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. During weekends, when I visit the Hindu Temple, she would join me for the ride. During one of the visits, in the main hallway of the temple, I noticed Mrs. Janaki speaking to a woman at the temple who appeared to be crying. When returning from the temple, Mrs. Janaki did not say anything about the woman and I did not ask her either. However, Mrs. Janaki asked me if I could give her a ride to the temple for the next eight weeks. I said, yes. Each week, soon after we enter the temple, Mrs. Janaki would go by the Anajaneyar Sannidhi and do 108 pradakshina.
When it was around the eighth week, I finally took the liberty of asking Mrs. Janaki, “Are you OK? Is everything all right at your home?” She smiled and said, “Yes.” After a few minutes of silence, she turned to me and said, “Do you remember the woman I was speaking near the Andal Sannidhi a few weeks ago? I replied, “Yes. Who was she?” Mrs. Janaki, “I do not know her; I had never met her before. She appeared depressed and so I went and sat next to her, introduced myself and, after a few minutes, I asked her, “Are you OK? If you do not want to talk to me, I will understand.” After about ten minutes of silence, the woman opened up. She said that her daughter, forty years of age, had recently been diagnosed with cancer. And, as a mother, she is devastated. I did not know how to console her.” Mrs. Janaki continued, “The only thing I could offer to do for her is to pray to God for his grace in saving her daughter.”
I smiled at Mrs. Janaki and said, “You have never met this woman before and you do not even know who her daughter is, and, yet, you took a vow for them?” Mrs. Janaki responded, “It does not matter whether I know her or her daughter. They are fellow human beings; I may not be able to cure her daughter’s cancer; at least, I can pray to god to alleviate the suffering of the mother and the daughter.” I did not say anything but turned and looked at Mrs. Janaki admiringly and thought to myself, “What an amazing women!”
Mike was my fellow faculty colleague at the university. For over 15 years, most days of a working week, Mike and I will travel together on a suburban train to downtown Atlanta where the university is located. At the destination, we must walk through a quadrangle where several homeless individuals will be sitting asking the passers-by for alms. One of these homeless was a young couple – the wife paralyzed below her waist and sitting on a wheelchair and her husband, also handicapped, standing beside her. When we reach the quadrangle, will stop by the Mcdonalds near the quadrangle, buy two packets of food and hand it over to the homeless couple. The husband will immediately open the packet and hand the food to his wife for her to eat first. One day, I asked Mike, “What makes you do this all the time?” Mike responded, “Do you see the happiness in the couple’s eyes when I give them the food? Ram, you and I live a privileged life; they do not; the smallest sacrifice I can make is, buy them a breakfast. But, it goes a long way in satisfying their hunger.”
The Bhagavad Gita is one of the greatest treatises on selfless service. In the Gita, Sri Krishna says, every day of our lives, we must offer our services to alleviate the suffering of others, without expecting any rewards or recognition for such service. The Gita calls it Nishkama karma – selfless and desireless action. Mrs. Janaki and Mike, karma yogis, are living examples of Nishkama Karama. They are not exceptions either. We will find karma yogis like Mrs. Janaki and Mike in all walks of life. And, they also transcend religion, color, caste, and creed. It is these karma yogis who make the world a better place to live.