The Three Maxims of the Yoga of Action
If we consider the instruction of the Gītā as valuable in all places and at all times, the principles of karmayoga apply to all of us. Why? By karma here is meant not just scriptural and traditional rituals connected to devatās but also all life related activity. Whatever needs to be done to sustain the family – loans and receipts, searches for brides and grooms, squabbles with the in-laws, the good and bad of our neighbourhoods, national and international affairs – all of these are actions as well as duties.
First of all, the decision of what to do and what not to do has to be decided from the vantage point of the inner Self. Secondly, auspicious action is that which leads to the jīva’s progress. Thirdly, egoism and hankering after results must be given up in any activity and all actions must be performed as service to Bhagavān. These three rules form the instruction of the fifth chapter.
We discussed the topics of knowledge and liberation. Activity or karma is needed as a prerequisite for jñāna. Karma persists after the dawn of knowledge, however, as the play of the Self. The jnānī sees his own Self or divine presence everywhere. Therefore he is able to effortlessly perform any action as a service to Bhagavān. Thus action exists as a prerequisite prior to the dawn of knowledge. Action persists later too. The only difference is that while the former kind is mandatory and of the type of an injunction, the latter is a play and is effortless. Thus action exists both before and after the rise of knowledge.
Usually, faith in the efficacy of action as well as a curiosity for knowledge exist among āstikas*. As knowledge ripens, action recedes. The milk we drink is mixed with water. Even milk directly from a cow’s udder has water content in it. As the milk is heated, however, the proportion of water keeps decreasing while the proportion of milk solids keeps increasing. In khova and such milk products used for making sweets, water content is almost non-existent and milk solids comprise the entire substance. The interaction between karma and jñāna is similar. As the knowledge of reality matures, the craving for the results of the action reduces. Age and worldly experience could be the reason for this. A mental state where karma is seen solely as external activity might arise. Thus, the hankering after karma gradually reduces while jñāna, the inner essence of karma, becomes brighter. One fine day, action might be seen as completely unnecessary once knowledge has matured. Karma then automatically falls off. The jnānī does not voluntarily give up karma, but it leaves him by itself. We are reading a novel lying down. After sometime, sleep overtakes us and we close our eyes. The book in our hands falls off by itself.
(Like a flower in the hands of a sleepy person)
What happened then? It is not that faith in karma was lost but that it became unnecessary. When do we need the book? Till we are able to memorize it. Once we know it by heart and are able to recite its contents on demand, what is the need for the book? The performance of karma is like the book. Karma is for the attainment of jñāna. The book is also for attaining knowledge. As more knowledge is acquired, the book and karma become irrelevant.
A note of caution, however. Have we really attained jñāna? Let us first ensure that. It is safer to perform karma assuming that we have not attained knowledge rather than renouncing it with the assumption that we have attained knowledge.
ನೈಸರ್ಗದಿನೆತ್ತಿ ಲೋಕಕೃತ್ಯವ ಧರ್ಮೈ-।
ಕಾಶಯದೆ ಚರಿಸಲದು ಸಂ-
ನ್ಯಾಸಂ ನಿರಹಂತೆ ಎಂಬುದೈದನೆಯ ಪದಂ ।।
naisargadinĕtti lokakṛtyava dharmai-
kāśayadĕ carisaladu saṃ-
Nyāsaṃ nirahaṃtĕ ĕṃbudaidanĕya padaṃ ।।
“What of ochre robes?
True renunciation is lifting the self from its natural state
And performing one’s duties with the sole objective of dharma.
That is egolessness” – is (the gist of) the fifth chapter.
ನವಸುಮವನಮಾಲಂ ಗೋಪಿಕಾರಾಸಲೀಲಂ ।
ಸುರತಿವಿರತಿಮೇಲಂ ವೈಣವೋಂಕಾರಲೋಲಂ ।।
Navasumavanamālaṃ gopikārāsalīlaṃ ।
Surativiratimelaṃ vaiṇavoṃkāralolaṃ ।।
Deliciously hued like a dark cloud, the son of Nanda the cowherd,
Garlanded by fresh wild flowers, the performer of the rāsa-līla with the gopikā maidens,
The weapon of Yama for the Kauravas, the doorkeeper of the Pāṇḍavas,
The combination of indulgence and renunciation; the one who revels in the oṃkāra from the flute.
Controversy with Schools of Philosophy
The following verses from the fifth chapter are worth remembering.
sāṅkhyayogau pṛthagbālāḥ pravadanti na paṇḍitāḥ
ekamapyāsthitaḥ samyagubhayorvindate phalam (BG 5.4)
yatsāṅkhyaiḥ prāpyate sthānaṃ tadyogairapi gamyate
ekaṃ sāṅkhyaṃ ca yogaṃ ca yaḥ paśyati sa paśyati (BG 5.5)
Bhagavān opines that the distinction between the followers of sāṅkhya and yoga is not worth consideration for a seeker.
“Only the childish think of sāṅkhya and yoga as different. The knowers do not differentiate between them. Following either one well ensures that the fruit of both is attained.
“Whatever position is attained by the sāṅkhya is attained by the yogis as well. He who sees sāṅkhya and yoga as one is the one who really sees reality.”
This point is crucial for our country in these times. The poisonous element in our society is inter-religious and sectarian strife. The above verses show that sectarianism is bad and harmful.
The above words are good advice not just for dvaitādvaita controversies but for conflicts between the votaries of Śiva, Viṣṇu, Śakti and other deities as well.
Not just that. The rivalries seen between Hinduism, Christianity, Islam and other local and foreign religions can also be answered well by the above verses.
The destination is one but the paths are many. The wayfarer chooses his path according to his aptitude and strength.
The contention amongst Dvaita, Advaita and other schools of philosophy will be discussed in detail in the appendix of the book.
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.
* Refers to those who believe in the Veda. In this context, it just means devout.