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Handbook of Srivaishnavism

Handbook of Srivaishnavism

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Published by MauroBonollo

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Published by: MauroBonollo on Feb 23, 2013
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Karma Yoga is defned by Ramanuja as the dutiful performance of those actions (Dharma)

both of a daily and periodic nature that are prescribed by the Scriptures with reference to one’s
social status and marital state such as. These prescribed activities are centered around the key
concepts of yajna - sacrifce, dana - charity, tapa - self-discipline, anashah - periodic fasting
and more specifcally; the fve Great Sacrifces known as Panca-maha yajna. These are to be
performed by the aspirant until death and are never to be abandoned, because according to

the Gita they are the purifers of the wise, they destroy past karma in the form of samskaras
(sub-limina activators) which is an obstacle to the spiritual path. This purifcation is achieved

in two ways:

1. Purity of Diet: from purity of food arises purity of mind; from purity of mind steady

remembrance. Pure food is defned as only those edible things which have frst been

offered to the God.


2. Performance of yajna, tapa dana with the right attitude serves to detach the mind
from sense-objects and turns it towards the Atman within.

The distinguishing factor between spiritually uplifting action - Karma Yoga and ordinary
action, is the wisdom aspect - jñanakara. Mentally one renounces the desire for the results
of the act, the idea of agency and the act itself - the ability to do this skilfully is based upon
the knowledge of the true nature of the Self. This ability to act with renunciation is developed
in two stages:

1. The frst stage consists in analysing and refecting upon the distinction between the

Self [atman] and Matter [prakrti] gives rise to the understanding that action is not
the essential nature of the Self, it arises due to the conjunction of the Self with a
material body. By constantly practicing acting without personal interest one is not
deceived into identifying Self with non-Self - that is material nature.

2. First stage realisation leads to an even deeper and more mature understanding of the
nature of action - knowing that the Selves [jivas] and Matter [prakrti] constitute
the ‘body’ as it were, of Brahman, and are activated and empowered by Him, one
realizes that the agency in every action and the act itself belong to the Supreme
Person. The atman is dependant [shesha] upon the Lord and ensouled by Him, as
well as ruled by Him - in every act it is the Lord Himself who is the ultimate agent
acting and experiencing through us who are merely his manifold “expressions” or

Thus the performance of action itself becomes a recognition of one’s, sheshatva; one’s
complete dependence upon the Lord. Every act thus becomes an act of worship, a note in the
cosmic symphony.

Karma Yoga purifes the mind in two ways:-

1. As an act of worship it pleases the Supreme Person who then erases the impurities
- the samskaras - impressions/sub-liminal activators left upon the mind by past

2. As mental renunciation - it removes the ego-sense [ahamkara] and turns the mind

away from attachment and identifcation with the objects of the senses.

The ultimate purposes of Karma Yoga is to prepare the mind for Dhyana Yoga.

Karma Yoga in short is the performance of one’s chosen personal, professional and social
duties unconditionally and as duty only, without being motivated by the personal, material,
social or spiritual rewards. The Yogi worships God through various acts of philanthropy,
social work, and by simply doing one’s chosen job and even the activities of daily living, to
the best of one’s ability in accordance with Dharma. In this practice there is no motivation

other than service to God, and no concern with rewards, be they emotional gratifcation,

esteem, fame, honour or wealth. In this way the focus is entirely on the practice which is in

the here and now. One’s every action is done with precision, effciency, attention to detail and

of course beauty.


In Srivaishnavism Karma Yoga also takes on the particular form of rendering some practical
service to the iconic form of the Lord. The Karma-Yogi contributes to the upkeep of temples,
helps to subsidise festivals and teaching programs and takes part in the choral chanting
of hymns in the temple and also performs some manual work such as cleaning temples or
assisting in the daily chores of the temple compound. This service is technically known as
kainkaryam, and is the paramount duty of every sincere Vaishnava. Even standing in front of
the deity exchanging glances (darshana) is considered to be kainkaryam.

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