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

Swami Bhoomananda Tirtha


Q & A

Q. As I had mentioned earlier, we are having some interesting Bhagavadgeeta study sessions at CIRD. We are discussing the sloka 5.14 of Bhagavadgeeta now. While discussing the sloka, some doubts have come up that need clarification.

One acts according to one's svabhaava, The Lord of the Universe does not enjoin anything specifically on anyone. This is reinforced by sloka 3.33 and other slokas. So we conclude that in acting in a certain way, we have no freedom. Our svabhaava, made of the 3 gunas, will force us to act in a certain way. The 3 gunas pertain to the mind also. So, both action and thought are the result of svabhaava; is that right?

Now, the potential to change depends on how the mind responds. Arjuna's mind responded; Duryodhana's did not. But the mind is forced by the gunas to respond or not to respond. So again, there is no freedom here. Then, where is the freedom of man?

Poojya Swamiji says that the freedom to be exercised is not to get subjugated by the objects (vishayas). By vishayas, of course, I understand both external and internal. But given that the mind will think in a certain way dictated by the gunas, where is the freedom?

I said: “Freedom is to consider oneself not responsible for one's actions, as they are born of the 3 gunas (gunaa guneshu vartante, 3.28). All the slokas from 4.20-4.24 ask us to shed ownership, whatever the actions may be. That is the only freedom, I understand.”

Then M asked: “How then will change come in our nature? Only thing that differentiates man from animals is the potential for change in the mind and intelligence.”

Again I thought and said, “It is my understanding that kartrtva is what brings about the error in thought and action. Trying to take away kartrtva will refine our actions automatically, and we will become what nature always wanted us to be - benign, benevolent, Godly. Bringing about changes in svabhaava keeping kartrtva intact will be limited in scope. The real change starts coming in the personality when we start abandoning this ahamkaara of doing (BG 3.27).”

*     *     *

After sending the email, it occurred to me, what if people think they can do anything they want and leave the ownership to their svabhaava or gunas, and quote the Geeta saying that none has any freedom to do anything, nor one has any ownership for their actions. Well, that is a terrible logic! One can kill at will and say he has no ownership for the action because he has no freewill.

Can we say that the akartrtva is at the level of the Atma, and not at the BMI level? That Geeta says “sangam tyaktvaa aatmasuddhaye”, and that tyaaga is very important. Given that we are never sure that we are doing anything right, considering that we have a tainted BMI, all we have the freedom for is to remember that the kartrtva is not mine, me who is aloof from the BMI is not the doer, the work is all the product of the gunas.

Looking for clarity.

Yours, S.


28 August 2015

 Dear S,

Harih OM Tat Sat. Jai Guru. The first reply I gave was perhaps too brief and aphoristic. While reading it out in our evening satsang, I felt my ‘bhaashya’ needed ‘tikaa’ and ‘tippani’. But, because of the editing facility provided by the computer, all got merged into a new presentation. Hope it will be less confusing.

As far as understanding of BG is concerned we have to introspect a lot and try to understand a few concepts very clearly, like: sanga, raaga-dvesha, karma, karmaphala, karma-bandha, phala-tyaaga, svabhaava, Yajna-bhaavana, tri-guna-tattva & gunaateeta, fourfold varnas, etc. As one progresses in understanding and saadhana, he will find that all these concepts are inter-related, helping us to view the same inner state from different angles.

To understand a concept/word used in BG, we should go straight to the sloka where it appears, rather than wondering or discussing abstractly about the concept. To get to the real purpose and meaning of any sloka, we have to look into the context: like a few previous & following slokas; and if they are in reply to Arjuna’s question then what was the question.

Now, before considering the sloka you are discussing (BG 5.14), note that :

  1. From 5.7 to 5.13, the slokas explain what should be our mental attitude so that our actions will not bind us. The attitude consists of: yoga-yuktah; sarvabhootaatmabhootaatmaa; sangam tyaktvaa; karmaphalam tyaktvaa; brahmani-aadhaaya karmaani; sarvakarmaani manasaa sannyasya; etc. All these words imply “incorporating these bhaavas in our mind and buddhi”. How can it happen without deliberate use of self-will and self-effort?

    Without application of will or paurusha, no saadhana can be there. Vichaara means a constant willful application of viveka-buddhi. And to actualize “surrender”, one needs the most powerful will. This paurusha is one aspect of the svabhaava Nature has added to the animal world. Capacity to introspect and use viveka is a further refined aspect of paurusha added to the human kind.

    It is futile to say that in the ultimate level, this paurusha is also given by Nature and hence we have no freedom. The fact is that Nature has given us the “freedom” to apply our paurusha. Even for lifting our hands or opening our mouth, we are using this freedom.

    I remember our IIT market experience. When one morning in the market, I asked a friend to join the Upanishadic class we were attending every morning, he replied: “Don’t you know, Thakur (Sri Ramakrishna Dev) has said that if God doesn’t will even a leaf on the tree will not move! How can I go for the Upanishadic class until God wills?” I said: “Well, for coming to the market, buying items, cooking and eating and over-eating, God does not have to will! He has to will only for your going to listen to the Śāstras!”

    This is how we deceive ourselves. We try to escape the responsibility of our actions by saying like Duryodhana: “It is all God’s will or God has created me like this; what can I do? Etc.” But, as long as we have the Body-Mind-Intelligence (BMI) intact, every moment we are exercising our freedom to decide, and we will be responsible for our decisions and consequences. Even a Knower has to decide every step guided by his brahma-nishṭā. Only, in his case, the decisions are natural (sahaja), being freed of desires, raaga-dvesha and ahankaara.

    “Non-doership” or “akartrtva” means to be freed of ahankaara, the fictitious egotism and possessiveness (me & mine) we foolishly associate with whatever is done by my BMI complex. Meditate on BG 14.19: “gunebhyah anyam kartaaram na anupasyati; gunebhyasca param vetti …”. Any ‘doer’ other than the gunas (that is our “egoistic I”) is not to be imagined. Also, to do this, we have to know our real non-doer Identity transcending the gunas. Then we will know that the real doer (kartaa) is the BMI complex.

    Then the sanga with the fictitious “egoistic I” will fall off. The whole world including my BMI will become a phenomenological display appearing on Me the unchanging Consciousness (“gunaa guneshu vartante iti matvaa na sajjate”).

  2. Now, coming to BG 5.14: Note that in 5.14 and 5.15, the focus has suddenly shifted from the seeker to the Lord (Prabhuh & Vibhuh). The purpose, of course, is to bring in a correction and evolution in the seeker’s mind. The fundamental correction given is to point out to the devotee/seeker the stunning truth that the Supreme Lord actually does not do anything at all. All actions are within the ken of prakrti.

    Baba had told once that people visit various Temples praying for so many things. Finally when they visit the famous Puri Jagannatha Temple, they find that the Lord of the Universe does not have hands or feet (Thuto Jagannath in Bengali)! He only looks on, that too with a blank look!

    As the knowledge of our real identity (Soul) gets perfected, the concept of God also has to undergo a thorough change. Because, ultimately both have to merge into the same transcendental Reality, the Consciousness. The Atma or the Lord being the unchanging Consciousness, does not have any kartrtva, karma, paapa, punya, etc. The question of free will does not come for either Ātma or the Lord, because there is no karma for them. The Ātma or the Lord of the Universe does not perceive anything, does not do anything; He transcends time, causality, and objectude (Mundaka Upanishad 1.6). All the changes or karmas are within the ken of Prakrti or svabhaava or 3-gunas.

  3. As a seeker takes to the “samatva-yoga” of Bhagavadgeeta (BG 2.48), his naïve religious concept of God must evolve into a comprehensive understanding of the ultimate Truth. Without this spiritual dimension, Samatva will only be a superficial goal or attainment.

    This point is extremely important. Here comes the subtle but vast difference between the understanding of Bhagavad Gita in the management discourses and that by a spiritual seeker. Bhagavad Gita’s equal vision or Samatva is not just a poise and equanimity in success-failure, sukha-duhkha, etc. It is much vaster and deeper than that. The pursuit of Samatva must lead one to brahma-nirvaana (BG 2.72, 5.19). BG’s “sama-darsana” is “sarvabhootastham-aatmaanam sarvabhootaani caatmani” (BG 6.29).

    First, the seeker’s concept of ‘I’ as a fragmented small atma inside the body-mind complex and the concept of God as an external superhuman Chief Justice have to get transformed into the Universal Atma and the impersonal Brahman. Then, through relentless introspection, the concept must evolve into an inner vision or eekshana (BG 6.29), finally maturing into a realization. Realization of the transcendental Oneness is the Samadarsana of Bhagavadgeeta (BG 6.29 - 32).

    It is amazing to note how in Bhagavadgeeta these two complementary processes – i.e. metamorphosis of ‘I’ and ‘God’ – go together in beautiful harmony, finally to merge into non-dual Reality.

    Now, coming to the word “svabhaava”:

  4. Svabhaavah is svasya bhaavah,meaning:the essential nature (bhaavah) of the Self (sva). The Self in its supreme impersonal dimension is the nirguna identity that transcends all action, objectification, fragmentation or ideation. This impersonal identity or svabhaava is realized in the non-dual experience of nirvikalpa samaadhi.

    But when Bhagavadgeeta is speaking of svabhaava in relation to Creation, it simply means prakrti, as prakrti is the natural display of the Purusha (Self or Lord). When referred to a person, svabhaava is the natural manifestation of the atma as conditioned by the personality. Here “natural” means not tainted or adulterated by kaama or ahankaara or raaga-dvesha (BG 18.40-53).

    We are not able to keep to our svabhaava because of delusion caused by raaga-dvesha-bhaya or ahankaara. Arjuna out of delusion was contemplating on a life-style alien to his Kshaatra-svabhaava. Nowadays most of the students choose a branch of study or profession allured by money and social prestige, and not according to their natural qualities or svabhaava. Bhagavadgeeta’s svakarma is karma according to one’s svabhaava.

    We act freely according to our svabhaava (sahaja karma 18.47-48) only when the actions are not motivated by desires. The Knower, freed of kaama, ahankaara and raaga-dvesha, behaves naturally, according to his svabhaava (BG 2.64-65). As the earth goes around the Sun, as the red flowers blossom as red and the white flowers blossom as white, a Knower also acts in this world according to his inherent qualities, applying the free will and discrimination given by nature.

    In fact, the whole universe acts without any desire or ahankaara. Only human beings, out of ignorance, posit a ghost of ahankaara and get deluded. That is why they need Self-knowledge.

    Coming back to the sloka BG 3.33, you have quoted in connection with our freedom:

  5. To understand sloka 3.33, we must study it in conjunction with sloka 3.34. Mark the contrast between the two slokas: “nigrahah kim karishyati” in 3.33, and “tayor-na vasam-aagacchet” in 3.34. Vyasadeva or Sri Krishna has presented the apparent contradiction in consecutive slokas to ensure that the seeker does not miss the import.

    In 3.33, he says that even Knowers do according to their prakrti. The Knowers, although same in their inmost identity, will be widely different in their life and interactions, depending on their prakrti or svabhaava. Were not Sri Ramakrishna Deva and Swami Vivekananda poles apart in their life and activities? What about Vyasadeva and Sri Krishna? So, as Knowers take to different activities following their svabhaava, a seeker of Sreyas also should take to their svabhaava, without getting swayed by desires, ahankaara, or raaga-dvesha. Meaning, Arjuna should not deviate from his Kshaatra-dharma out of fear of facing an unwanted (undesirable/disliked) situation.

    If reading 3.33, one thinks that he should do whatever his raaga-dvesha motivated tendencies prompt him to, 3.34 corrects that one should not be a slave to raaga-dvesha. Senses will naturally have raaga-dvesha, but a seeker has to apply his paurusha not to be under their sway. By birth we are slave to the world situation, but Nature has also given us the freedom to apply viveka-buddhi to get connected to the Self and be in tune with our svabhaava (BG 3.43).

  6. In fact, we say a Knower does not have any karma, because whatever he does is not desire-motivated; it is his svabhaava. When an action takes place without ahankaara, we call it “kriyaa” instead of “karma”. As Svetasvatara Upanishad sings, the whole universe is “svaabhaavikee jnaana-bala-kriyaa”.


Swami Nirviseshananda Tirtha

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