate the highest standards of hospitality which I first experienced on my journey to the City of the Sun.
Now I could really take my new philosophy for a walk; it has been grand and I hope it goes well and everyone has a wonderful time. A lot of wonderful persons have poured their essence into this Love In, pursuing alternately the path of knowledge or of action.
“The world is imprisoned in its own activity, except when actions are performed as worship of God. Therefore you must perform every action sacramentally, and be free from all attachments to results” (ibid. p18).
A few years ago I would have been freaking out right now from the stress and work, but I am calm, ten days prior to the event. It must be the benefit of this non-attachment suit I have been trying to wear. I have had moments of weakness, but tried to keep it close and personal. I have even been sick less, which was often proportional to my stress levels. I have noticed personal improvements as a side effect of my work, not an objective.
Of objectives, there can be only one: Thou hast no right but to do thy will (CCXX, I:42). The Love must be for the Divine. I pray to my daemon, I offer up energies, emotions, and ecstasies, all upon the altar of my Beloved. My Work is in Their Honor. I tip my hat to the Secret Lover who inspires me, even when I know Them not. I see the ideal me in Them. I see Them in all of you. We are One. We are None.
Dionysus Zagreus! O God of the Dark Places! O Ariadne! Queen of the Light in Darkness! O Divine Unity! I offer up equally my success and my shame in tribute and sustenance to You! My pleasure and pain! My satisfaction and frustration! My action and contemplation! My Love! You are That without which I am nothing and toward which I shall ever aspire.
“In the calm of self-surrender you can free yourself from the bondage of virtue and vice during this very life. Devote yourself therefore to reaching union with Brahman. To unite the heart with Brahman and then to act: that is the secret of non-attached work. In the calm of self-surrender, the seers renounce the fruits of their actions, and so reach enlightenment “ (P&I, p13).
Brahman is the ritual,
Brahman is the offering,
Brahman is he who offers
To the fire that is Brahman.
If a man sees Brahman
In every action,
He will find Brahman (ibid. p27)