A request and a disclaimer: Before you begin to read this blog, request you to first read the blogs titled ‘A curtain raiser to the blog series on karma yoga, The seed for karma yoga and the other blogs in this series’ before you read this one, as this sets the context for this series on karma yoga. For this blog series on karma yoga, I draw my learnings from the Bhagavad Gita Home Study book by Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati. The language and explanations used by Pujya swAmiji is so profound, that I wish I do justice by aligning my understanding to his explanation, as I parallelly try to relate it to day to day living. Any error in the way I have blogged upon these values, is due to an error in my understanding alone. To understand and introspect further on this topic, I have chosen the dialogue mode – between two of my favorite characters – MAnvi and her thAthA.. Both of them have aged by a few more years. MAnvi has grown far more deep and wide in her spiritual journey; MAnvi’s thAthA knows that his contribution is a catalyst in this journey of hers.

MAnvi: thAthA, I read this book by Stephen Covey titled ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ again.

thAthA: Again? But why?

MAnvi: I was referencing it to understand an aspect further. On what he had written on one of the habits, I have a different perspective and one that I think connects to the topic of karma yoga.

thAthA: Tell me more about this habit and what is your perspective that is different, MAnvi.

MAnvi: ‘Seek to Understand THEN to be Understood’ is one of the habits he talks about. He shares about how important it is for us to understand others and then work on being understood by them. This also goes a long way in building relationships and in inter personal skills. However, I think it should be ‘Seek to Understand yourself THEN to Understand others or to be Understood by others’, and more so in the context of karma yoga. Since we are discussing on karma yoga, I would like to keep the context specific to this.

thAthA (smiled knowing that this was going to be yet another revelation and understanding on how she thinks): Go on, MAnvi. I am listening.

MAnvi: thAthA, the seed for karma yoga is ‘Taking pleasure or pain with equanimity, as though they are one and the same’.

  • How can I understand that they are as though one and the same?
  • Can I take them with equanimity?
  • How can I take them with equanimity?
  • What gives me pain and what gives me pleasure? Are they the same always?
  • What do I need to do to take them with equanimity?

How will I get the answers to all this thAthA? Only when I spend time with myself to understand myself, isn’t it?

thAthA: Go on, MAnvi.

MAnvi: If I am going to spend my time to understand others first, where is the time to understand myself, thAthA? I would spend all my life understanding others and others will send all their life understand their ‘others’, but there will be no time spent on understanding oneself.

thAthA: So are you saying that one needs to understand oneself at all times?

MAnvi: I am saying that as much as we focus spending time on others to understand them, we need to spend time to understand ourselves, thAthA. We make statements like the following:

  • I am so glad that I could help my friend in distress
  • I will ask tough questions, if you don’t mind
  • You have done such a great job, I am really proud of you
  • I spent almost three hours with this my relative / friend just listening to their side of the story and sorting their problems

thAthA, do we do the same thing with ourselves? We can treat ourselves ‘as though we and others are the same’ isn’t it?

thAthA: How will that help in karma yoga, MAnvi?

MAnvi: thAthA, when I spend time to understand others, I am also attempting to see what their problem is, how I can help them, what I can do for them etc., This in a way also reduces the time I have to understand myself, my challenges, my strengths, how I can help myself etc., If I have to take pleasure and pain with equanimity as though they are one and the same, I need to explore the aspect of changing my thinking and that needs time.. That time I can get only when I decide to spend time to understand myself. I need to live my life and not that of the others’

thAthA: MAnvi, when you try to understand others and help them out, aren’t you in a way understanding yourself as well, because you will inevitably see whether you can apply the suggestions you gave others, in your life too.

MAnvi: You are right, thAthA.. however, I may need to revise those suggestions as my context maybe different; to think and make those revisions, I need time for myself.

thAthA, I think not all of us are comfortable in understanding ourselves.

thAthA: What makes you say that, MAnvi?

MAnvi: Because to understand ourselves, we need to

  • ask ourselves tough questions; which means we need to be comfortable at being uncomfortable
  • probe deeper within ourselves; to understand the reason for the way we behave (act)
  • learn to accept our vulnerabilities in the same breath as our strengths; in vulnerabilities, lie our strengths
  • be ready to accept certain realities; truth is bitter many times
  • invest time and effort in ourselves; ‘I’ am more important than ‘you’. Only when ‘I’ am understood, can I understand ‘you’..

Only when I am comfortable doing all of the above points to whatever extent possible, will I be able to work on ‘Taking pleasure and pain with equanimity, as though they are one and the same’; pleasure and pain are two sides of the same coin.. This is not an overnight journey, thAthA. It is going to take many years, if not many lives to achieve this. I need to start somewhere and I thought this is one important step in this journey.

thAthA, while I understand that I need to understand the words and learn to use them, the word karma yogi or karma yoga does not come easily to me.. I will try to use it as much I can. I would rather like to look at it as just ‘Taking pleasure and pain with equanimity, as though they are one and the same’, because this seed of Karma yoga as it is called, gives me the sense of samatvam, a balance

thAthA: MAnvi, you need to learn to get used to being comfortable with the uncomfortable, isn’t it?