There are two aspects to any action. The first is to perform the action efficiently, perfectly. However perfectly an action may be performed there is always room for improvement. Hence the saying, ‘The largest room in the world is the room for improvement!’ The second aspect is the attitude with which the action is performed. Perfection in action is rather difficult but perfection in attitude is possible. If we perform actions with the right attitude, then however small or big the action, it will become great. This is beautifully illustrated by the famous squirrel in the Ramayana, who out of love for Sri Rama tried to help the monkeys build the bridge across the ocean. The squirrel first wet itself in the water, then rolled in the sand and shook off the grains of sand on the bridge. This irritated the monkeys but Sri Rama understood the squirrel’s desire to assist in this great endeavour.
So only right actions (performing one’s obligatory duties) performed with the right attitude can be termed as karma yoga; otherwise it is merely karma, action.
……There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”………
……Here’s another didactic little story. There are these two guys sitting together in a bar in the remote Alaskan wilderness. One of the guys is religious, the other is an atheist, and the two are arguing about the existence of God with that special intensity that comes after about the fourth beer. And the atheist says: “Look, it’s not like I don’t have actual reasons for not believing in God. It’s not like I haven’t ever experimented with the whole God and prayer thing. Just last month I got caught away from the camp in that terrible blizzard, and I was totally lost and I couldn’t see a thing, and it was 50 below, and so I tried it: I fell to my knees in the snow and cried out ‘Oh, God, if there is a God, I’m lost in this blizzard, and I’m gonna die if you don’t help me.’” And now, in the bar, the religious guy looks at the atheist all puzzled. “Well then you must believe now,” he says, “After all, here you are, alive.” The atheist just rolls his eyes. “No, man, all that was was a couple Eskimos happened to come wandering by and showed me the way back to camp.”…..
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Once a frog from the ocean came and jumped into a well. He got acquainted with the frog in the well and the well frog asked, ‘From where do you come?’ He said, ‘I have come from the ocean.’ The well frog asked, ‘Is it bigger than this well?’ Of course suspicion was in his eyes, doubt in his mind, ‘How can anything be bigger than this well where I live?’ The ocean frog laughed and said, ‘It is very difficult to say anything because there is no measure.’ The well frog said, ‘Then I will give you some measure so that you can.’ He jumped one quarter of the well, one fourth of the way across, and said, ‘Is it that big?’ The ocean frog laughed and said, ‘No.’ So he jumped half of the well, and said, ‘Is it that big?’ Again the ocean frog laughed and said, ‘No.’ Then he jumped three quarters and said, ‘Is it that big?’ Again the ocean frog said, ‘No.’ Then he jumped the whole well, the whole length, and said, ‘Now – now you cannot say no.’ The ocean frog said, ‘You may feel hurt, and I don’t want to be offensive, but still the answer is no.’ Then the well frog said, ‘Get out from here, you liar. Nothing can be bigger than this well!’