The Spirit of Karmayoga at Sri Aurobindo Ashram

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Editor’s note: M.P. Pandit writes about the significance of work for an aspirant’s progress. Speaking of the central role work plays in the collective life at Sri Aurobindo Ashram, he explains that when done with the right attitude and as a sincere offering to the Divine, work has an even more powerfully dynamic effect than meditation. This is because work requires the involvement of the whole being of a person.


Work – A training ground for the being

Work plays a central role in the life of the Ashram. It is treated as an important part of the yoga practised here. Work in the Ashram is not a means of livelihood, neither is it a useful occupation to spend time. It is a yoga in itself.

The injunction of the Gita, yogaḥ karmasu Kauśalam, yoga is skill in works, is the guiding motto. It is of course understood that by ‘skill’ is meant not efficiency or cleverness in performance but the art of converting activity which is normally considered to be a means of bondage into a means of liberation.

It means the art of action without being involved in the action: dedicating the work to the Divine, letting nature in its energy-aspect carry on the activity, all the while keeping the consciousness separate from the motion of energies, guiding them, watching over them, keeping them to the desired course.

From our archives:
Sri Aurobindo on Yoga and Skill in Works

Work is a training ground for learning to function without the usual desire motive, ego-motive and letting oneself develop into an instrument, an unhindered channel for the Divine Shakti.

Work and Karma

This, indeed, can be done anywhere in the spirit of Karma Yoga. There is something more to the work in the Ashram.

Years ago — nearly forty years now — a young man with a brilliant record at the university was at the threshold of his career. The future was blank to him. A far-seeing well-wisher asked him to take up regular work in the Dining Room of the Ashram for the duration of his stay. Now his work largely consisted of washing dishes, wiping them. He worked six to eight hours a day.

When asked why such an intellectual as the visitor was sent for this kind of work, the reply was that it would stand him in good stead in future. And it did. Very soon he got into promising situations and eventually rose to be a top executive in a multi-national manufacturing enterprise.

Sri Aurobindo on Work as Sadhana

Work in the Ashram has a powerful effect on one’s karma. It dissolves much of the past karma, if unfavourable; it forges good karma that creates propitious circumstances in life. The more difficult the nature of the work, the more is the effect.

The Mother has certainly placed a greater concentration of Consciousness-Force where work is more strenuous. One can feel the Presence and the Power dynamically acting in the atmosphere of these sections of the Ashram.

Work – Therapeutic and Higher than Meditation

One recalls the experience of the famous Tibetan Yogi Milarepa who was allotted an apparently meaningless and strenuous job by his teacher Marpa: to raise an edifice and when completed, rase it down. He had to do it eleven times or so before he was accepted and initiated. We are told the teacher had him go through this difficult labour in order to cancel some hard and difficult karma he had inherited from his previous lives.

Thus the more strenuous the work in the Ashram the more powerful is its effect on one’s karma. And more. It has a therapeutic value of its own. Persons in distress — mental or physical — , neurotics, melancholics, have often got over their difficulties by merely working here in the right spirit. The Force at work purifies, frees, puts one in touch with the presiding Consciousness. There is throughout a welling up of joy of closeness to the Divine. There is no fatigue.

As Sri Aurobindo describes, consecrated work of this kind generates devotion, fructifies into a living knowledge of the Divine.

All that is required is to remember that Work in the Ashram is holy. It is an opportunity to enter into the sanctum of the Presence, a privilege that is given by the Grace.

The Mother gives it as important a place as meditation if not higher. The extent of the effect of meditation is not as wide and comprehensive as that of Work.

Work involves the whole being, the mind, the heart, the vital, the physical, and done rightly, it new-creates them in the figure of the Master of Works who is also the Master of Knowledge and of Love.

To do properly the work of the Ashram one must be strong and plastic enough to know how to utilise the inexhaustible Energy which is backing you all.

I expect everybody here to rise to the height of the needs.

If we are not able to do even that much, how can we hope to be ready for the descent of the Light of Truth when it will come to manifest upon earth?…

~ The Mother, CWM, Vol. 13, p. 159

Also Read:
“I make no difference between work and yoga.”


~ Design: Raamkumar and Beloo

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