Karma Yoga Neutralizes Binding Vasanas

Hi Ted,

Lately (past few months), I seem to have been able to retain Self-knowledge (the knowledge has been readily available) and Vie been assimilating this knowledge. For many years prior to Vedanta I was in the firefly stage. My Sadhana has never been karma yoga, more like jnani yoga, which is backwards, but I didn’t know of karma yoga prior to Self-realization. I have a few binding vasanas, but find it difficult to practice karma yoga when I know I’m not the doer anyways, although I “play” one in daily life!

It’s a sort of conundrum, how do I practice something to rid binding Vasanas that aren’t mine to begin with?

How does karma yoga stop binding Vasanas anyways? If I’m smoking and give that action to Isvara (where it came from anyways) and have a attitude of gratitude for the result, how does that process stop the smoking to begin with? I don’t get how the process neutralizes likes and dislikes to begin with. I would like to clean up my jiva, but there’s a disconnect somewhere regarding how to do this.

Please advice, if you would be so kind!





Hi, Ellen.


Karma yoga is indeed the way to neutralize binding vasanas. If you have fully assimilated self-knowledge, however, and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are not the doer and, moreover, that you are unaffected by the desire-prompted behaviors and habitual tendencies hosted by the body-mind-sense complex of the apparent person you seem to be, then the vasanas (i.e., desires or preferences) are not binding.


There is nothing wrong with vasanas per se, which is to say that there is nothing wrong with desires. Desire is what motivates us to get out of bed in the morning and, moreover, is the fundamental factor that keeps the grand mechanism of the manifest universe functioning and flowering. In fact, the only reason awareness associates with a body-mind-sense complex is to provide the vasanas with a vehicle through which to find expression and a context within which to do so. The trouble arises when we identify with the body-mind-sense complex and consider our true identity to be the apparent person and, further, that we believe that certain objects—namely, those that we desire—are necessary for our well-being and that we are fundamentally enhanced or diminished by their presence or absence. That said, harboring a million non-binding desires does not impinge on our freedom, while harboring one binding desire means we are still bound.


Along these lines, rendering a vasana non-binding does not necessarily involve stopping the behavior or never again indulging the desire. Once a vasana is neutralized, it no longer exerts the same pressure on the psyche to be indulged and so one’s behavior often changes. That is, we either stop indulging it altogether or only do so irregularly. But some habits continue as strong as ever. For instance, even after attaining moksha, or liberation, Swami Chinmayananda continued to use snuff and Nisargadatta Maharaj continued to smoke bidis (i.e., cigarettes made from bidi leaves). The difference is that if one has truly attained moksha, then one is not bothered by either the presence or absence of the habit. In this regard, self-realization is an internal matter. Only you know to what degree your mind is agitated by the vasana. It requires a great degree of honesty, but if you can truly say that you are not bothered by the vasana, then you are free.


This is not a license to wantonly indulge vasanas or to transgress dharma (i.e., ethical norms) in the name of non-doership, but it is nevertheless a fact that desires are only troublesome in terms of liberation to the degree that they are binding.


Adopting the two-fold karma yoga attitude of Isvara arpana buddhi, or humbly offering one’s actions to God (i.e., the dharma-field) when acting, and Isvara prasada buddhi, or gratefully accepting whatever results ensue as a gift from God based on the knowledge that whatever results have ensued are what is best for the total, is the key to neutralizing vasanas because rather than mindlessly pursuing the fulfillment of the vasana, one develops the ability to prioritize “God’s will” over one’s own. Consequently, each time the vasana arises but is not indulged a little of its power dissipates, and over time it loses its binding grip on the psyche. This resistance to indulging the vasana, however, is not merely a matter of will, for our personal will is limited, and if the vasana is not truly neutralized but only resisted, then whenever an opportunity for its indulgence arises it will rear its ugly head and beg for fulfillment even if the context is inappropriate and involves a transgression of dharma. For this reason, self-inquiry should accompany the practice of karma yoga. One must assimilate the understanding that one is already whole and complete in order to alleviate the binding need/desire for or expectation that objects will provide the permanent happiness one seeks or simply that they are essential to one’s fundamental wellbeing. Once one has assimilated this understanding, then one can “sin intelligently” as Swami Chinmayananda used to say, all the while remaining steadfast in the unshakeable conviction that whether the object is present or absent, one’s essential nature is unaffected and is fundamentally okay.


In practical terms, the way to neutralize vasanas is to first make an honest assessment of whether they are binding. Should you determine that they are, then adopt the karma yoga attitude. Employ your personal will to the degree possible and resist indulging the vasana whenever it arises. At the same time, give yourself a break and allow yourself to indulge the desire in an increasingly moderate fashion. Also, each time you do indulge the desire, do so mindfully. That is, look unabashedly at the desire as it arises and how much pressure it exerts on your psyche and what kinds of thoughts ensue, such as what you feel you will gain from the object and why you are incapable of resisting it. Then, when you do indulge the desire, take account of how it feels to do so and what the result is of indulging the desire. Assess whether it provided what it promised. If you do this regularly, you will see the limitations of the object of your desire and its binding nature will ultimately weaken. Because the habit has been so deeply ingrained over such a long period of time, it may take some time and even considerable effort to neutralize. Ultimately, however, knowledge will supplant the erroneous belief in the power of the vasana.


All the best,