Narach Philosophy

CHAPTER 3: KARMA YOGA


In the third chapter, called "Karma Yoga" or "Action in the light of Yoga", Krishna further examines the two distinct paths of the Sankhya and Yoga systems. He explains that man cannot achieve freedom from action by merely not acting; indeed one cannot be totally inactive as the natural impulse for survival compels some minimal action.

He then points out that action performed as Sacrifice does not make for bondage. With this idea we pass from Sankhya to Nyaya, as the latter embodies the idea of Sacrifice as action which does not entail bondage. Then we are told that God created the Universe by Sacrifice and that in every true sacrifice "the all-pervading Brahma dwells". This provides the link between the Nyaya and Vaiseshika systems of thought as Brahma is the supreme deity of these two systems. Krishna, supreme deity of the Yoga-Vedanta systems, then speaks of Himself as Supreme Actor in the Universe. Thus we are told that action is necessary under all the systems of thought, from Sankhya through Yoga, but must be performed as a Sacrifice if it is to lead to freedom from the bondage of action.

Arjuna said:

Greater than Action if thou deem,
Is Buddhi O Janardana,
Then why dost thou, O Kesava,
Urge me unto this fearful deed?

By these ambiguous words of thine
Dost thou my Buddhi all confuse;
Then say one thing with certainty,
That highest good I might attain.

The Blessed Lord said:

I've said before that in this world
There are two paths, O sinless one;
Knowledge for those who follow Sankhya;
Action for those who follow Yoga.

By not performing actions, none
Freedom from actions can obtain.
Nor ever can perfection gain
By mere renunciation he.

Without performing actions, none
Even for a moment can remain;
For helpless all are made to act
By Gunas born of Prakriti.

He's said to be a hypocrite,
Senses of action who restrains,
But sits, revolving in his mind
Sense objects, of deluded soul.

But he who with his mind restrains
His senses all and, unattached,
Senses of action doth engage
In Yoga of action, he excels.

Perform all necessary acts;
More than inaction Action's great;
Nor can thy body's barest needs
Without some action be supplied.

Fettered by actions is the world,
Save when performed as sacrifice;
Then, unattached, O Kunti's son,
Perform thy deeds as sacrifice.

By sacrifice Prajapati
Created all the world, and said,
"Go, multiply by sacrifice;
Receive from it what ye desire.

Cherish the gods by sacrifice;
And may the gods too cherish you;
Thus one another cherishing,
The highest good will ye attain.

Pleased with your sacrifice, the gods
Will grant your objects of desire."
He who enjoys their gifts and gives
Naught in return, is thief indeed.

The remnants of the sacrifice
Eating, the good are freed from Sin;
Preparing food but for themselves,
The sinful but of sin partake.

From food do creatures all arise;
And food is all produced from rain;
And rain is born of sacrifice;
And sacrifice of action born.

And action doth from Brahma rise,
And Brahma from the deathless one;
Therefore in every sacrifice
The all pervading Brahma dwells.

Who does not follow here below
This wheel revolving evermore,
Living in sin, and satisfied
Within the sense, but lives in vain.

But who's devoted to his soul,
And with the soul is satisfied,
And ever content within the soul,
No motive hath in action he.

No purpose hath he ever to gain
By what is done or is not done;
Nor any interest of his own
Depends on anything at all.

Therefore, ever unattached,
Perform all necessary acts;
Performing actions unattached,
A person gains the goal supreme.

Janaka and others gained indeed
Perfection through their actions done;
So thou thy actions should'st perform,
Thinking how they preserve the world.

Whatever doth the best of men,
The other people also do;
Whatever standard he adopts,
The people follow that indeed.

Nothing have I, O Pritha's son,
In all the three worlds to perform
Nothing to gain I have not gained;
And yet in actions I engage.

If I, indeed, did not engage
Ever in actions, all untired,
On every side, O Pritha's son,
All men would follow in my wake.

These worlds would perish, all, if I
Did not engage in actions too;
And I should all this race destroy,
And cause confusion of the castes.

As all attached, O Bharata,
Their actions unwise men perform,
So should the wise one, unattached,
Desiring what preserves the world.

A man of wisdom should not shake
The Buddhi of the unwise ones,
Attached to actions. Steadily
Should he engage them in all deeds.

The Gunas born of Prakriti
Perform all actions everywhere;
The soul, perplexed by egoism,
Believes it doth perform them all.

But he who knows the bond between
Gunas and Actions, truly knows
That Gunas but in Gunas move;
And knowing this, is not attached.

The men of knowledge should not shake
The foolish ones, who are perplexed
By Gunas born of Prakriti,
Attached to actions they perform.

Renouncing actions all to me,
With mind concentered in the soul,
And free from hope and selfishness,
And mental fever, do thou fight.

The men who follow constantly,
What I have told thee here to-day,
Uncarping, true, and full of faith,
Engaged in action, yet are free.

But they who at my teaching carp,
Nor follow it, O Bharata,
Deluded in their knowledge all
Know them to be of ruined minds.

Even a man of knowledge goes
The way his nature doth incline;
All creatures follow Nature's path:
Whatever can restraint avail?

The senses for their objects hold
Attraction and repulsion too;
Let no one come under their sway:
They are the foemen of the path.

Better one's own defective Dharma,
Than other's Dharma, well-performed;
Better is death in one's own Dharma;
Another's Dharma's fraught with fear.

Arjuna said:

By what is ever man impelled
To sinful deeds, O Varshaneya?
Though it be all against his will,
Compelled as if by mightier force?

The Blessed Lord said:

It is desire, and it is wrath,
Of Rajas Guna that are born,
So ravenous and full of sin:
Know this to be thy foe on earth.

Enveloped as is fire by smoke,
As is a mirror by the dust,
Or as an embryo by the womb,
Enveloped so is this by that.

Knowledge enveloped is by this,
The constant enemy of the wise,
Having the image of desire,
And like the fire insatiable.

The senses, Mind, and Buddhi are
Described to be its dwelling place;
Through these the embodied one it lures,
Enveloping his knowledge all.

Therefore, O best of Bharata race,
control thy senses first of all;
And cast away this sinful thing,
Knowledge, experience ruining all.

Great are the senses said to be;
But greater is the Mind than they;
And Buddhi is much greater still:
But greater than they all is He.

Knowing who's more than Buddhi great,
Controlling by the soul thy soul,
Destroy this foe so hard to match,
Having the image of desire.

NOTES:

Buddhi is greater than Action: Buddhi here is to be understood in the sense of Knowledge, characteristic of Buddhi or Reason; Arjuna has not grasped the point.

The two paths: The point is made quite clear. The two paths are those of Knowledge and Action, the former related to the Sankhya system, and the latter to Yoga.

Gunas born of Prakriti: This is the idea of the Sankhya and accepted by all systems of thought. Here Krishna explains that, even according to the Sankhya, we must engage in action, impelled by Gunas born of Prakriti, the basis of this system.

Deeds as sacrifice: Action, other than that performed as a Sacrifice, makes for bondage; but action, performed as a Sacrifice, does not bind.

Prajapati and Sacrifice: Prajapati is the supreme Purusha or God in the Brahmanas. Even God creates the whole universe as a Sacrifice, implying that though God acts and creates, he is still free from the bondage of action, because the action is a Sacrifice, performed without self-interest, and for the benefit of all. This idea occurs in the Rigveda and other sacred books.

The good are freed from sin: There is no effect of action or sin when actions are performed as a Sacrifice.

Food and creatures: Food is transformed into blood and that into vital seed. It is, therefore, the basis of the physical energy of life. This energy is closely associated with the soul.

Food and rain: Food is ultimately based on the vegetable kingdom, for even the carnivorous live ultimately on the herbivorous; and the vegetable kingdom depends on water or rain.

Rain and Sacrifice: Sacrifice is to be understood as selfless and beneficent action, not only of man, but in general. In this sense the action which causes rain to fall, being selfless and beneficial, is an act of Sacrifice. It should not be supposed that rain is caused by chanting verses, etc., as is sometimes believed. It is because rain does good to all that it is regarded as a Sacrifice.

Sacrifice and Action: Sacrifice is selfless and beneficent action; and action is to be understood in its widest significance in the Sankhya, as implying change of all kinds.

Action and Brahma: In the Upanishads Brahman is the supreme of Purusha of all systems of thought. Brahma, in the masculine form, however, is the deity of Sankhya, Nyaya, and Vaiseshika, more especially of the latter two. Now these systems enjoin action performed as a Sacrifice; and so Brahma is associated with action.

Janaka: The celebrated father of Sita, the consort of Rama, the Prince of Ayodhya, and the hero of the Ramayana.

Confusion of castes: As the castes are created by the distribution of actions, cessation of action would cause their destruction.

Gunas, Prakrti, Action: Gunas are but an aspect of Prakriti when it functions: and so action is associated with them. Action is to be understood in its widest sense.

The Soul and Action: The Sankhya holds that the soul is actionless, and all actions are performed by the Gunas of Prakriti. The soul, when it associates itself with the objects of life, becomes transformed into Abhimana of Egoism, and in its delusion comes to believe that it is an actor, whereas it has nothing to do with action. Thus says the Sankhya.

Gunas and Action: Krishna here shows that even according to the Sankhya, which holds that all actions are performed by the Gunas of Prakriti, we have to act, but without attachment.

Nature: The word in the text is Prakriti. Even a wise man follows Prakriti. This many mean the Sankhya system too. In that case Krishna would imply that even some men of knowledge follow the Sankhya system, and it seems impossible to restrain them.

Varshneya: Of the Vrishni race; a name of Krishna who belonged to this race.

Desire and Rajas Guna: Desire is associated with the Mind, and so is Rajas, Guna.

The Senses, Mind, Buddhi, and the Soul: This gives us the gradation of the creative energies of life.