As a matter of fact, you will find that even when teachers do not want to put forth their views in an extremely philosophical form, almost all of them will tell you, Yes, practise some action: do good deeds, worship the Lord, go on pilgrimages, serve holy people, do some noble work, and so on. Your mind will be purified and devotion will grow in your heart and through that eventually you will learn how to meditate, and in meditation you will be able to realize God.’
But suppose you do not care about God or about meditating on Him. Is there then any possibility of your attaining to the truth? If we read the Gita itself, without being influenced by the interpretations of the commentators, we find it clearly stated that by the performance of action alone one is able to realize the highest. Sri Krishna says, By action alone Janaka and others attained to the truth, attained to Me.’1 Of course the interpreters at once take hold of that and put a little pressure here and a little pressure there, and you find it is no longer what is stated in the Gita.
I must say that after Sri Krishna, the one other great spiritual teacher who dwelt on this path was Swami Vivekananda. His book Kanna-Yoga is well known. Don’t seek in that book literary grace, or good organization of material, as if it were written for literary purposes. If you had heard the great teachers like Christ and Buddha, you probably would have found an infinite number of mistakes, grammatical and otherwise, in their speech. When these things were recorded by the disciples they edited them. Disciples become exceedingly sensitive to any imperfection in their teacher; so they begin to edit the teacher and the teacher’s words, and by the time those words come down to you, you have nice little flowing sentences. The disciples have paid their debt to the teacher. But if you ever have an opportunity of coming across the literal words of a great teacher, you should never seek these things there good grammar, good organization, and so on. Try to understand what they’re saying to you; these are actually inspired words in a most literal sense. And Swami Vivekananda’s Karma-Yoga is a book of that order. I 1 have not the least doubt that as time passes it will become more and more a gospel of humanity. The Swami himself thought it was his greatest work. In that book he went so far as to say that one need not have any faith in God in order to realize the highest, and for his illustration of the ideal karma yogin he chose Lord Buddha Buddha, who did not believe in God or any such thing at all. In other words, Swami Vivekananda pointed out that the practice of karma yoga does not require any kind of religious view, or, for that matter, any special mode of life or action. The fact is, a pure karma yogin might not be recognized as a yogin at all. He could sometimes be looked upon as one of millions you would not see any difference in him. Sometimes, however, you will recognize this difference he is not living for himself, he is living for others, living unselfishly. But sometimes you won’t notice even this, because some karma yogins live solely within the scope of their normal duties family duties, for example.
You have read of one such yogin in Swami Vivekananda’s story of the butcher, which originally occurs in a section of the Mahabharata called Vyadha Gita’, that is to say, Song of the Butcher’ not that the butcher sang, but he gave instruction. You remember the story: a young brahmin left home, lived in the woods, and became a great ascetic. By his austerities he gained some miraculous powers, and one morning he looked with annoyance at a crow and just by his look burnt it to ashes. He felt he had achieved, and so he returned to the world. That noon he appeared at the door of a house and expected to be welcomed, to be given dinner and so on. Nobody responded; so he became very annoyed. After a time the housewife appeared at the door. Sir,’ she said, I am just now attending to my sick husband. After I have finished, I shall offer hospitality to you. No use looking at me like this. I am not a crow that you can burn me to ashes.’ Of course the young man was flabbergasted. He had not spoken to anyone about what had happened in the woods. How could this woman know about it? So he waited, and afterwards the woman gave him dinner. Then he asked, How did you know I had burned a crow to ashes?’ And she said, You see, I have a teacher. He is a butcher. And he taught me that if I did my duties without attachment in my heart, then I would attain to illumination. I do my duty as it is apportioned to me in my station in life; that is all the yoga I practise. But I do not crave for the results of it; I try to do my duty in the best spirit possible. And it is in this way that I have become illumined.’ The young brahmin became very eager to know more, and so she directed him to her teacher. She said, Go so many miles and you will come to a marketplace and there you will find him selling meat. Tell him that I have sent you to him.’