A person who carries out his duties without considering it an offering, will not even gain the good in this world. Then, how can he obtain a good state in other worlds? Mokṣa is the best among the four cardinal aims of human life. Karma helps achieve dharma, artha and kāma (dharma, wealth, and enjoyment). Even so, karma is the necessary first step for mokṣa. Mokṣa is liberation from the burden of the universe. Since we do not know the true nature of the ātmā, māyā (illusion of the world) and moha (attachment to the world) cover and shackle us, and make life miserable and burdensome. To get rid of the burden, we should know the true nature of jīva, Īśvara and Paramātmā. That is tattvajñāna or the knowledge of reality. The way to this knowledge is training the mind by performing our duties.
śreyān dravyamayāt yajñāt jñānayajñaḥ parantapa
sarvaṃ karmākhilaṃ pārtha jñāne parisamāpyate (BG 4.33)
(O scorcher of foes, Jñānayajña is better than yajña performed with physical objects. All karma culminates in jñāna. )
A man who feels that he is performing a yajña, will be content with what he obtains. What he gains is a blessing from Īśvara, what he gives away is an offering to Īśvara — indeed, blessed is the man whose life-stream flows thus between the banks of blessings and offerings. He reaches the ocean of Brahma quickly. By constant recollection of Īśvara, he will understand the nature of Bhagavān — "jñāne parisamāpyate" — it culminates in jñāna.
The Benefit of Satkarma
Thus, there are four uses of performing satkarma —
- Obtaining what one desires, like in the stories of Gajendra and Dhruva.
- Practice of bhakti: the experience that there is something above us, the understanding that it deserves our love, worship, service, and obedience. This gives us serenity and courage.
- Diminished ego: the illusion of "I", the constant feeling that there is an ocean of energy behind us.
- Preparing the mind to grasp the knowledge of reality.
The intellect can, probably to a certain extent, understand the nature of the ātmā. To understand it fully, it has to be experienced. If it has to be experienced, all our internal faculties must work together as one. The severity and rigidity of the ego must be annihilated. All this priming will ready it for self-realisation. "buddhigrāhyamatīndriyam" (BG 6.21) — it can be grasped by the intellect, even though it is suprasensory. Belief should rise from inside. The mind, akin to a mirror, must become pure.
dhūmen-āvriyate vahnir-yathādarśo malena ca (BG 3.38)
(Just as fire is enveloped by smoke, and a mirror by dirt).
Karma is that which wipes this mirror clean.
Well then, is knowledge gained by just performing our duties? That is not enough; there must be other effort too. What is that?
tadviddhi praṇipātena paripraśnena sevayā
upadekṣyanti te jñānaṃ jñāninātattvadarśinaḥ (BG 4.34)
(Learn that knowledge from those who have realized the truth. Approach them with a spirit of sincere enquiry and serve them with humility. They will impart that knowledge to you.)
Praṇipāta is bowing down, a demonstration of humility. It is a sign that one is interested in learning something of value. It signifies earnestness and receptivity. Readiness to grasp is the first sign of a seeker of knowledge.
The second sign is paripraśna — Analysing the same thing in various ways and asking pertinent questions, thereby clearing all doubts.
The third sign is sevā or service. Be with the elderly and knowledgeable always. The guru may expound the theory of the Supreme Brahma in words, but its practice must be learnt by observing his conduct. "kelavaṃ māḻpavarindĕ kaṇḍu" — learn some things by observing those who are already doing them. One must wait, watch and observe how gurus deal with challenging and difficult circumstances when the mind is perturbed.
This is the essence of philosophy:
yad jñātvā na punarmoham evaṃ yāsyasi pāṇḍava
yena bhūtānyaśeṣeṇa drakṣasyātmanyatho mayi (BG 4.35)
The supreme principle is that by knowing which the delusion that is clouding your mind will not arise again; after seeing which you will see all creatures of the world within yourself and me also. How can you incur pāpa after understanding this? Harming others is pāpa.
ślokārdhena pravakṣyāmi yaduktaṃ granthakoṭibhiḥ
paropakāraḥ puṇyāya pāpāya parapīḍanam
(In half a verse, I will convey what has been expounded at length by millions of books. It is puṇya to help others, and pāpa to hurt others.)
Who is para — other — when there is nothing in the universe other than oneself? For an Ātmajñānī, there is nothing or no one other than him in the universe. How, then, can he hurt anyone else? Or, how can he even help anyone else? It is just self-conceit to say that one has helped another. One who sees himself in everyone doesn’t see "other". Therefore, he is not even touched by puṇya or pāpa.
ayaṃ nijaḥ paro veti gaṇanā laghucetasāṃ
udāracaritānāṃ tu vasudhaiva kuṭumbakam
Ordinary people have the feeling that one is his own, or that another is alien. Therefore he has the concepts of puṇya or pāpa. But the generous man who has comprehended the Supreme principle considers the whole world is an extension of himself. Therefore, understanding the true nature of the Supreme will erase the differences in the world, their derivatives such as greed and delusion, and their derivatives such as hatred and jealousy.
jñānaṃ labdhvā parāṃ śāntim acireṇādhigacchati (BG 4.39)
(Having obtained knowledge, he will quickly attain great peace).
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.