Practical Steps For Realization in the Yoga of Works

Having determined the goal for the seeker in the practice of Karma Yoga, Sri Aurobindo now proceeds to outline the practical steps that will help to systematically achieve the goal. it is essential for the seeker to move his standpoint from the limited, fragmented consciousness of the human individual, to the Divine standpoint. “The elimination of all egoistic activity and of its foundation, the egoistic consciousness, is clearly the key to the consummation we desire.”

He thus sets the plan: “And since in the path of works action is the knot we have first to loosen, we must endeavour to loosen it where it is centrally tied, in desire and in ego; for otherwise we shall cut only stray strands and not the heart of our bondage.”

The issue revolves around how we move away from the motive force of desire and the centralizing reference of the ego. “And of these two desire has its native home in the emotions and sensations and instincts and from there affects thought and volition; ego-sense lives indeed in these movements, but it casts its deep roots also in the thinking mind and its will and it is there that it becomes fully self-conscious.”

“In the field of action desire takes many forms, but the most powerful of all is the vital self-s craving or seeking after the fruit of our works.” It should be understood that the fruit is not always a physical result, such as wealth, family, and material ease and comfort; rather there may also be internal or psychological “fruits” such as fame, praise and various forms of mental or emotional satisfaction. Whatever forms these fruits take, they bind us to the ego-sense when we seek after them. “Always these satisfactions delude us with the sense of mastery and the idea of freedom, while really we are harnessed and guided or ridden and whipped by some gross or subtle, some noble or ignoble, figure of the blind Desire that drives the world.”

The Gita has a prescriptive first step to address this: “Therefore, the first rule of action laid down by the Gita is to do the work that should be done without any desire for the fruit, niskama karma.

Of course, rooting out both the gross and subtle seeking after the fruits of works is “easier said than done”. There are many partial stages along the way, such as the erection of external principles of action, which we may call “the rule of law”, or “duty” or some kind of religious doctrine of resignation to the will of God, or stoicism. Sri Aurobindo reminds us that this is not the end-result for the Gita: “But it is not these things that the Gita intends, useful though they are in their place; it aims at something absolute, unmitigated, uncompromising, a turn, an attitude that will change the whole poise of the soul. Not the mind’s control of vital impulse is its rule, but the strong immobility of an immortal spirit.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 3, Self-Surrender in Works–The Way of the Gita, pp. 94-95