Who are devas? Various pictures of divine beings holding a trident, staff, rope, or discus might arise in our minds. These pictures are useful elsewhere; they can assist in meditation. When we are studying philosophy, devas are the powers of creation and nature – great powers of various kinds. The relationship between humans and these superhuman deities may not be directly observable to us. But it cannot be said that they do not exist just because they are not seen. For most of us living in Bangalore, China is unseen. But does China not exist? We do not doubt its existence at all!
Bhagavān has explained the symbiosis between the world of devas and the world of humans — that one influences the other, and has presented a philosophy that is more expansive and munificent than today’s socialism and communism –
tair-dattān-apradāyaibhyo yo bhuṅkte stena eva saḥ॥ BG 3.12
“One who consumes alone, the bounty bestowed upon him by the divine overseers, is verily a thief.”
yajna-śiṣṭāśinaḥ santo mucyante sarva-kilbiṣaiḥ।
bhuñjate te tv-aghaṃ pāpā ye pacanty-ātma-kāraṇāt॥ BG 3.13
“Yajña is giving a part of one’s earnings to others to please the divine. One who consumes the leftovers of this yajña considering it as prasāda from them is virtuous. Cooking only for oneself and partaking of it is a pāpa.”
Therefore, we have rituals like vaiśvadeva, bali-haraṇa, and bhūta-bali, where food is offered to the powers of the universe, performed since ancient times. Behind the rule that one should not partake of meals without guests is the same intent. That is why the Veda declares
“kevalāgho bhavati kevalādī.” (Ṛgveda-saṃhitā 10.117.6)
“One who eats alone eats only pāpa.”
Naivedya offered to the divine and hospitality towards guests are also yajñas. This is the principle of communal living. This is the path to the elevation of the jīva.
saṃsṛṣṭaṃ dhanamubhayam samākṛtamasmabhyam। (Ṛgveda-saṃhitā 10.84.7)
"May Manyu and Varuṇa provide us both kinds of wealth that is undivided."
Śrīkṛṣṇa merely taught Arjuna the technique to expand the nature of his ātmā, something that has been expounded by ṛṣis since the times of the Ṛgveda. The Īśopaniśat says –
tena tyaktena bhuñjīthāh (Īśāvāsya-upaniṣad 1)
All wealth belongs to Īśvara. You enjoy the world thinking of it as his prasāda.
I would like to relate something heartwarming about a family I know well. The head of the family was quite well-to-do; he was a government servant, drawing a salary of about four hundred or five hundred rupees. His wife was the overseer of the house. She would sit for her meals after the whole family and the servants were also fed. When she sat down thus for her meals, she would serve herself whatever she wanted and keep back the remaining food. Then she would gather some food from her plate into her palms – rice, curry, ghee, fried food, etc., and stand at the door of her house. Some beggars who knew the hour would come there and accept food from her hands. This was her daily practice. One day, her son asked her the meaning of this. She replied that this was her dāna. The boy asked, “Why is this dāna required? Hasn’t Father given you enough money? He performs dāna, doesn’t he?”
She replied, “Your father gives me money to run the entire family. Dāna that he does is from his own earnings. My earning is only through my cooking. Earning my food through my own hard work, and giving away a part of that as charity is puṇya for me. What is the use if I give dāna from your father’s money and your money? That doesn’t have my tyāga. Dāna without tyāga is only in name.
Karma is necessary for everyone because of their relationship with the whole universe.
When we say ‘everyone’, is it implied that those who are already self-realised are included? Yes. Those who read “tasya kāryam na vidyate” from the seventeenth verse and close the book might think that the self-realised do not have to perform karma. That is a delusion because the sentence that starts in that verse ends in the nineteenth verse –
tasmādasaktaḥ satataṃ kāryaṃ karma samācara (BG 3.19)
“Therefore without attachment, you should always perform action which should be done”.
An Ātma-jñāni just does not have the desire to gain anything for himself. He willingly performs his duties for the benefit of the world without desiring any fruits of labour, not because of other stipulations. Everywhere, Bhagavān says “kāryaṃ karma,” “niyataṃ karma.” “Do your duty.” It is indeed said that one should perform dāna but it does not mean that one should take a loan for it. One should not steal in order to do charity. Duties such as taking care of one’s own family are to be performed by the returns earned by one’s own karma.
One who experiences the ātmā will not have selfish desires or indigence. Karma performed by such a person is bereft of pāpa and is beneficial to the whole world as well. Such a man has the complete authority to perform karma for the sake of the universe. The one about whom it is said “tasya kāryam na vidyate”, one who performs his duties without anyone’s obligation, without greed, with a feeling of being one with the universal soul – his karma alone is beneficial to the world.
Purification of the soul and obtaining an object of desire are the two natural uses of karma. An ātma-jñāni does not need either of these. He is already pure; he doesn’t desire anything either. Then why does he still work? For the benefit of the world—for loka-saṅgraha—is Bhagavān’s reply. The establishment and maintenance of the order of the universe is his responsibility. Śrī Vidyāraṇya says the same thing –
jñāninā carituṃ śakyaṃ samyag-rājyādi-laukikam (Pañcadaśī 9.114)
"It is possible for a jñāni to engage in polity and other worldly matters."
Plato’s opinion is the same. Affairs of the state impact many; therefore one who wants to practise statecraft should not be selfish. Bhīṣma too says the same thing in the Mahābhārata. “You are possibly not interested in the pleasures of svarga or kingship. Should you not, however, take the circumstances of the world into account? Perform your duty diligently to please the owner of the house in which you live.”
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.