Karma Yogis Among Us
The following are the stories of two individuals with whom I had the opportunity to interact with.
Mrs. Janaki is a respectable grandmother. When I visit the Hindu Temple on weekends, 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 weekends. 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 take 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 wheelchair and her husband, himself blind in one eye. Every working day, for twenty consecutive years, Mike will stop by the McDonalds at the quadrangle, buy two packets of food and hand it over to the couple. Once when I asked Mike what makes him do every day, he responded, “Do you see the happiness in their eyes when I bring them food? I live a privileged life; they do not; buying them breakfast is the smallest way I could alleviate their suffering.”
Let me digress from these stories for a moment. One of the greatest guides of conduct and character with universal appeal is the Bhagawad Gita and, more specifically, the section on Karma Yoga. The Karma Yoga discussions stand out as a timeless and practical manual to deal with everyday dilemmas and decisions. It is a treatise on how one must live effectively in a world of challenge and change. And as Lord Krishna says, it requires that we respond to the joys and sorrows of others as if it is our own and help others, not because it accrues personal benefits but because it is the righteous thing to do (nishkama karma).
Reverting to Mrs. Janaki and Mike, we find such karma yogis to exist in all walks of life, and they transcend religion, color, caste, and creed. The world is a better place to live because of such karma yogis.
Dr. Ram S. Sriram