Selfless action IS Karma Yoga

The complexity of Bhakti and Jnana Yoga are contrasted by the simplicity of Karma Yoga, which can be expressed in a single slogan:

"Selfless Action IS Karma Yoga"

Most of the practice of Karma Yoga is instructed in the Bhagavad Gita.  The theoretical basis for Karma Yoga is made upon the understanding that all things have cause and effect, and that original causation is co-arising, resulting in a self-perpetuating cycle of creation and destruction.  If a person wishes to escape the Samsara, the prison, of this self-perpetuating cycle of creation and destruction, the co-arising nature of reality must be engaged by not perpetuating reaction.

Non-action is not technically possible.  Even if we sat like a rock and only breathed, we would still have profound effects on our world and self which will result in Karmic reactions, ultimately resulting in re-death and re-birth.  However, continence in action will gradually result in a slowing of Karmic reactions, permitting the selfless action required to escape the cycle of redeath and rebirth.

What exists beyond redeath and rebirth? Consider a flame - when it is extinguished, do you say it has gone here or there, north or south, east or west?  No, the flame is but a plasmic reaction of air to heat produced in chemical combustion of wood.  "Existence" does not apply to plasma, it is a state of matter - much like "ice."  Where does the ice go when it melts into a glass of water?  Where does your self go when you die - or come from when you are reborn?  Consciousness is a spontaneous state arising out of your biological capacity.  But even a machine can become conscious, and develop self.  And then become subjected to the suffering of Samsara.  Our self changes every moment, reborn into a new existence, discovering thousands of times every second a world of pleasure and pain, a world of suffering - and a world of love.

No differentiation may be made between any conscious being, whether it is a retrovirus or a human, an animal or a god, a spirit or ghost, or even a house plant.  Each experiences reality differently, it is true, but each has suffering, each is born, grows old and weak, and dies.  Some faster, some slower - but each is worthy of compassion.

Karma Yoga requires mastering cause and effect to control your destiny, to eliminate your suffering.  The most basic training involves understanding the nature of Karma.  Some reactions occur quickly: a hand on a hot stove will immediately result in a burn.  Some actions take long, convoluted paths toward reaction.  Yet, like a tree of fruit, though some may ripen sooner or later, they will all ripen in time.  Unless the tree itself were cut down, and its root dug up.

Continence in action is practiced through performance of "duty."  Doing nothing more or less than what is required - even if it results in pain or pleasure.  Even if it requires devoting our lives, or laying down our lives.  The duties of each Ashrama vary considerably, but the principle of Karma Yoga is the same in each.    By practicing continence through duty, one can learn the value of logic, of reason: I have experienced pain or pleasure, success or failure - why?  One can then learn logic: this is the cause of my success and failure, this is the cause of my pleasure and pain.  Learning logic, one can alleviate one's pain and prevent failure, find success and pleasure.  And discover that even pleasure and success are impermanent, and cannot be sustained: the nature of reality is cyclical and the only means to avoid pain and failure is selfless action, loving action.

What is the final duty of a selfless being, a being liberated from Samsara, but compassion?  What is required by our compassion?

Sri Swami Sivananda says that the supreme Karma Yogi was the Buddha Gotama, who conceived of negatory logic, and the practice of Karma Yoga called "Buddhism."

Gotama's student, Sariputta, explained the purpose of Karma Yoga to Maha Kotthita; their conversation is remembered in the Anguttara Nikaya (9.13)

Maha Kotthita asked the monk Sariputta, “my friend, for what purpose is Buddhism practiced? Is it so that actions here and now may result in something beneficial after death?”
“No, my friend, it isn’t,” said Sariputta.
“Then is it so that actions here and now may result in something beneficial here and now?”
“No, my friend, it isn’t,” said Sariputta.
“Then is it so that pleasurable things may lose their pleasure? Or painful things lose their pain?”
“No, my friend, it isn’t,” said Sariputta.
“Then is it to hasten the ripening of good karma?”
“No, my friend, it isn’t,” said Sariputta.
“Then is it to delay the ripening of bad karma?”
“No, my friend, it isn’t,” said Sariputta.
“Then is it to minimize the consequences of bad actions?”
“No, my friend, it isn’t,” said Sariputta.
“Then is it to increase the consequences of good actions?”
“No, my friend, it isn’t,” said Sariputta.
“Then is it to transfer the consequences of actions to another?”
“No, my friend, it isn’t,” said Sariputta.
“Then is it to take upon ourselves the consequences of others’ actions?”
“No, my friend, it isn’t,” said Sariputta.
Maha Kotthita was perplexed. “So then, for what purpose is Buddhism practiced?”
Sariputta said, “Buddhism is a practice by which we come to know, see, attain, realize and understand what was previously unknown, unseen, unattained, unrealized, and mystery. Thus do we come to understand such is suffering, such is the origination of suffering, such is the end of suffering, such is the path of practice leading to the end of suffering. It is to know this, to understand this, we undertake the practice of Buddhism.”

The duty of compassion was taught by Gotama, most simplistically in the Samyutta Nikaya (45.2).   Gotama said friendship is actually the whole of holy life. When a person has friends, he can be expected to develop and pursue the noble eightfold path. And how does a person develop friendship? Develop right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration through seclusion, dispassion, cessation, relinquishment. It has been by being able to depend on my friendship that so many beings have gained freedom from suffering.