The phrase hita-nirata (engaged in welfare) does not involve merely uttering homilies. It means those who internally resolve to act towards universal welfare and ensure that those resolutions are acted upon externally. It is thus not necessary for a saṃnyāsin to give up activity that yields in the well-being of the world. But such activities have to be performed with an extraordinary mindset. The activity referred to here is interacting with the world – taking from the world and giving back to it. It is but natural for mental modifications such as desire and anger and greed and delusion to creep in during such activities. The one who performs activities free of these mental agitations is the true saṃnyāsin.
It is important to keenly examine the words used in this verse. Saṃnyāsins are chinna-dvaidhā, they whose dvaidhā or doubt is torn asunder. When asked, “Does the divine exist?”, a few answer in the words of a famous agnostic [Joseph Ernest Renan] – “O God, (if there is a God), save my soul (if I have a soul).” This is doubt. There is no desire to believe but no courage to give up belief as well. This dvaidhībhāva (feeling of doubt) is like a pendulum oscillating between belief and disbelief. Saṃnyāsins are devoid of these feelings of uncertainty. What answer did Ramakrishna Paramahamsa give Swami Vivekananda in his pre-monastic state when asked if God existed? “Yes”. When again asked, “Can you show me”?, the Paramahamsa replied, “Yes, certainly!” Saṃnyāsins thus possess definite knowledge. Moreover, they are ‘yatātmānaḥ’ - those who have their minds under control. Will not arrogance arise with definite knowledge? Saṃnyāsins do not just have control over themselves but are also sarvabhūtahite ratāḥ (engaged in the welfare of all beings). They do not sit idle twiddling their thumbs but strive for the welfare of all. One should take note of the word hita (welfare) here. The word sukha (pleasure) could have been used, but it was not. All that is pleasing does not result in well-being. The purport is to engage in activities that ultimately result in well-being.
Sarva-bhūtātma-bhūtatva (Being the Self of all Beings)
Saṃnyāsins engage in action for the welfare of the world. They are not bound by it because they are without ego and are indifferent to opposites such as pleasure and pain.
yogayukto viśuddhātmā vijitātmā jitendriyaḥ
sarvabhūtātmabhūtātmā kurvannapi na lipyate (BG 5.7)
His self is the Self of all beings. He considers the sorrow and happiness of all beings as his own. Such a jñānī desires for the rest of the world the same contentment that he pursues. The jīva must be elevated. Remember the pleasure we get when we lazily stretch our limbs. That pleasure does not necessarily indicate hita (well-being). However, the sound sleep that we get after a day’s hard work is not just sukha (pleasure) but also indicates hita (well-being). The work of uplifting a jīva is hita. The saṃnyāsin experiences the Self of all beings within himself. Who can be a rival or enemy to him who is all? The Self is uniform and is everywhere. Therefore there is no room for partiality, affection or for envy and infatuation. But how does this “being the Self of all beings” come to our mind? How can our intellect understand it? How can we experience it every moment? Experience is greater than knowledge. Our contemplation should be such that we should become one with the object of our contemplation. The eight siddhis [aṇimā, laghimā, mahimā, garimā, prāpti, prākāmya, īśitva, and vaśitva] or attainments such as aṇimā (the ability to become atomic in size) are achievable by means of haṭha-yoga. But this state of sarva-bhūtātma-bhūtātmā (being the Self of all beings) is beyond all such siddhis and is possible only through much refinement.
Asaṅgakarma (Action without Attachment)
kāyena manasā buddhyā kevalairindriyairapi
yoginaḥ karma kurvanti saṅgaṃ tyaktvātmaśuddhaye (BG 5.11)
Yogis perform action through their body, mind, intellect, the sensory and motor organs. How? “Saṅgaṃ tyaktvā” (by giving up attachment). Two points are important here –
- If an action has to be performed well, the performer has to be a jñānī.
- All the faculties of knowledge and action must unite during an action.
It is only then that the body becomes capable. Not even a single organ must slacken. All organs must be effective, attentive, and firm. It was therefore that Śrī-Vidyāraṇya said,
jñāninā carituṃ śakyaṃ samyagrājyādilaukikam
(It is possible for a jñānī to effectively discharge worldly actions such as administering a kingdom).
As the knower of the Self is not selfish, all the actions he performs are effective. Why do yogis act? “Ātmaśuddhaye” – for the purification of the mind. The same idea is conveyed in the tenth verse.
brahmaṇyādhāya karmāṇi saṅgaṃ tyaktvā karoti yaḥ
lipyate na sa pāpena padmapatramivāmbhasā (BG 5.10)
Action must be performed, but should be offered to Brahma. There must be no expectations such as – “This work will yield me profit or bring me fame.” Demerit will not bind him who has no such expectations and calculations during action. It might be asked, “Any activity is naturally associated with selfishness. How could that not affect a jñānī?” The answer is “padmapatramivāmbhasā” (like a lotus leaf in water). A cloth gets wet when dipped in water. Even though a lotus leaf originates, sustains itself, and falls away in water, moisture never sticks to it. A jñānī lives in the world just like the lotus leaf in water. He participates in all of its pleasures and sorrows but is internally unchanged.
sa yogī brahmairvāṇaṃ brahmabhūto’dhigacchati (BG 5.24)
A jñānī resolves thus – “Prakṛti causes everything. It does not affect me.”
The poet Lucretius observed – “The bystander on the sea-shore is happy when he sees fishermen struggle to catch fish. On the one hand, he is entertained by witnessing their adventures. On the other, he is relieved that he is not undergoing that hardship.” The jñānī, much like this bystander, witnesses the actions of the world without any anxiety.
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.