by Swami Krishnananda
This universe was considered as the ground on which we based our consciousness of our duty in life. We can know what we ought to do only if we know where we are actually located in this world. Unless we know our circumstances – where we are standing, internally as well as externally, at any given moment of time – we will not be able to take even one step forward in any direction.
So duty as an action incumbent upon people is based on the consciousness of one’s own being in relation to the circumstances of existence in this world. That is to say, Karma Yoga is based on Buddhi Yoga, as told in the language of the Bhagavadgita. When karma is based not on buddhi, proper understanding, then karma, action, becomes a meandering movement with no proper direction. You can move anywhere, in any direction, and do whatever you like, but that cannot be called right action.
The philosophy of the Bhagavadgita is actually the science of right activity. That which is proper on your part is right action. But what is it that is proper on your part? The propriety of your behaviour and your action depends upon the extent to which you fit in a state of harmony to the atmosphere of creation as a whole. This is the reason why it became necessary for us to go into the details of the cosmological creative process as adumbrated in the Sankhya philosophy.
In what manner are you connected to this world? That is the manner which will decide how you have to act. Are you on the surface of the Earth? Are you on a hilltop? Are you in the desert? Are you on the sea? Are you in the midst of friends, or otherwise? What is also happening to you internally, at the same time?
The internal and external setup of things in the context of the existence of a person or an individual is explained in the cosmology of the Sankhya. We went into great detail about it already so that you will have some idea as to where you are actually sitting at this moment. You are not sitting on any particular isolated location at all. In this great cosmological scheme of which you are one single evolute, you seem to be connected to everything. The entire space-time and the stars, the whole of creation, Prakriti and Purusha, whatever it is, are all strung, as it were, on your own body and, conversely, you are strung on the body of this Universal Being. Hence, you are not an ordinary individual.
“Arjuna, you are not a single body or son of Pandu. You are not sitting on the field of Kurukshetra as a geographical location. You are not facing the Kuru family as people connected with you. There is something else altogether behind the entire situation in which you are placed just now.” Even if you are going to Rishikesh market or the railway station here, it is not a small action that is initiated by you. It is a cosmological incident. The whole world knows what you are doing. Going to purchase a ticket from the station to go to Delhi or some place looks like a silly action, but it is nothing of the kind. The whole world knows that you are purchasing the ticket – not just the whole world, but the whole creation up to Purusha and Prakriti knows it, just as the tiniest movement of a little finger is known by the whole body. The finger cannot say the body does not know what it is doing, that it is just moving independently. It does not move independently. The entire system of the physical organism is aware of every little scratch, touch or movement.
There is no such thing as private action in this world. All activity, whether done secretly or otherwise, covertly or overtly, visibly or invisibly, is public. Everything that you think, feel and do is recorded in the documents of the skies. The very space-time canvas will spontaneously record whatever you are feeling, thinking and doing. Do not say that you are doing something privately in a corner of the room and nobody knows. There is no such thing as something which nobody knows. Every movement, every activity, every procedure, event, location and historical process is a cosmical movement. Therefore, in the context of the conflict that has arisen between you and the atmosphere outside called the Mahabharata battle – which is also your battle between you and the world outside and the society of people – what is your opinion, finally?
You have a dharma, a duty. Svadharmam api cā ’vekṣya na vikampitum arhasi (Gita 2.31). Do not shrink from doing, because doing as an act of obligation in this context of the world is something so incumbent that no one can desist from it.
As I mentioned by way of an analogy, every part of the body is correlated to other parts of the body, every action of every limb is the action of every other limb, everyone’s action is also everyone else’s action, and whatever anybody does is also something everybody else does. No independent, individual action is permissible, as is the case with the physical organism. Nobody does anything in this world, even as no limb in the body acts independently. The whole organism acts, and you feel as if some particular limb is working. When I speak, it looks as if the tongue is speaking, but it is not so. My entire setup in all the five koshas is working even when I speak, even when I see.
So what is the role that one plays in this world of such a location and such an involvement in the cosmological scheme? Knowing that at least, you should not desist from doing, and do not be a coward, do not be despondent, do not be melancholy, do not say “I will not”. The question of “I will” and “I will not” does not arise in this world. No one has the right to say “I will”, and no one has the right to say “I will not”. You cannot say “I shall do”, nor can you say “I shall not do”. There is something imposed upon you by the very fact of your connection with things. And what is the connection? That is what you have studied last time – the whole Sankhya doctrine.
Every person is placed in some particular context in this world. The relativity of the finite existence of an individual is conditioned by the relativity of other similar finite things. A wave in the ocean may look like a single upsurge of water, but there is a tremendous movement at the root of this body of water which so adjustably causes the simultaneous rise of several other waves also that you may say that even the movement, size and force of a single wave is not merely something taking place locally in that particular place; it is connected to the activity of the other waves also because all the waves are surged forth, brought up to the surface by an intention of the body of water at the root.
So, in a way, the relativity of the rise of a particular wave in the ocean – relativity in the sense that it is of a particular character, particular shape, particular size, particular direction, and so on – is due to the particularity of other waves that are equally responsible for this characterisation of a single wave and, vice versa, this particular wave also determines the movement of other waves. If the hand moves, the eyes move or the tongue speaks, they are all so-called differentiated movements, but really they are not differentiated because of the fact that all these actions of the different limbs taking place simultaneously, as it were, are one act of the will of the person. It should be done like that, and it is done in various ways through the different means of the body.
So our duty in this world is like the characterisation of a particular wave in the vast sea, not independently motivated by itself. It has no intention of its own, though it may look that it is independently acting. Nobody acts with particularised intentions. The so-called particularity or individuality that you are assuming in your action is called egoism or ahamkara, krita bhavana, the feeling that “I am doing”. It is like the wave thinking that it is solely responsible for what it is doing, not knowing the fact that it has been conditioned by other waves also on the basis of the orders issued by the bowels of the ocean. So do not say you are doing anything. The whole Bhagavadgita clinches its teachings here when it says the word ‘I’ should not be projected in your behaviour in this world. The I is only one in the cosmic sense; the Ahamkara-tattva of the cosmos, the Mahatattva, the Purusha and Prakriti to which we made reference can be considered as the I. The other I’s are only fragments, split parts, as it were, of this Cosmic I. Even in the split parts, it is only the Cosmic I that is operating. Even when you appear to be doing something, the Universal I is operating through you. But due to the attachment of this particular consciousness of the individual to the body and to the ego, each one of you feels wrongly that “I am doing it”.
So your duty in this world is not actually doing something, but participation in the cosmic scheme of things. Your duty is to participate in the requirement of the whole cosmic setup, and not to independently do whatever you like from the point of view of your own egoistic personality. Svadharma is one’s own duty; svabhava is one’s own character or constitution.
Your duty in this world is dependent on what kind of person you are, and how you are fitted to your own self as well as to society outside. Therefore, the duties that are required on the part of any individual cannot be uniform. It is not that everybody should be a businessman, everybody a driver, everybody a professor, everybody a yogi – nothing of the kind. That is not possible because whatever you are expected to be in this world and in what manner you are expected to participate in the scheme of things will depend upon your constitution.
This svadharma, this duty on your part, which is based on your own nature, actually means the dependence of your call of duty on the structure of your own individuality, which is made up of the three gunas – sattva, rajas and tamas. Prakriti operates in everyone right from heaven to earth, in the plant kingdom, in animals and in stones. Na tad asti pṛthivyāṁ vā divi deveṣu vā punaḥ, sattvaṁ prakṛtijair muktaṁ yad ebhiḥ syāt tribhir guṇaiḥ (Gita 18.40). Right from heaven down to the lowermost creation there is nothing which is not constituted of the three gunas, so we are of that character. Sattva is purity, equilibrium, transparency, understanding, intelligence, and capacity to decide things in a right manner. Rajas is distraction, motivation in the external direction for more and more agitation, and restlessness. Tamas is rigidity, fixity and wanting nothing. All these three qualities are operating in us, but they are not operating in an equal proportion. It does not mean thirty-three-and-one-third percent of each quality is present in us always. As there is a larger wave and smaller wave in the ocean, so also there is a wave-like movement of these three gunas, the properties of Prakriti, in everything, including our own selves.
These three properties of Prakriti’s gunas, which are distributed disproportionately in everyone and are never in equilibrium, decide the difference in one’s call of duty. If you are predominantly sattvic in nature, you will be fitted for one kind of work in this world; one type of participation will be expected from you in the scheme of things. If you are predominantly rajasic for some reason or the other, then you will be assigned some job, some work, some duty according to your particular temperament. But suppose you are basically unfit for other physical reasons, such as the preponderance of tamas, etc.; then, you will have to be taken care of in a different way altogether.
Everybody in this world has a duty to perform. You can ask me what this duty is, and why you should do anything. You should not put such questions such as why should you do and why should you not do. Your duty depends upon your automatic involvement in the cosmic setup of things, and so you are not simply saying you shall do or you shall not do. The cosmic setup itself decides in what manner you can be called upon to do your duty. There are degrees and variety in the participation of an individual in the universal scheme, and each person seems to be different from every other person. No two individuals collide or unite to become one individual, though there are similarities. For instance, when we work in a single office, factory or organisation, it may appear we are all doing one uniform type of work, but that is only on the superficial level. Basically there is an independence and a distinction – without difference, we may say – even in a common setup like an office or an organisation, etc. You are all students here. In a way, you are all uniform in your outlook, in your requirement and in your daily duty, but still you have an individuality of your own. One person does not totally merge into another person. Similarly, there is a tremendous variety in the call of duty, and yet it is rooted in a single unity of perspective.
In this call of duty, which is your participation, you should not connect your performance with any fruit or result that may follow from it. Here is a difficulty in understanding the gospel of the Bhagavadgita. We are always prone to think that everything we do should yield some result: “What shall I get if I do this?” The Bhagavadgita will not permit you to raise such a question. Can the legs ask what they will get by walking? If the hands raise a morsel of food and put it in the mouth, do they ask what they get by doing that? “Somebody is eating, and I lift the food.” Would you like to carry somebody’s luggage for nothing? And why should the hand lift the food for somebody else’s satisfaction? But does the hand put such a question? The spectacles are for the eyes, but the nose bears the burden. Why does the nose bear somebody’s luggage? Does the nose refuse? Why does each limb not demand satisfaction for itself and ask what it will get by doing this work? What does the nose get by smelling? The nose does not get anything by smelling. Something else gets it; and something else getting it is equal to the nose getting it, or much more than it expects.
The more you give, the more you receive. This is the philosophy of spirituality. But if you grab, always demand what you want, you will get nothing. The receiver gets nothing; only the giver gets. This is a difficulty in understanding the psychology of spiritual existence. It is not business mathematics, the striking of a balance sheet, or arithmetic of the commercial type. It is a non-commercial, super-mathematical arrangement. The more you give, the more you get. How is it possible? You will not understand such a thing. You never see that by giving more you get more. It looks as if you are losing by giving more and more. The more you give out of the abundance of your own personality, the less is the attachment that you will have for the personality and the more you will be able to participate in the universal setup.
The giving aspect – I am just digressing a little from the main subject – is emphasised because of the fact that in giving, you are not giving some object; you are giving your own self, giving your satisfaction. The charity is in giving a part of your own joy. If joy is not there in giving, you have given nothing. Suppose you give a useless old coin to a beggar; you have done no charity because even by giving, you have lost nothing. You are still a millionaire. The charity has not been done in the proper proportion.