Managing the family is a vrata. Marriage is a dharmic ritual. The transactions with the world that is done for these are opportunities for performing dharma. Household chores that are performed with this feeling are akin to tapas. It can also be thought of as yajña. We have already seen that the Vedas extol the entire life and all the worldly transactions of a jñāni as a great yajña.
tasyaivaṃ viduṣo yajñasyātmā yajamānaḥ ।
and so on.
etānyapi tu karmāṇi saṅgaṃ tyaktvā phalāni ca ।
kartavyānīti me pārtha niścitaṃ matam-uttamam ॥
“The best way is to perform yajña, dāna and tapas as they are one’s duties. However, there is a rule : They should not be tainted by ego and there should not be any desire for the result”.
In the word “kartavyāni”, we can see that the suffix “tavyat” is used. It means that it has to be compulsorily performed. The only condition is that the feeling “I am doing it, I will enjoy the results of it” should not be there. The skill that has to be present in karma-yoga is the resigning of ego and any attachment to the rewards of an action. That is the desired skill. That itself is —
yogaḥ karmasu kauśalam ॥
Śraddhā and enthusiasm while performing an action; indifference and disregard for its fruit.
As in all other fields in the worldly realm, karma is also affected by sattva, rajas and tamas.
niyatasya tu saṃnyāsaḥ karmaṇo nopa-padyate ॥
No one should ever stop performing niyata-karmas. This applies not only to karmas such as sandhyāvandana that are ascribed based on one’s varṇa and āśrama, but also to worldly duties such as one’s profession and socially beneficial activities. The karma of svadharma is compulsory for everyone, always. If that is given up as mere ritual, or as unimportant, it is tamasic renunciation.
mohāttasya parityāgaḥ tāmasaḥ parikīrtitaḥ ।
Of late, we are becoming more and more abstemious towards satkarmas such as visiting temples, traveling on pilgrimages, etc. It is tamasic; and it is a work of delusion and stupidity.
Not just content with that, we give up rituals such as purificatory baths, concerned about weariness and fatigue. This is rajasic renunciation. We can see that often in our elites.
duḥkham-ityeva yat-karma kāya-kleśa-bhayāt tyajet ॥
A sāṣṭāṅga-namaskāra is tiring. If there is devotion within, can we not just fold our palms and express it? Why expend even that effort? Isn’t a hand-signal enough? Why a hand-signal? Isn’t a grin enough ? Isn’t curling the lips enough? Or even raising one’s eyebrows is enough? Bhagavān is omniscient, he knows everything about us. Why does he need our namaskāras and hand-signs? Such is the mindset of our times. Seize svarga as easily as possible. As they say in Telugu, “sūkṣmaṃlo mokṣam” - earn mokṣa with as little effort as possible.
Bhagavān, it appears, does not agree to this!
kāryam-ityeva yat-karma niyataṃ kriyate’rjuna ।
saṃgaṃ tyaktvā phalaṃ caiva sa tyāgaḥ sāttviko mataḥ ॥
Na dveṣṭy-akuśalaṃ karma kuśale nānuṣajjate ।
tyāgī sattva-samāviṣṭo medhāvī chinna-saṃśayaḥ ॥
“Sāttvic renunciation is that, where one’s ego and the desire for reward are given up while performing duties that are necessary to be performed because they are one’s prescribed karma, or circumstances demand that they be performed. Such a sāttvic renunciate does not hate the karma prescribed to him because it is difficult or disgusting, nor does he get attached to it because it is pleasing. He neither wanes on Ekādaśi nor waxes on Dvādaśi. He does not fear duties at a hospital, or jump with joy at the duties at a drama company. He neither runs away from the duty of carrying a corpse nor does he stand at the front of a wedding procession. He is equanimous towards auspicious and inauspicious — that is, he is far from the consequences of dualities, and is impartial. He is free of all doubts and is established in objectivity.
Our belief that the Gītā is a book of dharmic life will be firmly established if we see the importance given to karma performed with sāttvic renunciation in this chapter and the previous chapters. Karma is inevitable to some extent for all human beings.
ṇa hi dehabhṛtā śakyaṃ tyaktuṃ karmāṇy-aśeṣataḥ ॥
Karma is indeed inevitable for everyone. Then how can we escape the possibility of pāpa while performing it? By renouncing only the fruit of the karma. Let us finish doing what we have to do. We are not concerned with its use. We are mere servants following instructions on how to perform actions. We only do what we are told. In the satra of Bhagavān, there is a feast being served everyday. If the supervisor says “Hey you, clean the dirty plates”, it is not our place to ask “How many people ate?”.
Let us apply this instruction to the political duties of our age. Suppose it is election day. It is tāmasic tyāga to think that it is a holiday and spend the day sleeping or playing cards and completely forget about the election. It is rājasic tyāga to think “Who will go that far in the sun and suffer in the queue” and not go to the election and give up one’s duty out of fear of exertion. Sāttvic tyāga is to go to the election booth, choose a candidate who is agreeable to one’s conscience and vote for him and not worry about the results of the elections — whether his candidate wins or loses. This is the tyāga where one is not anxious about the result. He is established in objectivity.
Let us come to the filth and pollution in our city. It is tāmasic tyāga to give up any action to correct it and shrug it off saying “Who can do anything about it? I couldn’t care less”. It is rājasic tyāga to stand in the city squares and grumble against the municipality and leave it at that. Their nationalistic fervour ends there. There is another class of gentlemen. Their sāttvic tyāga is seen when they give up fear of exertion and fear of rubbing officials on the wrong side, when they write well-researched and detailed reports, publish them and poke to wake up the concerned officers.
Whatever karma we perform, there is definitely a result associated with it. But who is it for? It is for those who are attached to it; not for the ones who give it up.
aniṣṭamiṣṭaṃ miśraṃ ca trividhaṃ karmaṇaḥ phalaṃ ।
bhavaty-atyāgināṃ pretya na tu saṃnyāsināṃ kvacit ॥
Thus sorrow, happiness and a mixture of the two are always present for a human if he performs karma with an eye for its rewards, whether it is in this world or others. For a tyāgi — a saṃnyāsi — it is not there.
This is because they have given up their desires and anxiousness for the result of their karma. What they have declined is not allotted to them.
Are we so courageous? No. Bhagavān’s instruction is required for worldly people like us. We are concerned about the result of our actions. Therefore, we have to understand the structure of karma and its results. Who is responsible for karma? Who or what are responsible for the consequences of karma? The doer? The influencer? The regent? The one who approves? Those who help? The method of work? We need an explanation for results — good or bad. Any karma cannot be performed by a man alone, without the help of anyone else. It happens only with the help of other people and others’ wealth. Whether it is big, easy, small, difficult or whatever else, there are many people who are deserving of the rewards of karma. They can be divided into five groups.
adhiṣṭhānaṃ tathā kartā karaṇaṃ ca pṛthag-vidhaṃ ।
vividhāśca pṛthak-ceṣṭā daivaṃ caivātra paṃcamam ॥
To understand this verse, I feel that we have to tread a slightly different path from the explanations offered by earlier commentators. This is because of the difference in our views. In the eyes of the gurus of yore, mokṣa was the most important attainment and karma in daily life was unimportant. In our case, karmas in our daily lives are of paramount importance and for now, mokṣa is irrelevant. Before climbing the stairs, we have to first take firm steps on the ground. Can those who cannot climb to the loft jump to the sky? Mokṣa is near and karma is far for religious gurus. Whereas, for us, karma is near and mokṣa is far off. What applies to them might not apply to us. The immediate objective of saṃnyāsis is giving up karma and that of saṃsāris is in performing satkarma. Saṃsāra is itself just karma — a bundle of many vaidika and laukika karmas.
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.