The second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita explains Sankhya Yoga and in that Sri Krishna says that Gnyana is Superior to Karma. Then towards the end of the chapter, Krishna tells Arjuna to his duty.
The third chapter begins with Arjuna expressing a doubt.
“If You think that buddhi (intellect) is better than karma, then why do you want me to do this horrible duty of fighting?” he asks.
Even in India today, in ordinary households you have this kind of discussion. Some people are heavily into Vaidika Karma. They follow rituals to the best of their understanding and ability every day. Some people only follow it for weddings and funerals. Others try to understand the meaning of these rituals and try to do what is relevant to the present times. Some abstract the philosophy.
People who follow the pUjA paddhati consider themselves followers of bhakthi yoga and people who don’t consider themselves followers of sAnkhya or gnyAna yOga. People who do their duties consider themselves karmayogis. People who do nothing consider themselves sannyasis. In my view all this is a mis-labeling. A confusion.
Arjuna was similarly confused. He asked Krishna to tell him for once and for all which way, he, Arjuna ought to follow.
Then Sri Krishna said that he had clearly defined two different ways
- gnyAna yOga for the sAnkhyAs.
- karmayOga for the yOgis.
In my thinking understanding is better than to “do and die” without reasoning why. I am sure that many people would agree.
But in the absence of understanding, “doing your assigned duty” is better than “doing nothing”.
Krishna said that Externally “Doing Nothing” does not lead to a state of ‘naishkarmyam’. If you keep thinking of the things you have given up and hanker after them, you are not a sannyAsi you are a mithyAcarI or even a hypocrite. In traditional Indian middle class society, there are very few opportunities to deviate from your assigned duties. The society keeps your morals for you. If however, you always dream of what you do not have.. that does not count as naishkarmyam. Virtue is not the lack of opportunity.
Krishna said, Activity is certain, whether of the limbs or involuntary processes or the mind. Nature makes us act. Karma tyAga – renunciation of all action is almost impossible. A person who internally controls his senses and acts in detached way, he excels.
Vivekananda put it simply as “renunciation is of the mind”. Think of a single action that you do, where you renounce the fruits of your action – internally. We all act with a purpose in mind. See 4 causes of Karma and 4 meanings of karma. So doing your duties does not make you a karmayogi. Internally renouncing the benefits of your work, being detached from your duty while doing it makes you a karmayogi. Society will anyway compel you to do some of your duties and prevent you from following some of your desires. This does not make you a sannyasi or a karmayogi. It is the inner ‘tyaagam’ and ‘asaktata’ that make you a karmayogi.
Krishna said that ‘Karma is better than akarma’
Simply not doing things without knowing why and without detachment can be laziness or foolishness.. it is not a way to realize God. For anyone in this world, who is not yet a realized soul.. ie who still has some vestiges of ignorance or agnyAna, “doing” is superior to “not doing”. This means that you have to follow the vaidika karma as well as your loukika karma ie your vedic as well as your worldly duties.
Krishna said “do your karma for yagnya.” He said, ” In past prajApati (Brahma) created people and yajnas (yagnyas) and asked people to perform yagnyAs to achieve their needs. (See : pancha mahaa yagnyas, Vedic Rites (Rituals) : kalpa, The Devas of the Veda). Brahma said that the dEvAs and the people were to care for each other. Devas could be cared for through yagnyas. People could enjoy the fruit of the yagnyas, which was given by the devas after they offered it first to the devas. To eat or enjoy the yagnya phala without making an offering to the devas is akin to stealing.To cook for yourself is a sin. But to offer food to the Gods in yajna and then eat it will free you from all sin”.
Even today in many households food is first offered to God as ‘naivedyam’ and then eaten as prasadam. Cooking and eating are one form of yajnya. Work is another form of yagnya.., if you do it as worship and offer the benefits to God, before enjoying the rest as prasAdam. This means if you work all month and get a salary, you must offer a part of it to God and accept the rest of it as His prasAdam. If your work is a yagnya, and your salary is the yagnya phala, then you must perceive it as given by the dEvas who are pleased by your yagnya., not by your employers. This is hard. But if you do it you are on the way to becoming a karmayOgi.
Krishna said, “Yajna (Work) comes from Karma (Action), parjanya (clouds/indra/results) come from yagnya, food comes from parjanya (clouds/results/devas), living beings come from food (need food to live). Karma comes from brahma and Brahma from the indestructible (akshara). Brahma which is present everywhere is present in yajna (work). Anyone who deviates from this cycle and lives only for the senses lives in vain.
I believe that we should not take this literally but symbolically. Work comes from action. Work pleases God and gives results. Offer the results to God before you enjoy them. ie recognize that what comes from ‘your’ work is really “His” gift. Your work is your worship. The results are prasaada. The creator Brahma is present in your work. Thus your work is sacred and divine. The results are His gift and thus sacred and divine.
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