His Holiness Sri Vishvesha Teertha Swamiji
Sri Pejavara MaTha, Udupi
HIS HOLINESS SRI VIDYAMANYA TIRTHA SWAMIJI
Sri Bhandarakere Math, Udupi
General Editor's Preface by
R. R. DIWAKAR
BHARATIYA VIDYA BHAVAN
KULAPATI MUNSHI MARG
MUMBAI - 400 007
The Bhagavad Gita is the Sun that has risen from the Udayagiri -- viz. Lord Sri Krishna, the Para Brahman. Though this sun of saving knowledge makes the hearts of all good men blossom forth like lotuses touched good by the sun’s rays, some defective commentaries which came to be written on the Gita, in course of time, tended to obscure this light of the sun of knowledge, like passing clouds in the sky. Such clouds had been dispersed by Sri Mukhya Prana taking Avatar on earth as Anandatirtha Bhagavatpada (Madhvacharya) who composed two learned commentaries on the Gita -- the Gita Bhashya and Gita Tatparya.
Scattering these clouds still further away from approaching the Gita, Sri Jayatirtha deflated them, with his Tikas on the Gita Bhashya and Gita Tatparya. However, ordinary minds which could not bear the dazzling sunlight of the Gita have been in dire need of a mellow light as of the full moon, to help them enjoy and appreciate the beauty of the message of the Gita.
The illustrious Satyadhyana Tirtha was the first to come forward to meet this need of the common man. He absorbed the dazzling light of the Gita which could only be perceived from a safe distance even by the highly learned scholars -- and reflected it in its mellowed form through his popular, word for word rendering of the Gita, in his Gita Pratipadartha Candrika. This work has been of immense value to the common man in treading the right path in life according to the teachings of the Gita.
Some commentaries on the Gita which have come down to us have tried to make out that Advaita-vada is the true message of the Gita. These look upon Sri Krishna, the supreme Lord, as still open to the illusion of duality.
If Sri Krishna had really attained the experience of Advaitic unity, he should have realised the illusory nature of the universe and his own lordship over such a universe. In that case, it would be a gross deception on his part to claim to be the Lord of all beings (Bhutanam isvarah). In order to maintain the truthfulness of that claim, it will have to be admitted that from the Advaita point of view Sri Krishna is still subject to the illusion of duality. It is not clear how one who is not himself completely out of the illusion of duality can teach pure Advaita to others.
The Gita enjoins upon all enlightened Adhikarins like Arjuna, to fight against Adharma as a Sacred duty, to he performed in a spirit of devotional dedication to the Lord of all creation. This is inconsistent with the true Advaitic position that the Jnanin is not under any obligation to continue with Karma and Bhakti.
Though there is thus so much cleavage of views among the traditional schools of thought regarding the message of the Gita, we hear so much talk nowadays that all these divergent interpretations are but various ways of thought and action leading to the same goal of Moksha or freedom from bondage. But the following pronouncement of the Gita dearly rejects such a facile view:
vyavasAyAtmikA buddhirEkEha kurunaMdana
bahushAkhA hyanaMtAshcha buddhayOvyavasAyinam || 2.41 ||
The present work discusses this issue with great insight and often give satisfactory answers to various questions concerning the problem and places the teaching of the Gita on the question in bold relief. We have therefore no hesitation in saying that this work is a good critical exposition of the philosophy of the Gita.
In a pioneering effort, Sri Vishvesha Tirtha, Head of the Pejavar Mutt of Udupi, has dived deep into this ocean and brought up some of the gems of Gita thought and placed them in the hands of contemporary students of the Gita. His work, the Gita Saroddhara, may be fittingly described as a special collection and arrangement of these gems in resplendent array. We are sure that all the good people of the world will derive immense benefit by going through this work.
It deals with its subject matter in a straight and simple way, and thus goes straight to the heart of the reader. It gives a good many illustrations from life to elucidate the profound teachings. It alludes to stories and episodes from the Bhagavata and Mahabharata to heighten the appeal to our minds. Modern students will find in the rational approach of the author in clarifying so many knotty points a kindred spirit.
When a chronic patient who is fed up with swallowing bitter medicines hates all medicines and rejects them in disgust, a discerning doctor makes them more palatable and puts them in new bottles, administering them to the patient and cures him of his ailment. The present work of Sri Vishvesha Tirtha has similarly refined and made palatable the ancient and unfailing remedies for the ills of our lives.
His work is most useful in inculcating in the minds of the present generation deep faith and pride in the teachings of the ancient shastras. Among instances of this may be mentioned his masterly exposition of the chaturvarnya vyavastha and the doctrine of Svadharma and the need to sincerely adhere to it.
Sri Vishvesha Tirtha has given us this work amidst the heavy and multifarious responsibilities of his holy office as a Pithadhipati. He has snatched time to do this in the intervals of his lightning tours over the country, prior to his taking charge of his biennial turn of office for Krishna Puja Paryaya at Udupi. His ceaseless round of activities and public engagements, religious austerities, worship and teaching have not prevented him from taking up such useful literary work also.
We (Sri Vidyamanya Tirtha) have known Sri Vishvesha Tirtha from his early days. while yet a boy of ten, he came to us as a bright pupil. He was already an adept in Sanskrit literature. He used to compose many attractive verses of high order of excellence in Sanskrit at short notice. Once when Vishvesha Tirtha was just eighteen, the well-known Advaita scholar Mm. Ananthakrishna Shastri came to Udupi. There was a discussion in Shastra between them. The learned Pandita was soon silenced by the inexorable logic of the teenager and heartily applauded him for his alertness of mind and intellectual quickness.
Many other reputed scholars from the North such as Pt Rajeshvar Shastri Dravid and Shadanga Ramachandra Shastri have paid handsome tributes to His Holiness’s exceptional mettle. His public discourses in Sanskrit and Kannada draw huge audiences and hold them spellbound. He combines an uncanny debating skill with a measured eloquence and a disarming sunny smile.
He is noted for his high sense of duty, unfailing courtesy and his spirit of give and take. His devotion to the Lord is absolutely firm and childlike in its simplicity and trustfulness. These admirable qualities of his head and heart have endeared him to one and all scholars and laymen, the old and the young, alike. We are well pleased with such an ideal disciple of ours.
May Sri Hari and Vayu confer upon him long life, health and other blessings to enable him to continue to do good to the community of the good souls all over the world is our earnest prayer to our Upasyadevata - Sri Sita Ramachandra.
- SRI VIDYAMANYA TIRTHA SWAMIJI
of the Sri Palimar Matha of Udupi and the
Bhandarakere Matha of Barkur (Udupi Dist.)
Translated from the Kannada Introduction
by Dr. B. N. K. SHARMA
The Bhagavad Gita is the one and the only scripture which expounds religious and Vedantic principles in a concise, simple and beautiful manner. There is no problem in life which cannot find its solution from this tiny book, one may say. It acquaints us thoroughly with all the equipment necessary to make our life perfectly beautiful. One can find from the Gita a sure guidance to follow in any critical situation.
There is no other scripture in the whole world which analyses and defines in such a simple way the nature of life and its problems. The Gita was preached by Sri Krishna and it was written in the present form by Sri Vedavyasa. When both are the twin forms of the Almighty God Himself how could we ever fully praise the holiness and greatness of such a work? The Gita is the immortal message to the mankind given by the very person of the Lord Himself. The Gita is both a science of philosophy and a science of life. We cannot find in any other work such a unique harmonisation of philosophic principles with mundane life.
While I (Sri Vishvesha Tirtha) was camping in Hubli for the Chaturmasya, I got a good opportunity to give a series of discourses on the Bhagavad Gita. This book is a fruit of those discourses. Many people who attended those lectures desired that they should be collected and published in the form of a book and which made it possible for the work to find the light of the day.
In this small book of about 300 pages I could attempt no more than a mere introduction to the Gita. The Gita is no doubt a small book but as one delves deeper and deeper, it reveals a universe of meaning. In this tiny work I have been able to vouchsafe to you only a very small facet of the vast work. This is but a signpost to those who wish to undertake a deeper examination and study of the work.
The aim of this work is to stimulate the interest of people for an inquiry into its meaning. Nobody should think that this book aims at an exhaustive exposition of the full meaning of the Gita. The main purpose of my lectures was to explain the constructive message of the Gita bearing in mind the common man’s daily problems in the context of modern conditions. Hence, I did not indulge in any deep scientific discussion of philosophy but have made an attempt to expose simply the relationship between the principles of the Gita and modern life. I wish to write a separate work, at my leisure, devoting it to an extensive analysis of the philosophic subjects and scientific criticism of the commentaries on the Gita made by various thinkers.
But in certain contexts I have touched upon the different interpretations given by the various commentators on the Gita. Such a critical examination is done in order to facilitate the understanding of the meaning of the Gita through a comparative study and not to indulge in any aerobatics of philosophical argument. It is my individual opinion that an examination of the faults and virtues of various systems with an unprejudiced mind would never lead to any mental excitement but, on the other hand, it would lead to a healthy development of philosophy.
I have followed the commentaries of Sri Madhvacharya not out of any sectarian attachment. I have tried to place the Gita in the light of Sri Madhvacharya’s commentary only because I am fully convinced after an unprejudiced, undogmatic and open-minded inquiry, that the heart of the Gita is truly reflected in his commentary. I hope the people will welcome this well-intended effort and extend to me their usual cooperation and encouragement.
My revered guru Sri Swamiji of Bhandarakere Math has blessed this attempt by writing an Introduction for which I offer him my repeated salutations. The person who followed me as a shadow and who was mainly responsible for getting the lectures in the form of a book out of me is Sri Ramachandra Bhat, the Proprietor of the Ashoka Hotel, Hubli. His tenacity, unfailing effort and generosity alone could make the work possible. I pray that God may shower His choicest blessings on him for his laudable effort in this work of furthering knowledge.
The others who helped in various ways in its publication are Sri P. Venkataramana Acharya and Kapu Hayavadana Puranik and I wish them God’s blessings. My hearty thanks are due to the Manager of the Associated Advertisers & Printers for their job of beautiful printing.
- SRI VISHVESHA TIRTHA SWAMIJI
Pejavara Mutt, Udupi
This book was originally published in Kannada with the title ‘Gita Saroddhara’ in 1967. It gives a lucid exposition of the philosophy of the Gita on the lines of the Dwaita school of thought systematised by the great exponent Sri Madhvacharya. The English translation of this book has been brought out so that the message of the Gita contained in this book may reach a wider public.
It is difficult to translate a book like this as it contains a number of technical terms in Sanskrit each with its own special meaning: Indeed, quite a few words like Satwik, Rajas, Tamas, Trai Vidyas, Varnashramadharma, Vibhutiyoga etc. are untranslatable into English and we have retained the original words with the hope that the concepts become clear in the course of elucidations.
We have tried our best to be faithful to the original text for fear that in simplifying things we might either fail to convey the full meaning or misrepresent the thought. During this translation, one of us had the benefit of studying Sri Madhvacharya’s ‘Gita Bhashya’ and Sri Jayatirtha’s ‘Prameya Deepika’ under Pandit Hayagreeva Acharya Guttal of the Deccan College, Poona and we may confidently say that none of the subtly relevant points brought out in the exposition have been missed by us.
It is sincerely hoped that in our translation we have been able to catch at least a portion of the beauty of the original text. If in any place we have either failed to convey the true meaning or deviated from the text inadvertently, the fault is entirely ours and we shall be glad to rectify them.
We are grateful to Sri Vishvesha Tirtha Swamiji, the author of this book, for giving us an opportunity to render this small service to him and solicit his blessings.
- R. ACHARYA
- R. A. MALAGI
The Bhagavad Gita is the greatest spiritual and metaphysical scripture of the Hindus. It contains valuable teachings applicable to all stages of human development. Such a universal and all-pervasive teaching with practical solution for every day problems of life fell from the divine lips of the Lord Himself. Sri Krishna had once revealed to his mother the whole universe of infinite dimensions in his tiny mouth; so also, in his short discourse uttered with a limited number of words in a limited span of time Sri Krishna has given the very quintessence of the universal science of life. This indeed is a testimony to the divine glory of Lord Sri Krishna.
Once, after the Kurukshetra war, when the Pandavas were ruling their kingdom, Arjuna besought Sri Krishna: “Oh Lord, I was fortunate to receive from you the teachings of the Gita but that was in the din and bustle of the battlefield; I would very much like to hear it once again at leisure in the calm and peaceful atmosphere now reigning.” To this, the omniscient Lord replied: “Oh Arjuna I do not have the same inspiration today. I cannot recapture that same teaching again.” Although nothing would have been impossible to Him, this episode serves to highlight the extraordinary greatness of the Gita.
The time, the Place and the dramatic context selected by the Lord to give His supreme teaching to humanity are unique. Both the Kaurava and the Pandava armies are lined up face to face and the war is about to begin. The minds of all the soldiers taking part in the war are agitated because they are under the tension of an explosive war. At this time who else but God Himself could have the poise and power to expound such a simple and yet profound philosophic teaching?
In our daily lives, very often grave problems confront us. Confused, we lose our heart. Only at such moments of crisis do we experience the dire need of the Gita. The mind is a battlefield where the good and evil forces fight for supremacy. Unable to face life and its problems, we are prone to run away from our duties and responsibilities out of sheer cowardice. To such cowards, the Gita offers hope and encouragement. It prompts them into rightful action. The Gita which was preached to Arjuna in the context of the Kurukshetra war has wider application to the war that is going on constantly within our mind between the good and the evil forces.
Sri Madhvacharya says that the Mahabharata has not only a historical but also a metaphysical interpretation. One may wonder whether this teaching given in the bygone days of the Dwapara Yuga will ever be applicable to the modern atomic age! But, in fact, the teachings of the Gita are perennial and contain elements of truth applicable to all ages.
In one verse, the Upanishads are called a cow, Sri Krishna is the milkman, Arjuna is the calf which induces the cow to yield milk and the Gita is the milk. Just as the milk is not for the calf alone, so also the Gita which contains the quintessence of all the Upanishadik thought is not for Arjuna alone but for the whole of mankind.
While giving this discourse, Sri Krishna is described to have held his fingers in the form of ‘Jnana Mudra’ which is also symbolic of milking and what has flown out in the form of the Gita is the divine nectar itself.
CHAPTER 1: ARJUNA VISHADHA YOGA
On the sacred field of Kurukshetra
The Gita commences with a dialogue between Dhritarashtra and Sanjaya. Sri Vedavyasa, the author of the Mahabharata, makes Sanjaya give the blind Dhritarashtra a running commentary of the whole battle. Sanjaya is giving him a vivid description in minutest detail. Dhritarashtra asks:
dharmakShEtrE kurukShEtrE samavEtA yuyutsavaH
mAmakAH pANDavAshchaiva kimakurvata sanjaya || 1.1 ||
“Tell me, Sanjaya, what did the sons of Pandu and mine do, when they gathered on the sacred field of Kurukshetra.”
Spiritually blind also as he is, Dhritarashtra betrays his attachment to and fondness for his own sons, as against the sons of Pandu. He did not ask Sanjaya how the war progressed. Instead, he enquired what the Pandavas did. He fondly expected that when the noble Pandavas assembled on the battlefield ready for war, their piety would be roused and out of the goodness of their heart, they would voluntarily give up all claims to the kingdom.
Earlier this wily and selfish old king had sent words to the Pandavas through Sanjaya thus: “Oh sons of Pandu, my sons are after all wicked and quarrelsome. But at least you are good and noble! Therefore give up your claim to the kingdom, retire to the forest and spend the rest of your days in peace.” He had hoped that this advice would have some effect on at least one of the Pandavas, if not all and it is as though to see whether any of them had been demoralised that he asks Sanjaya the above question. In fact Dhritarashtra’s advice did not really go in vain! The valiant Arjuna himself becomes thoroughly demoralised and loses the determination to fight. He becomes a nervous wreck and repeats the very arguments put forward by Dhritarashtra and withdraws from war.
Sanjaya replies: (shlokas 1.2 – 1.11) “O Dhritarashtra! Your son Duryodhana had expected that the Pandavas, having spent thirteen years in the forest, would not be able to raise a respectable army in such a short time. He had hoped that the Pandavas would be disheartened on seeing your majestic army. But on the contrary, it is Duryodhana who has got unnerved on seeing the mighty Pandava army.”
As narrated in the ‘Sabha Parva’, when Bhima under provocation, vowed that he would kill Duryodhana and others, they got so frightened about their lives that they ran to Dronacharya and got from him an assurance of protection. Now the bewildered Duryodhana goes to Dronacharya and describes the heroes on either side and expresses his genuine doubt and fear whether his army under the command of Bhishma would ever be able to vanquish the army commanded by Bhima.
The Pandava army has a very high morale. They are determined to strike down the forces of evil. They are inspired by noble and revolutionary ideas and ideals. Besides possessing strength of character, they are led by no less a hero than the mighty Bhimasena himself who is the very embodiment of discipline and devotion.
On the other hand the Kaurava army is full of mercenaries and timeservers. They are not fighting for any principle or just cause. Their heart is not in it and they are carrying on the war much against their will, They are in the war because they are under obligation to Duryodhana. No doubt Bhishma is a celebrated warrior. But he knows that he is backing a wrong horse. His heart is not in this unholy war. Apart from hatred and animosity there is no other ideal to inspire the Kaurava army.
Comparing the leadership of Bhishma and Bhima from this point of view and realising the weakness of his army due to lack of determination and strength of character, Duryodhana becomes nervous and runs to Dronacharya and expresses his doubt about the final outcome of the war. Seeing that Duryodhana is nervous, Bhishma and his followers blow their conches as though to infuse fresh life and courage into him. To this the Pandavas reply by blowing their own conches. (shlokas: 1.12 – 1.19)
Krishna and Arjuna, seated in a chariot drawn by white stallions also blow their divine conches, making a sound like the syllable ‘Aum’ of the Vedas. This sound is indeed a fitting invocation for the great teaching about to flow out from the divine lips of the Lord.
Between the two armies
When the Kaurava and the Pandava armies are thus lined up and when the war is about to commence, Arjuna asks his charioteer Lord Sri Krishna to position his chariot between the two armies so that he could have a view of his adversaries. (shlokas 1.20 − 1.25)
When the chariot is thus positioned by Sri Krishna, Arjuna takes a good look at both the armies. He immediately gets a shock because in the opposite army he sees the familiar faces of his kinsmen, teachers and friends. He curses the fate that brings him to fight his dear and near ones. Arjuna gets perplexed, thoroughly confused and has a virtual nervous breakdown. He tells Krishna that he has resolved not to fight his own people and in support of this, he puts forth the following arguments: (shlokas 1.26 – 1.46)
“This terrible war which is about to begin will do good neither in this life nor in the next. If I win the war I may get the kingdom but I lose more than what I gain. What good is it, what happiness is it, if I have to build my empire on the graves of my revered teachers, beloved friends and my own kinsmen? If I win, I may acquire all the wealth of the world but it will not give me any happiness or peace of mind. Will any plant sprout from fried seeds? Similarly, what enjoyment can sprout in a heart burning with the sorrow from the death of one’s kinsmen. I covet not such a kingdom because it will only be soiled by the blood of my own relatives.”
“By this cruel act, how can I get any happiness in the next life either. No doubt my cousins, the sons of Dhritarashtra, are wicked and they had tried in many ways to kill us, by poison and fire and they deserve to be annihilated. But we are not fighting them alone. Along with them there are other relatives, friends and preceptors and we have perforce to kill them. In the name of killing wicked people like Duryodhana and others, we kill innocent people also and we ourselves become cruel and wicked and will be bereft of heaven We shall have to keep company with them in hell.”
Thus does Arjuna feel that the war would lead to happiness neither in this life nor in the afterlife. Further, he feels the war would lead to many social ills. Each and every house has sent its able-bodied men into this war. Most of them would be killed and hence the male population would diminish and women perforce might go astray.
Castes and communities would get mixed up. The social structure would crumble and immorality and vice would play havoc, undermining the whole social structure. These are no doubt some of the evils of war and we have seen all these things happening after the world war. Having thus narrated the evils of war for the individual both in this life and in the afterlife and for the society as a whole, Arjuna reiterates his earlier resolve not to fight.
Arjuna continues, “It is better to beg and fill one’s belly, it is better to spend one’s life in a forest like a mendicant than kill one’s kinsmen for the sake of this earthly kingdom.” Thus saying, Arjuna lays down (inside the chariot itself) his weapons and sits dejected. (shloka 1.47)
At this, Sri Krishna chides Arjuna for his lack of will and faint-heartedness and inspires him to rise to the heroic occasion befitting his birth and stature. But Arjuna is adamant. Under a heavy delusion he spurns both the kingdom of the whole earth and heaven if they were to be secured only by the slaughter of his kinsmen.
Arjuna is thus tossed between two opposing duties, duty as a kshatriya to kill the enemies and duty as an ordinary householder to show reverence to his elders and preceptors. He is confused and knows not the right path. He is also aware that his vision is clouded by his attachment to his kinsmen and that he is using high-sounding philosophic arguments only to cover his weakness. He thus surrenders himself completely to Sri Krishna and implores Him to take him as His disciple and show him the right path. (shlokas 2.1 – 2.9)
CHAPTER 2: SANKHYA YOGA
The background of Sri Krishna’s teachings
At this stage Sri Krishna commences his divine teachings to his humble aspirant Arjuna. Some may argue that in His reply Sri Krishna has evaded the main issue and failed to answer directly the questions raised by Arjuna regarding the evil effects of war. What answer has Gita got for the social evils arising out of war? Instead of answering this point, what was the need for Sri Krishna to talk about the tough subjects like the immortality and immutability of the soul? Has Sri Krishna tried to cloud the basic issues by his irrelevant, high-sounding words?
But if you study the Gita carefully you will realise that in his teachings to Arjuna He did not follow any crooked path. What is the real cause of Arjuna’s despondency? Is his pacifism due to any moral principles? No. He is under a delusion caused by his attachment to his kith and kin and fear of losing them in the war. Arjuna has fought many wars before and he had not raised any of these objections. Why should he raise these objections now?
Even in our everyday experience we find that people talk big and bring in Vedanta and philosophy only to cover their weaknesses arising out of selfish interests. For example, persons, whose duty it is to protect and propagate Sanatana Dharma, shirk their responsibility under the pretext that in this Kali Age, it has been ordained by God that unrighteousness would prevail and that we should not do anything to counter His design. Again, misers who want to cover their thrift console themselves by saying that in these days of food scarcity it is antisocial to feed brahmins and others and waste foodstuffs.
Arjuna also finds himself in the same category of self-justifiers. He had fought many a battle before, but only now does he become a staunch advocate of pacifism! It is apparent that he is only trying to hide his weakness for his relatives under the cloak of pacifism. Even great seers like Vasishtha had betrayed their attachment to their sons by bemoaning their loss. But they were aware of their weakness. They did not try to defend themselves by any arguments as Arjuna is doing now. Seeing the ‘predicament’ of Arjuna Sri Krishna must have been amused, and so he smiles: (shloka 2.10)
He does not, therefore, elaborately answer the questions raised by Arjuna regarding the evils of war. It is not true that all wars are harmful. According to historians, after the Kurukshetra war there was an all-round material prosperity and spiritual advancement in India and this golden age lasted for thousands of years.
The objections raised by Arjuna are therefore not applicable to holy wars and so Sri Krishna does not simply bother to answer them. Instead, he proceeds to rid Arjuna of his spiritual ailment. Sri Krishna’s main purpose is to rid him of his delusion. That would be a treatment for his ailment far better than answering the questions raised by Arjuna in support of his pacifism. Hence the all-merciful Almighty, out of compassion for Arjuna, proceeds to dispel his delusion and gives a discourse on the immutability of the soul and its existence independent of the perishable body.
Lament not for the unlamentable
Sri Krishna says: (2.11 – 2.13) "O Arjuna, are you lamenting for the soul or for the body of your kinsmen? If it is for the soul, lament not because the soul is eternal and cannot be destroyed. You, I and all the kings in front of us were there in the past and will continue to be in the future. Hence grieve not for the soul which is indestructible. If you are sorry for the bodies of your kinsmen and preceptors, which you are afraid might be destroyed, then also, grieve not because the body is in any case perishable. After death the soul passes from one body into another.
We demolish the old house and build a new one in its place. Do we grieve? We discard old clothes and put on new ones, do we lament? We step out of childhood and get into manhood, do we not rejoice in it? In the garden, old flowers wither and new ones blossom. So also in life change is not only inevitable but also desirable. We do welcome such changes. Death is but one such change. Thus we should never fear death. Just as childhood, boyhood and manhood, are but transitions, so also is death a transition. Hence we should not fret over the death of the body."
Here a question may arise. What sort of new body would these persons get after this body has passed away? It may be a better body or worse. If it is going to be worse, we have reason to be sorry at the passing of the present body. If we leave one rented house and move into another which is worse, we shall certainly be sorry for leaving the old one. Sri Krishna answers this point. As for Bhishma and Drona who are great souls and who have earned nothing but merit in this life, they are bound to go into a higher life. For them death is like a holy bath (avabhrutha) at the successful termination of a Yajna or sacrifice. Better life awaits them and you need not grieve for them.
It is only the wicked and sinful people who are afraid of death and if they get worse bodies in the next life they deserve such punishment and you need not be sorry for them. There are instances of good people who even if they had inadvertently committed sins, have atoned for them here itself and warded off its evil effects. Hence good people are taken care of and wicked people deserve punishment and in both cases you need not grieve for death at all. If the bad are not punished and you pity them, the whole social system would be undermined.
Why should we believe in a soul as distinct from the body? Well, all evidence like perception, reasoning and scriptures point towards the existence of a soul as separate from the body. The body undergoes change from day to day as we pass from childhood to old age. Our today’s body is not the same as yesterday’s. But we experience something within us which does not change. This some thing, changeless, within us we call Atma or the soul and this is what each one experiences, throughout his life.
How do we know that after death the soul passes from one body into another? We see among people talents and characteristics not found in their parents and near relatives. Where from did they get these? They must have acquired them in their past lives. When a child is born, its mind is not blank. It carries the impressions of its past lives. It has its instincts and shows some likes and dislikes and propensities which can only be explained if we believe that the soul has passed through many lives before and that it carries the burden of its experience, both good and bad, from one life into another.
All living things are sentient and they have intelligence or instinct. Mere matter is insentient. Matter combined with Spirit or Soul constitutes life. This proves the existence of the soul as distinguished from the body. We see worms and insects forming in rice and other grains. We also see bacteria growing in unhygienic environments. How did life originate there?
Scientists say that some living cells in a sub microscopic form were already there and these only grew and multiplied. Organic life does not come out of inorganic matter. Only life can breed life. I have asked many scientists how the first living cell came into existence in this world. They say that the riddle of the origin of life has not yet been solved. Evolutionists are of the opinion that a living cell in the most elementary state somehow formed out of inorganic matter under some favourable circumstance during the course of evolution lasting millions of years. If that is so why the phenomenon of life springing out of inorganic matter is not seen now even in a single instance? If it could happen once, there is no reason why it should not happen again.
Scientists have not so far succeeded in producing life out of inorganic matter in the laboratory. We have therefore to believe in the existence of the soul as separate and distinct from the body and which is responsible for life and which is eternal. Therefore one should not despair at the prospect of death. These ideas are contained in the verse 2.13.
Attachment is the root of sorrow
Arjuna raises another query: "O Krishna, I agree that the soul is indestructible and that I should not grieve for the body which in any case is perishable. But I can keep contact with my dear and near ones only through their bodies when they are alive. After death, their souls may be somewhere and without their bodies how can I see them, touch them and talk to them, by which alone I feel happy. This sense of losing them forever pains me."
Sri Krishna answers: "O Arjuna, such problem arise again and again. You can’t avoid them. You should get used to them. What is the root of misery in man? Is it the contact between the objective world and the senses? No. When we are fast asleep we still have contact between the senses and the outside world but we do not become aware of such contacts and we do not experience any happiness or misery. Only in our wakefulness do we become aware of these experiences. Hence there is something else which is the root of our happiness and misery. It is our attachment to the body.
We fail to distinguish between the body and soul and hence we suffer the pangs of misery. While we sleep we do not have this attachment and we do not experience anything good or bad. Similarly, in our waking state, if we manage to give up this attachment, we can carry on our normal activities in life without being affected by good or bad experiences.
For example, if our own house catches fire we get very much concerned but, if another man’s house is on fire, we are not so much bothered. Both are houses and both are on fire but in the first case we are more concerned because it happens to be ‘our’ house. Similarly a newly married person gets very much concerned if his bride falls ill. But he had not cared at all if the same lady had fallen ill before he had married her. In the first case he is concerned because she happens to be ‘his’ wife. Sri Krishna asks Arjuna to overcome his sorrow at the loss of his dear and near ones by rooting out all attachment to them.
(Shloka 2.14) "You have to face these difficulties, O Arjuna and overcome them by getting rid of attachment. You should never bow down to them." Thus does the Lord eradicate, root and branch, the very source of Arjuna’s sorrow.
This advice of Sri Krishna does not mean that we should be unconcerned when a great disaster or calamity befalls the country or a community. In such cases we should show all compassion and help the people as much as we can. It is the narrow and selfish interest of man arising out of his undue attachment to his body and worldly possessions that is condemned and not his genuine desire to render social service. Attachment generated by narrow selfishness alone is the root of all sorrows and the Lord wants that such sorrows should be faced squarely.
The Soul as an image of God
The soul which is within us is described as the image of God. For any object to have its image, there must be a medium to act as a mirror. Some say that the body is such a medium. If that is so, when the body is destroyed, the soul also should be destroyed just as the image is destroyed when the mirror is destroyed. If the soul also is destroyed how does Krishna preach the imperishability of the soul? This doubt is cleared here.
The soul has two covers outer and inner. The outer cover is the body and that does not act as the medium for casting the image. It is the inner cover which is made of the same substance as the soul itself namely of pure intelligence and bliss that acts as the medium or the mirror. This inner cover being of the nature of the soul itself, is permanent and imperishable. Hence the soul which is God’s image is considered as eternal and imperishable.
How does the soul stand in relation to God? For this let us examine the object-image relationship a little more in detail. The shadow and the photograph are examples of our image. Only if we move our image moves, not otherwise. Unless there is activity in us there cannot be any activity in our image. Just as the image resembles us and at the same time is wholly dependent on us, so also the soul resembles God and is totally dependent on Him.
Without God’s activity and will, there can be no independent activity of the soul. The substance of God is pure knowledge and bliss. So is that of the soul. The similarity ends here and there is a gulf of difference between the two thereafter. God is infinite and the soul is finite. Even if we are fair, our shadow is dark. We should not stretch the analogy of the object and the image too far.
It is the duty of every aspirant to discover the true nature of his soul. He should realise that he is only a shadow of God and thus is totally dependent on Him. Out of his ignorance and egoism he should not indulge in any immoral or irreligious act. He should discover and realise that the soul is not the mere body, not the mind, not even the natural instinct but something much higher, permanent, eternal and of a nature similar to God, and rejoice in the knowledge of his personality as endowed with greatness and dignity.
At the same time the knowledge that he is totally dependent on God for each and everything should make him humble enough to surrender to His Supreme Will. The twin aspects are included in the conception of the soul as an image of God.
We cannot improve our image in the mirror by decorating the mirror. Instead, if we decorate ourselves, our reflection in the mirror or our image in the photograph will improve. Similarly, for our spiritual enrichment there is no point in decorating our body. It is as futile as decorating the mirror. We should, instead, decorate and worship the supreme God as full of infinite auspicious qualities. The more we do so, the more will we discover the unique dignity and beauty of our own personality. If we want to beautify ourselves we should turn our devoted attention to God. This idea has been effectively expressed in the Bhagavatha.
Arjuna’s doubts regarding the indestructibility of the soul, the perishability of the body and the efficacy of non-attachment to worldly things have been cleared to a great extent. The Lord expresses the same in the words:
(Shloka 2.16) The body which is born is not eternal; the soul which is unborn does not perish
No harm will accrue from righteous warfare
The above stanza has another meaning. "Nothing good can come from evil deeds; nothing evil can come from good deeds." This clears the doubt of Arjuna that the war will lead to sin and disaster in afterlife.
The war in which the Pandavas are engaged is a righteous war fought against unrighteousness. King Duryodhana had all along conducted the affairs of the state based on unrighteous principles and selfish interests to the utter detriment of his subjects. He was tutored in this wily art even from his boyhood by his wicked teacher Kalinga. Treading this path, the king had fouled the whole atmosphere of his state. Even great preceptors like Bhishma and Drona had become helpless and could not stem the tide of unrighteousness let loose by the king.
Duryodhana’s philosophy in life was as follows: "Be selfish and cunning. Do not bother about God. To deceive the world, put on a mask of righteousness in this drama of life." By this policy of the king the whole atmosphere of the state was polluted and pervaded by greed, treachery and deceit. The main purpose of the holy Mahabharata war was to purify this foul atmosphere and reestablish the rule of righteousness and morality. Nothing but good could come out of such a holy war fought for the universal good of all subjects.
(Shloka 2.31) Nothing is more meritorious for a king than a holy war.
Only righteous wars are meritorious, not others. Some complain that in the olden days, kshatriyas were encouraged in mere warmongering. This is not true. Sri Krishna does not recommend wanton expansionism. People who initiate such wars are branded as tyrants and enemies of the world. Wars fought inevitably for achieving a definite ideal and for the welfare of mankind are called righteous wars and those who take part in such holy wars were praised and said to have gained a place in heaven. The shastras have never encouraged selfish, aggressive and imperialistic wars. Rarely do people get a chance to fight a righteous war. Sri Krishna says that Arjuna has got such a unique opportunity now when the gates of heaven are thrown wide open for him.
Desire is the root of sin
Sri Krishna’s teachings of non-attachment no doubt reduces the anguish of Arjuna but still his fear of committing sin by killing preceptors and relatives has not completely disappeared. Even though this is a holy war, some sin is bound to be committed by the killing of innocent people and this will lead to unhappiness and misery in the other world. The war will thus give mixed results of happiness and misery. Instead, asks Arjuna: "Is it not better to be a recluse, forsake all action, retire into a forest and lead the life of a mendicant, which is free from any sin. The old doubt still persists.
In answer to this query the Lord proceeds to describe the philosophy of Bhagavata religion or desireless action which is uncontaminated by sin. Just as attachment is the root of misery so also desire is the root of sin. We should try to conquer this desire. Does the mere performance of a violent act lead to sin? No. For example, the judge passes death sentence on many culprits and the executioners hang them. Do they acquire sin? No. This violence is committed not for any personal gain but as a part of one’s duty.
Desireless action, therefore, does not result in sin. The Lord Himself destroys the universe, still he is sinless. Under anesthesia, the doctor performs operations on the human body without the patient feeling any pain. So also desireless action is like the anesthesia which enables man to perform his duties in this world unsoiled by sin.
Even if such desireless and godly actions are discontinued in the middle due to unforeseen circumstances, they will not go in vain. They bear fruit unlike other worldly activities like industry and agriculture which if discontinued in the middle may not yield any fruit at all; on the contrary, it may become difficult to recover from the loss. (shloka 2.40)
In taking medicine if the dose is either too small or too big there is harm but in the practice of Bhagavata religion of desireless action, there is no such fear. If the heart is pure, even if there are some lapses in our action, they will be forgiven.
The Lord has thus given a simple and straightforward religion the practice of which in our day to day life, even to a limited extent, will yield great results. It is not how much we do, but how we do, that matters. Sudama gave but a handful of beaten rice to the Lord. It is the spirit, the purity of mind and the devotion behind that simple offering that produced the result. It is the quality that matters, not the quantity. A single piece of currency note bearing the seal of the Government is more valuable than heaps of ordinary paper. Even little deeds bearing the stamp of devotion are more fruitful than scores of others performed without it. This in brief is the principle of desireless action.
The sole path of truth
Regarding action, there is diversity of opinion. Some say that all action is illusory and that performance of action is mandatory to ignorant people only. Mimamsakas say that the supreme goal in life is to perform action like sacrifice etc., and attain worldly and heavenly pleasure. Sri Krishna says that the performance of desireless action is mandatory both to the ignorant and to the illumined. Sri Krishna further elaborates on this theme to clear the confusion wrought by various theories. (shloka 2.41)
Sri Krishna says that the path of desireless action alone is what is preached in all scriptures and this conclusion has been arrived at by a critical examination and careful study of the scriptures. Some may argue that if all roads lead to the same goal, it is immaterial what road we take. This is not correct. We should examine more critically which one is true? If there are two contradictory opinions on the same subject, both cannot be true. If it were so, truth and untruth should both lead us to salvation. This is absurd. We cannot raise truth and untruth on the same pedestal without injuring the very cause of truth.
I (Sri Vishvesha Tirtha of Pejavara Matha, Udupi) had a discussion on this topic with Sri Vinobha Bhave. He was of the opinion that people could follow different paths and different religions according to their tastes and inclinations. "Some people like sweets, others like savoury dishes and both the dishes fill the stomach and satiate the hunger," he argued. I answered: "Different types of food produce different biochemical reactions in the body. Similarly different religions produce different reactions in the mind and the soul. Both truth and untruth cannot have the same effect on the soul. Two contradictory statements cannot both be correct." Sri Bhave conceded the point. We both agreed that there are many things common to all religions and on this highest common factor we should seek cooperation between members of different religions and in areas where there is a fundamental difference we should agree to differ and part as friends. Thus we too parted as friends.
Some others argue: "Truth has many facets and each religion emphasises a particular aspect of this truth. Even though there are apparent contradictions between different religions they may be different facets of the same truth. Just as babies, grown up persons, sick persons and healthy persons partake of different types of food according to their needs, so also different persons may follow different religions and still earn merit." But we must note that each religious founder claims that his is the only true religion that leads to salvation and all other religions lead but to perdition. How can different religions holding contradictory beliefs all be true? How can two doctors prescribe two contradictory lines of treatment to a patient suffering from a single ailment?
Sri Krishna therefore says that the scriptures preach one religion and that is the sole path of truth. Ishavasya Upanishad also comes to the same conclusion while discussing science and nescience (Vidya and Avidya). It is also stated in the same Upanishad that we should get at the Truth by a critical examination. Just because we are hungry it is not wise to fill the belly with anything and everything that comes our way; this may lead to indigestion and disease. It is better to go hungry and safeguard our health than eat unhygienic food. So also with knowledge. No-knowledge is better than foul knowledge.
Merit will not accrue from either inaction or desire-prompted action. Only desireless action preached in the Gita can give us merit and it should be kept as a guiding principle in life.
Vedas and desire-prompted action
Vedas recommend sacrificial rituals for the attainment of worldly and heavenly pleasures. Such action is truly desire-prompted. The Gita advocates the performance of desireless action. The two teachings appear to be contradictory to each other. Actually there is no such contradiction because in the ultimate analysis even the Vedas advocate desireless action. It is the protagonists of Mimamsa who hold that the attainment of worldly pleasures is the goal of the Vedas. By holding this limited view they have abused the Vedas and have led men away from the physical study of the Vedas; they have succeeded in provoking men’s greed only.
These people merely repeat the words of the Vedas parrot-like without understanding their full meaning. The Vedas do offer worldly benefits for those who seek but they offer much more if you care to dive deeper and get at the truth. The followers of Mimamsa are like the foolish people who pluck the flowers for their fragrance robbing themselves of the taste of the delicious fruits. Without knowing the mystic import of the Vedas and by running after the cheap superficial rewards, we would be robbed of the fruit of immortality. Mimamsakas committed this mistake. The Gita criticises them as follows:
The promise of the worldly pleasures held out by the Vedas is only to lure the people to its study just as the mother gives some sugar to children before administering bitter medicine. But we shall be foolish if we stop halfway and be satisfied with worldly pleasures only. We have to dive deeper. The spiritual upliftment derived from the study of the Vedas depends upon our mental make-up. The same is stated in the Bhagavata
In the Chandogya Upanishad there is a beautiful parable. Once Death chased a soul. The soul took shelter in the Vedas. Death pursued it even there. The soul dived deeper and deeper into the Vedas and thus escaped from the clutches of Death. We can have another illustration. If a fish swims near the surface of water any kingfisher can easily catch it with its long beak. But by diving deeper the fish can go beyond the reach of the kingfisher’s long beak and thus save itself. Similarly a mere superficial study of the Vedas does not lead us to immortality. For that we have to make a deeper metaphysical study.
Sri Krishna says: (Shloka 2.45) The Vedas seem to speak of what pertaines to the three qualities - O Arjuna, get thyself free from the effect of the three qualities. Stand aloof from the pairs of the opposites. Always take thy stand on the externally excellent. Be free from the cares of gain and security. and ever have the Lord with thee..
Some say that this advice amounts to a criticism of the Vedas and conclude that the Gita has preached a new religion not found in the Vedas. But the desireless action preached in the Gita is nothing novel. The Upanishads have taught this much earlier. In the Ishavashya Upanishad there is a beautiful reference to this idea. Superficially Vedas appear to preach desire-prompted action but in the ultimate analysis they preach desireless action. It is our duty to eschew desire-prompted action and turn our attention to desireless action as preached by Sri Krishna.
Vedas are like a huge reservoir and they contain many ideas. From the reservoir we take water to the extent we need and to the extent we can utilise. We have to make a critical study of the Vedas and select only those ideas which we can assimilate and which we can turn to our benefit. Vedas preach desire-prompted action only to create an interest in us in divine knowledge and initiate us into the path of pure devotion. Prizes are given to the best student in the class just to encourage students to study hard. Desire-prompted action is not the goal of the Vedas. Acquisition of a true knowledge of God and performance of desireless action with pure devotion to God is the essence of the Vedic teaching and as such, there is no contradiction between the Vedas and the Gita and there is no room for any criticism or misunderstanding on this score.
There is one more point. Vedas no doubt have stated many rituals for those who want worldly rewards but nowhere has it emphasised that in performing such action, we should be concerned with results. Only the desire and eagerness for salvation has been stressed in the Vedas and there are no commandments regarding the desire for fruit. Let those who want the results perform such and such a ritual.
By saying this it does not mean that everyone should perform these actions for fruit only. Action can still be performed without any expectation of the reward. Let those who are needy and greedy perform their duties and get paid for it. It does not mean that there are not others who are willing to do the same work in an honorary capacity, without any pay and doing the work just for the love of it. The same rituals which are performed in the hope of getting heavenly and worldly pleasure could still be performed without bothering about the rewards. (shloka 2.47)
Action and concern for the results
The above stanza also states: "Performing actions is alone within your capacity -- Rewards never. Since God alone is the giver of reward or fulfillment, only the performance of actions is within our reach." Whilst discarding the desire for fruit, we should not discard action itself. Let not the baby be thrown away along with the bath water. This warning has been given by the Lord. For family people forsaking worldly pleasures may indeed be a difficult proposition. But what we gain by desireless action far outweighs the loss.
We may have to lose worldly pleasures but we gain, instead, supreme bliss. Hence we need not grieve. The firefly gives some light in darkness, no doubt, but do we on that score prefer darkness and shun sunrise. While building dams and reservoirs, some wells may be submerged. But do we therefore stop building reservoirs. What use is a tiny well when you have the whole reservoir. What are these petty pleasures worth in comparison with the supreme bliss born of desireless action?
Gita thus says: (shloka 2.46) "Miserable are those who work for rewards,"
The householder toils day and night. In toil he is not inferior to a karmayogi. The karmayogi toils for God and the family man toils for his wife and children. That is the only difference. But even this toiling for family can be done in the name of God and as an offering to God. We undergo untold miseries, trials and tribulations in our day-to-day life all because of our attachment to worldly things. These very acts can be done disinterestedly for His sake and as a dedication to Him. The Lord pities those who fritter away their energy in hankering after petty things.
The Gita no doubt repeatedly praises desireless action. But is it a practical proposition to perform action without any concern for its result? We indulge in action only to achieve certain objectives and results. Desire motivates all action and is at its root. "There is no meaning in preaching desireless action," say the followers of other religions.
Certainly, without aim, all action is meaningless. But this aim and goal of all action should be noble. Gita does not eschew all desires. Only selfish desires for mundane things have been condemned. Have a worthwhile ideal and goal in life and work for it wholeheartedly for public welfare. Let your only desire be to earn the grace of God. The message or the Gita is that we should not fritter away our energy being enticed by petty attachments and desires. There is nothing impractical in the advice of the Gita. It preaches the genuine philosophy of life itself.
There is a story in the Mahabharata which is relevant here. After hearing a long discourse on morality and religion by Bhishma, Yudhishthira raises an important query: "O Bhishma, of the four ideals of human life, Virtue, Wealth, Desire and Release, which is the best?" Vidura replies that virtue is the most meritorious ideal. The practical-minded Arjuna says that for the achievement of all other ideals and for the performance of religious duties, wealth is absolutely essential and hence it is supreme. Dharmaraja of course argues that the ultimate goal of all human beings must be the liberation from the cycle of birth and death and hence it should take the pride of place.
But to the surprise of all Bhimasena argues that desire ought to be the dominant ideal. Elaborating his point he explains that desire is the motivating force behind all actions. Without it there is no morality, no wealth and no liberation. Noble desires and righteous ambition spur us into worthwhile action. All other ideals of human life are subservient to this ideal of noble desire. Desire is not merely lust for power or base enjoyment. It can also be a driving force to the attainment of the highest goal in life.
In Gita Tatparya Sri Acharya writes: “Not hankering after the unworthy things itself is renunciation of action.” Forsaking the desire for selfish worldly pleasures and performing action purely for the attainment of God’s grace, liberation and universal welfare is the essence of desirable action.
Performance of selfless and desireless action is easy to preach but difficult to practice. Even good and noble acts are performed by people in their day-to-day life either to earn merit or fame or a place in heaven. We may be scared by the high ideal preached by the Gita. But we need not be disheartened. Even some great men have fallen a prey to such desire-prompted action due to their delusion. Even illumined souls may chance to be victims of low, worldly desires. But though difficult to follow, we can keep this as our ideal to guide us in our day-to-day life.
The pole star is far away and beyond our reach. But it guides many a sailor on the high seas. Similarly the high ideal of karmayoga or desireless action may be beyond our reach but it should always be kept before our mind’s eye as a guiding star in our spiritual journey and by following this path blazed by such a high ideal we shall certainly reach our highest goal. Hence, though difficult, we should try sincerely to follow this ideal without unnecessarily being disheartened.
Excellence of disinterested action
Wherever there is fire there is smoke. Wherever there is action there is bound to be some lapse here and there. But there is a way of getting over this difficulty and the special value of karmayoga lies in performing action without being affected by the incidental taint.
If you want to swim across a river, you cannot do it unless you get into the water. But you will get drowned if you do not know the art of swimming. Similarly, if you want liberation from this life-cycle, you have to get into the worldly life and perform action; if you do not know the art of performing action selflessly you may get drowned in the ocean of life.
(shloka 2.50) Disinterested action alone is skillful action, performing action in a disinterested way is an art itself. If one performs an action disinterestedly, one can cross over this life without being drowned.
Let me give you another example. You cut open a jackfruit and try to remove the pulp. It is all sticky. But you can avoid this stickiness by smearing your fingers with a few drops of oil. Karmayoga or desirelessness in action is like the oil which enables you to perform action without being stuck in it. Even while performing good deeds some lapses may occur but no sin will accrue if we follow be path of karmayoga.
In our day-to-day life we may cause the death of many ants, insects etc. We cannot avoid it. But if we perform all our actions desirelessly in a spirit of dedication to God these little lapses which are beyond our control and which are committed inadvertently, will not affect us and we shall enjoy the perennial fruit of the duty we have performed.
The fruit of desireless action
The next question is how long are we to perform such desireless action? (shloka 2.52)
The answer is that we should continue such action till the heart becomes pure, ignorance is removed and spiritual wisdom is attained. For meditation and realisation of God, purity of heart is most essential. God’s image will not be cast in a mind sullied by lust and hatred. The sun’s reflection can be seen only in the waters of a lake when they are calm and placid and not when they are disturbed and wave-tossed. Even so the heart must be pure to see God.
The purification of the heart is possible through right action. When you are engaged in performing good deeds, there is no chance for any weakness of the mind to show up. The mind is thus purified. During the struggle for Indian independence, the political atmosphere was pure and people fought for a noble cause and suffered great difficulties. They were as yet uncorrupted by lust for power and wealth. But the same spirit of selfless sacrifice is missing in the recent times in our political life and people are running after wealth and power. Seeing this we get a feeling, sometimes, that independence came to us a little too soon. Desireless action leads to purity of heart. When the heart becomes pure, one’s mind turns towards God and one is now set on the path of realisation of God.
In the above stanza the word ‘nirveda’ does not mean resignation towards knowledge. How can you be disinterested in knowledge which has been acquired with great effort? Would Sri Krishna ever be preaching resignation in matters of spiritual knowledge instead of renunciation of desires? If any commentator gives this meaning it is indeed strange.
In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the word ‘Nirveda’ has been used to denote ‘attainment’. We reap the fruit of our study only when the mind is purified and ignorance is removed.
(shloka 2.50) By doing such desireless action, one gets beyond both merit and sin.
Does this mean then that by doing desireless action, even the merit is lost? No. By doing good deeds we get the grace of God and this verily is merit and this grace is essential for salvation. How could Gita then advocate forsaking merit?
There are two kinds of merit, desirable and undesirable. The merit earned by performing desire-prompted action brings us only worldly pleasures and leads us astray from the goal of final liberation. Such a merit is called ‘undesirable merit.’ Desireless action and meditation give us merit which leads us to spiritual evolution and ultimate liberation. This is called desirable merit.
Gita advocates the forsaking of undesirable merit and not the desirable merit. In fact, to attain final liberation, one has to forsake the ‘undesirable’ merit which leads only to worldly happiness. Even in our everyday life we find that to stand as a candidate for any public selective post and to become a minister one has to give up his Government post, contract, or any other office of profit. So also to obtain final liberation we have to give up worldly pleasures though they are acquired by merit.
There are two categories of knowledge. One is indirect and the other is direct. Knowledge acquired from the teacher, from reasoning and from scriptures all belong to the first category. The knowledge becomes firm by rightful action. After acquiring this knowledge of God through these external sources, we desire to realise God and see Him within us without the help of either reasoning or words. For this we should concentrate our mind on Him and meditate. Then we can realise God within us and this is called direct knowledge or God-realisation.
Desireless action is as much necessary in the state of indirect perception as it is in the state of direct perception. As disinterested action is necessary for the perfecting of the indirect knowledge, so also is such action needed in the post-indirect knowledge to prepare a background of meditation for direct knowledge. Mere dipping the cloth in water and wetting it is not sufficient for cleansing. We have to take steps to wash it, rinse it and squeeze it in order to remove the soil. So we have to continue our desireless action even beyond the stage of indirect knowledge till the mind reaches the stage of direct knowledge and becomes pure enough to catch the image of God and hold fast to it.
Hence we should realise that desireless action is necessary both for direct and indirect knowledge. One who is steeped in God-realisation and beatitude is absolutely dead to worldly happenings. Nothing external can wake him up from this bliss and bring him back to the affairs of the world. Such a person is called a Sthitaprajna (a person with a steady poise of awareness.)
The Sthitaprajna and the control of the senses
The Lord now describes the qualities of a Sthitaprajna or a person of equable mind. He is the one whose mind is turned towards God and who is free from worldly desires. Pleasure and pain are both alike to him. Emotions like love, hatred and fear do not perturb him. We all have need to develop these qualities step by step before realising God. But in a Sthitaprajna these qualities are found to be native or inbuilt.
A child has to totter while learning to walk but when it grows up it walks so naturally and effortlessly. We see a similar difference between an aspirant and an illumined soul. Whereas an aspirant, a novice in the art, has to strive for it like a child, an illumined soul gets it effortlessly. One who does not require any effort at all in the expression of these virtues is termed a Sthitaprajna.
With his senses under control, he does not fall a prey to temptations and he leads a pure life untorn by lust and anger. Just as a tortoise withdraws its legs into its shell, so also can a Sthitaprajna easily withdraw his senses from the world of sense. He is not hampered by the world of the senses. Mix milk with water, it is hard to separate. But the same milk when boiled well and made into curds and churned yields butter and this butter can be taken out of water easily.
Our mind is like milk and if we let it go into worldly temptations, it gets thoroughly mixed up with it and we cannot take it out. But the mind of the illumined soul is like butter. Even when immersed in worldly affairs it does not get mixed up with it. It can be withdrawn from worldly things at will. We only know how to let go our senses but do not at all know how to withdraw them from carnal pleasures. That weakness is the product of a feeble mind.
There is a story in the Mahabharata. During the Bharata war, Ashwathama sneaks into Pandavas’ camp at the dead of night and murders their sons and other brave soldiers. The fight starts between him and Arjuna. Ashwathama tries all his weapons and as a last resort uses his Brahmastra. Arjuna has no other go but use his own Brahmastra. Caught between these two deadly weapons, the whole world quakes. At this Sri Vedavyasa orders both of them to withdraw their respective weapons. Arjuna withdraws his weapon easily but Ashwathma does not succeed in doing so because he had lost that power due to his moral turpitude in murdering Arjuna’s children against all canons of warfare.
We are also in the same ridiculous situation as Ashwathama. We only know how to send our senses out into the world but hardly know how to withdraw them when required. Our senses behave as did the Brahmastra from the hands of Ashwathama. Instead of we dictating to them, they are dictating to us. We, who should have been masters of the senses, have become their slaves.
By self-discipline and fasting we try to overcome temptations and control our senses. But what usually happens is that we abstain from these temptations physically but hanker after them mentally. While we fast on Ekadashi we are always thinking of the next day’s feast. Without food, all the other sense-organs may become weak, but the tongue remains ever sharp and hankers after delicious food. Even if we cut the branches of a tree, so long as the root is intact, it will put forth afresh when we water; similarly if the tongue is left uncontrolled, the sensual desires keep on cropping up. But complete termination of the sensual desires can happen only by the realisation of God. In front of that beatitude all other worldly pleasures fade into insignificance. An illumined soul is not tempted by such worldly pleasures. You may give sweets to a child crying for its lost mother but the child will throw away the sweets in its ecstasy when it sees its mother. So also an illumined soul spurns all worldly pleasures when it reaches this beatitude. The Lord says:
(shloka 2.59) The realised soul loses his taste for worldly pleasures at the sight of God.
We run after worldly pleasures because we have no idea of the supreme bliss that devotion begets. We are too weak to turn our attention to God. To overcome this weakness we have to keep our mind engrossed always in the infinite good qualities of the Lord and realise how futile it is to run after worldly pleasures. Instead of finding fault with our fellow-beings why shouldn’t we realise the dangers lurking in these worldly pleasures? Thus by rejecting on the shortcomings of the worldly things we easily renounce them; by meditating on divine attributes devotion dawns on us naturally.
We are tempted by these worldly pleasures because we have not overcome them. Even during prayer, we cannot concentrate our mind on God. The beads no doubt turn mechanically between our fingers but the mind is wandering all over the world. By yielding to the seductions of worldly things we are but confirmed in our attachment to them. When obstructions are there anger is provoked; deluded by anger a man forgets his duties and obligations. He cleanly forgets the commandments of the Shastras. He loses his sense of right and wrong and grows wanton in his desires. Then he only courts his ruin.
The Lord says: (shlokas 2.62, 2.63) Brooding on the objects of sense a man gets attached to them and out of attachment proceeds desire for them. When the desire is thwarted, anger erupts and anger generates confusion. The confusion then leads to the loss of sense of dharma; (sense of right and wrong as taught by the shastras.) With this loss there is the collapse of the discriminating intellect and when this discrimination is lost, he is ruined.
Thus we must be wary of unchecked desires and save ourselves from imminent ruin. Desire is the poison that lurks behind all senses. They attack like poisonous snakes. For this we need not suppress our senses. We need not kill the poisonous snake. We have only to remove its fangs and then we can play with it as the snake-charmer does.
(shloka 2.64) One who is bereft of attachment and aversion attains a pleased state of mind, sporting his senses in the objects but keeping them under perfect control.
Thus if we control our senses and overcome greed and hatred, attachment and aversion, these senses will not harm us even if we move about among the objects of the senses. Controlling the senses does not mean torturing them or unnerving them. When we direct them into worthwhile channels we are said to have controlled them.
There is a story of the emperor Alarka who in order to control his senses started cutting his sense organs one by one. Then the presiding deities of these organs appeared before him, and said,: "Oh king, do not take recourse to such foolish step as cutting away your organs. It is only through these sense organs can you perform good deeds also. By removing these organs you will not be able to achieve anything worthwhile and your whole life will be wasted. Proper sense control consists in only guiding then in the right path."
(shloka 2.66) The mind of the one who is not self-pleased does not have a control of the senses; without the control there is no knowledge; without the steadiness of mind there is no self-knowledge; without the self-knowledge there is no salvation; without salvation where from would bliss come?
Sthitaprajna and his way of life
What is the difference between an illumined soul and an ordinary person? The Lord describes it as follows:
(shloka 2.69) What is night for ordinary people, is day for the illumined soul. What is day for them, is night for him.
We have great attachment for worldly pleasures and we are therefore drowned in them. To what we are keen upon, the illumined soul is totally indifferent. The illumined souls are not attracted by worldly pleasures. They are interested in God only and they are wholly engrossed in His meditation. They are dead to all other worldly attractions. In our case it is the opposite. Even as we are sitting for prayer our minds wander and dwell on worldly pleasures. In short, the illumined souls are interested in God and disinterested in worldly pleasures. We are very much interested in worldly pleasures and disinterested in God.
Has the illumined soul, engrossed in God, any duties to perform? Does he eat and drink? How does he live? The Lord continues:
(shloka 2.70) All rivers flow into the sea but the level of the water in the sea does not change. Whether rivers flow in or not, it matters little to the ocean which is least perturbed. Similarly in the illumined soul flow the worldly pleasures but he is not affected by them. He can go without them too. Like the ocean he is unperturbed.
Whatever water may come into the sea, it does not transgress its shore. Similarly however much an illumined soul may enjoy the worldly pleasures, he will not transgress the moral limits. He is the most disciplined servant of God. He confines himself to all the moral rules and regulations and even as he enjoys legitimate worldly pleasures he leads a superior, unperverted and contended life. All rivers flow into the sea even without its asking for it. So also do all worldly pleasures come to him without his running after them.
If we run after our shadow turning our back to the sun we cannot catch it. The faster we run, the faster does it run away from us. But if we give up running after it, turn our face towards the sun and run, the shadow will follow us as fast as we run. The same is the case with worldly pleasures. If we run after them they will elude us forever. On the other hand, if we look upon them with contempt and turn our attention towards God, they themselves will follow us of their own accord. An illumined soul need not struggle to get them, they go to him unsought.
Vibhishana did not ask Brahma for any favours. Ravana and Kumbhakarna did penance in propitiation of Brahma to attain superhuman powers to rule the world as they pleased and not be vanquished by anybody. When Brahma appeared before Kumbharkarna, the latter got thoroughly confused, forgot whatever he wanted to ask and obtained only the boon of fast sleep! Ravana obtained the boon of invincibility from gods and demons, and also immortality. But he had to meet his death from the hands of God in the form of a mortal being. But Vibhishana did not ask any boon of God. He only prayed for enlightenment and pure devotion. God was pleased with his attitude and blessed him with immortality which he enjoys even to this day. An illumined soul thus gets what he wants even unasked.
Thus after being blessed with the sight of the Lord, the illumined soul lives a God-permeated life which is free from voluptuousness and full of blessedness and serenity. This is called the Brahmic state. Through the gates of the purified mind attained by the performance of noble deeds, he walks on the path of meditation and realisation into the Brahmic state.
The second chapter of the Gita concludes with the description of the Sthitaprajna. In it are beautifully described the various stages of the perfecting of the soul out of the lowest into the highest.
CHAPTER 3: KARMA YOGA
Then why bother about action?
Arjuna senses some apparent contradictions in what Sri Krishna said regarding Action and Knowledge. (shloka 2.49) From this verse it appears that action is inferior to knowledge. Yet the Lord has said (shlokas 2.47, 2.48) “Do not desist from action; Perform Actions as a karmayogi.” But in the earlier verses Sri Krishna has stated that action must be performed by all means.
If knowledge is superior to action, then why not follow it as the sole path? Why bother about action at all? This is indeed a genuine doubt and Arjuna says: "Oh, Lord! in one statement you extol knowledge; in another you extol action. I am thoroughly confused by your contradictory advice. I do not know which is the better of the two, and which path to follow. Please give me a clear-cut and unambiguous advice." (shloka 3.1)
Even if we say that when Sri Krishna criticised action He had in mind only the desire-prompted action and not the desireless action, the problem is not fully solved. If we have to perform desireless action, then why go in for war? There are many other actions which can be performed without any desire. As for example, the duties of a saint or a mendicant. In other spheres of life, action performed may be desire-prompted, depending upon the state of one’s mind at that time. Sacrificial ritual may be performed either to get some results or for its own sake. But in the actions prescribed for a monk (Sanyasi) there is no room for desire at all.
If all action is to be desireless action, then is it not better to embrace the life of a mendicant rather than engage in a war which is desire-prompted? It is impossible to fight a war desirelessly. War is nothing but shooting and killing and, from the beginning to the end, it is desire-prompted. To engage in a fight and be detached is as impossible as working in a coal mine and trying to keep the hands clean. When there are hosts of other deeds which can be performed desirelessly, why engage in a war where there is so much vulgar display of anger and passion. Arjuna gets a doubt whether it is not preferable to don the robes of a recluse rather than fight a war and he asks Sri Krishna:
(shloka 3.1) "Why then do you coax me into this bloody war?" Here Arjuna raises two fundamental issues. Firstly, if action is inferior to knowledge, then why not eschew action. Secondly, if action is so inevitable, then why not perform desireless action prescribed for mendicants instead of engaging in war.
Abandonment of action is impracticable
To the first question Sri Krishna gives the following answer: If action is the root of the cycle of birth and death and by eschewing action, we can free ourselves from such a cycle, then why do not birds and animals for whom no action is religiously prescribed, automatically get salvation? The animals, birds, insects and other creatures are not touched by sin or merit which alone are the source of further lives. Since they do not have either merit or sin, why should they not automatically be released from the chain of lives?
But merely by this negative approach of forsaking action, one does not get released. It is only by a positive approach of performing all action enjoined on him but desirelessly, that one can get release from this cycle of birth and death. One should not embrace the life of a mendicant just to run away from action; he should do it with a positive view to meditating on God and leading a holy life. (shloka 3.4)
Mere renunciation (of desire-prompted action) does not lead to salvation. For final release both true knowledge and desireless action are necessary. If action is the root of birth and death then you may think that by eschewing all action you may get out of this cycle, just as you can bring down a tree by cutting its roots. But it is impossible to free ourselves from all action. It sticks to us even if we try to get rid of it. Even if we try not to get into new enterprises we have to put an end to consequences of our past actions only through living them out. One action gives rise to ten other new actions like the family of the Raktabija. When one Raktabija dies, out of his blood cells thousands of other Raktabijas are born. Similarly when one action is completed, hundred others crop up as a consequence of this in an endless chain. It is therefore foolish to think of eschewing action and attaining liberation.
Nor can we rest idle without performing any action. We are always doing something or the other. Even breathing is an action. Many bacteria get into our body during breathing and get killed. We cannot run away from action even though it binds us and leads us to many sins. It is impracticable to forsake action. At the most we may give up all physical activity, retire into a forest and do penance. But what can we achieve by sitting in the forest if our mind is entangled?
Our sense organs may not be engaged in any physical activity but our minds continue to crave for worldly pleasures. By this we achieve neither worldly pleasure nor heavenly bliss and be double losers, losing both this world and the other. If we eschew action and enter the forest, we have to make our entry fruitful. Our mind has to be controlled. But if the mind is controlled, we may as well be in family life. There is no need to go to a forest. If control over mind is more essential for salvation than renunciation of action, then is it not worthier to control the mind and be in the family itself?
(If you can control your mind, why go to a forest? If you cannot control your mind, what can you do by going to a forest? For one who can control the mind, wherever he is that is his forest and that is his hermitage).
Hence concentrate on mind-control rather than on action control. Even to control the mind, some sort of action is necessary. Without action the control of mind and subjugation of desire are difficult. In any case action is indispensable and unavoidable. Sri Krishna says: (shloka 3.6) “One who merely controls action but keeps on brooding on the objects of the senses is called a deluded soul and a hypocrite.”
Let action be in the form of sacrifice
One more question arises here. Our scriptures say that action binds us. Performing the action which binds us, how at all can we obtain liberation? It is waste of effort to try to obtain liberation while continuing with action which is inimical to it. As medicine without controlling the diet is useless, similarly striving for liberation while doing action which binds us is a vain effort. This question has been answered in the third chapter of the Gita.
No doubt, since we cannot live without food, we must take some food; but bad food ruins our health. If we do not take any food at all since it may be harmful, the body may perish. Thus, we have to take only good and wholesome food to nourish the body.
Since action binds us, it does not mean that we should give up all action. It is only bad action that binds us. Good action performed with good intentions always leads to good results and such action cannot be a hindrance to our liberation. On the other hand, it helps spiritual enlightenment. Just as we discriminate between good food and bad food and partake only of good food, so also in the performance of action we should discriminate between good and bad, and do only the good ones. Action may be described as the key which opens the case of ignorance which clouds the auspicious nature of our soul. With one and the same key we can either open a box or close it. Similarly action can both be a binding as well as a liberating agent. It depends on the person who wields it.
We must first of all realise which actions bind us. Discriminating between good and evil deeds, we must eschew actions which bind us down to the cycle of birth and death, and perform those actions which ultimately lead us to God. Sri Krishna says: (shloka 3.9) “If a man performs actions which are not dedicated to the Lord (sacrifice in the name of the Lord), he is bound by them.”
Sacrifice is a sort of service rendered selflessly in the name of God. Anything done for the sake of God cannot bind us. It is only selfish deeds and actions that bind us further to worldly life. But if we perform actions as an offering to God, the very same chain that binds us becomes a garland and an ornament which enhance the beauty of our person.
Earlier it was mentioned that we should avoid attachment while performing action; now it is further said that action should be performed as a sacrifice. Service and sacrifice are the two constituents of a Yajna. Sacrificing whatever we have as a service to God is the highest type of Yajna. Yajna should not be construed in the narrow sense of offering things in the sacrificial fire. It has a wider significance. Any good deed performed desirelessly in the spirit of an offering to God becomes Yajna. How can a war be fought without the play of emotions, was Arjuna’s question and Sri Krishna answers it by saying that he should fight the war desirelessly as a dedication to God and not for reaping any selfish desires.
Only selfish action should be given up and it is such action which is criticised by Lord Krishna and not action which is performed as Yajna. Hence it is clear there is no contradiction or inconsistency in Sri Krishna’s advice.
Pleasing each other
All actions should be performed as a Yajna in a spirit of service and sacrifice. Every man born in this world should engage himself in his stipulated duties as a token of gratitude to God and this will keep the wheel of the world moving. We are indebted to God every minute of our existence in this world. The earth, air, fire, water and ether are His gifts and we live by them. The deities that preside over these elements and the gods that control them provide us with the food and drink and activate us. In return for all these bounties enjoyed by us minute by minute, we should realise that we owe Him duties and whatever we do, we should dedicate that to Him, as the Lord of this universe. No mortal or society has such a sway on the whole Universe.
There is only one supreme Lord over the whole universe. He is Shri Hari. All the things in the Universe are His. How can we partake of the bounties of nature unless we perform our stipulated duties as humble offerings to God? Even the richest man has no right to any of the worldly things unless he too performs his duties in a spirit of dedication to God. On the other hand, even the poorest man has every right to take, within limits, whatever he wants from God’s Universe by performing his stipulated duties. The same idea is expressed in the Ishavasya Upanishad.
An individual uses his private property for himself and for his family. To increase his profit he exploits others. In this way the power of some individuals or a party or a group increases, which may lead to monopoly. If the idea that the ownership of all means of production rests neither with the individual nor with the Government but with God, then it will be good both for the individual and the Government and both will prosper. In this way good deeds multiply.
If God is the only Lord of the Universe and if His law rules the world, we become his humble and disciplined subjects. We then engage ourselves in actions which not only please God but also serve His other creatures. In this way only we can repay Him. We get food from Him, and in return we should give Him offerings. Puranas say that gods are starved when dharma and karma are at a discount. The Lord and the other lesser gods do accept all our offerings however humble they may be.
Gods get nourishment so to say by the noble deeds performed by people on the earth. Goodness grows in this world only by the performance of noble deeds. If noble deeds diminish, goodness suffers and godly spirit slowly disappears. Then calamity overtakes the land. Therefore as a token of our gratitude we should offer to God only such things that please Him. Dedicated services formed selflessly is the best offering which man can give to God. This will increase the godly spirit and create a favourable and efficacious atmosphere throughout the world. (shloka 3.11)
Yajna and the life cycle
Yajnas keep the life cycle going. The good and evil deeds performed by us produce good and evil results on nature also. Good deeds ensure prosperity and they ward off evil. All our deeds have some invisible effect upon nature. (Atomic radiation is invisible to the human eye but it causes great harm to those who are exposed to it.) Our scriptures say that good deeds performed by us affect nature invisibly and there are no reasons to deny them. Some may argue that all around us sin is committed and injustice is perpetrated but still rains come and crops grow. There are persons who ignore medical advice but still are hale and healthy. The answer to this is that there are many causes for an effect. For timely rain and bumper crop there are many natural causes and performance of good deeds by men is certainly one of them.
The good deeds we perform have a twin effect on the world at large, one on the natural and the other on the social. If we perform good deeds in the form of Yajna, our character improves. There will thus be an all-round prosperity. This is the social benefit of Yajna. Besides there will be timely rain and bumper crops and there will be plenty to eat. This is the natural benefit of Yajna. Today everybody is selfish and if Yajna in the true spirit is not performed we are duped of both the fruits of Yajna. Since we have starved the gods by not doing good deeds, we are also punished with starvation.
We have to do our allotted task to keep the life cycle going. By our good deeds and clean dealings we should develop a healthy social environment and strive for the development of the whole society and thus serve the almighty God. (shloka 3.16)
Sri Krishna says that if one keeps himself busy with his own personal affairs and has no time for social work, his life is wasted. A father gives some money to his son and launches him in some business. In the same way the Lord has given us capital of Yajna before launching us into this world.
(shloka 3.10) "Using the secret of Yajna, enjoy social pleasures, worldly happiness and the other worldly bliss," saying this the Lord has sent us here. The whole creation is for the spiritual consummation of the soul. God has created this world only to enable the soul to realise its hidden loveliness and identity. For this the Lord has given us the secret of Yajna. Understanding that the design of God is the spiritual evolution of the soul, we should play our part in the evolution of the whole universe. If we ignore this responsibility of ours and fail to perform the Yajna and indulge in narrow selfish interests it will be an act not only anti-God but also anti-world. Even after being indebted to God if we do not redeem our indebtedness by performing holy acts, we shall be committing an unpardonable crime.
Thus besides driving home the fact that duty performed in the form of sacrifice does not lead to bondage, the Gita also aims at convincing that it is absolutely necessary to perform such action with a sense of gratefulness and a desire to guard the interests of maintaining the natural and social establishment in order. The Gita proposes that every one who belongs to mankind should not withdraw in fear from karma as the cause of bondage but should perform actions in the form of Yajna, in a spirit of service to God.
Evil deeds cannot be Yajna
One doubt may arise here. Can we perform evil deeds and heinous crimes in a spirit of Yajna and escape their consequences? All action is binding. But if it is performed in a spirit of Yajna, it is not binding. Can we perform sinful deeds in a spirit of Yajna and escape its consequences?
First of all we must examine whether sinful deeds can he performed in a spirit of Yajna at all. Freedom from desire and hatred, and devotion to God are the essential elements of the Yajna spirit. Any action can be considered as Yajna only if it is based on these principles. Can anybody indulge in deceit, loot and crime without greed or hatred? If a man is truly devoted to God he cannot have the impudence and arrogance to dedicate the actions not sanctioned by the shastras, to God. Therefore only those deeds which are prescribed by the scriptures and which lead to universal welfare can be performed in the true spirit of Yajna. Even these good deeds, prescribed by the scriptures, bind us if performed for selfish interests, with a mind full of desire and hatred. Deeds prohibited by scriptures do always bind us. The import of Gita is that it is not at all possible to perform them both with a selfish interest as well as in a spirit of Yajna.
Remission of action
If every one is bound to perform duties laid down in the scriptures, then what about the persons who are in a state of samadhi? These people spend days together in contemplation of God utterly unaware of what goes on in the outer world. They have idea neither of the sunrise nor of the sunset. It is impossible for them to perform the duties prescribed for the various times of the day. Can they be condemned for this? Sri Krishna has an answer for this.
(shloka 3.17) “For the person who is absorbed in the contemplation of God in a state of samadhi and who is enjoying the supreme bliss of the intuitive sight of God, there is no compulsion for doing any prescribed duties.” But when he comes out of this samadhi state, he is obliged to perform all the prescribed duties. Only those who are liberated and thus unaffected by the laws of nature (mukta) and those who are in a state of samadhi have no prescribed duties. The teaching of the Gita is that all the rest have to perform the prescribed duties in a spirit of service to God.
Obligation of action on the Jnani
Some people argue that only in the state of ajnana there is room for performing action and for a jnani there is absolutely no duties to perform. The Gita does not subscribe to this view. Jnanis are only those who are capable of showing by their own practice the ideal of disinterested action. Only such persons have acquired the mental poise to perform action in a spirit of Yajna. Besides, by their realisation of God they have developed the sense of devotion to God and they have no worldly desires and so they can perform their actions with a pure mind. If such Jnanis do not have to perform action, then who else can set an example to the world? God stands eternally liberated. Nor is He bound by the laws of prescription or prohibition. Even He performs action to exemplify the lofty ideal of karmayoga; where do others stand?
(shloka 3.22) “Oh Partha, even though my desires are ever fulfilled and I am not obliged to perform any duties, I do continue to perform them.” So says the Lord. Even Arjuna is not an ordinary person. He is an incarnation of god Indra. Unless he had realised the supreme God he could not have attained this position. The Lord is advising even him to perform actions. This shows that whether one is a jnani or not, he has to perform action.
This God-created world which is meant as a ground for the perfecting of souls, is real. This ground is not illusory. As soon as you attain spiritual knowledge, the world does not fade away into nothingness as some think. The world is the bridge by which we cross the ocean of "Samsara" and reach God. If this is a dream world and if it disappears as soon as we wake up into perfect knowledge, the jnani will not see any world at all and the question of his performing duty in this world will not arise.
But the Gita preaches the performance of action both before as well as after the attainment of spiritual knowledge. Therefore the Gita does not subscribe to the view that the world and actions performed in it are illusory. He who denies the reality of the world also indirectly denies the reality of God. (shloka 16.8)
If from the sight of a jnani the world disappears, then we will have to deny the existence of jnanis who convey the vision of God to men. He will have no world to preach to. But many a prophet had walked this earth and preached the religion of God. All prophets are jnanis. Therefore we have to believe that this world is real. The jnanis have to show the way of good action to others by doing it themselves. They do it for setting an excellent example to others and to attain intenser bliss in salvation. They perform action up to the very end of their existence till they attain salvation. Even if they reach the very top of the ladder they tarry there to give a helping hand to other aspirants to climb likewise, as a man might stop and help the children climb up.
Difference between jnani and ajnani
But there is a lot of difference between the actions performed by a jnani and an ajnani. After having obtained the sight of the glorious Paramatma, the jnani has no desire left for any sensuous objects. All his love is for God alone. Hence no worldly desires tempt him. And he performs desireless action in a perfect way. Outwardly, there may seem no difference between the actions of a jnani and an ajnani.
Two lakes may look alike when viewed from outside. But if you dive in you may find in one more mud than water while the other may be full of crystal clear water. Similarly, in the deeds of a jnani and an ajnani there may be outward resemblance. We cannot judge the spiritual depth of the individual from outside. If his heart is full of wickedness, his actions cannot bear good fruit. It is not how much you do but how you do that matters. A rich man may donate a lot of money in ostentation for his own glorification, but if a poor man gives his little mite with a pure heart it becomes a greater and real sacrifice. We must judge one’s actions not by the external deeds but by the spirit with which they are performed.
There is a beautiful parable in the Mahabharata. Once there was a famine. A family consisting of four members after starving for many days at last managed to get a little grain and they cooked their food. At that time the deity of dharma appeared in the form of a guest. The head of the family welcomed him and offered him his share of the food. The guest ate the food but he was still hungry. So the lady of the house, her son and daughter-in-law in turn, one by one, offered their share of food, vying with each other. God was pleased by the spirit of sacrifice shown by this poor family, and blessed them.
The moral of this tale is that it is not quantity but quality that matters. It is not how much you give but how you give it that really counts. Sincerity and purity of heart enhance the value of the sacrifice and offerings, however little they may be in quantity. The actions performed by the jnanis is of a very much higher order than the action performed by ordinary persons. Realising this difference between the jnani and the ajnani, we should strive our utmost to follow in the footsteps of the jnanis.
Harmonisation of knowledge with action
Some may object to the theory that all should perform action and without action it is not possible to attain liberation. For liberation there are two paths, one is of knowledge and the other of action. When there are two clearly independent paths, why should action be imposed on all? Why can’t we attain liberation by following the path of knowledge, without performing any action?
Sri Madhvacharya discusses this question elaborately in his Gita Tatparya. If there is no action in the path of knowledge then there should be no knowledge in the path of action also. Is it possible to attain liberation by mere action unillumined by knowledge? No. Just as knowledge is associated with right action, action is also associated with right knowledge. In a jnani, if there is a predominance of action, we call him a karmayogi; if there is a predominance of knowledge we call him a jnanayogi.
If we ask anyone to fetch water he fetches it in a tumbler. Do we object and ask him why he brought the tumbler also when we had merely asked him for water? How can water be fetched at all except in a vessel? Similarly knowledge cannot manifest itself except through action. As the medium of the body is necessary for the soul to reveal itself, so also there is no expression of knowledge except through action. If knowledge without action is lame, action without knowledge is blind. Without a confluence of both, life will never be perfectly beautiful. Be he a jnanayogi or a karmayogi, be he a jnani or an ajnani, all have to perform action in this world. Eschewing action completely is not only impracticable but also detrimental, says the Gita.
Death in a proper pursuit is worthy
Arjuna’s question, (shloka 3.1) "If knowledge is superior to action then why are you goading me into terrible action?" still remains unanswered. "When there is a better method of jnanayoga followed by Sanaka and others, why should I follow the terrible path of action and engage myself in warfare? Why can’t I proceed to a forest and spend my days peacefully in prayer and meditation?" The Gita answers this question thus: diverse paths are open to each one of us. But the consummation of one’s life lies in identifying the pursuit proper to oneself and following it.
The duties bestowed on each vary according to his individual nature and fitness. We should determine the kind of our duty suitable to our individual identity. Shuka and Sanaka followed the path of jnana while Manu and Janaka followed the path of karma, each one according to his proper disposition based on his personal identity. Arjuna too, by his very nature is born for karma yoga. He is not meant to lead the predominantly peaceful life of a mendicant. He belongs to the superior category of souls. Putting down the unrighteous and wicked people and protecting good people is the activity which belongs to him as a qualified soul. If he shuns his proper pursuit and leads a life not appointed for him, he cannot accomplish his full development. Thus in the case of each and every person, the path of pursuit is determined by the special individuality of each.
Similarly we should follow strictly the duties that accrue to us by social obligation, according to the ways of life laid down on the basis of ‘varna’ and ‘ashrama’. As one determines one’s individual duty by examining the nature of one’s self, he should also follow the duties entrusted to him by the particularity of the varna-division to which he belongs and thus discharge his responsibility to the society. Since the individual way and the way of the particular varna both belong to one’s proper pursuit Arjuna has to accept, from his twin-responsibility, the way of kshatriya, shunning the way of a sannyasi. Sannyasa or vanaprastha (entering the forest) may be superior but having been destined to bear the responsibility of destroying evil and protecting the good, it is not proper for Arjuna to abdicate his responsibility and become a sannyasi or retire into a forest.
There are many officers in the Government. Each has duties and responsibilities allotted to him. If he neglects his duties and engages himself in other work however useful it may be, he will not be considered as a good officer. There are soldiers and administrators. During office hours if they engage themselves, thinking it to be holy, either in the study of scriptures or in meditation, that would not be dharma. Only by doing the allotted work in all sincerity can a man achieve his fullest personality. A man’s dignity and worth cannot be judged merely by looking at the work he is engaged in.
In the same way, the course of action to be followed varies with the peculiar situation and context of that action. Suppose you are sitting on a river bank engaged in meditation and you see a man drowning in the river in front of you. It is but proper that you throw off your meditation and try and save the drowning man. Meditation is no doubt meritorious but not under such circumstances. Going to the temple is good in itself, but boys should not miss their classes and go to the temple for that matter. That is not proper. If ladies neglect their husbands, and children and household duties and engage themselves in what is called ‘social work’ outside their home, it would not be proper too.
In Mahabharata there is a parable illustrating the importance of every individual performing his rightful duty. A young Brahmin boy, the only son of his old parents, forsakes them and retires to the forest and performs penance for a number of years and acquires great spiritual powers. Once while sitting under the shade of a tree, a bird drops its filth on him. The Brahmin gets wild and stares at the bird and the bird at once gets reduced to ashes. He is proud of his spiritual powers.
Roaming from village to village and begging for alms, the Brahmin comes to a house and stands in front of the gate. The lady of the house is a very noble person. Just as she is about to give alms to the Brahmin, she sees her husband coming in from outside, tired. Forgetting the guest, she engages herself in caring for her tired husband and looking after his comforts. After some time she remembers the guest and taking the alms runs towards him. The Brahmin gets into a rage and however much she may implore, he does not cool down. Finally the lady says: "I am not that bird which you reduced to ashes in the forest." The Brahmin is stunned, and then is cooled down and implores the lady to tell him how she came to know about the incident of the bird. She then directs him to a butcher Dharmavyadha.
The Brahmin hesitates to go near him. Dharmavyadha himself asks him: "Are you the Brahmin sent by the lady?" He is again stunned and asks him how did he come to know about the lady. Dharmavyadha then explains the secret of his strength. He describes the principles on which he runs his business and shows him actually how he has been serving his old parents. This butcher and this lady who were serving their old parents and husband whilst still engaged in their day-to-day work earned greater merit than this Brahmin.
Forsaking one’s duty cast upon him by virtue of his station in life and caste will not earn any merit even if he is engaged in other noble duties. The Brahmin in the parable of the Dharmavyadha is a good illustration of this principle.
(shloka 3.35) “It is worthier to die following one’s own proper pursuit; an alien pursuit is perilous.” Arjuna’s personality is that of a karmayogi. He belongs to the kshatriya varna ordained to carry the burden of protecting others. He has to take part in the holy war and he has no right to retire to a forest to perform penance. Milk is no doubt superior to water. But if a fish is put in milk instead of water, it will die. Similarly every man should determine the duties entrusted to him by considering his individual nature, the varna status and the context of action.
Can one choose his mother? Can he ever discard his mother as ugly and take on another? When we are born, the mother is there already. We have to accept her as our mother and perform our duties and responsibilities as a son, and there is no choice. The same is the case with dharma or duty. When we are born, this question as to what duty we have to perform is decided for us. We should not try to change it. Whatever duty is given to us we should discharge it sincerely and to the best of our ability. We should not commit the impertinence of venturing to change it. Sincere adherence to the given dharma itself is termed as "varna dharma."
The special virtues of the caste system
Why have our forefathers created this caste system and what is its significance? Should each and every individual be free to choose his own profession or should the Government interfere in this and regulate? Those who uphold individual liberty advocate the former view. But such individual liberty may be harmful for the country as a whole. All might rush into profitable business only and other less profitable business may be completely neglected. If farmers grow only the lucrative crops like tobacco at the expense of rice and wheat there will be an all-round food scarcity. The equilibrium between the various professions will be lost and society will be lopsided. This will give rise to cut-throat competition. Some professions will be overcrowded while others will be neglected.
Now-a-days there is a great rush for admission into medical and engineering colleges and not the arts and science colleges. We should ensure balanced and all-round development of the whole nation. Hence there is the other school of men who argue that we should force people to take up stipulated professions. Work should be distributed among all people and it should be got done, if need be, by force. Individual liberty should be curbed in the larger interests of the state. In some countries with dictatorial Governments such compulsion is resorted to and people are put to forced labour.
When a man is grown up and his likes and dislikes are already well set, it is cruel to force him to do some work against his will. He will not be able to adjust himself to his new task for which he has neither the inclination nor aptitude. Also, while distributing work, there is scope for partiality, favouritism and nepotism. By such enforcement there will be scope for the suppression of the individuality of persons.
It is better to catch one young and mould him into whatever profession you want him to follow in later life. When he grows he will naturally embrace the profession which is waiting for him. There is no need for any coercion. There is neither competition nor compulsion. The question who should be trained in which profession is thus solved quite easily. Depending upon his aptitude and the environment in which he is growing, he has to select his profession. The hereditary traits flow in the family. He will naturally show an aptitude in the particular profession of his forefathers. He also grows up in the same environment and so the training for such a profession is given to him from his childhood in the ideal atmosphere of his home.
A cobbler’s son learns his father’s profession much more easily than an outsider. Hereditary traits and environment are two powerful factors in deciding the aptitude of any individual. For any profession, education should start from childhood itself. By this way, enough people are allocated to each and every profession and there is no room for a cut-throat competition, and an all-round progress of the whole society is ensured. All these are achieved by the caste system which has been practised by our worthy ancestors. It is not narrow-mindedness that is at the back of the caste system.
On the other hand, it is with the highest motive of material and spiritual advancement of the whole society that this caste system has been instituted. Whoever performs his caste duty for which he has aptitude and training, with the greatest devotion to God, earns the highest merit. No man is great by virtue of his caste alone. Devotion, knowledge and good nature are not the exclusive property or prerogative of any one caste. In fact, these are open to people of all castes, whoever can acquire them. On the other hand, to whatever caste one may belong, if he performs his allotted duties with sincerity and devotion, he is considered great.
The loftiest dharma lies in serving God with his proper pursuit and devotion – says Acharya Madhva in Gita bhashya
Man’s greatness is measured by the yardstick of his devotion to God, good nature and right conduct. The butcher and the noble lady in the parable are worthier than the Brahmin saint. The merchant Tuladhara becomes a master to Jabali Rishi.
(shloka 18.46) “A man accomplishes his final goal by worshipping God, practising actions proper to him.”
Performing actions according to our hereditary caste system in itself is a worship of God. If you neglect this, God will not be pleased even if you worship him in manifold ways. To put down the enemies of God and wicked men like Duryodhana is the supreme duty of a person born in the kshatriya caste. Arjuna being a kshatriya and a karmayogi, it behoves him to fight in this holy war and rid the world of evil forces. Thus has Sri Krishna advised Arjuna and rid him of his doubts.
Desire, the arch-enemy of the soul
Even if we know what is right and what is wrong and even if we know that it is bad to commit sin, why are we forced into it? What is it that drags us into sin in spite of ourselves? (shloka 3.36).
Arjuna asks the above question on behalf of all of us. If we critically examine the forces which drag us into sin and identify the enemy, we might be able to overcome them gradually. Sri Krishna says that ‘desire’ is that enemy. Desire and its concomitant ‘anger’ are the cause of all sinful deeds in this world. Man is impelled by a great desire to amass wealth and enjoy himself. To achieve this he commits sin. If there are any obstructions for the fulfilment of his desire, he gets angry and even commits violence and murder. Desire is at the root of all evil deeds. All good men should try to conquer this enemy.
Suppressed desire gives rise to anger and so Krishna even calls desire by the name of anger itself. Desire is never satisfied by the enjoyment of the objects of desire. Instead, it grows more as the fire does with fuel. (shloka 3.37)
It is a terrible glutton and a monstrous source of sin. Is it possible to quench fire with fuel? This is the lesson learnt by King Yayati. Even when he grew old, his desire for sex was not satiated and he became young again and enjoyed and he realised that sexual desire was never abated but became ever stronger. Then wisdom dawned on him when he realised that we can keep desire under control not by serving but by subjugating it.
In the west there was a king. He was a gourmet. However much he ate he was not satisfied and felt like eating more. The stomach revolted, no doubt. It is said that soon after eating he used to take some medicine to vomit whatever he had eaten and start all over again. It is a pity that he became a slave to his tongue. There is a famous saying: "At first we drink liquor. Later on, liquor drinks us." Desire is thus insatiable. The more you enjoy and yield to your desire, the more powerful does it become and it holds you completely in its grip. We may satiate hunger but not desire. The Gita describes it in shloka 3.39.
The way desire invades man
(shloka 3.38) “Just as fire is covered by smoke, mirror by dust and the embryo by the foetus, so is everyone enveloped in desire.” All men are subject to this force of desire; only, some more, and others less. Desire envelopes some in the same way as the smoke envelopes fire. The glow of the fire is no doubt seen through the smoke but not so well. Some others are covered by desire in the way a mirror is covered by dust. You may still see your reflection through the mirror, ever so dimly. But in some others the desire completely covers them like the amnion covers the embryo. Thus desire wields its sway on all mankind in one way or the other. (shloka 3.38)
When desire envelopes us, it hides the beauty of God from us. God is not affected by it. It is only we who are denied the sight of God by this desire. The cloud covers the sun. The sun is not affected by it but glows ever so brightly. While smoke covers fire, the fire itself burns brightly; only we are not able to see it. Similarly, desire does not affect God but only prevents us from having His full and uninterrupted view.
Desire pollutes our heart. It thus cannot reveal the true nature of the objects we perceive. A dirty mirror cannot reflect objects properly. Similarly, when covered by desire, our inner equipment cannot function properly.
The soul in the grip of desire becomes helpless. Because of the embryonic cover, the child inside is cribbed and confined and cannot stretch its legs properly. The soul also, being in the clutches of desire, becomes cribbed and confined and cannot achieve anything worthwhile. This stanza illustrates beautifully how desire affects different strata of people and how in the same individual it affects the sense of his identity, the heart and the perception of God.
(shloka 3.37) “Know that in the matter of realisation, desire is the sole enemy.” It should be our primary concern to overcome this internal enemy.
Knowledge is the means to overcome desire
Desire and anger attack us from the citadels of the senses and the mind. Therefore to overcome desire and anger, we have first to control our senses. In this spiritual warfare against desire and anger, knowledge will be our most potent weapon. Acquiring spiritual knowledge, we realise our own potentialities, our duties and responsibilities and thus become able to control our senses step by step.
The intellect excites the mind; the mind excites the senses; from the senses rise desire and anger, and their consequences. If we get to know the presiding deities of these senses, mind and the intellect then we can proceed further to get to know the supreme power controlling these deities and then it will become but child’s play to control our senses.
Only when the scientists had discovered the fundamental laws governing matter and energy were they able to control nature and utilise it for their purpose. Similarly, by understanding nature and the fundamental forces animating the senses, we will be eminently able to control them and use them to our advantage. There is so much of constructive energy latent in nature as well as in senses. Even like the natural waste, the abuse of the power of our senses is a great national loss. It can be tapped and used for constructive and nation-building purposes.
All the waters of the river which go waste could be stored in huge reservoirs and used profitably either for irrigation or power generation. In fact it has been done in many places. Similarly the human energy can also be utilised constructively by controlling the senses. Such a constructive use of physical and mental energy is possible only if we lead a disciplined life with full control over our senses, mind and reason.
There are two animating powers which dwell in every insentient object, which enable it to function variously in accordance with its inherent nature. The two principles, or rather the agents, are the deity presiding over that particular object and the Supreme Lord. The deities are those who, under the control of the Supreme Lord, activate different objects; the indwelling controller the omnipresent God is Sri Narayana who moves and sustains the presiding deities and both the animate jeevas and the inanimate things.
By understanding these two principles, the individual presiding deities and the Universal Lord, we can control all matter and energy. We should understand the nature and power of the presiding deities like Chandra, Surya, Varuna, Yama, Indra, Shiva, Vayu and Brahma and the gradations among them and the way the higher divinity controls the lower. This gradation itself is called devata taaratamya.
The physical and chemical nature of objects are derived from their presiding deities and the differences in the power and potency of the presiding deities account for the different chemical and physical properties of objects. To discipline our lives we should also understand both the Supreme Power and the presiding deity of our senses, mind and reason, all residing within us, propitiate them and obtain their grace. The reason will not then excite the mind and the mind will not ruffle the senses. It is only with the help and grace of these spiritual powers within us that we can overcome the evil and demonic forces of desire and anger.
The knowledge of these ‘Para’ (The Supreme Lord) and ‘Apara’ (the presiding deities) spiritual agents will be the most potent weapon for us for suppressing our enemies like desire and anger. The knowledge of and devotion to the Supreme Power controlling all material universe will gradually increase our soul force and sense of duty. When we are armed with such power and integrity, how can internal enemies like desire and anger dare attack us? On the other hand, if we do not believe in God and if we do not propitiate God and earn His Grace and if we do not lead a good, clean and moral life, naturally we fall a prey to our own internal enemies such as desire and anger.
(shloka 3.43) “Understanding the Lord to be superior to the deity of intellect, controlling the mind with the superior intellect, destroy the enemy in the shape of desire, who is all but invincible.”
Thus, in the third chapter, the Lord has stated that with the knowledge of the Supreme God and other deities we should conquer our internal enemies and understand our prescribed duties and perform them selflessly in a spirit of dedication to God.
- Madhwa Vallabha
- Hari Sarvottama Vayu Jeevottama
A very warm welcome to the blog of Madhwa Brahmins community.
We, Madhwa Brahmins are followers of Jagadguru Sriman Madhwacharya. We originally hail from places in Karnataka and the neighboring states of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Our main dialects are Kannada, Tulu, Marathi, Telugu and Konkani.
A brief background of Jagadguru Sri Madhwacharya:
prathamO hanumAn nAma dviteeyO bheema Eva cha |
pUrNaprajna tRuteeyastu bhagavat kAryasAdhakaH ||
As the above shloka from khila vAyustuti explains, Sri Madhwacharya (also known by the names Poornaprajna and Anandateertha) is the third incarnation of Lord MukhyaprAna Vaayu, after Lord Hanuman and Lord Bheemasena. He is the chief proponent of TattvavAda, popularly known as Dvaita. He was born on Vijayadashami day of 1238 CE at Paajaka Kshetra, a small village near Udupi. He is the 22nd commentator on the Brahma sutras of Lord Sri Veda Vyasa.
Kindly note that this blog contains important topics discussed in our Orkut community and some articles on tattvavAda philosophy. All the topics can be found in the BLOG ARCHIVE (right side)