While bringing up a baby, is one who feeds milk superior and one who cleans the cradle is inferior? Is the person who rocks the cradle superior to the one who takes the baby to the toilet? Due to the love a mother has for the baby, she is equi-poised towards all activities that have to be done to keep him healthy and happy. There is no evaluation of the work as superior or inferior. Even in the service of Bhagavān, it is similar; there is no superior or inferior. Āñjaneya carried the mountain; the squirrel carried a little sand.
There was a lady in our town. She had lost her family at a very young age. She was one of the living saints I had seen. She would wake up at four in the morning. Among the temples in the town, there were two or three which were very big; there were four to six smaller temples in one temple. The previous evening, she would visit all places that had cows and collect dung. Before sunrise, she would wake up, mix that dung with water she had carried from the village tank (in those times, there were no taps) in a big vessel. Then she would go to the temple, sweep, mop and clean it with this water, while singing devaranāmas. Then she would decorate the premises with rangoli. In this way, all seven days of the week she had a menial job without salary. She had some fields that provided enough to eat once a day. Think about this life. Whose devotion is more — devotion of those who perform sahasra-bilvārcana and lakṣa-mallige arcana? Or that of this lady? Can anyone say that the service a brāhmaṇa performs to Bhagavān is superior to that performed by others?
The same is expressed by Browning in his verse drama “Pippa Passes”. Pippa was a worker girl in a silk factory in Italy. She was an orphan. She had only one holiday in the whole year, the day of the new year. Once the day of the new year arrived. She thought “I should be very happy today”, and singing thus with a pure and light heart, went about the town :
God’s in His Heaven,
All’s right with the world.
This song was heard by some people who were engaged in some wrongdoing, and they all felt a little remorseful. She did not have any intention of elevating them. She didn’t even know that such people existed. She thought everyone was good, and had no notion of bad. Her song influenced many people for the better. Another part of the song is this:
All service ranks the same with God ;
If now, as formerly, He trod
Paradise, His presence fills
Our earth. Each only as God wills
Can work — God’s puppets, best and worst
Are we. There is no last nor first.
We are all toys in the hands of the divine — all of us. Who is first, and who is last? All services rank equally in divine calculation. Whatever karma one performs, it culminates according to his divine will. This is the essence of “tena vinā tṛṇamapi na calati”. This is the idea of the story in Kenopaniṣad. Bhagavān might order some people to sweep the floor. He might ask some others to carry and bring water. He might say to some others to roll the carpet. The others might be asked to sit quiet and answer when someone walks in. We are all toys in his hands. We act according to the movement of his string, There is nothing in this world that is too insignificant. Nor is there anything that suprasses everything else in importance. From the point of view of service, everything is equal. This is the perspective of the poet Browning. This is seen in the Rāmāyaṇa also. Āñjaneya carried a hill, whereas the squirrel carried a little sand. There was a difference in capabilities; but there was equality in the mindset.
The poet Milton became blind. He prayed thus “God, you took away my eyes and deprived me of my daylight. Now my life is perpetually night. What service can I perform? But I have one satisfaction:
…. God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts. Who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve Him best. His state
Is kingly : thousands at His bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait.
On his blindness
“Bhagavān does not need man’s service. He does not need the naivedyas and offerings given to him. The benefit is anyway to the person who performed it. Bhagavān imposes a tax of duty upon man. Those who accept it without protest are his servants. Bhagavān is an emperor. Thousands of people run about on land and sea to do his bidding. They are all his servants. If he orders some of them to not walk about and stay put in one place as sentries, doing that is also a service to him. The divine gave me blindness and asked me to stay in one place. This is also a service to him. I do this service happily.
The opinion of both Browning and Milton is about following instructions without fail. Our chance to elevate ourselves is the position, profession, worldly karma that has fallen to our lot by divine design. The Gītā instructs us to use it like that. The teaching embedded in the story of Dharmavyādha in the Mahābhārata is also the same.
In the present age, our world has become a toy in the hands of the greed-fiend. Various sciences, machinery and other technologies are finding their culmination in creating wealth. Food, clothes, vehicles and ostentation are the ultimate life-goals for everyone. Countries compete with one another, as do humans. Brothers compete with one another. In this mad marathon, the differentiating lines between different family professions has been erased. The job of a brāhmaṇa is not encouraged. There is no opportunity for a kṣatriya at all. Where is he now? Today’s soldier just deploys bombs. Today’s ruler is a representative of all people. So a kṣatriya is jobless. No one likes to be called a śūdra now. Isn’t it today’s slogan that everyone is equal to everyone else in all ways? Who in the world is ready to serve someone else? Therefore the only profession that is left in today’s world is that of vaiśyas. Earning money itself is the dharma for everyone now. Those who call themselves brahmins are at the forefront in this path. It cannot be said that engineering, medicine and law are brahminical professions. A clerk’s job is also not special to a brahmin. No one can argue that government service is for a brahmin. When the British stepped into India, they had to take the help of Indians for their service and help. Then, brahmins who were rooted traditionally in jobs of the intellect rushed to learn English and gained offices and government posts. Other varṇas followed them. With this joined the attraction of other professions born out of the influence of the industrial revolution in Europe. The old system of occupations collapsed. Thus, the world is wearing a different facade in various ways. Thought for earning a livelihood has increased, and that for looking into oneself has decreased. The stomach is itself divine, tasty food is heaven. This is the plight of today’s brāhmaṇya :
yuge yuge tu ye dharmās-tatra tatra ca ye dvijāḥ ।
teṣāṃ nindā na kartavyā yugarūpā hi te dvijāḥ ॥
Parāśara smṛti 1.33
These are the words of Parāśara. A brāhmaṇa has not transcended time. Then, does he not have to do anything to preserve the dharma of his lineage? Should he follow the wind, thinking that time is against him? That is not dharma.
sarvanāśe samutpanne hyardhaṃ tyajati paṇḍitaḥ ॥
(When there is a possibility of complete loss, a wise man gives up half of it).
Dharma is to try to preserve as much brāhmaṇa-dharma as possible — the more the better — even during adverse times. Brahmanism can be seen from two perspectives: 1. Satya 2. Śama 3. Śauca 4. Lokamaitri 5. Jīva-saṃskāra 6. Jñāna-vijñāna-sādhana 7. Worshipping the divine 8. Virakti (dispassion). These eight are the qualities of the ātmā — qualities of the mentality. Even if the external conditions become atrociously wicked, these qualities of the manas do not need to change. The mark of a brāhmaṇa is to keep one’s mind under strict control, not giving worldly changes any authority over his ātmā, and not letting his mentality change under any circumstance. This is the first duty of a brāhmaṇa. The second duty is to choose a profession that does not come in the way of practising the first. One should always look for a profession which does not merely profit monetarily, but does not prevent the practice of satya and śauca as much as possible. Once such a job is found, he must excel at it and must be content. It is not wrong to desire to profit from one’s profession; but there is always the danger that it might prod him in the wrong direction. One should be careful about such dangers, and should be skilful in his job. This is the second duty of the brāhmaṇa. There is a third duty too. He should eke out some free time from his worldly duties and spend it in the study of the vedas and śāstras, instead of wasting it in frivolous activities. There is no one who does not have one day a week or one day a fortnight free. Today’s labour laws urge that labourers should receive holiday at least for some time in a week. Dedicating an hour or two on such days to the Rāmāyaṇa or the Mahābhārata is not difficult even for the busiest brāhmaṇa. Where there is a will, there is a way. If those who call themselves brāhmaṇas observe their own words, it is not difficult to realise those words in action, even in these adverse times.
To be continued...
The present series is a modern English translation of DVG’s Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award-winning work, Bhagavad-gītā-tātparya or Jīvana-dharma-yoga. The translators wish to express their thanks to Śatāvadhāni R Ganesh for his valuable feedback and to Hari Ravikumar for his astute edits.
Allusion to the stories of Hanumān carrying the mountain that had herbs to revive Lakṣmaṇa, and the squirrel that did its part in building the bridge to Lanka.
Devotional songs written by Haridāsas
Traditional decorations done with rice flour or other white powder in front of homes and temples
Worshipping with a thousand bilva leaves and a hundred thousand jasmine flowers, respectively.
Being friendly with the whole world
Refinement of the jīva
Trying to gain knowledge of one’s profession and the knowledge of the ātmā