Karma yoga is not something which can be practised in isolation. It is a method by which all activity is transmuted into yoga by combining these activities with devotion and wisdom. My Guru, Swami Sivananda, pointed out that karma yoga must be based on devotion to God or supreme wisdom. One can use nice formulae like ‘God alone does everything’ and ‘I serve God in all’ – but how does it happen? Are we merely giving expression to some formulae? How does it feel to be in the presence of God?
It’s one of those extraordinary facts of life that, whereas you can train your thought or thinking and will yourself to think, you cannot will yourself to love. You cannot demand either that you should love somebody or that somebody should love you. It is not possible. Either that love happens or it doesn’t happen. Sometimes you can detect or discover some sort of a switch. All the bhakti (devotional) practices are like these switches. There is another problem here.
If the mind or the intellect comes into this, it blocks it. Either the mind should come into alignment with the feeling, with the heart, or stand aside.
When I develop devotion to God I might adopt certain methods suggested as the switch for this devotion, and the mind must cooperate. If I have a picture or an image, my heart considers it as an image of God, a focal point through which my consciousness can enter into God-consciousness. Now the mind or the intellect begins to fall in line with this feeling, and the intellect realises that, since God is omnipresent, He is present here in that image. I offer flowers, decorate it nicely. I stand in front of it and start praying. That statue stands there and doesn’t smile, doesn’t say “Thank you,” doesn’t say anything. After doing all that I say “Thank you God for accepting this service”. Then I come back to my friend. I do something and he sits there like God almighty. Then I remember that God also didn’t smile, didn’t acknowledge my service. I have learned a tremendous lesson. It is my privilege to do what I’m doing. Whether the other person recognises or does not recognise what I have done is immaterial, because what is done is worship of God Himself. This service is considered a privilege. I don’t expect any thanks.
Observe this very carefully. Whatever is placed on the altar some fruits, flowers or bread – becomes sacrament at the end of the service. Then it is distributed as prasad. Even so, if this attitude can really happen, then all my actions become sacred – my whole life becomes sacred, holy. That is what is called sacrifice.