The following article is reproduced from the English Monthly from the Ashram Vicharasetu – August 1997
Essential Concepts in Bhagavad Gita - 11
The way Krishna concludes his instructions on Sankhya Yoga, is greatly significant in that he emphasizes how the ‘Soul concept’ has to be applied in actual life, while coursing through the daily interactions. The message makes the Sankhya pursuit universal:
By referring to these three sets of dvandva (pair of opposites), Krishna has in fact covered the entire range of dvandvas that constitute our life and interactions. The entire philosophy of Sankhya, exposing the unborn and undying Soul, thus crystallizes into a simple but relentless practice resting upon the mind. The role of intelligence is to understand the facts and truth and then prevail upon the mind to grow an even and unifying attitude towards sukha and duhkha, gain and loss, victory and defeat.
Sankhya philosophy thus becomes a discipline for refinement – a very beneficial and acceptable practice for one and all. It was to awaken the intelligence adequately and well for the purpose that Krishna elaborated so much on the nature of life and the meaning of death.
Having concluded the Sankhya exposition, Krishna proceeds to present his unique message on Yoga (Karmayoga). It should be emphasized that Karmayoga, as presented by Krishna in Bhagavad Gita, is unique in its philosophy and pursuit. It is a novel interpretation of the Upanishadic knowledge, not found explicitly in any of the earlier texts. In fact the apoorvata (uniqueness) of Bhagavad Gita lies in its presentation of the Karmayoga as a full-fledged pursuit of mind and intelligence (buddhi). And this new relevance is significantly indicated right in the introductory verse (2.39):
एषा तेऽभिहिता सांख्ये बुद्धिर्योगे त्विमां श्रृणु ।
बुद्ध्यायुक्तो यया पार्थ कर्मबन्धं प्रहास्यसि ।।
Mark the words : “I shall explain to you the WISDOM (buddhi) relating to Karmayoga. Equipped with this WISDOM (buddhi), you will be able to cast aside the bondage of all karmas.” The emphasis is not on external karma, but on the internal yoga-buddhi.
There is a common misunderstanding. The general belief is that while in Sankhya pursuit the practitioner has to ruminate and introspect ceaselessly on the Reality, in Karmayoga it is the pursuit of action that counts. Pursuit of action every one does. All who do karma are not karmayogins! The karmayogin differs from all other performers of actions in so far as his mind and intelligence are able to feel and understand a transcendental relevance and purpose behind each and everything he does. The transformation in his attitude or outlook is brought about by the intelligence. The wisdom about Karmayoga gained by the intelligence, and its relentless application while doing any karma whatsoever, is what distinguishes the karmayogin from all other performers.
Like Sankhya, karmayoga too is a full-fledged buddhi-based pursuit. In Sankhya, the basic contemplation is that of the unborn, non-acting and un-dying Soul. In karmayoga, the basic pursuit is the keen observation of the mind’s responses to a host of interactions, and their constant sublimation by activating the yoga-buddhi, the samatva-buddhi. That is why in later chapters (verse 5.5), Krishna likens Sankhya to Yoga:
एकं सांख्यं च योगं च य: पश्यति स पश्यति ।
“He is the true Seer who clearly understands that Sankhya and Yoga are one and the same”.
(Bhagavad Gita 5.5)
Before explaining what is meant by Yoga-buddhi and how to attain it, Krishna points out the unique advantages it holds. These introductory remarks of Krishna are not generally studied with enough attention. But they are too precious and profound (Verse 2.40):
नेहाभिक्रमनशोऽस्ति प्रत्यवायो न विद्यते ।
स्वल्पमप्यस्य धर्मस्य त्रायते महतो भयात् ।।
Are these words a mere eulogy? Far from it, the statement is immensely meaningful. It offers a new insight in the field of karma - be it spiritual or worldly, divine or material. The two kinds of unwanted fate that may face any pursuit in general – abhikrama-nāśa and pratyavāya – are worth knowing in detail. Krishna asserts that none of these fates is relevant in the pursuit of karmayoga.
Abhikrama-nāśa means a proper effort ultimately going waste because of some unexpected interference. The pregnancy of a woman becomes meaningful and successful only when the course is completed and the child is delivered. But are there not instances in which despite proper care during pregnancy, finally miscarriage interferes or a still-born child is delivered? Such a fate is called abhikrama-nāśa. Similarly, in the field of agriculture, a crop takes a certain time for growth and harvest. Normally after a proper effortful cultivation a good crop is expected. But there are occasions when due to flood, pests or other intrusions, a good crop gets destroyed before harvest. The pursuit or effort, though carried out properly, becomes fruitless.
Pratyavāya means contrary or adverse result - a fate, which is often encountered in treatment of diseases. Sometimes even tested drugs produce adverse reaction in some body, resulting in a condition more serious than the original disease. In the field of science and technology, many discoveries, inventions or technological developments meant for the service of humanity have ultimately proved to pose grave danger to the very existence of life on earth. All these come under the category of pratyavāya.
In religious life also there is enough possibility of such adverse fates. In the famous Rama-Ravana war, when Indrajit suddenly receded from the battlefield, Vibheeshana grew apprehensive about his design. Calling Hanuman he set out in search of Indrajit, only to find him engaged in powerful austerity, which when completed, would make the performer unconquerable. With the help of Hanuman, Vibheeshana managed to desecrate the Yāgaśala before completion of the ritual. Indrajit could not proceed further with his performance, and the yaga was such that it could not be attempted a second time.– An epic example of abhikrama-nāśa.
Kumbhakarna, Ravana’s brother, was famous for his prolonged sleep. He fell into this habit as a pratyavāya of the boon he got after long austerity. His austerities were aimed at winning boons to eliminate all the devas. The austerities were about to be completed. The thought of the fateful boon made the devas restless. They approached Goddess Saraswati to redeem their fate. At the end of the tapasya, when Kumbhakarna was asked to specify the boon he wanted, his joy knew no bound. But alas, the words that came out of his lips belied his heart! By a trick of Saraswati, the Goddess of words, Kumbhakarna asked for the boon of nidravatva in place of nirdevatva. Nirdevatva means complete elimination of devas, while nidravatva means to be specially graced by sleep, which Kumbhakarna verily became as a result of his own prolonged austerities. – A striking instance of ritualistic pratyavāya.
Thus, loss of effort and adverse result are fates that may come to any action or pursuit of mankind. In this background, Krishna’s assurance is immensely valuable. He says, the Yoga-buddhi would make all actions and pursuits of man absolutely free of abhikrama-nāśa and pratyavāya.
Why? Is not Karmayoga also a pursuit to be taken up and completed? When intercepted in the middle, will not the effort be wasted? On what specific ground does Krishna claim that the usual fates of abhikrama-nāśa and pratyavāya do not befall Karmayoga? What does he mean when he asserts that even a little of this dharma (pursuit) is sufficient to deliver man from the mightiest of fears?
Karmayoga is not a time-bound external procedure. It is the application of a wisdom, an insight, for transforming the purpose and attitude of the practitioner while doing anything he does. In the name of karmayoga you are not supposed to take up a new course of action – either religious or secular. You are only required to cultivate a new outlook and orientation in your mind and intelligence while doing whatever actions – religious or secular – you otherwise do.
Where is then the question of beginning and completing karmayoga as if it were a course of procedures and practices limited by time, place and external activities? Unlike all rituals, worship or even meditation, this yoga is an all-time attunement of mind and intelligence. The yogabuddhi, the insight and its application, will itself bring about the benefits immediately. No completion of any procedure is involved to derive the benefits.
In a later chapter, Krishna points out (Verse 6.44)
“Even a sincere seeker of this Yoga transcends the ken of vedic karmas.”
(Bhagavad Gita 6.44)
Vedas are sacred and they promise for their followers many gains in this world or the next. For achieving these gains, Vedas prescribe specific rituals. All these the yogajijnasu transcends at one stroke, by dint of his sincere enquiry into the practice of karmayoga. A true seeker of Yoga will not have any need for these rituals or the consequent rewards.
In this Karmayoga practice, says Krishna, one point that supremely counts is ‘resoluteness of the buddhi’ (verse 2.41):
The saadhaka’s buddhi must remain firm, resolute and exclusive in its assessment and finding. The intelligence begins to think and evaluate matters relating to life in this world and the next, and finally becomes very clear as to what ultimate value all these have.
Finding the body as well as all the body-related attainments and gains to be ephemeral, the buddhi becomes firm about the futility of chasing the fleeting objects and gains. To seek the unfleeting, it turns inward and focuses on the Self. Leaving the distant and doubtful, the buddhi with conviction turns to what is already there within - in the from of Consciousness, enabling us to sense and perceive everything else.
This kind of resoluteness of intelligence, and not any other religious practice or study, is what marks the life of a Karmayogin. As is the buddhi solely important in Sankhya pursuit, so is the same buddhi supremely significant in Karmayoga. Sankhya and Yoga are equally buddhi-based. One should not miss this basic point.
यामिमां पुष्पितां वाचं प्रवदन्त्यविपश्चित: ।
Like the Palasa tree blossoming with beautiful red flowers which are not followed by fruits, the eloquent utterances of Vedas about ritualistic rewards are only flowery, never meant to be fruitful.
Even as a boy, the revolutionary Krishna had contended before his parents in Vrindavan that the worship to Lord Indra, the prime Vedic deity, must stop forthwith. The cowherd community, he argued, should instead owe its allegiance and gratitude to Govardhana mountain and the rivers that flowed from it, because it was these that gave food and support to their cows and themselves. “Why worship the unseen and imagined powers when the evident sources of Nature are right in front? Worship to visible sources of Nature would evoke greater feelings and purpose in our minds,” he firmly held.
So, the more mature criticism of Vedic rituals at an advanced age in the Kurukshetra battlefield is perfectly in order. He points out that it is the greed for bhoga and aisvarya (enjoyment and prosperity) that makes these indiscreet people cling to the flowery promises of Vedas (verse 2.43). Vedas are a source of wisdom. Instead of looking for the ultimate wisdom revealed in them, these deluded people run after the exciting prescriptions. For such people, Krishna says, the Yogabuddhi will not dawn at all (verse 2.44):
By these statements, Krishna clearly emphasizes that the yogabuddhi will be attained not by the strength of any rituals, but by the sincere application of a reflective and evaluative mind alone. For Arjuna, though it was too late by any standard, the enquiring spirit made him a totally different person within hours.
Thus, the dawn of viveka and vairagya will alone help one to take up karmayoga. The karmayogic culture and refinement is contrary to ritualistic ambitions and involvement.
Even today, the widespread appeal and influence of Bhagavad Gita is because it is not related to rituals and ceremonies. Gita’s message is more to the non-religious people, although it is immensely important for the religious people too. Any one at any time can take up spiritual enquiry and thereafter mould his life accordingly. The reading of Gita, rumination on its messages, is itself a preliminary for taking up the saadhana Krishna elucidates. The ritualists too can have their entry into viveka and vairagya by reading Bhagavad Gita or Upanishads and then they can get inspired to take up the path of spiritual seeking.
(Part of the Series Essential-Concepts-In-Bhagavad-Gita)