vivasvataṃgeṃdu Kṛṣṇanoreyal Pārthaṃ।
svavapurdhṛti dharmarakṣegeṃdaṃ devaṃ॥
Said Kṛṣṇa to Arjuna “Long ago
To Vivasvān, this knowledge I had bestowed”.
When Arjuna wondered how it was possible,
He said his incarnations were to protect dharma.
nirmamateyināda karmamīśaprītaṃ ।
dharmaṃ brahmaprabhāvameṃdaṃ Kṛṣṇaṃ ॥
Inescapable, Karma is; performed
Without attachment, by Īśvara it is beloved.
The universe is full of karma, said Kṛṣṇa, and
dharma originates from the Supreme Brahma.
Similar to a peepal tree that has an old trunk and root along with young and tender shoots, there are stages in the history of man. The old should form the basis for the new; only then does the new acquire credibility and authority. Continuity of the new from the old is proof of a healthy society. In his instruction to Arjuna, Śrīkṛṣṇa demonstrated this same continuity to him.
That which internally spurs one to search for goodness in whatever way possible is the door to dharma for that person. Dharma follows the condition of a jīva - its fitness and eligibility. The svadharma of every jīva is in turn determined by its unique characteristics. This means that the contemplation and practice of dharma is possible by viveka and not by blind faith.
Even though we work to fulfill our desires, if we work to serve Bhagavān as a devotional yajña, our ego is subdued and our jīva is purified. As it becomes purer, the jīva becomes capable of grasping the true essence of the ātmā. A man who does not perform karma as a yajña will not even obtain its fruits in this world. He alone is worthy whose life-river flows between two banks of Īśvarānugraha (whatever is obtained is Īśvara’s blessing) and Īśvarārpaṇa (whatever is given to others is an offering to Īśvara).
Chapter 4 / Section 5
The Yoga (Path) of Unattached Karma (Nirlepa-karma-yoga) or Jñāna-yoga
This chapter deals with the following seven main topics.
- The antiquity of the instruction about karma
- The divine greatness of dharma
- Distinction of guṇa and karma for dharma
- Akarma in Karma
- Different karma-yajñas
- The relationship between karma and jñāna
- The necessity to completely eliminate doubt
Let us recall what Kṛṣṇa said in the previous chapter. He said, "Arjuna, you say that you will not perform your duty. You say that you will not fight – fighting that is karma enjoined upon you by virtue of your family and your basic nature. Is karma subordinate to you? No. Nature makes you perform karma. Your innate disposition exhorts you to engage in activities. If you try to repress your intrinsic activities, such repression is also karma. Karma is inescapable in any which way.
na hi kaścit kṣaṇam-api jātu tiṣṭhaty-akarmakṛt ।
kāryate hy-avaśaḥ karma sarvaḥ prakṛtijair-guṇaiḥ ॥ (BG 3.5)
"No one in this world can remain aloof without performing any activity. Owing to the inevitability of karma, whatever freedom you enjoy is not to abandon karma; it is to deliberate—in a given circumstance—whether a task is good or bad, and to choose that which is aligned to dharma. Even this freedom to critically examine a task is also limited because the mind that is engaged in deliberation is itself largely influenced by past impressions (prācīna-vāsanās). The saṃskāras from past lives bind and cloud the mind and intellect. Even so, at an auspicious moment, because of some unseen force, the spark of sattva rises up from within. Real deliberation is then possible. Dharma has to be thought about then, especially svadharma:
śreyān svadharmo viguṇaḥ paradharmāt svanuṣṭhitāt। (BG 3.35)
“You say you want to give up your svadharma; you say that you wish to become a saṃnyāsi; you want to follow para-dharma [the dharma of others]; you say that you do not want the kingdom. This is not appropriate. There is great merit in adhering to svadharma.
svadharme nidhanaṃ śreyaḥ। (BG 3.35)
“Even if your sva-dharma causes your death, it is more desirable, because nature helps you in your endeavour. It has three advantages —
- Your actions will become easier and faster
- By actions aligned to svadharma, the world will benefit more than it will if you performed para-dharma.
- Your innate qualities will grow and expand. As they grow and flourish, knowledge of the ātmā will spring forth sooner and more easily. Your life will attain fulfilment sooner.
"Right now, your svadharma is to fight the war. Would you say that it involves cruel deeds like killing, and that it is pāpa? If you carry out your actions selflessly it does not become pāpa. When does pāpa happen then? When you are driven by self-benefit — even if there is a little bit of selfishness in you — it becomes pāpa. When you execute your tasks selflessly, then there is no pāpa. The situation of the world requires war right now. War is needed for the sake of justice. War is needed to sustain dharma in the universe. It is not for your sake. Carry it out as an offering to Bhagavān. Perform that which secures the well-being of the world without any selfish desire for profit. Then the pāpa that is attached to the fight will not affect you. There is an inherent element of impurity attached in every worldly duty,. This is true of all the duties of all people, to at least a little extent. One cannot say no to life because of this. It is necessary to examine how to cleanse this impurity off. Karma is the process of life itself and therefore, it is impossible for it to be devoid of all dirt. How then can it be purified? By removing all traces of selfishness. If karma is performed without any desire for selfish benefit and as an offering to Īśvara, it becomes a means for elevation rather than a degrading pāpa. Anything other than satkarma is duṣkarma. Whatever is not your dharma is adharma for you. All karma other than your sva-dharma is adharma for you!" Thus, in the fourth chapter, Bhagavān develops what he had elucidated previously.
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.