Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Advice on Karma yoga


Gita essay - 3  

Lord Krishna’s advice to Arjuna on Karma Yoga spans two chapters.  After talking about Athma in the second chapter, Lord starts talking on Karma yoga as practice of Karma yoga makes the intellect subtle and enables one to grasp the advice based on Jnana yoga.  After a brief introduction (2-39) Lord glorifies Karma yoga in six verses (40 to 46).  Then He enunciates an important principle of Karma yoga(2-47):

कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन। (Karmanyevaadhikaaraste maa phaleshu kadaachana)
मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि।। (Maa karmaphalahetur bhoor maa te sango’stwakarmani)

You have a choice over action alone; never over results. So let not the results of action (alone) be your motive.  May you not have any inclination for inaction (on this score)

One can only choose the action but not the result which is dependent on other factors of the world known and unknown including the law of action.  Nor should he lapse into inaction because he has no control over the results. Also action done with the expectation of fruits brings bondage. So one should engage in action hoping for the best, while simultaneously conditioning his mind for the worst.  This way success or failure does not catch him unawares and he faces both with equanimity and equanimity in action is termed  yoga.  Actions which are normally of binding nature, lose that binding nature when performed with equanimity of mind, without emphasis on results.  When actions are done without desire for the fruits, one gets purification of mind and at a later stage, knowledge of the Self as a pure, tranquil mind in course of time, shedding its false values attached to the world, turns to Athma and Self-knowledge that leads to liberation and immortal bliss. 

At this stage Arjuna wants to know in detail about the man of steady wisdom who is firmly established in Self-knowledge and Lord Krishna explains in detail about Stithaprajna.  Arjuna has now another doubt as to why he is asked to engage in action and not in seeking Jnanam as Jnanam appears to be superior to action. Posed with this question in the third chapter, Lord Krishna enters into a detailed discussion on Karma yoga.

He first makes it clear that choice is not between Karma yoga and Jnana yoga,  but only between two life-styles called Karma-yoga-niṣṭha, active lifestyle of  a householder and Jnana-yoga-niṣṭha, contemplative lifestyle of a monk.  The path of knowledge is prescribed for the intellectual, whereas the path of action is the best for the physically dynamic.  But it should be born in mind that action by itself cannot be the end. It is only the means to achieve the final goal of Realization of the Self.  So whatever lifestyle one chooses, one has to follow relevant karma for obtaining purity of mind and then pursue Jnanam to discover the freedom that is one’s true nature as Athma. The path of knowledge is not the proper one for Arjuna as he, being a Kshatriya, does not belong to the meditative and intellectual type. His natural aptitude is for action and he can purify himself only through action.  So he has to discharge his duties in a selfless spirit of pure devotion without attachment to fruits of such action. If one understands the art of performance of actions without selfishness, one is already in the path of knowledge as these two paths are not contradictory but complementary.

Then Lord discusses inaction and condemns it as it cannot lead to knowledge or purity of mind which can lead to liberation.  Further due to one’s natural tendencies, governed by the three gunas, Satvam, Rajas and Tamas one is driven to action. Where his natural desire is for action and he keeps thinking of sense objects prompted by desire without engaging in action it is only hypocrisy.  And when one does actions for the sake of the Lord, he is not bound by the actions and his heart is purified by performance of actions for the sake of the Lord.  But if this spirit of unselfishness does not govern the action, then such actions become binding, however good or glorious they may be.  When we follow the teachings of the Lord it becomes a gesture of our appreciation for all the gifts and blessings that the Lord has bestowed upon us.  When we follow the teachings of the Lord as given in Vedas and do our work selflessly it becomes a worship or yajna to Lord and it purifies the mind as well.  The working of the universe is a cyclic process, with the human beings as its important link.  Yajna creates conditions for rain; Rain is responsible for food and food nourishes all living beings including human beings who express their gratitude through yajna.  Thus Karma yoga is necessary to maintain the harmony of the Universe upon which one is dependant. One who does not discharge it lives in vain, wasting his life. 

The Lord cites the example of people like Janaka who had successfully pursued knowledge while remaining in Karma yoga and gives His own example of engaging Himself in activities continuously although it is immaterial for Him whether He acts or not. The reason for this is that the common people with limited intelligence imitate the great and so if The Lord remains inactive, they will also remain idle leading to indiscipline.  So also Arjuna has to fight the war, this being kṣaṭriya's duty, to set an example to others. Else, he will be sowing the seeds of anarchy in his own time as well as in the future, as any person with a higher status or knowledge (śreṣṭha), can influence others positively or negatively.  Thus, both the wise and the ignorant should act; the former for teaching others, and the latter for purity. The only difference is that the former will be detached while the latter won’t be.

The ignorant think that they perform, they succeed etc. while actually the actions are performed by the play of the three Gunas of one’s nature that creates desires which prompts their actions.  In their ignorance they think they are the doers and get attached to results and develop anxiety for the fruits of their actions.  Even the wise person, who is not attached to the fruits of action as he knows that he, the Self, is not the performer of actions and that it is only the play of Gunas of Nature at work should set an example to the ignorant by sticking to the path of action rather than trying to change them as it is likely to be misunderstood by the ignorant resulting in the cessation of action by them.  And then Lord summarizes his advice thus in 2-30

मयि सर्वाणि कर्माणि संन्यस्याध्यात्मचेतसा। (Mayi sarvaani karmaani sannyasyaadhyaatma chetasaa)
निराशीर्निर्ममो भूत्वा युध्यस्व विगतज्वरः।। (Niraasheer nirmamo bhootwaa yudhyaswa vigatajwarah)

Dedicating  all actions to Me, engage in the battle with the mind centred in the Self  and free from expectations and egoism and anxiety.

In this summary Lord Krishna mentions five salient points of Karma yoga which can be stated as-

1)    Keep a spiritual goal as primary goal.

2)    Convert your work into worship by offering all the actions to the Lord.

3)     Be prepared to accept the result, be it favourable or not by looking upon the results as Prasada from the Lord.

4)     Have humility in success and acceptance in failure, shedding egoism.

5)    Maintain equanimity (samathvam) at all times.

Lord Krisna concludes his advice on Karma yoga in this chapter with the observation that one who follows Karma-yoga attains spiritual success and one who does not is spiritually lost.  Even though likes and dislikes (raga-dveṣha) born of habits (vasanas) pull a person astray, still a person should not fall a prey to them, shunning them as against his spiritual interests.  He should always go by what he has to do as his duty even if it involves difficulties and not by what he likes to do however tempting it may be.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Vision of God

(based on Swami Paramarthananda’s Guru Purnima lecture 2017)

Lord Krishna classifies bhakthas into four categories In Gita (Ch.7 verse 15). They are Aartha, Artharthi, Jijnasu and Jnani bhakthas.  Aartha bhakthas are the devotees in distress who worship God seeking freedom from their problems.  Artharthi bhakthas are the devotees who worship God seeking success in their various material pursuits. Both see God as a means for achieving their material goals and their prayer is aimed at getting things they want or getting rid of things they don’t want.  To this end they choose any means of worship to any form of God and they don’t mind shrine shopping and temple hopping with no interest in enquiring about the nature of God and the underlying philosophy about His/Her form.  For these bhakthas God is different from them and also distant from them having His/Her abode in heavens.

Jijnasu bhakthas are those who want to understand the nature of God they worship and also seek the vision of God.  To this end they seek guidance from spiritual books and spiritual Gurus.  Most of them speak of the path of meditation and mystic experiences.  Those who follow it expect the vision of God to bless them in meditation or in dreams or God to appear in guise as is depicted in various stories.  But there are a few who seek guidance from a traditional Guru who has himself undergone training and studied the scriptures under a Guru of Vaidhika parampara  and also lives according to it.  This blog only deals with such Jijnasu bhakthas.

Scriptures teach that God is not only intelligent cause but also the material cause for this Universe.  That means that God not only created the Universe but also pervades the Universe as gold pervades all golden ornaments. The ornaments are only gold with different names and forms.  Same way everything in the Universe is only God with various forms and names. When once this idea is imbibed, jijnasu bhaktha’s attitude to the world undergoes a change.  Now he understands that vision of God as per the scriptures involves only a change of attitude towards the objects of the world and not a vision of God in any particular form.   In short, he understands that the vision of God only involves Iswara bhavana  replacing  prapancha bhavana i.e.God perception displacing world perception.  
Isavasya Upanishad opens with the line which echoes this idea.
ईशा वास्यमिदँ सर्वं यत्किञ्च जगत्यां जगत् (Ishaavaasyam idam sarvam,Yad kincha jagatyaam jagat.)
Whatever moves here in this world, everything is pervaded or covered by God.
Everything in this world is pervaded by God. Whatever we see is manifestation of God alone. God here means the Supreme Brahman who is of the nature of pure Consciousness.  So whatever a person sees is only pure Consciousness with a name and form. 
A verse in Thirumandhiram, tamil work of saint Tirumoolar illustrates it beautifully.
மரத்தை மறைத்தது மாமதயானை (Maraththai maraithathu maamadha yaanai)
மரத்தில் மறைந்தது மாமதயானை  (maraththil marainthathu maamadha yaanai)
பரத்தை மறைத்தது பார்முதல் பூதம் (paraththai maraithathu paarmudhal bhootham)
பரத்தில் மறைந்தது பார்முதல் பூதம் (paraththil marainthathu paarmudhal bhootham)
The elephant (toy) hides the wood (with toy vision).  The elephant (toy) disappears in wood (with wood vision).  Pancha bhuthas hide the supreme (with world perception).  Pancha bhuthas disappear in the Supreme (with God perception)
Thirumular gives the example of toy elephant made of wood here.  A child is given a toy elephant made of wood.  The child only sees the elephant and not the wood and enjoys playing with it as elephant. But a carpenter who comes there sees only the wood and comments on the quality of wood and he has no eye for the elephant.  In the same way when you have the world vision you see only play of Pancha bhuthas and not the Supreme pervading it, while with God vision you see only the Supreme pervading the world and not the pancha bhuthas that make up the world. So if one replaces prapancha bhavana with Iswara bhavana, world vision is replaced by God vision.  Then that Jijnasu bhaktha sees God in every object of creation itself.
As the Jijnasu bhaktha blossoms into Jnani bhaktha with the study, doubt-free understanding and absorption of import of Mahavakhyas, he realises that for his vision of God he does not look elsewhere apart from himself  as his true Self is God, and  it is His prescence as Athma that makes him sentient as revealed in Kenopanishad (mantra 1-2)
श्रोत्रस्य श्रोत्रं मनसो मनो यद्वाचो वाच्ँस प्राणस्य प्राणः । चक्षुषश्चक्षुः----  (strotrasya strotram manaso mano yad vacho ha vacham sa u pranasya pranaha I Chakhusas chakshuhuh--)
He (God) is the Ear of the ear, the Mind of the mind, the Speech of speech, the Prana of prana, and the Eye of the eye.
As Athma, God i.e Brahman animates all senses. For the indriyas, prana and mind which are made up of pancha bhuthas are material only as the pancha bhuthas themselves are material only. Kenopanishad goes on to point out in 2-4, प्रतिबोधविधितं मतं (pratibodhaviditaṃ matam)  meaning It (Brahman) is realised in every state of mindThat means knowledge of Brahman is the knowledge of the factor which is common to all experiences which again means knowledge of the pure Consciousness that is present in all three states of Jagrat, Swapna and Sushupthi.  So a Jnani knows that wherever he is and whatever he is doing he is always experiencing God.  In other words all his actions, physical and mental constitute Brahmanubhava only.  So with this understanding and realisation “இருப்பதெல்லாம் இறைவனே.” (iruppathellam Iraivanae) i.e. whatever is there is God only, he now realises that God as Nirguna Brahman cannot be seen, as one cannot see one’s own eyes except as a reflection, while God as Saguna Brahman can be seen in every object of creation.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Arjuna’s surrender and advice on Athma.

Gita essay - 2 

In the first Chapter Arjuna was doing all the talking, trying to solve his problem of raga (attachment), moha (delusion) and soka (grief) and in the process delivering a long lecture on Dharma and Adharma, concluding it with his decision that he would not take up arms against Bhishma and Drona even if it meant death at the hands of the Kauravas and then sat down putting down the bows and arrows.  Lord Krishna had been silent  all along giving Arjuna a patient hearing like an expert management counsellor and now reacts with a sharp rebuke urging Arjuna to shed the unmanly behaviour and stand up to do his duty.  Then Arjuna comes up with his real problem of helplessness to solve the problem of inner weakness of raga, soka, and moha  and surrenders to Lord Krishna with these words (2-7):
कार्पण्यदोषोपहतस्वभावः पृच्छामि त्वां धर्मसंमूढचेताः। (Kaarpanyadoshopahataswabhaavah Pricchaami twaam dharmasammoodha chetaah;
यच्छ्रेयः स्यान्निश्चितं ब्रूहि तन्मे शिष्यस्तेऽहं शाधि मां त्वां प्रपन्नम् ।। (Yacchreyah syaan nishchitam broohi tanme Shishyaste’ham shaadhi maam twaam prapannam.)
My mind is overpowered by helplessness and my intellect is completely deluded regarding righteousness. With my mind thus confused, I ask You.  I am Your disciple who has surrendered to You.  Please teach me decisively what is good for me.

When Arjuna surrenders with these words, the roles get changed.  Arjuna is no longer the Yajamana and Sri Krishna an ordinary driver; Arjuna is now a humble disciple and Sri Krishna, the Jnani Guru.  And only after Arjuna’s realisation of his helplessness and surrender, Lord Krishna starts his advice in the course of which he gives the essence of Jnana kanda and Karma kanda of Vedas, which makes Bhagavad Gita one of the Prasthana thrayas, authoritative basic texts along with Upanishads and Brahma Sutras. This advice along with Arjuna’s reaction runs into 17 chapters in which in chapter 2 we get a brief introduction and in chapter 18 a short sum-up.

In chapter 2, after Arjuna’s surrender Lord Krishna starts his advice with feedback and sarcasm as well, as seen from the first verse of advice where he says “You speak words of great wisdom, but you forget that wise people do not grieve for either the dead and living and act the same way”(2-11).  He thus points out that Self-ignorance, Athma ajjnanam is the basis of his problem and so in the first phase of advice he imparts Athma-anathma vidya briefly, dealing with Arjuna’s problem from a philosophical angle and in that process starts explaining the nature of Athma, one’s Real Self. It is because of His advice based on AthmaJnanam, Self-knowledge, that  the chapter gets its title as Sankhya Yoga.  

One is not the physical body which is subject to changes as child, youth and old person and perishes ultimately in course of time but is the unchanging eternal Athma within which undergoes no change at any time when the body undergoes all the changes.  When the present body perishes, Athma acquires a new one and continues in it.  So as Athma, there was no time when all of us were not there in the past nor will it be in the future.  That is why a wise person, called Dheera, does not grieve over the death of the body which is always changing and is unreal, as only unreal things keep changing.  The Reality behind the unreal body is the unchanging Athma.  

What is the nature of this Athma?  Lord Krishna describes in verse 2-24:
अच्छेद्योऽयमदाह्योऽयमक्लेद्योऽशोष्य एव च।(Acchedyo’yam adaahyo’yam akledyo’shoshya eva cha)
नित्यः सर्वगतः स्थाणुरचलोऽयं सनातनः।। (Nityah sarvagatah sthaanur achalo’yam sanaatanah.)
This (Athma) cannot be cut, nor burnt, cannot be wetted, and cannot be dried. This is eternal, all-pervading, changeless, immovable, and unborn.

So weapons, fire, water, and wind do not affect it.  Therefore one who thinks of himself as the killer and the other as killed does not really know that He slays not nor the other is slain.  What happens at death is Athma casts off one body for another just as a person changes clothes, casting off old one to put on new one.  Further death is certain for the one born and also birth is certain for the dead.  Again the body is a combination of pancha bhuthas which are in a manifest state as body, only when body is alive and are in an unmanifest state before birth and after death. So Arjuna should not grieve over the inevitable and as a warrior in the battlefield, he should go ahead doing his duty of fighting as per his visesha dharma as a kshatriya, shedding his delusion and grief.  For Arjuna as a kshatriya it is his svadharma to fight a righteous war to establish Dharma and not to back out of it for his selfish or personal reasons. Only failure to fight such a battle is a sinful act and he will incur no sin acting in accordance with his visesha dharma; only in running away from it, he will incur sin.  So fighting, he will attain the heaven if killed, or if victorious, rule the world.  Lord Krishna also points out that even from a worldly angle, he should not run away from the battle as it will earn the ridicule of his peers as an act of fear and cowardice and this dishonour is worse than death for a kshatriya.

Now Lord Krishna concludes this phase of advice which was given from a philosophical and ethical angle with an important advice which is as well valid for all in the battle of life (2-38):
सुखदुःखे समे कृत्वा लाभालाभौ जयाजयौ।( Sukhaduhkhe same kritwaa laabhaalaabhau jayaajayau)
ततो युद्धाय युज्यस्व नैवं पापमवाप्स्यसि।(Tato yuddhaaya yujyaswa naivam paapamavaapsyasi.)
Treating happiness and sorrow, gain and loss, victory and defeat alike, engage in battle. This way you will not incur sin.

Lord Krishna here emphasises a quality of which he has spoken earlier.  This is the quality of equanimity, also called samatvam.  Samatvaṁ means balance of mind, ie to keep one’s cool in all situations without being carried away by the situation. Samatvam is also called Yoga, in the second phase of advice in this chapter, to be seen later.

The salient features of this phase of advice are:

1)    Athma is eternal and indestructible

2)    Bodies enveloping the Athma are ephemeral with a beginning and end

3)    Death is only for the body and it is certain for one born

4)    Embodied beings constantly pass through the cycle of birth and death and so wise do not grieve over death.

5)    As Athma is indestructible, one cannot slay nor get slain

6)    For a kshatriya not to fight a righteous war is only an act of sin and not fighting it

7)    Not to fight will only invite ridicule as coward and dishonour is worse than death for a kshatriya