"It is not what you do that matters, but how you do it – with what attitude and aim. The spiritual effect that a seemingly spiritual activity brings, can also be had by the domestic pursuit, provided you preserve a spiritual attitude and dedication."

The Guiding force of Narayanashrama Tapovanam & Center for Inner Resources Development

Swami Bhoomananda Tirtha


Articles for Saadhana


It is very important to know how well Krishna denounces the ritualistic involvement. With a view to make the spiritual and yogic mind selfdependent and self–sufficient, he calls for utter indifference towards all the rewards (this worldly and the other worldly) the Vedas promise vociferously. In fact the Vedas, he says, have nothing more than the three gunas and their outcomes to offer:

त्रैगुण्यविषया वेदा निस्त्रैगुण्यो भवार्जुन ।
Traigunya-vishaya veda nistraigunyo bhavarjuna |

Even brahmaloka, the highest of ritualistic promises, comes within the range of the gunas. Gunas and their effects alone constitute the whole universe. As upon this earth so everywhere else, including the highest worlds of the Vedas, the effects of gunas alone are available for any one. Why should then the yogic seeker strive for any worldly reward at all? This is the kind of reflection Gita insists upon.

What else then are the substitute or superior disciplines to be taken up by the yogic seeker? The latter half of the same verse answers this question:

निर्व्दन्व्दो नित्यसत्त्वस्थो निर्योगक्षेम आत्मवान् ।।
Nirdvandvo nityasatvastho niryogakshema atmavan ||
(Bhagavad Gita 2.45)

Nirdvandvatva’ is the crux of spiritual wisdom and attainment. Like a sword, it cuts across all kinds of conflicts and contradictions that assail the mind and intelligence of man. It takes away from the seeker all the undue inhibitions, constraints and delusions. The normal attractions and allurements of the mind have their sole foundation in the dvandvas. When the mind is led to the insight of nirdvandvatva, there comes a drastic change or evolution. Krishna impresses this on Arjuna at the very commencement of the Yoga enunciation.

Dvandvas denote the pairs of opposites of all kinds, which constitute the world. The world is no more than an endless collection or amalgamation of dvandvas. Dvandvas relate to all walks of life and all the facets of the world: day and night, good and bad, morality and immorality, sin and virtue, favour and disfavour, heaven and hell, past life and future life, prosperity and adversity, and so on. The norms of dharma and adharma, righteousness and unrighteousness, together with the various worldly and religious practices aimed at their respective ends, all have their place and relevance only within the range of dvandvas. It is these dvandvas that Krishna exhorts man to be wisely and sternly indifferent to. In other words, the aim of the Yogic practitioner must be to keep them at a distance and focus his attention to something far above.

Such nirdvandva attitude or orientation will make the spiritual pursuit quite easy and comfortable. The one given to nirdvandva viewpoint will be comfortably freed from all torments and delusions, all bondages, assures Krishna in chapter 5 (verse 3).

The external dvandvas may be anything, but the ultimate effect all these produce are in the mind of man, wherein the resultants are only two: sukha and duhkha. To rise above the external dvandvas will be to sublimate the dual hold of sukha-duhkhas on the mind -- the preference for the sukha-producing events and prejudice towards the duhkha-causing events. Thus the Yoga pursuit aims at a constant effort for inward sublimation and refinement.

Is this not a clear shift in emphasis? Instead of unduly getting concerned with the so many ideas, propositions, goals and values, enshrined in the karmakanda of Vedas, the Yogic seeker constantly concerns himself with the effort to transcend the dvandva-hold on his mind. Everything that he does, speaks or thinks will ultimately have only one conclusive purpose - that of evenizing and transcending the dvandvas and achieving inner sublimation and harmony.

The pursuit, in Krishna’s words, is to become nitya-satvastha and niryogakshema. Kshema denotes preservation of the existing welfare. Yoga implies further desirable additions to the present. But all this comes under the range of gunas alone. Being so, of what ultimate benefit is any Yoga or Kshema? It can at best mean some addition or alteration to the worldliness that already surrounds you. The net result will still be worldliness, transitoriness, with all the vicissitude of sukha-duhkhas.

To take such a stand is to cultivate the necessary restraint and resolve. Atmavan denotes such a self-disciplining and self-orienting seeker. He has to pursue constant self-observation and through that the elimination of all kinds of unnecessary fancies and deflections which tend to overwhelm the mind. To become spiritual is to take to a life of personal refinement, to adopt the sadhana of purifying and sublimating the vagaries of the senses and the mind.

A question naturally arises: Will not such a new focus virtually mean the denial of the comforts and delights which the usual life and involvement in the world normally offer? It is in answer to this that Krishna describes the fullness and sufficiency of spiritual wisdom and the exalted state of the Knower, for whom the supreme contentment reigns like water flooding all places.

यावानर्थ  उदपाने सर्वत: संप्लुतोदके ।
Yavanartha udapane sarvatah samplutodake |
(Bhagavad Gita 2.46)

Imagine a state wherein all places are flooded with pure water. Will one have then any need to look for a well, a tank or a river? The Yogic Knower, by virtue of his spiritual enrichment and fullness, finds his joy and contentment flooding him. Would he then have to yearn for the separate individual results from karmas, either religious or worldly, for his delight?

All the karmas, including those the Vedas lay down, are like the limited sources of water -- well, tank, lake and the like. The well can provide water only to drink. For bathing you will have to go to the tank. For irrigational needs, again you will have to seek the river. The needs for all these cannot be unified. Yet, each and all of these can go dry, landing you in a full crisis. The ‘indefiniteness and insufficient nature’ of Vedic rituals and worldly pursuits is something similar.

As against all these insufficient notes, the Knower stands flooded as he is with contentment in and through everything he does. Yoga saadhana aims at such a state of personal fullness and enrichment. It is to lead man to such an exalted state of self-sufficiency that Gita presents the Karma Yoga.

Having thus set the ground for enunciating the yoga-buddhi, Krishna spells out the discipline (2.47):

Karmayoga aphorisms

कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन ।
मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूमा ते सङगोऽस्त्वकर्मणि ।।
karmaṇi ev'ādhikāras te mā phaleṣu kadācana ।
mā karma-phala-hetur bhūr-mā te saṅgo' stv akarmaṇi ।।
(Bhagavad Gita 2.47)
This verse is even today greatly misunderstood and misinterpreted. Its place and linkage are not kept in mind and the sequence is often ignored. Wrong connotations are construed and the very import of the verse is missed. It is necessary that the seeker spends enough time to understand what Gita states in this verse and the next. Krishna lays down four distinct propositions in this verse, each of which blends harmoniously with the next, making all the four form a unique composite of spiritual aphorisms, explaining in a nutshell Karma Yoga and its actual pursuit.

In the first quarter, namely “te adhikarah karmani eva”, Krishna says that Arjuna’s spiritual fitness is only for taking up the karmayoga pursuit, and not the exclusive wisdom pursuit, called jnana nishtha. Why does Krishna pinpoint like this?

In the earlier verse he has indicated how deep and wholesome is the self-sufficiency brought about by spiritual wisdom. On listening to this, not only Arjuna but any one else would feel inspired to take up the exclusive wisdom pursuit and achieve spiritual fulfilment without tottering in the world through karmic involvement. But any such thought, view or assessment would be gravely wrong, says Krishna. Any sadhana will first of all have to conform to one’s nature and tendencies. The saadhaka comes first and only then his saadhana can follow. In selecting the saadhana, one has to be very thoughtful and considerate that no conflict with his own nature is allowed to creep in. Gita’s warning in this regard is unmistakable.

Arjuna had come to the battlefield with the preparation and resolve to fight and win. The royal traits of adventure and ambition, coupled with a strong note of the kingly responsibility to the society in the matter of ensuring order and peace, were quite pronounced in him. Though in different manners, most people of any society carry similar notes, the impulsions of rajoguna. For any one of them to think of leaving suddenly the active life and engaging fully in a contemplative life will be disharmonious and even harmful.

Listening to the greatness of wisdom pursuit, none should feel tempted to rush into a full contemplative life. To drive this point home Krishna states, “Your competence is only for karmayoga (and not for jnana sadhana)”. Adhikarah means ‘competence’. It refers to the qualification or ripeness or deservingness of a person. Generally the word is translated as “right”, and the phrase is given the meaning “ your right is only to work” (karmani means ‘in work’, and not ‘to work’). Adhikarah is a spiritual concept. Adhikari-bhedah is a very common expression. While exposing spiritual wisdom, whether the seeker or listener is an adhikari for it is a very important consideration which the exponent is supposed to take up first. So, many teachers had occasion to refuse a specific tuition to some on the ground that such tuition when imparted, would become disharmonious and harmful for the recipient as well as others.

The word adhikara is used in such a context. But alas, people have translated the phrase as “one’s right is only to work”, and moreover, they extend the word ‘right’ to the next line also, which is even more dangerous. “Ma phaleshu kadacana” is thus explained as “ your right is never to the fruits of actions”. 

Ma phaleshu kadacana” are words which do not allow such a meaning at all. The first proposition is an independent and complete statement: Arjuna’s competence is only to take up the karma-nishtha, as different from jnananishtha. This much is the message and verdict conveyed in the first quarter. 

Naturally this means that he should think of taking up the karma-nishtha. Will not such karmic involvement deny him the spiritual benefit and evolution, becomes a relevant thought. Krishna clarifies the point by saying “ma phaleshu kadacana”. “Ma” means “do not” or “let not be”. “phaleshu” means: in fruits or results. “Kadacana” means ‘at no time’. What should not be at any time in the results? The word to be provided here is ‘sangah’. Sanga means identification or attachment born out of delusion.

If Arjuna’s natural tendencies and qualities do not allow him to leave karmas and take up exclusive jnana-nishtha and therefore his pursuit can only be in doing work, a question becomes imperative: Will not the activities bind and torment his mind? What should be done to safeguard against such assaults?

Krishna gives the second formula to meet the point. Karma as such causes no problem or torment. Only the mental sanga towards the results of karma creates bondage. Sanga is not to the karma as such, but only to the results it fetches. To avoid sanga means to bring about a thorough change in the vision and understanding about karma and its purpose. Thus the third quarter stipulates a new formula:

Ma karma-phalahetur-bhooh – Do not become one for whom only the external result of karma becomes the cause for doing work. Generally the results karma promises, alone are the motivation for taking up the karma. This is a very limited and even wrong point of view, says Krishna. The place and purpose of karma are much loftier and more comprehensive. You have to think seriously about them and arrive at the right point of view.

To be doing work just to enjoy as well as suffer the objective results they bring, will be to reduce, in effect, the great human life to a mere animal level.

Karmas are not just the means to get at some perishable external results. What is a karma? It is but an expression of the karta, the doer. The doer is a subject personality. Karmas are but the piecemeal, transitory, efforts which the subject doer makes from time to time. What is the ultimate effect these karmas are then expected to bring about for him, in him, the doer?

To do karmas, to adhere to the laws of nature in this regard, is but to integrate the mind and buddhi of the performer with a view to achieve expansion and refinement; it is to gain verily the spiritual wisdom and the lasting fulfillment it fetches. This is what Krishna explained throughout the Sankhya exposition.

If our life meant only the body and nothing beyond in the way of subject, then external karmas and results would have been rather sufficient. But this is not the case. So, Krishna exhorts Arjuna to think of the greater purpose than the perishable results of karmas, and relate matters to subject, the spirit, that every one is. It is such higher vision that leads one and guides him to the Yogabuddhi which Krishna explains better in the next verse and again throughout the dialogue.

Now we go to the fourth aphorism: “Ma te sangah astu akarmani ––do not get attached to inaction.” Inactivity or idleness and the tendency to avoid or escape external involvements should never be encouraged. Every creature on earth is active in one way or another. The animals and birds prey and collect their food, for which regular exertion is necessary.

Our birth in the world with body, mind and intelligence is a clear call for activity and dynamic pursuits. Arjuna’s thought of leaving the warfield and taking up sannyasa was not at all right. In reality, he initially wanted to escape the confrontation, which his mind was unable to accept or harmonize. Whatever be the difficulty or hindrance in doing a work that has naturally come upon, it should be faced and redressed as far as possible by right evaluation and action. Mind’s problem has to be solved by the buddhi’s vision. Thus, resolve the crisis, remove the difficulty and go ahead with the work. There is no question of leaving work or being idle.

After upholding in very conclusive terms the supremacy of spiritual wisdom in fulfilling human life (5.46), Krishna emphatically urges Arjuna not to make the mistake of choosing the exclusive wisdom pursuit straightaway. He advises him to take up karma-nishtha instead, for that alone would suit his nature. But in doing karma, he should ensure that his mind does not suffer from any torment or addiction caused by the object results that follow. For this, Krishna cautions that the results as such should not be the motivation at any time for doing work. Work and one’s involvement in it have to be always viewed from a more fundamental standpoint. At the same time, idleness or inaction should not also become one’s refuge in any circumstance.

To practise Karmayoga is to understand this fourfold principle well and then to make a wholesome effort to apply it in practice everywhere.

[The article above is reproduced from the English Monthly Vicharasetu – Sept. 1997
published by the Ashram]


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 (Part of the series : Essential-Concepts-In-Bhagavad-Gita)
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