by Swami Krishnananda
We have almost entirely covered the fundamentals of the Gita teaching. Whatever follows is in the form of an exposition in greater detail of what has already been very pithily and briefly stated in the preceding chapters.
I already mentioned to you that many of the commentators of the Gita believe that the Second Chapter is the seed of the whole of the Gita. Every chapter from the Third onwards till the end is an exposition of one or two of the verses already occurring in the Second Chapter. Especially Madhusudhana Saraswati, in his classic commentary, explicitly states this, and whenever he starts commenting on a particular chapter, he quotes the relevant seed sloka of the Second Chapter, showing thereby that the root of the entire gospel is in the Second Chapter itself, which is Sankhya and Yoga combined; and in our expositions, which have been in sufficient detail, we have covered a wide area of knowledge, perhaps omitting nothing important.
The name of God does not occur until the Fourth Chapter commences. There is a peculiar situation which is wholly artharthi, wholly worldly, in the First Chapter, and the commencement of the direct teaching in the Second, and an implementation of this teaching in a more profound manner in the Third. The emphasis up to the Third Chapter has been the duty of the individual, the work that is incumbent upon every person, but the name of God has not been taken.
The operations of God as incarnations have been touched upon for the first time in the commencement of the Fourth Chapter. Previously we noticed the circumstances under which God takes incarnations, avataras, to which I need not revert now. We can proceed further to know what other things we can gather from the coming chapters. I have taken a lot of time to take you to the conclusion of the Third Chapter, but as we have not much time at our disposal in the course of this Academy session, I have to go more rapidly over the themes that follow; otherwise, it will take another three months to go to the end of the Eighteenth Chapter with this extent of detail.
Apart from the brief statement of the nature of the incarnation of God in the beginning of the Fourth Chapter, this chapter also touches upon certain other themes which are not relevant to the avatara of God or the very concept of God, but to actual Yoga practice and the understanding of the nature of work or action which, pertinently, is the theme of the Third Chapter.
Karmaṇy akarma yaḥ paśyed akarmaṇi ca karma yaḥ, sa buddhimān manuṣyeṣu sa yuktaḥ kṛtsnakarmakṛt (Gita 4.18). It was told to us that work we must. Silent we cannot be. Na hi kaścit kṣaṇam api jātu tiṣṭhaty akarmakṛt (Gita 3.5): Not a moment can pass without your being active in some way or the other. Karmaṇy evā ’dhikāras te mā phaleṣu kadācana (Gita 2.47). It was also added that your duty is to engage yourself in such action as can be regarded as a participation in the cosmic process, but you cannot expect the fruit of that action because the expectation of a fruit of a particular engagement is to consider the value of your work in a future context. If the value of what you do in the future has no value in the present, then you cannot take sufficient interest in your work. The present is a means to what you are expecting in the future, and so your eye will be on what will be expected in the future and you will have no interest in what you are doing. “Whatever I am doing, that is a different matter. It must bring that result.” And you will adjust and adapt your modus operandi of work now in such a manner as, in your opinion, is productive of that result in your mind. There will be some kind of selfishness creeping into your so-called duty because this duty that you perform is done for the sake of something which is other than duty.
What emanates from you is sacrifice; but the fruit that you expect is not something that emanates from you, so the sacrifice is spoiled to some extent. You throw cold water, as it were, on the yajna when you perform your duty with the expectation of a result that has to follow. Every duty is a sacrifice, a kind of sharing of your personality to some extent. But what kind of sharing is there when you are expecting something from it? “I should get whatever I have given, and perhaps I should get more than what I have given.” This is the attitude that may subtly enter into your mind when you work and perform your so-called duty with a creative interest for the fruit of what you do.
As we are living in a world of causes and effects which are separated from each other, the cause produces the effect; therefore, the effect is a future event that follows from the present context of the cause. We are bound by this causal relation in a whirl of space and time, and we cannot understand what duty for duty’s sake can be. You may go on scratching your head one thousand times to understand how it is possible for you to work only for the sake of work, expecting nothing from it. Your mind will be telling you again and again that you are a foolish person. Who will do work for no purpose? Purposeless action is meaningless action. The moment you introduce a purpose into it, somehow or other you bring into it the futurity of its purposiveness. You distinguish between the present and the future, and you are not in the place where you are working – you are in some other place which is yet to be – and your work does not become a cosmic participation; it becomes an expectation of what is not yet present.
This is the difficulty that we face in understanding this pithy statement that your duty is to do duty only: karmaṇy evā ’dhikāras te mā phaleṣu kadācana. Mā karmaphalahetur bhūr. Do not be attached to the fruit of your action. Mā te saṅgo 'stv akarmaṇi. Then you may say, “Why this problem? I don’t want to do anything at all, because if I do something you cause trouble to me by saying that ‘You are not working properly. You have some eye to the fruit’; and so I will do nothing.”
Attachment to the fruit of action and attachment to non-action are equally bad. Do not have an eye on what is to follow from your action and the fruit thereof, and do not sit quiet because you are afraid of being entangled in some mistake that you may commit in the performance of duty. Fear of mistake in the performance of duty is not to be regarded as inaction. It is also an action. Fear should not be the ground for your attitude toward anything. Right action is not what you do out of your own agency consciousness, but out of your expanded feeling of a sense of belonging to the cosmic whole. Tasmād asaktaḥ satataṁ kāryaṁ karma samācara, asakto hy ācaran karma param āpnoti pūruṣaḥ (Gita 3.19): Unattached, therefore, do your work.
The sense of being unattached is also to be understood properly. You are told again and again: be not attached. From what are you going to be detached? You are going to be detached from your concept of the nature of work itself. Work is a mental operation, basically; it is not a physical action. That has been told in the Third Chapter. The movement of the body cannot be regarded as work. The association of the mind to the work of the body is actually work. Therefore, participation in the cosmic process being the real nature of unselfish action, this has to be hammered into your mind again and again. Finally, you will realise that you cannot do anything worthwhile in this world without entertaining in yourself an element of God-consciousness. That is why until the Vishvarupa-darshan was shown in the Eleventh Chapter, Arjuna had doubts and more doubts, endlessly. The doubts ceased only when the Visvarupa was shown. Unless cosmic consciousness enters into you, you will never be able to understand what actually is happening to you.
So there is a gradational ascent of the teaching of the Gita right up to the Eleventh Chapter, which is the apotheosis of the teaching. Yogasaṁnyastakarmāṇaṁ jñānasaṁchinnasaṁśayam, ātmavantaṁ na karmāṇi nibadhnanti dhanaṁjaya (Gita 4.41). Yogasaṁnyastakarmāṇaṁ: having renounced attachment to the fruit of the action by the Yoga of the consciousness of universal participation. Yoga is the consciousness of your participation in the universal process. Having entertained this consciousness, having established yourself in this consciousness of your being only an instrument or a participant in the cosmic process, renounce any kind of isolation of your work from the fruit that may follow.
Actually, no fruit can follow from the work that you do, because the work that you appear to be doing is only a necessary sharing of your personality with the Cosmic Person. You are not working, actually speaking, when you seem to be working. You are only sharing. It is a dialogue between man and God – a constant Nara-Narayana Samvada, Sri Krishna-Arjuna Samvada taking place in your demeanour. Every moment of time you are having a concourse with God in your approach to things, in your attitude, generally speaking, and in anything that you do. In everything you do, you are contacting God. You have a dialogue with the Absolute, with nature, with all things.
So with this Yoga, in which you have to get established, you have to renounce all the particularities, isolations, externalities and space-time involvements. Isolation of any kind of factor from actual performance of your work separates you from the integratedness that is essential in your participation. The moment you think of a fruit that is outside the work that you do, you have sundered your personality from the environment to which you should actually belong, but to which you do not want to belong.
The environment of the process which seems to be producing the fruit, so-called, of the action, is a part of your larger personality; therefore, the fruit cannot be regarded as something isolated from the work, and in a way you may say the work itself is the fruit. Duty automatically brings privileges, and you should not say, “What privilege will accrue to me if I do this work? How much salary will come?” There is no salary in this world.
The Gita’s concept of work is not the concept of social welfare work as politicians and social welfare workers think. It is not social welfare work, it is not commerce, it is not business, it is not political administration; it is a different thing altogether. It is a divinity that is expected to dominate every nook and corner of your involvement in life. That meaning is involved in this one word which comes towards the end of the Fourth Chapter: yogasaṁnyastakarmāṇaṁ.
Doubts may arise: “What are you saying? I can’t understand.” With the wisdom of the analysis and synthesis of the processes of creation, which you have been through in the study of the earlier chapters, rend asunder all doubts from your mind: jñānasaṁchinnasaṁśayam. A very pithy, very meaningful verse is this. Yogasaṁnyastakarmāṇaṁ jñānasaṁchinnasaṁśayam: Having thus breached the gulf that appears to be there between you and the so-called fruit of action by establishment in this Yoga of the consciousness of the participation of yourself in the cosmic process, integrating that atmosphere of fruit in your own self, and removing all the doubts by the wisdom of this scripture, ātmavantaṁ na karmāṇi nibadhnanti: you become the true Self at that time. It is only when you understand what duty is in the sense of participation that you become the true Self that you are. You have a larger and wider Self apart from the little self that you seem to be in the integration that you are effecting by clubbing together the entire atmosphere with your own self. You widen your consciousness, widen yourself, and you become the Self that you are really, and not the self that you appear to be.
As a little self you seem to be working even in the dream state, but you are a larger self in the waking state. The so-called distractions and diversification, and the varieties of the dream world, get absorbed into a larger self of your waking consciousness. In this Yoga that is briefly stated here, you raise your lower self to the higher Self that you are, and you become atmavan – true possessor of your own Self. You have lost yourself now by the wrong notion that things are outside you; therefore, you have to possess them or reject them. The desire to possess and reject arises on account of the wrong notion that the things that you want to possess or reject are outside you, not knowing that they are organically connected to your higher self, which is your true Self.
If, with this consciousness, you perform work in this world as a cosmic participation – na karmāṇi nibadhnanti – action cannot bind you. The karma theory will break, and no result will follow as a binding factor through the work that you perform. The wind blows; it is not bound by what it does. The sun shines; it is not bound by its shining. A river flows to the ocean that is there before it. They are not bound because they do not have self-consciousness. When you work thus with super-consciousness of your larger individuality, wider selfhood, you are free from the so-called bondage of work.
Asmād ajñānasañbhūtaṁ hṛtsthaṁ jñānāsinātmanaḥ: Therefore Arjuna, rend asunder, break this darkness of ignorance that is veiling your consciousness. You have to rend asunder this veil by the effort of your own mind. Here is a very concentrated statement on what Yoga practice is. More details will be told in the Sixth Chapter. By Yoga, by jnana, by attainment of true Selfhood, you pierce through the veil of ignorance which makes you feel always that you are a finite individual, not knowing the fact that there is an infinitude that is around you in the form of this very vast space-time cosmos. This space-time cosmos itself is your larger self. Your true being is as wide as this vast space. Can you imagine that you are as wide as space?
The consciousness that you are finite is also involved in the consciousness of there being something above the finite. How would you know that the finite is actually finite? How do you know that you are bound, unless there is a consciousness of it being possible not to be bound? You have already assumed the presence of an infinitude of yourself in the very consciousness of your being finite. A finite thing really cannot know that it is finite. As a larger involvement of it is already there beyond the boundary of finitude, it vaguely feels that it has to break through this finitude. Unless you are immortal in your nature, you will not fear death. A thing that is really bound to death cannot fear death. The fear of extinction of personality, which is death, is due to the immortality of your essence. You are really undying in nature; therefore, you would not like to know that death will take place. And you are restless in your finitude because you unconsciously feel inside that there is something more in you than the finitude that is harassing you. Unless you become as large as space itself, your finitude will not diminish. As wide as space and enduring as time has to be yourself. Infinity and eternity should blend together in one single experience, which is God-experience. Until this is reached, you will never have peace here. Even the heaven of the gods is not adequate for your longing.
Brahmārpaṇaṁ brahma havir brahmāgnau brahmaṇā hutam, brahmaiva tena gantavyaṁ brahma-karma-samādhinā (Gita 4.24) is a little higher teaching that comes afterwards. The consciousness of the Universal should decide and determine your every thought, feeling and action. Whatever you do should be in the light of the Universal, of which the so-called particular is a part and parcel. The consequence that is in your mind when you perform an action should be considered as integrally connected with the action itself. It is not something that will take place in the future. Then all action becomes a little bit of the Universal, and it is not a little work that you do from your own initiative. All that you do is an offering to the Absolute. This is the greatest yajna, or sacrifice, that can be conceived.