Actionlessness to Unfettered Action
Krishna emphasized the great truth of actionlessness at the core-level of existence. He also explained how the fullness of spiritual wisdom will alone ensure the integration of human life and the welfare of the world. He then proceeds to show how such deep wisdom, far from bringing any conflict, becomes truly harmonious with all kinds of activity one’s life in the world warrants. He explains this point in 5 verses, setting forth different viewpoints, one or the other of which can be taken up by the sadhaka and pursued earnestly.
ज्ञानाग्निदग्धकर्माणं तमाहुः पण्डितं बुधाः ।।
Knowledgeable people regard him as the Wise or Enlightened One if and when by the fire of wisdom his actions are rendered free of passion, greed, or undue imaginations and expectations.
The role of wisdom is not to interfere with the activities, but to enable and empower one to act with harmony and effectiveness. For this, the mind and buddhi have to be rid of their undue inhibitions and obsessions. Krishna thus points out that only when the desire or greed (kaama), and the unjust imaginations and expectations (sankalpa) are kept away from the mind, one’s performance of any activity will become natural, effective and sublime.
Krishna likens spiritual wisdom with a blazing fire in so far as its power to remove the dross and constrictions of the mind is concerned. It burns off all the traits of desire and expectation, like fire does garbage. The activities of the Knower thus become pure – cleansed by the fire of true wisdom. Only when wisdom accomplishes this task of mind-purification, the seeker is regarded as enlightened. Far from rendering any one inactive or indifferent to activity, true wisdom makes one a source of immense activity, aimed at the welfare of all.
In the next five verses, Krishna reinforces the same point from various angles. The emphasis he brings home is that the Knower, remaining a non-doer at heart, will still be performing all the necessary activities, to keep the society in order for the wellbeing of one and all. All the five verses that follow equally bear upon the magnificence of spiritual wisdom and the transcendental nature of the Self Knower. These verses by themselves stand out as a distinct set to be recited and reflected upon by the seeker repeatedly. The sadhaka should evaluate his sadhana on the basis of what Krishna conveys in them. Proper reflection on these five verses will enable the mind to find out the true Knowledge dimension and incorporate it effectively in the field of activity:
कर्मण्यभिप्रवृत्तोऽपि नैव किञ्चित्करोति सः ।।
Even when given intensely to activities, he remains a full non-doer. The spiritual wisdom he carries, keeps the truth of non-action shining in the core of his being, subtly taking away the mind’s attachment to the objective results (karma-phala-asanga). The Knower derives his contentment from the Self within, and that makes him ever-delighted (nitya-trpta). He does not depend on any external activity or situation to bring any particular delightful result. His delight reigns in the Self itself. Any dependent delight becomes redundant for him. Such a one irresistibly becomes a powerful performer. Krishna emphasizes that Knowledge of the Self cannot but make one a better and more effective performer.
शारीरं केवलं कर्म कुर्वन्नाप्नोति किल्बिषम् ।।
In the 2nd verse, Krishna drives home the point that all external activities are incidental to embodiment; they are caused by and related to the body-aggregate. But for embodiment, the body factor, none would have any occasion, need or compulsion to be active in the world.
The words Krishna uses are very suggestive: sariram kevalam karma kurvan-napnoti kilbisam (4.21). Even when engrossed in activities, which are but body-born and body-dependent, he still remains the non-doer, and hence is not the least tainted or bound by the action or its results.
To realize the Self is verily to become the Self. Realization of the Self naturally brings its own sublimity. And the Knower thus becomes a yatatma (a person of control and moderation). Desires fall off from his mind; he becomes one free of the hold of desires (nirasih). A constant note of renunciation adorns him always (tyakta-sarva-parigrahah). He does not look to anything for fulfilment. His fulfilment is self-derived and self-preserved.
समः सिद्धावसिधौ च कृत्वापि न निबध्यते ।।
The Knower, Krishna says, has to rise above the hold of dvandvas, which are the ultimate effects the world can cause. The usual note of competition, which the mind is subjected to, must not victimize him. He naturally accepts whatever chance brings to him. Never comparing himself with others, or weighing the gains and losses of any endeavour at any time, he revels in a deep and abiding note of equalness (samatva). As long as such a spiritual note of insulation is there, any extent of actional involvement will not bind or taint him the least.
This spiritual adornment is available to one and all. It is wrong to think that it is a practice or culture or refinement for Hindus or Indians alone. It is a birthright of any human, living anywhere in the world. Mind and intelligence should become sublime and imbibe the resultant enrichment and refinement.
यज्ञायाचरतः कर्म समग्रं प्रविलीयते ।।
The mind, by dint of wisdom, attains to its natural freedom from all attachmental notes. Sanga, as gita puts it, falls from it. That brings liberation, mukti. What is mukti and who is a mukta, become quite clear from these words. Krishna calls one freed from attachment of the mind, a mukta. Mukti is quite within the reach of the human mind, Krishna assures again and again.
All actions of such a free one become auspicious and enriching. Krishna calls such an action Yajna, the most sublime that man can think of performing for the sake of one’s own elevation as well as for world welfare. Actions performed as yajna, Krishna says, will get dissolved in the very doer, without causing any kind of binding effects. As a result of the Knower’s activities, whatever and wherever they are, no adverse consequences can result. The fire of Self-knowledge has the unique power of burning all karmic results. His body alone is seen to be acting; but he, the Self, does not do anything. No result of any kind can await him anywhere, before or after the fall of the body. This is what Krishna wants to clarify and assure.
The life of a Self-knower itself becomes a full-fold Yajna, as pointed out earlier. No selfishness ever tarnishes his mind or action. He becomes synonymous with Nature and her Lord. Words like dedication, offering, resignation and the like are truly applicable to the actions of only the Self-knower.
ब्रह्मैव तेन गन्तव्यं ब्रह्मकर्मसमाधिना ।।
Krishna describes here the vision of the Knower about everything that he does, about the world in general, and about the relationship between the two. Yajna, the holy sacrifice, is the most sublime act extolled in the Vedas. The votaries of Vedas hold Yajna to be the summum bonum of life and also as the wish-yielding tree. In the background of this religiosity and ritualistic emphasis, what this verse conveys has untold relevance and importance.
Sarvam khalvidam brahma – is the final revelation of the Vedas. All this is verily Brahman. Brahman has revealed itself in the form of this visible existence. The effect is not different from the cause. The cause alone manifests in a changed form and then it goes by the name ‘effect’. Like ornaments made of gold are but gold itself, so too is creation the Creator Himself. The Self-Knower realizes this supreme truth, and he does not slip from it for any reason.
He does not feel the need to indulge in any separate act of holiness like pooja or sacrifice. For him all are holy, everything small or big, internal or external, thought, word or action – all are expressions of the one Self. Without the Seer can there be any visible or the seen? Without the Subject, can there be any perceived object?
In his perception, any Yajna, together with all its constituents, are nothing but the same Brahman. The ladle used for pouring ghee to the fire in a Yajna is itself Brahman. The material offered is also equally Brahman. The fire into which the oblations are offered and the offerer too, are the same Supreme Brahman. Thus the only result a Yajna can bring about is Brahman.
The Knower already has this outcome by dint of his realization. His Self-knowledge transforms everything into Brahman, the Supreme Reality. He does not have to look to any agency or special act for the sake of gaining any holiness or piety. He himself, together with all his actions, becomes holiness incarnate. It is not merely a state of fullness, but also one of supreme holiness, auspiciousness and sublimity.
The unique sublimity and the fullness of Brahmic thought this verse carries have given it a distinct place and importance in the seeking community, especially amongst renunciates and ascetics. Our body is made of food. Food of any form is a gift of Nature. Though the body consists of infinite parts and cells, with a host of potentials and powers, all of them have been made of the food one takes. Taking food and providing nourishment to the body, is of special importance to devout seekers or even thinkers.
The best of attention is thus given to preparing food as well as taking it. To sit before the food that is served and partake it to provide the nourishment the body needs is something very significant and sublime. Great thought and introspection have gone into it and our land has evolved a lofty attitude in the matter. How has the talk that transpired between Arjuna and Krishna in the battlefield of Kurukshetra suddenly found a place in the kitchen and dining hall of this land is itself something to be wondered at and enquired into. Only then will the relevance of spiritual thoughts and dialogues in our day to day life become clear.
Ascetics are the people who reflect upon and pursue the spiritual wisdom in its full depth and dedication. Naturally, their practices are bound to reflect and reveal this wisdom fully. Thus, the ascetics (sannyasins) in the Ashrams and the Brahma Vidya students and seekers in this land have made it a practice to recite this verse before taking food, with closed eyes and a spoonful of water kept carefully in the centre of the right palm. When the verse is fully chanted, they sip this sanctified water and then alone begin their meal. To listen to chorus ‘Brahmarpanam’-chant in the Ashrams is common in India and the sublimity it generates is also quite unique.
The whole practice gains its special importance when we find that the usual ceremonial manner in which the Brahmacharins and householders take food is strikingly different. They too make the whole occasion and purpose quite sublime and divine. But the attitude and thoughts invoked are different.
The householders remind themselves that food is not just an offer to their body with the usual material note of selfishness and physical survival. It is instead a sublime oblation made piously to the five pranas (cosmic energy) - prana, apana, vyana, udana and samana. The sublimity does not ebb off there. It extends to reach Brahman at last, when they utter the sixth line ‘Brahmane svaha’ (offering to supreme Brahman). In the non-ascetics, the plural concept has its prevalence. Taking food is nonetheless an equally holy act for them too.
It is not, however, an offering to any celestial deities like Indra, Varuna, etc. of the Vedic sacrifices. Instead it is meant for the five Cosmic Forces like Prana, Apana, etc. residing in one’s own body. The hand which offers the food is the ladle. Mouth is the altar into which it is given. The fire to receive it is the jatharagni (the digestive power in the stomach), and the outcome the offering brings about is the nourishment it gives to the living body. The whole body itself becomes divine, and any act to preserve and employ it also is necessarily divine. The sense of divinity or holiness is thus co-existential with every activity.
The householder life still preserves a sense of plurality. Whereas in the Brahmic seeker, Knower or ascetic, this plural note is replaced with the ultimate singular one. There is only one sublime existence, the Supreme Brahman, and in whatever act is performed and whatever result it brings, it is the same Brahman that shines exclusively. How lofty, deep and wholesome! When one begins to reflect upon these lofty concepts, his mind and heart are bound to expand and be purer and holier. Thoughts and imaginations have immense power to generate divinity and soak man in its abundance.
The Brahmarpanam-chant carries with it the core of Vedic wisdom and the practice of its unifying culture and refinement. This portion of the 4th Chapter must receive special attention and absorption from all sadhakas. From the viewpoint of practical sadhana, Krishna’s statements lay before the seeker a great scope and emphasis.
(to be continued)
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(From the Series Essential Concepts In Bhagavad Gita)