There is another thing to consider. Illustrious people such as Janaka, who are greater than you have all performed karma much before you.
karmaṇaiva hi saṃsiddhim āsthitā janakādayaḥ।
loka-saṅgraham-evāpi saṃpaśyan kartum-arhasi ॥ BG 3.20
“Janaka and others attained fulfilment by karma only; You should also perform your duty keeping the welfare of the world in mind”.
Janaka was a great and elevated soul. Many ṛṣis would send seekers desirous of initiation into brahma-vidyā to him. His story appears in many places – in the Mahābhārata, Bhāgavata, Yoga-vāsiṣṭha, and above all in the Bṛhadāraṇyakopaniṣad where it appears as a conversation between him and Yājñavalkya. Janaka did not give up his kingship. The royal sage that he was, he ruled the kingdom constantly observing how people lived. O Arjuna, when such an exceptional man performed karma, why do you refuse? Just as Janaka was distinguished in his lifetime, so are you now. The ordinary imitate the eminent.
yadyadācarati śreṣṭhaḥ tattadevetaro janaḥ ।
sa yat pramāṇaṃ kurute lokastadanuvartate ॥ BG 3.21
“Whatever a great man does, the other men also do; The world follows whatever he sets up as a standard”.
“Let us say that Janaka is not in front of us now. Am I not there? You have seen me since childhood. You know my basic nature. On many occasions such as the burning of Khāṇḍava forest, you have seen my prowess. Why am I performing karma in this world? All that anyone might desire, is under my power; what else do I want? However, I still perform karma, for the welfare of the world. If I do not perform karma, anarchy will spread in the world and the society will degenerate. It is not just now, it has been so forever.”
yadā yadā hi dharmasya glānirbhavati bhārata ।
abhyutthānam adharmasya tadātmānaṃ sṛjāmyaham ॥ BG 4.7
"Whenever there is decline of dharma and rise of adharma, I manifest myself. For the protection of the virtuous, for the destruction of the wicked, and for the establishment of dharma, I am born in every yuga."
paritrāṇāya sādhūnāṃ vināśāya ca duṣkṛtāṃ ।
dharmasaṃśthāpanārthāya sambhavāmi yuge yuge ॥ BG 4.8
“Therefore I work out of my own volition for the sake of the world”.
How affectionate Bhagavān is towards the universe! We should never forget this. We should diligently and devoutly discharge the duties that have been allotted to us by his divine arrangement. This is the advice most pertinent to us in this age and time. However, the thinkers among us give first preference to the subject of mokṣa (liberation) and second place to our duties in this world.
In the story of Kṛṣṇa in the Bhāgavata, the gopikās ask him: “In this world, we see that some people love only those who love them. Some others love those who do not love them in return. Yet others forget those who love them as well as those who do not love them. What is the meaning of this?” This last question was intended to taunt him. Kṛṣṇa said, “Giving love to someone who loves us is a commercial transaction. It is a great thing only when we show kindness towards those who do not like us.”
Bhagavān praises selfless yajña performed just for the benefit of others. Even a jñānī cannot neglect worldly duties.
saktāḥ karmaṇyavidvāṃso yathā kurvanti bhārata ।
kuryādvidvāṃstathā’saktaḥ cikīrṣurlokasaṅgraham ॥ BG 3.25
“Just as ignorant men perform their duties being attached to them, the wise should perform their duties for the welfare of the world, without attachment”.
This is the essence of karma yoga. It has to be always remembered by those who share their ideals with the Gokhale Institute.
tattvavittu mahābāho guṇakarmavibhāgayoḥ ।
guṇā guṇeṣu vartanta iti mattvā na sajjate ॥ BG 3.28
“He who knows the truth about the types of guṇa and karma understands that guṇas as the senses are drawn to guṇas as sense objects, and is not attached.”
Even though Karma is directly perceived, its root is hidden. When a man’s inner tendencies flow out through his actions, it becomes karma.
yatpuruṣo manasābhigacchati। tadvācā vadati। tatkarmaṇā karoti। (Taittirīya-āraṇyaka Prapāṭhaka 1, Anuvāka 23, Mantra 1
“What a man thinks, he speaks and performs as action”.
Therefore, the place of origin of good and bad results of karma is the manas (mind). The mind is the kartā or doer. Karma follows the doer. If he is good, it is good. If he is bad, it is bad. If his intention is improper, it is not virtuous, even if the endeavour is worthy. If the intention is upright, he is worthy; regardless of the nature of his work, it is virtuous.
hatvā’pi sa imāṃllokān na hanti na nibadhyate॥ BG 18.17
“Even after killing these worlds, he does not kill and is not attached”.
How does a jñānī differ from an ajñānī? Do not both of them work for the sake of the world? Having said that, there is a characteristic difference. The realised individual selflessly works for the order of the universe. The result of the work of the unrealised man could be either order or disorder. Disorder because ego reigns in him; he is desirous of the rewards of his labour. The worldly man measures everything with a view of what is in it for him. What the ajñānī performs with an eye for profit, the jñānī performs without any expectation. The function is the same. One establishes a satra to provide free food for the needy; the other starts a fancy restaurant. They perform the same karma. The wise man does it without anyone forcing him, with a view that he is one with all beings of the universe; the ignorant does it out of self-interest.
Even the jñānī might think that he is working for the betterment of the world. Is it not selfishness? Does not the seed of selfishness thrive in him to that extent? Bhagavān’s response is thus: “Even if a tiny bit of egotism is present in one’s mind, he cannot be called a jñānī. In a worldly sense he may be called a jñānī; he just does not have any realisation of the ātmā. However, there is an interesting aspect to consider. Outwardly, one may seem to be egoistic in the matter of karma. Internally he may perform karma not out of his own volition but because his nature compels him. Genuine love for Bhagavān could be the reason for his joy.
prakṛteḥ kriyamāṇāni guṇaiḥ karmāṇi sarvaśaḥ ।
ahaṅkāravimūḍhātmā kartāhamiti manyate ॥ BG 3.27
“Actions are being done in every way by the guṇas of prakṛti (nature). However, a man deluded by ego thinks that he is the doer”.
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.