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Bhagavad Gita – Chapter 5 – Karma Sanyasa Yoga
Will not the worldly pleasures lead one to true happiness?
Let us say you have a big bowl of ice cream in front of us and you can eat as much as we want. That’s possible only if your taste buds are working, if you are in a pleasant mood to enjoy, you have some time to enjoy, you’re in a nice place and you are not diabetic.
If you’re near a crowded railway station or in rainy flooded area or at a cremation ground then you wouldn’t even think of having it, for you won’t find the pleasure..
Your health, place, time, mood, senses, mind and situations are constantly changing. When all goes well, then you enjoy eating that ice cream. Any one variable is altered then you won’t enjoy it.
If everything is in alignment and you enjoy the ice cream then after the second, third or fourth you want to stop it. It is no more an enjoyment, on the contrary you will develop a dislike to it. That sense of pleasure does not long.
After a month, that taste and enjoyment is in your mind, the senses bring that experience back and you want to eat it again. This creates a dependency, craving, attachment, fear of loss, greed and anger when obstructed.
We are surrounded by many such glamorous things and none of them can give us everlasting happiness.
There is a distinct difference between pleasure and happiness. Pleasure is temporary, you strive for it to get and you lose it after the goal is achieved whereas happiness is permanent and it is just the ‘being’ that you are. In short, when the mind of a person is freed from pursuing all kinds of external pleasures, true happiness reveals itself from within ending all sorrows. Such a person is a happy person.
What are the two levels of renunciation of action?
The preparatory level of renunciation is called karma yoga. It is basically living to fulfil all your priorities with the two fundamental attitudes of:
a) Ishwara arpanam-offering all actions to God, as a custodian of Lord’s world
b) Prasada buddhi-accepting all results as prasada, gift from God.
The highest level of renunciation is beyond karma yoga and karma sanyasa yoga, jnana yoga where the renunciation of the doership (ahamkara, ego) is offered in the fire of knowledge. Once the doership is gone, there is no enjoyer-ship as well. This is the Realization of the Self, non-doer, akarta in every physical body.
This would be the pursuit of the truth. The truth, as it is revealed in the sastras, is to understand that you are the awareness, not limited by time and space.
What’s the right attitude while performing actions and receiving their results according to Gita?
Performing duties for a common cause with full commitment and a selfless attitude as an offering to Lord is called (Isvara arpana buddhi). This attitude does not cause any anxiety in the process or agitation about the results of the action. The performer is joyous and peaceful during the course of work, accepts the results of the actions, whatever it may be, as a gift from Lord with an equanimous attitude, (prasada buddhi).
People have likes and dislikes, they like to do certain things and choose not to do certain things. They like certain outcomes and they don’t like certain outcomes but performing duties without likes and dislikes is the first step, that is called karma yoga. Simply doing what is supposed to be done without expecting anything return is duty.
The universal nature remind us of this attitude all around us. The trees that give fruits and shade, plants that give flowers with fragrance, the bushes that give vegetables, the water that flows in the rivers, the rain that supports the fields & cultivation, the sun that supports the entire life itself expects nothing in return. When we follow this attitude it brings us inner peace and equanimity in the way we look at life and its existence.
Please explain the two preparatory paths specified in Gita, chapter 5
The two paths are: Karma Yoga and Karma Sanyasa Yoga
When we want to go from point A to point B, we can take any path, either by road, train, bus or plane depending on the distance and when to reach by. If the destination is within one city, then there are multiple streets, lanes, avenues, short cuts, bypasses that one can take. People take whichever is comfortable to them.
Similarly, the two paths, karma yoga and karma sanyasa yoga, both caters to certain personalities of people. Both yogas (way of lifestyle) are to purify the mind to make it ready for the next step.
People who are more rajasic (personality or with tendencies to be active, driven, moving, goal oriented, recognition) are more interested in the worldly desires to achieve, accomplish, serve, for which karma yoga is the best.
They dedicate their effort and time to perform selfless actions for the common good and feel satisfied at the end of the day by doing their duty and accepting results, inner gratification.
There are other people who are not interested in worldly desires and have strong spiritual inclination. They are more sattvic (balance, harmony, goodness, purity, universalizing, holistic, constructive, creative, building, positive attitude, luminous, serenity, being-ness, peaceful) by nature, have overcome their likes & dislikes from within, to a large extent, have a higher degree of detachment to everything around and are ready for external renunciation. For them karma sanyasa yoga is a better fit. Both of these lead to a common goal which is jnana yoga leading to Self knowledge. By the way every individual has all three gunas or personalities at varied proportion.
In a normal life when we say ‘sanyasa’ it implies the fourth stage of asrama, meaning it is a lifestyle. The individual has excluded everything that distracts one from the pursuit of truth, Self knowledge.
When actions/duties are performed for the common good, selflessly without expecting anything in return as a worship to Lord (arpana, offering ) and accepting the results as it comes (prasada, gift) is karma yoga. This purifies the mind of all negativities and leads one to the path of knowledge.
Both ‘karma yoga and ‘karma sanyasa yoga’ seem to be opposite because the former is isolated whereas the latter is within the community. But both karma yoga and karma sanyasa can lead a person to Self knowledge. One is NOT superior to the other but they are customized to individuals based on their tendencies. In Sanskrit it’s called ‘gunas’.
An individual from any of the four asrama (brahmachari, gruhastha, vanaprastha, sanyasa) can reach the goal of Self knowledge and both these paths leads to purification of mind, giving up likes & dislikes for Self realization.
Sri Krishna recommends karma yoga as the initial step to most individuals instead of Karma Sannyasa Yoga, which is a slippery slope. Karma yoga alone is emphasized again and again to reiterate the importance of it.
How does karma yoga act as a bridge between the doer self and the non-doer self?
In the normal course of life, when a person says, ‘I did this, I accomplished that, I achieved this,’ the individual is referring to one’s physical body and mind, to which one is firmly identified. For such a person, the thought that he is NOT the doer could be drastic and inconceivable.
Therefore Sri Krishna suggests that all of us perform all our actions as karma yoga, meaning selflessly for the common good with full dedication. In karma yoga, likes and dislikes are eliminated, both in choosing what to do or what not to do (everything is done as a duty) and accepting the results of actions as they come to us. This automatically over a period of time, depending on the state or purity of mind, transforms into the surrendering attitude and a sense of being a custodian, understanding that the performer is not the doer or the enjoyer, moving on the path to Self realization. Thus, karma yoga is the bridge between the doer self and the non doer Self.
What’s the highest renunciation?
The highest renunciation is ‘Mukta karma sannyasa yoga’. This is not to be construed as the renunciation of action itself or the sanyasa lifestyle. This is an attitude, where the results of the actions are renunciated.
One who performs actions with an attitude that he is not doer or the enjoyer of the results of all action is equanimous and unperturbed with any & all situations. When an individual performs with this attitude, as an instrument in the hands of Lord, removes all pride, selfishness, likes and dislikes, is ready to realize the non doer Self.
Committed, persistent, continuous practice of both karma yoga and karma sanyasa yoga alone can take an individual to the enquiry stage (with equanimity) called jnana yoga, the next step in the spiritual ladder.
What are wrong reasons for choosing the path of the karma sanyasa?
Sanyasa is a fourth asramam, a way of life. Once an individual chooses this path there is no reverse gear. One should be sure of his personality to be in this path. This is difficult than performing karma yoga. Sri Krishna recommends karma yoga for many of us, which is easier than sanyasa yoga.
When people choose the path of karma sanyasa yoga, when they think they are ready, they may be physically withdrawn from the worldly desires but it is possible that their mind is not ready. This path could lead some, to mithyachara, where one lives a sanyasa lifestyle externally but has desires in his mind, a hypocritical behavior.
It is best for an individual to start with karma yoga and proceed on to karma sanyasa yoga. Karma yoga automatically leads to sanyasa attitude, over a period of time. That would be like a ripened fruits falling of the tree automatically when it is ready, very similar to the way we outgrow our toys and interests at different stages of life.
Some choose sanysa to escape from the worldly duties, others to run away from the loans & commitments, some have developed hatred towards situations, failures in their life, others due to the disappointment in their relationships.
These individuals are not ready for karma sanyasa yoga and cannot proceed in spiritual life just because they chose the path of sanyasa or simply dress like one. They may physically appear as a sanyasi but mentally their mind is not still.
We face situations based on our own karma from the previous births. One needs a clear mind to grasp the janana (Self Knowledge), which is the next step.
Who is a realized person?
The reflected images also appear to be broken in a broken mirror but a clear mirror reflects AS IS. So is the mind of a realized person, a clear mirror. He is ever equanimous without likes and dislikes. He is ‘Brahma nishtan’, meaning he is steadfast with a strong conviction that ‘everything is ONE’.
Verse 5.19 speaks of ‘Nirdosha brahma’ A realized person, ‘Sthitha Prajan’, sees only Brahman everywhere and in everything. His vision is clear and he does not see any flaw in anything. He is realized soul (Brahma Nishtan), fully engrossed, immersed in a plane that he is Atman and everything around is an expression of atman, nothing else. He does not see differences, has conquered his senses.
He has fully realized that all actions are, of prakriti (including his body & mind) and are performed by the Lord through the tool, that he calls himself, He is completely devoid of karthruthvam (doership) and bhogthruthvam (enjoyership).
To him every being is ONE, from ants, to elephants to humans, classified by human for transactional life. Such a Realized master truly rules over the world.
We have seen over and over again all over the world that there were rulers and conquerors. What did they conquer? another piece of land, domination and exercise of control over the people, their authority over others but for how long? ~ Hiranyakashipu, to Alexander, to Hitler to today’s regime everything that is conquered as their accomplishments, achievements, position, power and authority made them nothing but slaves to those only to be buried and be a history.
Whereas a realized master, who identifies with the Self, the operator of the Universe, is the conqueror of all, for he knows he is not the doer but only a tool in the hands of Lord. That’s the symbolism of Sri Krishna holding a flute representing we are all empty hollow tubes and his music alone flows through all of us. The flute cannot think that it is playing the music and a realized master is one who realizes the flute, the music and the player are one and the same. A Realized master has a holistic view of life.
Holistic vision is seeing the bigger picture. Helicopter view. You get a much bigger view from a helicopter compared to the one from the ground.
Whereas scientists, educationists, politicians all think from their perspective, their vision is partial and limited within their field. They are unable to see from outside the box.
A realized master identifies and abides by the supreme Truth/Self, that supports everything in this body, mind and universe. He sees ONE and nothing else. For him everything is the expression of ONE. When there is no second, there is no fear, anger, jealousy, comparison or competition. He is fully convinced, abides in the firm conviction that there is nothing second to that ONE. He understands that BMI are the tools and has a holistic vision of both problem and the solution. He thinks, talks and abides in that plane at all times.
A realized master is able to see the oneness in all bodies. For him, the male, female, child, adult, robber, priest, cat, elephant is all one. He is beyond his sense identification and sees only ONE in everything including himself. He realizes the mahavakya.
” Pragyanam brahma”,
” Aham Brahmasmi”,
“Tat tvam asi”,
” Ayamatma Brahman”.
Chapter 4 verse 24 of explains how he sees the performer, clarified butter, the spatula, the fire and the act of consumption of the butter all as Brahman. (A realized individual is beyond gender, there is not word to describe in English).
Explain in detail the action-less nature of the Self. What then is the source of action?
Humans often identify ourselves with the body & mind by saying, ” I ate or I slept or I am resting, I ran a marathon” etc., this is mainly due to the ignorance of not knowing who ‘I am’.
If you say, ‘This is my hand, My leg is hurting or I am resting’, then stop to ask whose hand is this? Whose leg is hurting and who is at rest?
We are so caught up in this worldly whirlpool that we don’t stop to ask such questions. We run a monotonous lifestyle, repeating the same thing over and over again completely caught up in this cycle of birth & death.
The very fact that we are born with this human body is to use the intellect, which is available only to humans. We are a bundle of body, mind and intellect directed by the presence of the Self, (Atman) whose power illuminates these three. Without the presence of that atman, these three are inert and the whole ‘this thing’ is nothing but a corpse.
The atman that is ever present is also omnipresent, is a witness to the entire cosmos including the activities of mind, body & intellect.
All actions (karma) is of prakriti, everything in this universe including body and mind has to always act due to the three gunas, sattvic, rajasic or tamasic state throughout their existence. They just cannot be without action.
Whereas akarma is of purusha, the atman in each body, a witness and its reflection on the intellect animates the body & mind.
Purusha here refers to Nirguna Brahman (indescribable) while Prakriti is to maya.
Gita gives the example of a moving train when the passenger sees the trees appear to be moving while in reality the train is moving. Atman is compared to the tree & the train to the body & mind. This is seeing karma in Akarma (action in inaction)
The sun and the moon, which are stationary appears to be moving. This is also an example of seeing the karma in a akarma.
We tend to say that the body and mind are resting though in fact the activities are happening all the time. They move around with all three gunas. Even when they seem to be at rest, they are still functioning (karmic) and they cannot be without action. This is seeing the akarma in the karma (Inaction in action), just like a ship in a far of distance seems stationary when it is really moving.
When we walk, run or jog, I say, ‘I walked, ran or jogged’ this is because of my identification with body. Whatever this body & mind were doing does not affect the atman. Atman did not perform anything. This is seeing the akarma in karma.
During the mahabharata war, Sri Krishna is riding the chariot for Arjuna, and presents Gita when Arjuna refuses to fight. Here though Arjuna refuses to perform his duty as a warrior, he is still in action, agitated. We can see karma in akarma.
But Sri Krishna, riding the chariot, advising and appears to be karmic when in reality He is calm & composed, a state of akarmic for he is not affected by the results of his discourse whether Arjuna listens to him or not.
A realized master may appear to be active in the transactional world but he is not perturbed from within. He is in peace from within, for he knows he is only the witness of everything. A realized master’s, (brahma nishtan) perspective is atman alone IS, an actionless witness.
How would you explain what meditation is?
Meditation is not just sitting alone and shut all thoughts. People when they sit for meditation and try to empty the mind end up with a headache. It is not about keeping the mind empty. Mind is prakriti and is bound to be active at all times due to the three gunas and our world experiences.
The past experiences, the relationships, achievements, possessions, the future plans, tasks on hand, what if’s and worries will all be in the mind. Mind is nothing but a flow of thoughts and one cannot stop this. Meditation is not suppressing thoughts.
On the contrary, we should be able to control our senses, keep them at bay, so all the five senses do not go out to the worldly affairs preventing one to sit quietly in a place. With senses down, without any distraction, we should start observing the flow of thoughts. Once we observe, we will see that the thought also stops. Next focus on the breath. The breath and the mind are connected. That’s why when one is angry or afraid, the heartbeat is not stable. Once the breath is calm and in a rhythm, focus on the Self that animates this body and mind. Intellect is convinced with knowledge that the observer is different from the observed, so intellect is also silent, without a doubt or question. In all other sadanas either the body or the mind or both are involved. At this point, where both mind and body are inactive, we glide into meditation.
Self/Atman is not an object to be perceived and is beyond our senses. You are the Self, activating the whole universe and the goal of meditation is moksha, liberation with no return. It is a state of BEING, complete peace, a sense of awareness.
For ex: You’re either awake or asleep. If you’re trying to sleep then you are not asleep, you don’t practice to sleep. similarly either you’re meditating, (you’re one with the Self) or you’re not. There is no between. You cannot practice meditation, just like you cannot practice ‘to sleep’.
What recommendation is appropriate for today’s population? What can we do to realize the Self in us?
Every individual whether you’re a parent of a 15 yr old or 50 year old, or otherwise, try to remain as a drop of water on a lotus leaf or the lotus leaf untouched by water.
How to remain untouched like a lotus leaf in water? This is possible only by doing all actions in the karma yoga attitude. We should do your duty without likes or dislikes, without expecting any appreciation, recognition or results that we want or like. Do it selflessly as an offering to the Lord and accept the result as a gift, prasadam. That’s the symbolism of prasadams in the temple. All pleasures are illusion, addictive, with a beginning and end.
During this process there is no anxiety and there is no agitation. Everything happens the way they are supposed to be. Next, we should perform all actions with the thought that we are NOT the doer and that everything is done through us. When we operate as tools through which everything is getting done, then there is no attachment. We are the servant of the master, it’s not the hierarchy but a service attitude. We don’t own anything.
This reminds me of the quote by kahlil Gibran, ‘Children are not born to you but born through you.’
We own nothing in this universe. We are here like trees, plants, bushes and animals to serve and realize that we are part of the universe. We have gained this human body with intellect to be able to pursue to the higher level of spiritual plane, Self awareness, Self realization.
Only humans are given the intellect to be able to analyze, synthesize, and to make decisions, to be able to discriminate the real from unreal and realize that we are not the body, mind or intellect (BMI) but the ‘atman’ that activates them.
We face challenges only when we have the ‘I’ and ‘myness’ attitude. That’s an ajnani, ignorant person. We think we are this BMI, resulting in comparison, competition, fear, anger, jealousy, confusion and chaos. As human, with this body as a vehicle, we have this fantastic opportunity to realize the Truth.
When we lean on the supreme Lord and do all actions in this spirit instead of being dependent on the worldly desires, we remain unperturbed and we learn to observe ourselves as a witness of all activities, including body and mind. We learn to live in the world but do not become worldly. We can be a part of it, yet apart from it. This is just ‘to be’.
Such a Realized BEING still performs all actions without any attachment or dependency whatsoever, nothing binds such a person. Such a BEING is like a lotus leaf that rises in the water, grows in the water and stays in the water, but water can never wet it, is part of the world, yet apart from it.
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