Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Advice on Karma yoga


Gita essays - 3  

Lord Krishna’s advice to Arjuna on Karma Yoga spans two chapters.  After talking about Athma in the second chapter, Lord starts talking on Karma yoga as practice of Karma yoga makes the intellect subtle and enables one to grasp the advice based on Jnana yoga.  After a brief introduction (2-39) Lord glorifies Karma yoga in six verses (40 to 46).  Then He enunciates an important principle of Karma yoga(2-47):

कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन। (Karmanyevaadhikaaraste maa phaleshu kadaachana)
मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि।। (Maa karmaphalahetur bhoor maa te sango’stwakarmani)

You have a choice over action alone; never over results. So let not the results of action (alone) be your motive.  May you not have any inclination for inaction (on this score)

One can only choose the action but not the result which is dependent on other factors of the world known and unknown including the law of action.  Nor should he lapse into inaction because he has no control over the results. Also action done with the expectation of fruits brings bondage. So one should engage in action hoping for the best, while simultaneously conditioning his mind for the worst.  This way success or failure does not catch him unawares and he faces both with equanimity and equanimity in action is termed  yoga.  Actions which are normally of binding nature, lose that binding nature when performed with equanimity of mind, without emphasis on results.  When actions are done without desire for the fruits, one gets purification of mind and at a later stage, knowledge of the Self as a pure, tranquil mind in course of time, shedding its false values attached to the world, turns to Athma and Self-knowledge that leads to liberation and immortal bliss. 

At this stage Arjuna wants to know in detail about the man of steady wisdom who is firmly established in Self-knowledge and Lord Krishna explains in detail about Stithaprajna.  Arjuna has now another doubt as to why he is asked to engage in action and not in seeking Jnanam as Jnanam appears to be superior to action. Posed with this question in the third chapter, Lord Krishna enters into a detailed discussion on Karma yoga.

He first makes it clear that choice is not between Karma yoga and Jnana yoga,  but only between two life-styles called Karma-yoga-niṣṭha, active lifestyle of  a householder and Jnana-yoga-niṣṭha, contemplative lifestyle of a monk.  The path of knowledge is prescribed for the intellectual, whereas the path of action is the best for the physically dynamic.  But it should be born in mind that action by itself cannot be the end. It is only the means to achieve the final goal of Realization of the Self.  So whatever lifestyle one chooses, one has to follow relevant karma for obtaining purity of mind and then pursue Jnanam to discover the freedom that is one’s true nature as Athma. The path of knowledge is not the proper one for Arjuna as he, being a Kshatriya, does not belong to the meditative and intellectual type. His natural aptitude is for action and he can purify himself only through action.  So he has to discharge his duties in a selfless spirit of pure devotion without attachment to fruits of such action. If one understands the art of performance of actions without selfishness, one is already in the path of knowledge as these two paths are not contradictory but complementary.

Then Lord discusses inaction and condemns it as it cannot lead to knowledge or purity of mind which can lead to liberation.  Further due to one’s natural tendencies, governed by the three gunas, Satvam, Rajas and Tamas one is driven to action. Where his natural desire is for action and he keeps thinking of sense objects prompted by desire without engaging in action it is only hypocrisy.  And when one does actions for the sake of the Lord, he is not bound by the actions and his heart is purified by performance of actions for the sake of the Lord.  But if this spirit of unselfishness does not govern the action, then such actions become binding, however good or glorious they may be.  When we follow the teachings of the Lord it becomes a gesture of our appreciation for all the gifts and blessings that the Lord has bestowed upon us.  When we follow the teachings of the Lord as given in Vedas and do our work selflessly it becomes a worship or yajna to Lord and it purifies the mind as well.  The working of the universe is a cyclic process, with the human beings as its important link.  Yajna creates conditions for rain; Rain is responsible for food and food nourishes all living beings including human beings who express their gratitude through yajna.  Thus Karma yoga is necessary to maintain the harmony of the Universe upon which one is dependant. One who does not discharge it lives in vain, wasting his life. 

The Lord cites the example of people like Janaka who had successfully pursued knowledge while remaining in Karma yoga and gives His own example of engaging Himself in activities continuously although it is immaterial for Him whether He acts or not. The reason for this is that the common people with limited intelligence imitate the great and so if The Lord remains inactive, they will also remain idle leading to indiscipline.  So also Arjuna has to fight the war, this being kṣaṭriya's duty, to set an example to others. Else, he will be sowing the seeds of anarchy in his own time as well as in the future, as any person with a higher status or knowledge (śreṣṭha), can influence others positively or negatively.  Thus, both the wise and the ignorant should act; the former for teaching others, and the latter for purity. The only difference is that the former will be detached while the latter won’t be.

The ignorant think that they perform, they succeed etc. while actually the actions are performed by the play of the three Gunas of one’s nature that creates desires which prompts their actions.  In their ignorance they think they are the doers and get attached to results and develop anxiety for the fruits of their actions.  Even the wise person, who is not attached to the fruits of action as he knows that he, the Self, is not the performer of actions and that it is only the play of Gunas of Nature at work should set an example to the ignorant by sticking to the path of action rather than trying to change them as it is likely to be misunderstood by the ignorant resulting in the cessation of action by them.  And then Lord summarizes his advice thus in 2-30

मयि सर्वाणि कर्माणि संन्यस्याध्यात्मचेतसा। (Mayi sarvaani karmaani sannyasyaadhyaatma chetasaa)
निराशीर्निर्ममो भूत्वा युध्यस्व विगतज्वरः।। (Niraasheer nirmamo bhootwaa yudhyaswa vigatajwarah)

Dedicating  all actions to Me, engage in the battle with the mind centred in the Self  and free from expectations and egoism and anxiety.

In this summary Lord Krishna mentions five salient points of Karma yoga which can be stated as-

1)    Keep a spiritual goal as primary goal.

2)    Convert your work into worship by offering all the actions to the Lord.

3)     Be prepared to accept the result, be it favourable or not by looking upon the results as Prasada from the Lord.

4)     Have humility in success and acceptance in failure, shedding egoism.

5)    Maintain equanimity (samathvam) at all times.

Lord Krisna concludes his advice on Karma yoga in this chapter with the observation that one who follows Karma-yoga attains spiritual success and one who does not is spiritually lost.  Even though likes and dislikes (raga-dveṣha) born of habits (vasanas) pull a person astray, still a person should not fall a prey to them, shunning them as against his spiritual interests.  He should always go by what he has to do as his duty even if it involves difficulties and not by what he likes to do however tempting it may be.

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