As the Moon freshly wanes in Virgo, after an opposition to the Sun in Pisces, which encompass the themes of duty (Virgo) and sacrifice for a higher or spiritual cause (Pisces), I thought it would be appropriate to share this story about duty and devotion. This is from a book called Yoga is Union written by Darin Somma and Amma Sri Karunamayi.
By the way, before I quote from the book I should say that I share this story with great reverence. I have learned a lot from this book, which I revisit often for its profound wisdom, and as well I have learned much from attending yoga classes led by Darin Somma. Although this is the case, with greatest respect I must say that the jury is out for me on terms like enlightenment, and so you will please keep in mind that here on this blog there is an attitude of approaching spirituality with a sense of expansion and exploration, never prescription or rigidity. That said, the truth shines from the stories below, and I am sure you will be able to see it glimmering before you.
There is a story in the Mahābharata which extols the greatness of karma yoga. There was once a yogi who was practicing intense austerities under a peepal tree for many long years. One day he started to become very agitated that he hadn’t made any significant progress even after so much time and great effort. It so happened that day that a crow and a crane were fighting in the branches above him, and they made so much commotion that leaves fell on the yogi which disturbed his meditation. In his agitated state, he directed his anger towards those birds, and instantly a column of fire leaped from his gaze and burned the two birds to death. At first the yogi was shocked and remorseful that he had killed the birds, but then his ego started to take hold of his mystic accomplishment, and he started to feel a lot of pride about his spiritual progress and power. He went down into town to beg for alms and stopped at a humble house and made his plea. Inside he heard a woman’s voice respond to please wait and that she would be right out with some food. She was inside nursing her sick husband, but then she took a very long time to come out to the door and the yogi started thinking, “who does this woman think she is making me wait like this? She obviously doesn’t know that a being with great power has come to her door.” Inside the woman replied out loud, “I am neither crane nor crow to be burnt.” The yogi was amazed and humbled, and he asked the woman how she knew about the birds. She replied that she did not practice any austerities, but that by doing her duty with wholeheartedness that she became enlightened and could thus read his thoughts. She instructed him to visit a certain vyādha, or butcher, who would be able to answer all of his questions on duty, or dharma.
The yogi was skeptical that someone who does such filthy and ugly work could possibly be enlightened, but when he met the butcher, he was deeply moved by the wisdom that the butcher shared. After explaining that the foundation of selfless service lies in ahimsa, or nonviolence, and satya, or truthfulness, the butcher explained to the yogi that it was his karma that placed him in the circumstance of being a butcher, and that “no duty is ugly, no duty is impure. My birth placed me in these circumstances and environment. In my boyhood, I learnt the trade; I am unattached and try to do my duty well. I do my duty as a householder, and try to do all I can to make my father and mother happy. I neither know your Yoga, nor have I become a renunciate, nor did I leave the world to dwell in the forest; yet all that you have heard and seen has come to me through the unattached performance of my duty.”
The moral of this story is that just by performing one’s duty with detachment, one can attain the supreme goal of enlightenment; how wonderful! One doesn’t even have to have devotion to God in order to perform karma yoga, but it can be performed with devotion also. For those with devotion, Sri Krishna said: yat karosi yat aśhnāsi yat juhosi dadāsi yat, yat tapsyasi kaunteya tat kuausva madarpanam, “whatever action you perform, whatever you eat, whatever you give, whatever austerities you perform, do so as an offering to the Lord” (BG 9:27). Anyone can perform karma yoga and perform their duty with selflessness and detachment to the fruit of their efforts, but one easy way to cultivate this detachment to the fruit of our efforts is by making those efforts an offering to the Divine. When we offer something to God, we would never dare tell God, “hey! That’s not what I meant for you to do with that offering!” If it was a true offering, then whatever God does with our offering we will accept and even be happy about.