Karma Yogis Among Us
The following is a story of two individuals with whom I had the honor to interact with.
Mrs. Janaki is a respectable grandmother. When I visit the Hindu Temple on week-ends, she usually joins me for the ride. During one of these visits, I noticed Mrs. Janaki consoling a woman at the temple who was crying. While returning from the temple, Mrs. Janaki said nothing about the woman. But, she requested me if I could give her a ride to the temple for eight consecutive week-ends. I said, yes. Each week, Mrs. Janaki would perform 108 pradakshina at the Anjaneyar Sannidhi. At the end of the eighth week, I asked Mrs. Janaki, “Is everything OK at your home?” She smiled and said, “Yes. Do you remember the woman I was speaking to a few weeks ago at the temple? “Who is she?” I asked. Mrs. Janaki replied, “I do not know her; I had never met her before. She appeared depressed; so I took the liberty of introducing myself to her and asking why she appeared depressed. The woman then shared with me that her daughter, about forty years of age, had recently been diagnosed with cancer and that, as a mother, she is devastated. I did not know how to console her. The only thing I could offer to do for her is to pray to God and hope that her daughter would recover from her ailment.” I asked Mrs. Janaki, “You do not even know this woman and yet you took the vow?” Mrs. Janaki responded, “It does not matter whether I know her. She is a fellow human being who is suffering and the least I should do is partake in her sorrow.”
Mike was my colleague at the university. We both took the suburban train to downtown Atlanta where the university is located. When we reach the station, we walk through a quadrangle where several homeless individuals will be sitting around asking for alms. One of these homeless is a young couple – the wife, paralyzed below the waist and sitting on a wheel chair and her husband, himself blind in one eye. Every working day, for twenty consecutive years, Mike would stop by the Mcdonalds located at the quadrangle, buy two packets of food and hand it over to the couple. The husband will immediately open the packet and feed his wife before eating his own breakfast. Once I asked Mike what makes him do this every daytime and he responded, “Do you see the happiness in their eyes when I give them the food? I live a privileged life; they do not; buying them a breakfast is the smallest thing I could do to alleviate their less-privileged lives.”
Let me digress for a moment from Mrs. Janaki’s and Mike. One of the greatest treatises on conduct and character is Karma Yoga propounded by Sri Krishna in the Bhagawad Gita. The Karma Yoga discussions stand out as a timeless and most valuable manual on living effectively in a world of challenge and change. Sri Krishna says, one of the actions we must take in our everyday life is participate in the joys and sorrows of others and offer service to others when needed and do so, not because such action would accrue personal benefits but because it is the righteous thing to do (nishkama karma – act without desires or expectations).
Reverting back to the two karma yogis I had described earlier, Mrs. Janaki and Mike, we find such karma yogis to exist in all walks of life. They transcend religion, color, caste, creed, and material wealth. The Janakis and Mikes, the karma yogis of this world, make the world a better place to live.