The delicate balance of Karma Yoga

“Do your work; don’t do other people’s work.”

I’ve been reading about Karma Yoga again. This precept of Karma Yoga sounded a bit uncaring and callous. Was the Bhagavad Gita telling me that I could walk through the rest of my life never helping another person?


But it was warning me to know my limits: to clearly understand the boundaries of what’s mine and what’s not mine. This way I can learn to help in the right way, at the right time. The question I have to ask myself is: when is it my work to help another person, and when is it my job to stay uninvolved and let that other person learn their own lessons? What a delicate balance.

Two stereotypes came to mind: the boss that cannot delegate and the parent that finishes their child’s homework. In both cases their ego believes that they can do a better job. Possibly that is true. At the very least, they’re more likely to have knowledge and experiences that can help them to complete the task faster. But is it their job? And does is really help the other person?

I decided I was pretty good at not assuming this kind of role, but I do overstep the boundary in another way. My justification for “helping” was different. I do other people’s work as a procrastination method for not doing my own. It’s so much easier to help, even do, someone else’s jobs than to buckle down and face what I am meant to do. Besides helping other people often gives me that warm inner glow of feeling needed.

Doing my work, rather than someone else’s, is usually a lot more challenging. It can often take me out of my comfort zone and press my buttons. It makes me work hard and reassess my ideas and beliefs about myself, about the projects that I’m doing, perhaps even about life itself. In this process I grow and I learn.

So, what I’ve taken from this quote is that whilst sometimes my work may include helping another person achieve their goals, doing their work for them holds two people back: me and them. When you do the work of someone else you may give them a temporary sense of freedom from responsibility and receive a warm fuzzy feeling inside but you’re limiting their growth.

Equally when we begin to tackle our work we’re likely to find the path littered with struggles and turns that we didn’t expect but it is at these very points we’re often most likely to undergo periods of change, development and improved understanding of ourselves. And that, I remind myself, is what yoga is all about.

Image by Trey Ratcliff

1 Comment

  1. Charles

    September 28, 2011 at 6:41 am

    Very interesting insight. Maybe I do the same. I am a teacher and maybe sometimes I help my students too much in class instead of doing my own work which would be more careful planning so that they can get to grips themselves. Thanks.

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