Monday, 14 August 2017

Action and Inaction

Gita essays – 6 

After concluding His teaching on the secret of Avatar wherein He exhorted Arjuna to action, performing his duty in a disinterested spirit, without getting attached to action or its fruits, Lord Krishna started explaining the doctrine of action, as He felt that even learned persons have confusion about it.   So Lord says that one should know clearly what is action (karma), what is actionlessness (akarma) and what is .prohibited action (vikarma).  These are to be understood in terms of scriptural do’s and don’ts and not merely in terms of bodily activity and inactivity.  Lord classifies this knowledge as subtle and hard to understand as it concerns Self-knowledge.  In life one cannot escape activity but one can disassociate oneself mentally with the knowledge that his true Self is Athma which is only a witness to all activities and not a doer.  With this Self-knowledge, shedding ego and disclaiming doership, he is said to be actionless, even though in the thick of activities.  Without this knowledge and under the influence of ego when he thinks and plans various activities. he is said to be engaged in action, even though physically inactive. This subtle doctrine of action in inaction and inaction in action, Lord starts explaining from verse 4-18 which is as follows:
कर्मण्यकर्म यः पश्येदकर्मणि कर्म यः। (Karmanyakarma yah pashyed akarmani cha karma yah)
बुद्धिमान् मनुष्येषु युक्तः कृत्स्नकर्मकृत्।। (Sa buddhimaan manushyeshu sa yuktah kritsnakarmakrit)
The person who sees actionlessness in action and action in actionlessness is wise among men. He is a Yogi who has accomplished everything that is to be accomplished.

Swami Dayananda says that this is an important verse for which Sri Sankara had written an extensive commentary.  Swami Paramarthananda refers to it as one of the knotty verses of Mahabharatha, dictated by Vyasacharya to Lord Ganapathy.  When Lord Ganapathy agreed to be a scribe, he wanted Vyasacharya to dictate as fast as he wrote and Vyasacharya agreed on the condition that Lord Ganapathy should understand the verse before committing it to writing. And to gain time in course of dictation, Vyasacharya dictated such verses with contradictions where Lord Ganapathy had to pause to understand before proceeding further. Both the Swamijis have made detailed analysis while explaining this verse.  Let me confine myself only to a short gist.

As per Swami Dayananda, Karma here means action in general and not to scripturally enjoined rituals, as elsewhere in Gita.  One’s true Self is actionless even when he is engaged in action as activity, a function of the Gunas, belong to the senses, the body and mind.  The wise person knows this and so in the action of the body-mind complex, he feels actionless as a witness of the action, while the ignorant regard him as active.  When the body is resting and ignorant considers himself as actionless, the wise aware of the internal activity going on in the body-mind complex sees action in inaction.  Such a wise person is called Yogi and such a Yogi with Atma Jnanam is ever content in Self, with Self and whenever he acts it is for the welfare of the world only and not for any personal gain in any form..  As Adhi Sankara explains; in Athma there is no action; in the body, however, there is no rest, even when there seems to be rest.

After this explanation regarding karma. Lord Krishna starts the main topic of this chapter “Jnana karma sanysa” i.e renunciation of action through knowledge. This is different from the other type of renunciation which is physical renunciation as in sanyasa asram.  Jnana karma sanyasa is internal renunciation where one learns to detach from actions through Vedanta vichara i.e. through Jnana yoga.  Once he gets established in the knowledge of Jiva-Brahma Ikyam and becomes a Jnani, he no longer identifies himself with the body and sees himself only as a trustee and body as Lord’s property.  This internal transformation is called internal renunciation, which Lord Krishna calls Jnana karma sanyasa.  This internal renunciation only can give true inner relaxation as one cannot expect relaxation at body level because the very process of life involves continual function of the body.  So one should only discover inner relaxation even amidst the activities by recognizing the the actionless Self  as true ‘I’.  Therefore, only through knowledge true and complete renunciation is possible.  This Self-knowledge Lord Krishna compares to a fire as it burns away Athma-ajjnanam.  The person with Athma Jnanam, Lord calls a perfect sage whose actions in the outside world are not only without desires but also free from the thoughts which cause such desires.  When such a sage works in the world outside he is only expressing the will of the Divine and not his own desires and therefore, it is said that his actions are purified by the fire of knowledge.

Lord cites such a person who has no attachment to the fruits of action, who is ever content and independent as an example of a person who is actionless even when he is in the thick of action, which has no selfish motive but is only for the welfare of the world.  It does not mean that such a wise person has no concern for the results, only he has no mental dependence or intellectual attachment to the expected results of his actions. Only preoccupations with the desired results give one worry and anxiety and free of that always one feels calm and satisfied, without stress and tension.

Now a doubt arises as to whether such a person will incur sin when he indulges in selfish activity to take care of his body, without which he cannot work for the good of the world,  Lord clarifies in verse 21 that activities for maintenance of one’s body is no sin, when a person

  • ·  has renounced all possessions
  • ·  has his body and mind under control
  • ·  is free from desires and
  • ·  engages only in minimum activity to maintain the body, while remaining unattached to it.

For such a realized person will be ego-less and views himself as an instrument of Divine and feels Divine will flows through him as action and that he is not a performer of any action.  What causes bondage is not the action but the selfish attitude to action born of one’s Ajjanam.  Being egoless and knowing world as manifestation of God, he is content with what comes to him spontaneously without effort and is free from jealousy.  Having perfect control over his mind and body, he accepts with equanimity the pairs of opposites in life like heat and cold, success and failure, good and bad, joy and sorrow, gain and loss etc.  As the egoistic motive of action is consumed by the fire of Jnanam, only to external world he appears to be acting, while he is really actionless and not bound.  Lord then emphasises the dissolution of all actions done in the yajna spirit by such a wise person who is a jnana karma sanyasi,  free from attachment, established in Jnanam and is liberated, and proceeds to point out how the actor, the act and the action are all different manifestations of the one Supreme only, in his eyes (4-24):
ब्रह्मार्पणं ब्रह्महविर्ब्रह्माग्नौ ब्रह्मणा हुतम्। (Brahmaarpanam brahmahavirbrahmaagnau brahmanaa hutam)
ब्रह्मैव तेन गन्तव्यं ब्रह्मकर्मसमाधिना।। (Brahmaiva tena gantavyam brahmakarmasamaadhinaa)
The ladle is Brahman. The offering is Brahman. It is offered into the fire of Brahman by Brahman. Verily Brahman shall be reached by him who sees Brahman in every action.

Though a Grihastha Jnani, a jnana karma sanyasi,  works in the world as a householder, in the back of his mind, he is always aware of  ‘Sarvam Brahma mayam jagat’ enshrined in Isavasya Upanishad as ईशा वास्यमिदँ सर्वं यत्किञ्च जगत्यां जगत् I’ (Ishaavaasyam idam sarvam,Yad kincha jagatyaam jagat.)-‘Whatever moves here in this world, everything is pervaded or covered by God’.  So after attaining Athma Jnanam, Jnani sees Brahman everywhere in everything including the actions. the doer, the result, the instrument and the action itself.  These have no existence apart from Brahman, as a shadow has no separate existence from the object.  What appears to the ignorant as separate entities is seen as One only by the wise person. So the knowledge of Brahman removes all duality, dissolving all actions performed by the knower of Brahman without binding its performer, irrespective of the asram of the performer.  So as Swami Paramarthananda observes  “with jnanam, every asram is wonderful; without jnanam,every asram is painful” 

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