Karma Yoga as per Vedic injunctions is called as Panchamahayagna. They are Brahma Yagna, Deva Yagna, Pitr Yagna, Manushya Yagna, Bhoota Yagna. These are elaborated by several people in the internet community. I am more interested in answering the question – How do I as a person earning money to make a living in the modern world, ever integrate these actions in my day to day life?
So, we have to first ask the question, am I a vaidika? If I believe in the vedantic vision, then am I not bound to follow the vaidika tradition? The rituals or yagnas that are prescribed, are so designed, that one cannot know if they bring any result. If I pour water from my hand into the river and take again some more water and pour it back into the river, chanting Mantras as I do it, what is the garanty that it is supposed to change anything.
That is the real beauty of it. You cannot know what result it brings. So for the first time, you are completely flabbergasted. It is unscientific, because it is beyond the scope of science. There is no typical process of experiment, observation inference. This is because the instrument used to experiment is myself. An instrument that has thousands of dynamically varying parameters.But on the other hand, it is also a science. There has been a history of Rishis been produced, because they have gone through this system. India has historically, repeatedly produced these Rishis unlike in any other land.
We are designed to do things only if it fulfills a desire. Now we have mokshartha as the goal, and we are asked to do these activities which have only one goal, called chitta shuddhi, Purification of the mind!
So how do we live our day to day life, in a way that it evolves towards Karma Yoga? If we are performing the Karma Yoga actions only for a minimum of time, it implies that we have to balance out our day, so that we can progress on the Karma Yoga ladder. The device is simple – Do your normal actions in a prayerful attitude, do them in a way that they seem like an offering.
What does that mean? I cannot think of God when I am trying to write a software program or cooking a meal. I can only in retrospect or in general take to an attitude of “this act too is part of the Lords creation.” So the attitude that I hold in a Japa, Puja, Chanting etc has to be carried into the world of even actions performed that are desire based or security based.
When we do find time outside of the hulla bulla, we take to the vedic panchamahayagnas. This is the main vehicle for spiritual progress.
I think the most important thing here, is the spirit. We may not live in times, where everything is black and white in terms of Vedic interpretation. If I get to doing an action as per the Vedic Injunctions then I may not have got the right injunctions, or i might be doing it wrong. One never really knows. What is most important is the spirit of the action. The mokshartha siddhyartham kurume attitude. I am solely interested in this and everything else that I do, I do only to achieve this. This is the arrow trying to aim itself at the mark of Om.
So the surrender and prayerful attitude that we hold on to in Sandhya, Japa, Puja etc are brought into even work and such activities. It is this divinisation of banal life, that can be called as the attitude of a karma yogi. It is not complicated. We dont need to act it out, feel it out, etc. This is just a sign of the maturity of the mind, that accepts the results offered by God. The maturity of the mind, that sees and evaluates the situation he or she is in at every given moment, and tries to do the right thing. To accept the situation, to work in it, to accept the result that God gives. This is the crux. This is where one starts.
When one is accepting of the situation one is in, one has a mind, that is ready to also do the Panchamahayagnas. Otherwise, it is not possible.
Another important aspect is that, we generally say that people live in the world, like a lotus flower, untouched by the world. That is all very hunky dory and poetic. But if one wants to live in this world and yet be ready for its tumults, one needs to develop resilience. The development of this resilience is only possible, when one takes to prayer, i.e. the panchamahayagnas. Then when we work in the world, we can learn this quality of “acceptance”. Acceptance is a hard game. It means, even though something is unpleasant, it has to still be taken as part of the bigger deal. The mind learns a “prasada” buddhi, as the current situation.
It does not imply we do not try to change a bad situation. We do what we can to make the situation better. But if things or circumstances are outside of our control, then we accept it gracefully and not fitfully or with gritted teeth. This is a sign of maturity, that is born of chitta shuddhi.
The path that opens up actually is the movement towards more and more actions that are directly prescribed by the Vedas – i.e. the Panchamahayagnas, followed by Upasana (meditation) and Jnanam (Study of Scriptures) , which are also Spiritual Karmas that have to be practiced. This clearly implies a withdrawal from the tumultous world to the reclusive life of spiritual practice.
This story that one can live in the world and work and yet pursue Moksha exclusively is an unvalidated dream. Only Krishna and Janaka seem to have done it. And one of them is an Avatar. Janaka might not yet have gained Moksha, as Krishna mentioned him. Maybe later, he took to an exclusive spiritual life, to attain the goal.
The conclusion is, exclusive pursuit of Moksha is inevitable for one with Mumukshtva. Karma Yoga is the lifelong building of the personality, ironing out the kinks, to prepare one for this reality. The worldly activities have to reduce to a minimum for such a pursuit.