Spiritual Lessons from the Whales 2: Supreme Karma Yoga

BY Parvati

Happy Mother’s Day!
As you acknowledge the mothers in your life (your own mother, your friends and relatives who are mothers, the mother of your children, the motherly figures who have given you love and compassion over the years, the ways in which you yourself are a mother), remember this beautiful planet. The Earth feeds, nourishes, supports and sustains us. The matter that is our body is given from her, so that as spiritual beings we may have human experiences. Our relationship with Mother Earth is 24/7 for life. We have a sacred contract with her to love and support her the way she loves and supports us.
This is why establishing MAPS: the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary is such a natural and urgently needed step. The planet, our mother, is suffering. We need to protect her so that she can protect us. If you have not already, please sign and share the MAPS petition at
I would like to continue my series on spiritual lessons from the whales with an exploration of whales as supreme karma yogis.
Karma yoga, a complete spiritual path in its own right, is the yoga of action. For a karma yogi, work is executed without ego, as a form of prayer. Actions are done as a means to purify your tendencies and return to the One state of undivided consciousness. It teaches you to set aside your preconceptions, surrender your wanting, release your attachments to the outcome of your action, and do what is in divine right order in the moment. In the early stages along this path, an aspirant may practice karma yoga in a few sporadic volunteer hours. Eventually, however, for the karma yogi, life flowers into an expression of selfless service to the greater whole. The karma yogi knows that to serve another is to serve oneself, as there is no separation.
The word “karma” is often associated with fate or consequences. Indeed, all actions performed with attachment create karma which must then unfold in this life or a future lifetime. To practice karma yoga is to extinguish this cycle by acting selflessly, that is, in non-attachment. This then speeds our return to the bliss of the One. A great spiritual master such as Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, Amma, is an exquisite example of a karma yogi, one who selflessly and tirelessly serves the world without any desire for personal gain or accolade.
When I look at the lives of whales, I see an effortless, natural mastery of karma yoga. Their existence serves the greater good from the moment they emerge into the world to the moment of death and beyond.
As I mentioned last week, whales support their immediate environment through what is known as the “whale pump effect”, by which they bring nutrients like nitrogen and iron up to the surface from the depths, to fertilize plant life. This brings several magnificent benefits.
As the whales dive deep to feed and return to the surface to breathe, they naturally kick phytoplankton back up to the surface where it can continue in photosynthesis from the sun’s light, and absorb more carbon. Then their fecal plumes fertilize the phytoplankton.
Through the natural upward and downward rhythms of the whale’s life, it mixes the water vertically, bringing nutrients up from the dark into the light. It also enriches nutrient-poor water through its migration between the cold Arctic waters where it feeds and the warm waters where it breeds.
The whale’s life is of service, literally from birth to death. Whales are one of the few mammals that do not eat their placentas. When a whale calf is born, the placenta is released into the water and becomes food for many other animals. This is often a transfer of nutrients from the remote rich waters where the mother fed on krill, to a more sparse environment where she gives birth. Through a whale’s lifetime, it naturally absorbs carbon into its massive body. At death, it sinks to the bottom of the ocean, sequestering that carbon in the depths. Their bodies then become host to a vibrant colony of aquatic life on the ocean floor.
A blue whale can consume up to 8,000 pounds of food every day. Yet, such massive consumption does not deplete the ecosystem. Because the whale gives life to phytoplankton and other fish, the presence of a whale in an ecosystem actually increases the animals on which it feeds!
Of note, all of this magnificent service happens naturally. The whale does not deprive itself or act outside its natural healthy rhythms to accomplish these great feats. It simply does what it is born to do. It lives in abundance and all beings benefit.
No less than the great bodies of whales, our human bodies are of the earth, the matter of our mother, arising into magnificently interconnected form to serve our spiritual growth. As such, they have the capacity for this kind of abundance, quite simply by design.
Nature’s intelligence is vast. It comprehends balance on a scale that is immense beyond our imagining, and down to a microscopic detail. Our bodies are literally karmic vehicles. Nature gives them form and shape that reflect the karmas we bring into this life. What we do with this body can be in disbalance and generate karma for future lives, or be in balance and end the cycle of karma for good.
As we evolve on the spiritual path, we come to understand that our journey is in no way separate from the greatest good of the whole. Just as the whale’s life is an instrument of service for the entire duration of its form, so too we can live as karma yogis, in a way that benefits all. Though the whale takes in what it needs, its net footprint on the planet is less than zero. It gives far more than it takes. This shows that when we choose to live in harmony with Nature and service to the whole, we prosper – and so do all things.
The positive ripple created by our selfless actions extends far beyond our own lives or what we may even see. When we act without attachment, in service to the greater whole, we support the sustenance and proliferation of all of creation. Again, looking to the whales for inspiration, I have learned that as the phytoplankton increase in the water due to the whale pump effect, their natural predators also increase. When phytoplankton is being attacked and eaten, it gives off a white cloud in the water that reflects more sunlight away from the earth, acting in some small way like the polar ice that is now vanishing and that is crucial for our survival. The whale whose fecal plume fertilized that phytoplankton might now be thousands of miles away, yet the grace of its selfless actions continues to unfold.
So may it be for us. We see so little of the universal picture. We do not know all the fruits our actions may come to bear with time. But we do not need to know. We are simply called to surrender our wanting and reclaim our true nature as vehicles of service, healing and balance.
May our footprint on the planet be light: the luminosity of our true interconnected nature. (If you have yet to enjoy it, please listen to my song “I Am Light” that encourages us to do just that).
Until next week, remember,
Love yourself.
Love others.
Love our world.
We are one Earth family.