Narach Philosophy

THE KINDS OF ACTION: THE METHOD OF INTERPRETATION


Actions (or efforts) may be divided into primary and secondary; and between the two are actions which may be described as neutral. The idea of neutral effort has a special significance, and refers to a state of equanimity in action. There is no contradiction in this, and the point is that an effort which refers to fruit is inferior to that which does not. All important results are produced by a cause; and this is expressed by means of the word Jyeshtha.

We should be able to understand the exact idea of effort, because the meaning of these terms is fixed; so is that of a number of others: for instance, Vaisvanara; the number six; oblation offered to the deceased ancestors; rope tied around an animal; the sacrificial posts; ransom, bondage; redemption; and sacrifices performed on the days of the new moon and the full moon.

A sacrifice or a great good action consists of parts, which may be described as major and minor.

All this is described in the sacred books; and qualities and causes of things are personified and given separate names, which are intended to explain certain efforts. This is how we get an account of Jyotishtoma, which refers to ray of light, and is based on scientific knowledge.

Classification of efforts: The text of the Vedas is so composed that the same sounds (that is words, syllables or letters) have the same meaning; and that tells us that certain efforts should be regarded as primary; while others, not connected with a sacrifice or a great and good action, as secondary; because that is how they have been differentiated. Efforts which are between these two, should be regarded as neutral. This is the normal division of efforts, - because that is the character of their impelling force - and it requires no explanation. The effort that is said to occupy a middlemost place has, however, a special meaning. A neutral effort is obviously one that is devoid of any special object to be achieved; and so it may be said to be a disinterested effort; and that, as the Bhagavad Gita tells us, is of the essence of the idea of sacrifice, enabling us to act and yet be free from the taint or bondage of action.

It may be argued that the word Madhya, used in the text, has two meanings, "middlemost" and "neutral", which are contradictory; and so it is not possible to conceive of a neutral effort; or there may be a reference to time, because there can be nothing special in the meaning of the word. This is an objection to the statement made in the previous Sutra, on the ground that it is not possible to conceive of a purely disinterested effort. There can be no action without purpose; and purpose implies interest and not its absence. Hence, there can be no neutral or disinterested effort, and we cannot agree to a special meaning of the term Madhya, as signifying disinterestedness. The answer to this is given in the next Sutra.

Nevertheless, when we are considering the two kinds of effort, that which is associated with result or fruit should be regarded as inferior to that which is not; and the latter is the most important one. This is an answer to the objection in the previous Sutra. When we speak of disinterestedness, we mean that it is an effort which is not actuated by any personal motive or desire for personal achievement. The result would accrue to all, including the doer of the deed, but no more than the rest; and it is this that is signified by the idea of "partaking of the remnants of a sacrifice" referred to in the Bhagavad Gita.

Result is produced by a cause: It requires no great exercise of intelligence to understand that result is produced by means of a cause, just as curd is out of milk. All important results are of this kind; and that is signified by the use of the word Jyeshtha in the text; and that is so because all such efforts are well-arranged. Jyeshtha means "best, most excellent".

Meaning of effort is fixed: We should be able to understand the exact idea of effort, because the explanation of its two meanings (with and without desire for fruit) is fixed. It is only when there is no reference to action, or a roundabout mode of expression, that a difficulty can arise.

Other words with fixed meanings - Vaisvanara: There are also a number of other words used in the text whose meaning is fixed; for instance, the meaning of the word Vaisvanara is fixed, because the action which sums up its meaning is fixed; and its idea is connected with what is produced thereby.

Vaisvanara means "belonging to all men"; it is also a name of Agni, which, as we have seen, refers to the intellect. It is this intellect that belongs to all men, and constitutes the definition of man as a rational animal; and so the meaning of the word Vaisvanara is fixed, as signifying intellect.

The number "six": The number six should be understood to refer to the thinking mind, from what has already been stated; and we shall find that it is so if we follow the same method of calculation; for the explanation of the meaning of this number arises from the correctness of this calculation. We have this calculation in the topics of the Sankhya system, where the mind takes its place above all that is included in the number five, the five great "elements" and their respective properties, and the five senses of knowledge and five of action. The number six belongs, therefore, to the mind. We can calculate in the same manner in connection with the eight divisions of Prakrti, referred to in the Bhagavad Gita; Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Ether, Mind, Ahankara, and the Intellect.

However, the mind should be regarded as a single entity, because it always acts as such. The author is careful to add that, though the number six refers to the mind, the latter is not divisible into parts. It should be regarded as a single entity, because it always acts as such.

And if we understand by what objects it is kept in check, we shall find that the reckoning is correct. The mind is kept in check by the five "elements" from below, and ahankara and the intellect from above; and so it is the sixth from the bottom. Hence the number six refers to the mind.

Oblation to deceased ancestors: The oblation offered to the deceased ancestors should, because of the appropriateness of time, be referred to the mind; and if we reflect on it, we shall find that it is so, even though it may be denied on the ground of what is seen.

The Bhagavad Gita tells us of the time when the departed one, passing way from the earth, goes to the abode of the Moon, and returns after dwelling there for some time. As the Moon refers to the mind, the Mimansa tells us that the oblation offered to the deceased should be deemed to refer to the mind.

The idea of the ancients was that the soul, after death, dwells in the region best suited to its character. If, during its sojourn on earth, it was absorbed in the life of the senses, it dwelt in the region of the "elements", to which the senses correspond: that is, it became a ghost. But if it was at the mind-stage of its growth, it passed on to the region of the Moon; and it was there that most souls dwelt. If, on the other hand, it was at the stage of the intellect, it passed to the region of the Sun; and if it had attained to the character of the pure soul, it was merged into the Eternal.

As the deceased ones are believed to be at the mind-stage of their evolution, the soul is said to abide in the region of the Moon; and so the oblation offered to them is deemed to refer to the mind.

But no one has seen where exactly the soul goes after death; and so it is possible for a person to deny the statement previously made. But if we reflect on it, we shall understand that this is a very rational way of looking at the whole problem. If the soul must dwell somewhere after death, its best abode is that to which it is suited in character.

The rope: The rope represents what belongs to the animal, when it is born in the world according to the law of creation. The Mimansa has told us that the soul carries with itself the impressions of previous actions, even after death; and when it is reborn, it acts in accordance with these impressions.

This is all stated in the Bhagavad Gita. This Sutra tells us that it is customary to tie a rope round an animal, and then to bind it to a sacrificial post. But all this is symbolic; and the rope represents the bond of previous actions, and serves to indicate the link between the past, present, and future of life. As previous actions "bind" us to future ones, the animal, with the rope, is bound to a sacrificial post which, as we shall see, represents the idea of action.

Yupa or sacrificial post: Yupa or the sacrificial post (to which the animal is tied) represents the idea of purification (by means of which it can make itself free); and the explanation of the meaning of these words is like that. The same applies even to the word Svaru, which is part of the same conception. The idea of giving "ransom" to redeem one's self, is of the same kind.

The idea of Yupa and Svaru, both of which are said to be sacrificial posts, is explained later; and there we are told that Yupa refers to sacrifice or action of the intellect, meant for the benefit of all. It is in this manner that a person can "purify" or make himself free from the bondage of action, - that is, by acting intelligently and for the benefit of all.

Svaru, as explained later on, refers to action meant to secure a limited object; and so it is distinguished from Yupa.

The idea of "ransom" is explained in a subsequent Sutra, as meaning "devotion" or an act of self-surrender. We can "redeem" ourselves by means of perfect devotion or complete self-surrender.

Ransom: What belongs to an animal (or what he brings with himself at birth) should be considered with reference to acts done deliberately or with a purpose. The explanation of "ransom" should be deemed to be "devotion".

The "bondage" (represented by a rope), arising from previous actions, is the result of acts done deliberately, and not reflex actions.

New and full moon sacrifices: Again, all sacrifices performed on the days of the new moon and the full moon are equally important, because there is no distinction between them.

As the Moon refers to the mind, the new moon would refer to the first awakening of the mind, - that is, in the form of desire; while the full moon would refer to the full working of the mind, - that is, when it is engaged in action. The Mimansa explains all this later on.

The point of this Sutra is that, as the mind is associated both with desire and action, both are equally important; and that is signified by the importance attaching to the sacrifices performed on the days of the new and the full moon.

Parts of a sacrifice: A Sacrifice (or a great good action) consists of a number of parts, some of which are highly praised; but the praise is shared also by the other parts; and that is so because they have another meaning too. But it is the same cause that makes for the performance of the more as well as the less important parts of a sacrifice; and unless there is a definite statement to that effect, we should agree that there is no other meaning, because the highest importance attaches to the ordinary one. When, however, we separate the parts of a sacrifice (into major and minor ones), it is because there is a good reason for it; and that is what is enjoined by the sacred books as well. The principal part, however, is that which brings about the main result; while that which, though present, does not, should be regarded as subsidiary; for we cannot think of anything else.

How described in the Vedas: (The Vedas deal with all this) and the qualities or attributes of objects are personified and given separate names, and not included in the parts of a sacrifice. The text relating to the causes of things is of the same kind; and the connection between them, - close like the relation of one limb of the body with another - is described by means of other names. These names are intended to explain how certain effects are produced; and the meaning given to the parts of a word is intended to serve the same purpose. That is how we can understand the text of the Vedas.

Jyotishtoma: Similarly in Jyotishtoma all parts are equal, because their cause is the same, and the sruti relating to the cause is based on the knowledge of these divisions. It is on account of this that Soma should be regarded as the most important part; and we can understand the rest of the text in the same manner.

Jyotishtoma is said to be the name of a Soma ceremony; but the word is made up of Jyotis-stoma, which means "(stoma) mass or multitude of (jyotis) light". Thus it means literally "mass or rays of light".

This Sutra tells us that Jyotishtoma consists of a number of equal parts; and it is said that it consisted originally of three, and later of four, five, and seven sub-divisions. If, therefore, Jyotishtoma refers really to the rays of light, these should be the divisions of the rays of light. The sacred books give us the names of these divisions of Jyotishtoma; and the Mimansa tells us later on that we can understand their meaning by dividing them into parts. It would be found, on examination, that their idea corresponds closely to the seven rays of light, of which modern science tells us.

Soma, as has already been observed, refers to the mind; and, if Jyotishtoma refers to the rays of light, Soma or the mind too should refer to the same. Now the ancient books tell us that the energy of the mind or the moon is electric, for it is said to create the clouds charged with lightning; and so we may conclude that the most important among the rays of light is the electric or the electro-magnetic ray.