Karma-Yoga and Karma-Sannyasa
Sri Krishna had clearly expounded the nature of absolute Reality, Samkhya-Buddhi (path of knowledge), and Yoga-Buddhi
(path of self-less action) to Arjuna in second chapter; He had also explained that purification of mind is achieved through the path of
self-less action which later matures into realization of Self/God. But Arjuna’s ‘still-partly-deluded’ mind mixed up the ideas of knowledge
and karma (action, its results) and he asked Krishna: ‘if you believe that knowledge is superior to karma then why are
you encouraging me in the terrible karma of war; your words appear contradictory and confusing to me! Please tell me the one
thing which will help me achieve the Highest good’.
Majority of aspirants, as also most human beings, are so constituted by Nature that they can’t remain without work even for a moment; all mental and physical activities go on uninterrupted as propelled by the Nature. In such a scenario if anybody insists that he/she will not perform any work, then it is not only futile and hypocritical but also detrimental to the journey towards the supreme state of नैष्कर्म्य Naishkarmya (freedom from action) i.e. मोक्ष Moksha (Liberation). So long as all the desires of heart are not dissolved, work in some form or other remains and hence spiritual aspirants should follow Karma-Yoga for the purification of heart; the purified heart/mind is then capable for the dawn of supreme Knowledge. Work done for selfish reasons becomes bondage and causes transmigration of soul, whereas work done unselfishly for the benefit of many and with the attitude of surrender to the Divine, purifies mind.
Ø First ‘Me’ then ‘others, world’ and then ‘God’ = selfishness (स्वार्थ swarth)
Sri Krishna also uses the concept of यज्ञ yajna (ritualistic sacrifice that were common in Vedic India) to explain the rational of karma-yoga; the ritualistic idea of yajna is taken here in Gita to mean renunciation, service, surrender to Divine, and ethical behavior based on the understanding of inter-connectedness of cosmos. It also implies that spirituality is not mere theory or philosophy but actual performance of unselfish actions and transformation of consciousness. The inter-connectedness and inter-dependence of entire phenomenon is explained with the concept of yajna (refer the diagram below).
transactions have no use to him/her; yet if such a being is active then those actions are only for the benefit of others and as a moral
guide/example for humanity. Sri Krishna says, ‘I have nothing to be achieved or done in the three worlds, yet I continue to be active
participant in this world in order to be an example for others to follow’.
Ø गुणविभाग Gunavibhaga – five
phenomenal elements/forces (Space, Air, Fire, Water, Earth), five senses of perception, five senses of action, mind, intellect, memory, ego.
Though knower of Truth realizes the truth about this play of Prakriti and observes others being deluded by these gunas, he/she does not disturb the ignorant suddenly lest the ignorant gets totally confused. Sri Krishna says, a realized being should function in such a way as to gradually guide the ignorant towards ever higher truths. Spiritual aspirants – fit for the path of Karma-Yoga – should perform all actions (mental and physical) by engaging the calm and devoted mind in the ‘inner Krishna’ i.e. the center of Pure Consciousness in heart; also the actions should be performed without any attachment or expectation for results. This makes the heart/mind pure and subtle, which is then able to grasp the real ‘I’ – the birth-less and death-less pure Self. Sri Krishna further warns that those who do not follow this supremely beneficial teaching and natural path offered for Liberation, are deluded in every aspect of knowledge since their minds are polluted by excessive & blind attachment to senses.
Ø प्रकृति Prakriti – bundle of past memory
impressions (पूर्व-संस्कार Purva-Samskara)
Each being – in mental as well as physical dimension – is a product of Prakriti and has to act out his/her this nature in life; without understanding this fact if mere suppression of tendencies is attempted then it is of no avail, rather it can prove to be harmful. For spiritual progress, sublimation of desires under the guidance of discriminative intelligence and moderation of senses is essential and not their brute or forceful suppression. The senses have natural tendency to run after the pleasures of external sense-objects; this later turns into pain; the cycle of likes and dislikes, based on this condition of senses, molds mind to roam only outward and thus ruins it’s capacity to search ‘within’ for the real and permanent bliss of the Self. Thus not properly moderating the senses causes the aspirant to deviate from the path of self-less service and surrender to God/Self. Hence scriptures and saints rightly describe these attractions and repulsions based on ‘sense-determined-values’ as ‘robbers of wisdom’. Each one has his/her own Dharma (mental setup, dispositions, tendencies etc.); one should understand that and act accordingly. It is always better to follow one’s own Dharma than to emulate someone else’s Dharma; to try to learn from others is fine but blind imitation is no good.
After listening to Sri Krishna’s profound words about Prakriti and Dharma, Arjuna asked following question: ‘What compels human beings to commit sin?’ Human beings are, as it were, forced to walk down wrong path; what is the compelling force for this? Though in second chapter, Sri Krishna had explained the chain of destruction due to delusion and sense-attachment, here Arjuna wishes to know the precise nature of this enemy of righteousness so that it can be located and destroyed. Then Lord (भगवान Bhagawan) Sri Krishna replied: ‘It is desire and anger that are all-powerful and destructive for embodied souls and are great enemies of Knowledge in this world.’
@ भगवान Bhagawan : ऎश्वर्यस्य समग्रस्य धर्मस्य यशस: श्रिय: ।
उत्पत्ति प्रलयं चैव भूतानामागति गतिम् ।
The desire to seek something outside of ourselves gives rise to anger and other chain of troubles; it destroys peace, serenity, and happiness. The covering of desires on Self could be thin (as if smoke covering fire), medium (as if dust covering mirror), or thick (as if membrane covering fetus) and accordingly the personality is serene (सात्विक satvik), active (राजसिक rajasik), or inert (तामसिक tamasik); these three analogies can also be taken as:
This being the fact, the knowers of Truth and advanced spiritual aspirants know desires as enemies of knowledge and are always alert about it. Ordinary, deluded human beings consider desire as friend and eagerly enjoy pleasures; later when these pleasures inevitably produce their reaction as pain, human beings realize that desires are enemies and not friends! Spiritual aspirants should be aware of the fact that desires are never quenched by fulfilling them; they are bottomless pits and need to be made ineffective by control of senses based on viveka (spiritual discrimination), sublimation of their force, and finally by Knowledge of Self. Desires are located at or cause infection at: senses, mind and buddhi (intellect/heart); senses are subtler than gross body, mind is subtler than senses and buddhi is subtler than mind. More subtle an entity, vaster and ‘inner’ is its dimension; human energy resources are thus arranged in an increasing order of subtlety, interiority, and immensity. The Self is subtler than buddhi and is the subtlest of all; It is the ever-pure substratum which never gets infected with desires or anger! The experience of duality i.e. ‘I am the enjoyer of the world which is separate from me’ is the basic ignorance and source of all desires and the mechanism through which this force of desires works is: sense-objects -> senses -> mind -> buddhi. Being deluded by ignorance and this ‘desire structure’ for many lives, the embodied soul gets trapped in transmigration. In order to realize the inherent glory, purity, and freedom of the Self, the soul now has to renounce/get rid of the ‘desire structure’ by first controlling the senses and then overcoming the false division of duality. This can be achieved by taking a firm stand on the subtlest, ever-pure, ever-present, infinite Pure-Consciousness-Bliss Self!
Sri Krishna now introduces the sublime concept of Divine Incarnation. In Upanishads we find the impersonal aspect of Self being stressed
but in later scriptural developments in India like Bhagawad-Gita and Puranas, we find the personal aspect of Self – especially manifestation
in human form – being stressed; the श्रुति Shruti (i.e. the Upanishads) tends towards ज्ञान
Jnana (Knowledge) aspect of Truth while the स्मृति Smruti (i.e. Puranas, History, Tantras)
tends towards भक्ती Bhakti (Devotion) aspect.
'The theory of incarnation is the first link in the chain of ideas leading to the recognition of the oneness of God and man. God appearing first in one human form, then re-appearing at different times in other human forms, is at last recognized as being in every human form, or in all men. Monistic is the highest stage, monotheistic is a lower stage.’
From the absolute standpoint of the Self, everything and everybody is an incarnation of Self/God and difference between souls is only due to degree of manifestation of consciousness; Swami Vivekananda says:
'The difference between man and man, between angels and man, between man and animals, between animals and plants, between plants and stones is not in kind, because everyone from the highest angel to the lowest particle of matter is but an expression of that one infinite ocean, and the difference is only in degree.’
'That is what this Jnana-Yoga teaches. It tells man that he is essentially divine. It shows to mankind the real unity of being, and that each one of us is the Lord God Himself, manifested on earth. All of us, from the lowest worm that crawls under our feet to the highest beings to whom we look up with wonder and awe – all are manifestations of the same Lord.’
'क्षिप्रं हि मानुषे लोके...'
and 'चातुर्वर्ण्यं मया...' : Human society
is geared up for work and its results, hence people seek objects of phenomenon and not God. Among entire humanity, it is India which
developed the scientific and rational division of society into four वर्ण Varnas (categorization as per
temperament) and four आश्रम Ashramas (categorization as per station in life/phase of life).
This wonderful mold for society ensures systematic functioning of 'work-and-its-result' mechanism and it also ensures stability &
progress of individual along with society.
The above division of society into prominent four types was done according to the temperament (गुण guna) of individuals; the works (कर्म karma) assigned to individuals of these four types were also appropriate to their temperaments. Since gunas obstruct the light of the Self in proportion to their 'thickness/thin-ness', the karma possible for an individual with those gunas is also accordingly assigned. It is obvious that a person of Brahmana/satwa guna (predominance of serenity, inclination towards knowledge) would be most unsuitable for Shudra karma (physical service and labor) and vice versa. Thus वर्णाश्रम Varnashrama system (categrization of society as per temperament and phase of life of individuals) was the best possible mould for any human society; this is pointed out by Swami Vivekananda as:
‘This system of division into different Varnas is the stepping-stone to civilization, making one rise higher and higher in proportion to one's learning and culture.'
The distortion and failure of this system in India was due to its abuse through making of privileges for certain sections and making it hereditary and thus ignoring gunas; says Swami Vivekananda:
‘Now the original idea of Jati was this freedom of the individual to express his nature, his Prakriti, his Jati, his caste; and so it remained for thousands of years. ... The present caste is not the real Jati, but a hindrance to its progress. It really has prevented the free action of Jati, i.e. caste or variation. Any crystallized custom or privilege or hereditary class in any shape really prevents caste (Jati) from having its full sway; and whenever any nation ceases to produce this immense variety, it must die. ... Every frozen aristocracy or privileged class is a blow to caste and is not caste. ... This variety does not mean inequality, nor any special privilege.'
The Shudra Varna was not अस्पृश्य asprushya (untouchable), rather being part of Vedic Jati (caste/variation) system, it was an important and respectable section of society. In Vedic system only the अंत्यज antyaja (one who does not act as per his/her temperament and attempts something for which he/she is unsuitable by temperament) was deprecated.
Sri Krishna now explains the technique of Karma-Yoga, following which, mind can be made pure. If all actions - mental as well as physical - are performed with no attachment to results and with an attitude of surrender to God or Divine Incarnation, then the heart/mind is purified quickly. A purified heart is the most basic and important prerequisite for Self-realization. By following this practice of Karma-Yoga, spiritual aspirant achieves the skill of performing actions yet remaining detached from them; the aspirant is able to perform actions externally while remaining in touch with the Self internally. Thus the actions and their results do not stick to the aspirant and he/she becomes free of transmigration cycle.
Ø कर्तृत्व kartrutva ('I am the doer
of actions' mentality) and भोक्तृत्व bhoktrutva ('I am the enjoyer of
the results of actions' mentality) can not be there in insentient body neither can it be in the 'change-less infinite Pure-Consciousness-Bliss'
Self; it is the wrong superimposition of these two that gives rise to जीव jiva(transmigrating soul).
Without purification of heart through Karma-Yoga, Self-realization is not possible and without the knowledge of the Self, the deep mystery
of Karma, phenomenal existence, and transmigration remains unsolved. Self-realized seers abide in Self all the time and thus though externally
they appear to be engaged in actions, really they are never attached to any action or its result.
Ø 'गतसंगस्य मुक्तस्य... ...
यज्ञायाचरतः...' - all karma as yajna i.e. the consciousness
of duality - 'I and world' or 'subject and object' - is offered as an oblation to the fire of 'play of infinite Pure-Consciousness-Bliss'.
Thus being merged in Self, there is no 'I and mine' sticking to the seer as also no karma sticking!
Various yajna types are described in order to highlight the uniqueness and superiority of ज्ञान-यज्ञ
Jnana-yajna (sacrifice of Knowledge).
A spiritual aspirant practicing any type of yajna - i.e. one who is performing sadhana for मुक्ति
Mukti (Liberation), gradually purifies his/her mind through these sadhanas and purified mind leads to Self-realization.
This is so because purified mind makes the aspirant understand that the Self is devoid of साधन-साध्य
saadhan-sadhya (means and goal); the Self is transcendent to all karma (mental, physical actions) and karma-phala
(action-results); It is ever-present Reality. Thus sadhanas are useful only to remove the mind-obstacles to this understanding;
later the knowledge of the Self directly liberates the aspirant and is not dependent on anything.
@ The analogy of Knowledge burning up all karmas as the fire burns up all the fuel is fine but a better analogy is given by Sri Ramakrishna, 'darkness in a room from thousands of years vanishes instantly as soon as a match-stick is lit in the room'. This is so because body-mind are not something real and concrete; they are dream imaginations of the Self, easy to dispel by turning the light of the Self towards them. The body-mind-complex and external world appear real & concrete only because of the Reality of the Self is superimposed on them.
The basic prerequisites for Self-realization are: control of senses, steady and regular spiritual practice, and श्रद्धा
shraddha (dynamic faith). Without faith nothing secular can be achieved what to speak of spiritual. Those who have no idea of
the real Self, are devoid of shraddha and have doubting mind; they can neither enjoy this world nor the next and they thus
surely perish. One with doubting mind can have no peace and happiness.
Ø There are two types of सन्न्यास (sannyasa):
At the end of chapter four, by the word karma-sannyasa, point (1) mentioned above was intended (as Jnana was applied to the word); whereas here at the beginning of fifth chapter, the same word refers to point (2) (devoid of Jnana; renouncing karma without full purification of mind)! This can be understood in the light of explanation given in above paragraph. (For more discussion on the topic please refer Jnana and Karma)
Arjuna seems to repeat the question he had asked at the beginning of third chapter; Sri Krishna had explained the two types of hearts (Buddhi) among humans – one suitable for Jnana-Yoga while other requiring Karma-Yoga to be practiced for purification of psyche. Sri Krishna had also indicated that Arjuna should fight i.e. do his karma in Karma-yoga way since Arjuna’s detachment at that moment was due to delusion of ‘me & my people’ (मोहज-वैराग्य mohaja-vairagya) and not due to proper discrimination (विवेकज-वैराग्य vivekaja-vairagya). Momentary detachment born out of some extraneous factor can never go far on spiritual path and karma cannot be got rid of by renouncing it, rather only by performing it in right spirit (detached attitude and dedication to God) can one rise above it. But Arjuna still seems not to get the message and after hearing from Sri Krishna the great praise of Jnana as well as instructions to do Karma, wonders which he should follow; and hence his question here again at the beginning of fifth chapter. Sri Krishna now puts across the point that both Jnana-Yoga and Karma-Yoga are beneficial and lead to same goal but out of the two, Karma-Yoga is safer and easier. (Please refer figure below showing roughly the way to Jnana through the two types of hearts [Buddhis])
Sri Krishna says, ‘a karma-yogi who is free from likes and dislikes, does not hate anybody, and is free from desires, is always a sannyasi; he/she is easily freed from all bondage. These two paths – Karma-Yoga and Jnana-Yoga – lead to the same goal of Moksha; knowers of Truth declare this fact while those with immature minds say that these two paths lead to different goals! Without purification of heart/mind, true sannyasa is difficult to attain and one who performs his actions in Karma-Yoga way – i.e. without keeping an eye on results and dedicating them to God – very soon attains to true sannyasa.’
Ø समत्वबुद्धि (samatvabuddhi) i.e equanimity
of mind is the result while कर्मयोग (karmayoga) is the means to it; together they are
referred as योग (yoga). And ज्ञान (jñana) is the result while कर्मसन्न्यास
(karmasannyasa) is the means to it; together they are referred as सांख्य (samkhya) in Gita.
In all actions, it is the motive force behind the action that matters; if the sense that ‘I desire something and I am the performer of action, I should get the result of this action etc.’ is strong then it is the desires that are propelling the actions and hence consequently soul is bound to transmigration through various bodies and Peace/Liberation is not attained. While if the sense that ‘I long for nothing except Liberation and I am just an instrument in the hands of Divine’ is maintained then actions are done by duty-conscious mind or as a service to the Lord and hence they cease to bind the soul; even while performing all actions, such a soul perceives all-pervading Self and feels inner freedom. This is the secret of Karma-Yoga. Thus selfish, desire prompted motive binds while unselfish, God-oriented motive liberates; the change in 'orientation of motive' along with intelligent control of body and senses is Karma-yoga, and its result is purification of mind/heart. Purified mind/heart is fit to contemplate Self/God uninterruptedly leading to Moksha.
Ø प्रारब्ध (prarabdha) is to do
with the present birth and life-situations arising in it; it is a small part of the ‘total संस्कार
(samskara) balance’ that has started fructifying. पुरुषार्थ (purusartha)
in human birth is to do with inner handling of samskaras with the help of बुद्धि (buddhi).
The prarabdha may go on as it is destined to go on, but there is inner freedom of purusartha which can make tremendous
change; it can bind the soul further to transmigration chain or it can lead to loosening from the hold of samskaras and
enjoying inner joy of Self!
Sri Krishna had explained the ideal aspirant who abides in Self (ज्ञाननिष्ठ) (verses 5.13, 14) and then later he explains the state of 'ideal Self-realised soul' (ज्ञानी) (verses 5.18, 19) who has matured from 'abiding-in-Self' (ज्ञाननिष्ठा) to Self-Knowledge (ज्ञान). Performing duties with inner awareness of Self gradually leads to more and more absorption in Self and we get an 'ideal Karma-Yogi', further intensification on Self-awareness leads to 'same-sightedness-towards-all' (समदर्शिनः) and Self-Knowledge matures within heart. Such souls always get their joy and light from inner Self and not from outer sense-objects since they know that sense-pleasure has the defect of being always associated with pain (दुःखयोनयः) and is short-lived (आद्यन्तवन्तः); Swami Vivekananda says, 'Happiness presents itself before man, wearing the crown of sorrow on its head. He who welcomes it must also welcome sorrow.' So long as the body lasts, spiritual aspirants should be very careful about the force of desires/ lust (काम),/ attachments and anger (क्रोध) which are bound to rise due to various reasons in life; he/she should be extra cautious and vigilant in this regard as these two are the greatest obstacles on the path to Self-Realization. Sri Krishna says one who is able to withstand these forces throughout life, without succumbing to them, is a true yogi and a happy, contended person. After realizing the Self, an aspirant is liberated (मुक्ति) from the cycle of transmigration and since ब्रह्म is free from any activity - mental or physical - the aspirant attains (ब्रह्मनिर्वाण)
@ अभितः - Always, every moment of life and even after life, the ब्रह्मनिर्वाण which a Self-realized soul attains, is ever-present, eternally.
Sri Krishna thus gives many characteristics of Self-realized souls and explains to Arjuna that work done in detached manner too, ultimately
leads to this state. Starting from second chapter onwards till the end of fifth chapter, Sri Krishna explained to Arjuna the two paths
for Self/God-Realisation - path of Knowledge and path of selfless-action; and He praised the path of selfless-action, as it was the
path best suitable for Arjuna - and in fact is also most suitable for majority of humanity. Swami Saradananda - biographer and monastic
direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna - has beautifully summarized the essence of first five chapters of Bhagawad-Gita: 'The goal of first
five chapters of Gita is to establish proper relationship and understanding (सामंजस्य)
between Work (कर्म) and Knowledge (ज्ञान)'