Arjuna is hasty. Initially, he was eager to fight. Then, he was eager to give up fighting. Vikarma is the result of this haste. Therefore, the following is said about those who deduce the nature of dharma -
alūkṣā dharmakāmāḥ syuḥ
yathā te tatra varteran
tathā tatra vartethāḥ
Those who are skillful and experienced, not harsh, and practise dharma constantly, as they behave (during times of doubt), so too you shall.
—Taittirīyopaniṣad, Śīkṣāvallī, Anuvāka 11
(Who is devoid of anger and greed according to the precepts of dharma)
What, then, is the way here?
karmaṇyakarma yaḥ paśyet akarmaṇi ca karma yaḥ
sa buddhimān manuṣyeṣu sa yuktaḥ kṛtsnakarmakṛt (BG 4.18)
(One who sees action in inaction and inaction in action is wise among men, he is a yogi; he performs all actions)
Bhagavān has captured the entire essence of karma in this verse. One who can achieve the detachment and calmness of a non-doer even while performing all actions, and can likewise find the benefit of karma while giving its fruits up, is wise. He is kṛtsnakarmakṛt — one who is worthy of performing all karmas. Such a man performs all actions but is not influenced by their consequences. Jackfruit should be peeled, but the hands should not become dirty. The hands should therefore be lubricated with oil beforehand — that is the trick. Bhagavān says the same thing later through the example of a lotus-leaf in water -
padmapatram ivāmbhasā (BG 5.10)
A man should live in this world like a lotus leaf in water. He has to work hard outwardly. Internally, he should not be affected by it. The affliction and perturbation associated with karma should not hassle him while he performs it. The same thought is expressed in the old saying -
alepavādamāśritya śrīkṛṣṇajanakāvubhau (Unknown)
The doctrine of non-attachment was employed by both Śrīkṛṣṇa and Janakā.
Asaṅgakarma – Karma without Attachment
Bhagavān explains akarma further:
tyaktvā karmaphalāsaṅgaṃ nityatṛpto nirāśrayaḥ
karmaṇyabhpravṛtto’pi naiva kiñcit karoti saḥ (BG 4.20)
(If one is engaged in karma but abandons the desire for fruits of action, is always content and not subject to the whims of anyone, then it is as though he is not doing anything at all)
How can he "naiva kiñcit karoti saḥ " — not do anything, even though he is actively engaged in karma? By being ever-content and completely disinterested.
tattvavit-tu mahābāho guṇakarmavibhāgayoḥ
guṇā guṇeṣu vartanta iti matvā na sajjate (BG 3.28)
There are some internal and some external qualities in human nature. They keep agitating one another. This agitation is not related to the ātmā, but happens in the domain of prakṛti. It is not suitable to attach this agitation to the ātmā.
A human has freedom only to determine karma, vikarma and akarma. This freedom to deliberate is also quite limited, because even the intellect is shackled by impressions from previous births. Individual discernment is present in everyone at least to some extent. At least an awareness that one is not a jñānī, or the wisdom that he should not proclaim it to the world if he does indeed think that he is one, or the awareness of the dangers of such self-praise — these are all present in any person. A man should develop his discerning abilities using the wisdom he already possesses. As discernment (viveka) becomes a habit, detachment can be practised.
There is a phrase that is often used in Rāmāyana and the Mahābhārata — "rāmasya akliṣṭakarmaṇaḥ", "rāmam akliṣṭakarmāṇam". The same is said about Yudhiṣṭhira. Those great people perform their duties, but do not become exhausted because of them. This is alepayoga — the yoga of performing action without getting attached. This is the formula of tyaktvā karmaphalāsaṅgam. Even if a person actively performs karma, if he does not desire its fruits for himself and is content always, and is not subject to others’ whims, that karma does not make any difference to him; to him, it is as good as doing nothing.
The epithet nityatṛpta is mentioned above. This is a very important quality. Likewise, nirāshraya. He should not be dependent on anything or anyone. Desiring the society of others is discouraged. The upright and beneficial qualities of a person emerge completely only when he becomes independent. Niḥspṛhasya tṛṇaṃ jagat — the universe is but a trifle for the unattached. A man who does not have any desire, even though he performs action, is naiva kiñcit-karoti — does not do anything. He understands dharma. He does not deem praise or censure, fame or infamy as important. He does not experience mental strain; he does not attach his ātmā to any labour. It is said in the second chapter itself -
nainaṃ chindanti śastrāṇi nainaṃ dahati pāvakaḥ
na cainaṃ kledayantyāpo na śoṣayati mārutaḥ (BG 2.23)
Responsibility of the Jīva-state
We said that a jñānī does not get fatigued and does not attach himself to any labour. Does it mean that he has no sense of responsibility?
There is only one fundamental thing - the ātmā. It is now in the state of a jīva. In this state, it has certain responsibilities. In its state as pure ātmā, it is unstained. However, as a jīva, it has its own responsibilities, puṇya and pāpa, dharma and adharma. That is why Bhagavān says that we should have the right judgement. It is difficult to know the path of karma. Knowing our rightful duty (vihitakarma) is difficult, as is performing it without exertion. One should neither be proud of one’s accomplishments nor feel distressed about not performing action. Wise is he who performs activity with the sole view that it is a duty. We can take the example of doctors. They have neither love nor hate for their patients, but work with the sole intention of bringing the bodies to their normal working state. They never worry if the patient is a criminal or a thief.
The principle is that there should be no desire for the fruit of a task. Our duties should be performed to please Bhagavān and to sustain dharma. Even in the performance of good karma, there are two stages. The first stage is to act to please Bhagavān, whereas the second stage is to act with self-knowledge. Self-knowledge is hard to obtain; it has to develop within us, by itself. For this to happen, the impurities that cover the mind have to be removed. These impurities can only be removed when dhārmic duties are performed.
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.