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4. The background of Sri Krishna’s teachings:

At this stage Sri Krishna commences his divine teachings to his humble aspirant Arjuna. Some may argue that in His reply Sri Krishna has evaded the main issue and failed to answer directly the questions raised by Arjuna regarding the evil effects of war. What answer has Gita got for the social evils arising out of war? Instead of answering this point, what was the need for Sri Krishna to talk about the tough subjects like the immortality and immutability of the soul? Has Sri Krishna tried to cloud the basic issues by his irrelevant, high-sounding words? But if you study the Gita carefully you will realise that in his teachings to Arjuna He did not follow any crooked path. What is the real cause of Arjuna’s despondency? Is his pacifism due to any moral principles? No. He is under a delusion caused by his attachment to his kith and kin and fear of losing them in the war. Arjuna has fought many a war before and he had not raised any of these objections. Why should he raise these objections now? Even in our everyday experience we find that people talk big and bring in Vedanta and philosophy only to cover their weaknesses arising out of selfish interests. For example, persons, whose duty it is to protect and propagate Sanatana Dharma, shirk their responsibility under the pretext that in this Kali Age, it has been ordained by God that unrighteousness would prevail and that we should not do anything to counter His design. Again, misers who want to cover their thrift console themselves by saying that in these days of food scarcity it is antisocial to feed brahmins and others and waste foodstuffs. Arjuna also finds himself in the same category of self-justifiers. He had fought many a battle before, but only now does he become a staunch advocate of pacifism! It is apparent that he is only trying to hide his weakness for his relatives under the cloak of pacifism. Even great seers like Vasishtha had betrayed their attachment to their sons by bemoaning their loss. But they were aware of their weakness. They did not try to defend themselves by any arguments as Arjuna is doing now. Seeing the ‘predicament’ of Arjuna Sri Krishna must have been amused, and so he smiles:
àhsiÚv -art

prahasanniva bh˜rata
-- II-10
He does not, therefore, elaborately answer the questions raised by Arjuna regarding the evils of war. It is not true that all wars are harmful. According to historians, after the Kurukshetra war there was an all-round material prosperity and spiritual advancement in India and this golden age lasted for thousands of years. The objections raised by Arjuna are therefore not applicable to holy wars and so Sri Krishna does not simply bother to answer them. Instead, he proceeds to rid Arjuna of his spiritual ailment. Sri Krishna’s main purpose is to rid him of his delusion. That would be a treatment for his ailment far better than answering the questions raised by Arjuna in support of his pacifism. Hence the all-merciful Almighty, out of compassion for Arjuna, proceeds to dispel his delusion and gives a discourse on the immutability of the soul and its existence independent of the perishable body.

5. Lament not for the unlamentable:

Sri Krishna asks: "0 Arjuna, are you lamenting for the soul or for the body of your kinsmen? If it is for the soul, lament not because the soul is eternal and cannot be destroyed. You, I and all the kings in front of us were there in the past and will continue to be in the future. Hence grieve not for the soul which is indestructible. If you are sorry for the bodies of your kinsmen and preceptors, which you are afraid might be destroyed, then also, grieve not because the body is in any case perishable. After death the soul passes from one body into another. We demolish the old house and build a new one in its place. Do we grieve? We discard old clothes and put on new ones, do we lament? We step out of childhood and get into manhood, do we not rejoice in it? In the garden, old flowers wither and new ones blossom. So also in life change is not only inevitable but also desirable. We do welcome such changes. Death is but one such change. Thus we should never fear death. Just as childhood, boyhood and manhood, are but transitions, so also is death a transition. Hence we should not fret over the death of the body."

Here a question may arise. What sort of new body would these persons get after this body has passed away? It may be a better body or worse. If it is going to be worse, we have reason to be sorry at the passing of the present body. If we leave one rented house and move into another which is worse, we shall certainly be sorry for leaving the old one. Sri Krishna answers this point. As for Bhishma and Drona who are great souls and who have earned nothing but merit in this life, they are bound to go into a higher life. For them death is like a holy bath (avabhuutha) at the successful termination of a Yajna or sacrifice. Better life awaits them and you need not grieve for them. It is only the wicked and sinful people who are afraid of death and if they get worse bodies in the next life they deserve such punishment and you need not be sorry for them. There are instances of good people who even if they had inadvertently committed sins, have atoned for them here itself and warded off its evil effects. Hence good people are taken care of and wicked people deserve punishment and in both cases you need not grieve for death at all. If the bad are not punished and you pity them, the whole social system would be undermined.

Why should we believe in a soul as distinct from the body? Well, all evidence like perception, reasoning and scriptures point towards the existence of a soul as separate from the body. The body undergoes change from day to day as we pass from childhood to old age. Our today’s body is not the same as yesterday’s. But we experience something within us which does not change. This some thing, changeless, within us we call Atman or the soul and this is what each one experiences, throughout his life.

How do we know that after death the soul passes from one body into another? We see among people talents and characteristics not found in their parents and near relatives. Where from did they get these? They must have acquired them in their past lives. When a child is born, its mind is not blank. It carries the impressions of its past lives. It has its instincts and shows some likes and dislikes and propensities which can only be explained if we believe that the soul has passed through many lives before and that it carries the burden of its experience, both good and bad, from one life into another.

All living things are sentient and they have intelligence or instinct. Mere matter is insentient. Matter combined with Spirit or Soul constitutes life. This proves the existence of the soul as distinguished from the body. We see worms and insects forming in rice and other grains. We also see bacteria growing in unhygienic environments. How did life originate there? Scientists say that some living cells in a sub microscopic form were already there and these only grew and multiplied. Organic life does not come out of inorganic matter. Only life can breed life. I have asked many scientists how the first living cell came into existence in this world. They say that the riddle of the origin of life has not yet been solved. Evolutionists are of the opinion that a living cell in the most elementary state somehow formed out of inorganic matter under some favourable circumstance during the course of evolution lasting millions of years. If that is so why the phenomenon of life springing out of inorganic matter is not seen now even in a single instance? If it could happen once, there is no reason why it should not happen again. Scientists have not so far succeeded in producing life out of inorganic matter in the laboratory. We have therefore to believe in the existence of the soul as separate and distinct from the body and which is responsible for life and which is eternal. Therefore one should not despair at the prospect of death. These ideas are contained in the verse,
deihnae=iSmNywa dehe kaEmar< yaEvn< jra,
twa dehaNtràaiPtxIRrStÇ n muýit.

dehino'sminyath˜ dehe kaum˜raÕ yauvanaÕ jar˜
tath˜ deh˜ntarapr˜ptirdhŸrastatra na muhyati
-- II-13

6. Attachment is the root of sorrow:

Arjuna raises another query: "Oh Krishna, I agree that the soul is indestructible and that I should not grieve for the body which in any case is perishable. But I can keep contact with my dear and near ones only through their bodies when they are alive. After death, their souls may be somewhere and without their bodies how can I see them, touch them and talk to them, by which alone I feel happy. This sense of losing them forever pains me."

Sri Krishna answers: "Oh Arjuna, such problem arise again and again. You can’t avoid them. You should get used to them. What is the root of misery in man? Is it the contact between the objective world and the senses? No. When we are fast asleep we still have contact between the senses and the outside world but we do not become aware of such contacts and we do not experience any happiness or misery. Only in our wakefulness do we become aware of these experiences. Hence there is something else which is the root of our happiness and misery. It is our attachment to the body. We fail to distinguish between the body and soul and hence we suffer the pangs of misery. While we sleep we do not have this attachment and we do not experience anything good or bad. Similarly, in our waking state, if we manage to give up this attachment, we can carry on our normal activities in life without being affected by good or bad experiences. For example, if our own house catches fire we get very much concerned but, if another man’s house is on fire, we are not so much bothered. Both are houses and both are on fire but in the first case we are more concerned because it happens to be ‘our’ house. Similarly a newly married person gets very much concerned if his bride falls ill. But he had not cared at all if the same lady had fallen ill before he had married her. In the first case he is concerned because she happens to be ‘his’ wife. Sri Krishna asks Arjuna to overcome his sorrow at the loss of his dear and near ones by rooting out all attachment to them.
t<iStit]Sv -art
taÕstitikÿasva bh˜rata
-- II-14
"You have to face these difficulties, 0 Arjuna and overcome them by getting rid of attachment. You should never bow down to them." Thus does the Lord eradicate, root and branch, the very source of Arjuna’s sorrow.

This advice of Sri Krishna does not mean that we should be unconcerned when a great disaster or calamity befalls the country or a community. In such cases we should show all compassion and help the people as much as we can. It is the narrow and selfish interest of man arising out of his undue attachment to his body and worldly possessions that is condemned and not his genuine desire to render social service. Attachment generated by narrow selfishness alone is the root of all sorrows and the Lord wants that such sorrows should be faced squarely.

7. The Soul as an image of God:

The soul which is within us is described as the image of God. For any object to have its image, there must be a medium to act as a mirror. Some say that the body is such a medium. If that is so, when the body is destroyed, the soul also should be destroyed just as the image is destroyed when the mirror is destroyed. If the soul also is destroyed how does Krishna preach the imperishability of the soul? This doubt is cleared here.
The soul has two covers outer and inner. The outer cover b˜hyop˜dhi (baýaepaix) is the body and that does not act as the medium for casting the image. It is the inner cover svar¨pop˜dhi (Svêpaepaix) which is made of the same substance as the soul itself namely of pure intelligence and bliss that acts as the medium or the mirror. This inner cover being of the nature of the soul itself, is permanent and imperishable. Hence the soul which is God’s image is considered as eternal and imperishable.

How does the soul stand in relation to God? For this let us examine the object-image relationship a little more in detail. The shadow and the photograph are examples of our image. Only if we move our image moves, not otherwise. Unless there is activity in us there cannot be any activity in our image. Just as the image resembles us and at the same time is wholly dependent on us, so also the soul resembles God and is totally dependent on Him. Without God’s activity and will, there can be no independent activity of the soul. The substance of God is pure knowledge and bliss. So is that of the soul. The similarity ends here and there is a gulf of difference between the two thereafter. God is infinite and the soul is finite. Even if we are fair, our shadow is dark. We should not stretch the analogy of the object and the image too far.

It is the duty of every aspirant to discover the true nature of his soul. He should realise that he is only a shadow of God and thus is totally dependent on Him. Out of his ignorance and egoism he should not indulge in any immoral or irreligious act. He should discover and realise that the soul is not the mere body, not the mind, not even the natural instinct but something much higher, permanent, eternal and of a nature similar to God, and rejoice in the knowledge of his personality as endowed with greatness and dignity. At the same time the knowledge that he is totally dependent on God for each and everything should make him humble enough to surrender to His Supreme Will. The twin aspects are included in the conception of the soul as an image of God.

We cannot improve our image in the mirror by decorating the mirror. Instead, if we decorate ourselves, our reflection in the mirror or our image in the photograph will improve. Similarly, for our spiritual enrichment there is no point in decorating our body. It is as futile as decorating the mirror. We should, instead, decorate and worship the supreme God as full of infinite auspicious qualities. The more we do so, the more will we discover the unique dignity and beauty of our own personality. If we want to beautify ourselves we should turn our devoted attention to God. This idea has been effectively expressed in the Bhagavatha.
y*¾nae -gvte ivdxItmanm!,
tTvaTmne àitmuoSy ywa muoïI>.

yadyajjano bhagavate vidadhŸtam˜nam
tatv˜tmane pratimukhasya yath˜ mukhaþrŸ×

Arjuna’s doubts regarding the indestructibility of the soul, the perishability of the body and the efficacy of non-attachment to worldly things have been cleared to a great extent. The Lord expresses the same in the words:
nastae iv*te -avae na-avae iv*te st>,

n˜sato vidyate bh˜vo n˜bh˜vo vidyate sata×
-- II-16
(The body which is born is not eternal; the soul which is unborn does not perish)

8. No harm will accrue from righteous warfare:

The above stanza has another meaning. "Nothing good can come from evil deeds; nothing evil can come from good deeds." This clears the doubt of Arjuna that the war will lead to sin and disaster in afterlife.

The war in which the Pandavas are engaged is a righteous war fought against unrighteousness. King Duryodhana had all along conducted the affairs of the state based on unrighteous principles and selfish interests to the utter detriment of his subjects. He was tutored in this wily art even from his boyhood by his wicked teacher Kalinga. Treading this path, the king had fouled the whole atmosphere of his state. Even great preceptors like Bhishma and Drona had become helpless and could not stem the tide of unrighteousness let loose by the king. Sri Madhvacharya says in Mahabharata Tatparya Nirnaya:
DÒEv yÇ prm< nsuraZc pUJya>,
SvawERn vÁcnk«t jgtae=iol< c.
xmaRidkayRmip yÇ mhaepix> Syat!,
ïeó> s @v
... ... ... ... ...
chadmaiva yatra paramaÕ nasur˜þca p¨jy˜×
sv˜rthaina vañcanak®te jagato'khilaÕ ca
dharm˜di k˜ryamapi yatra mahopadhi× sy˜t
þreÿ÷ha× sa eva ... ... ... ... ...
-- Mahabharata Tatparya Nirnaya

Duryodhana’s philosophy in life was as follows: "Be selfish and cunning. Do not bother about God. To deceive the world, put on a mask of righteousness in this drama of life." By this policy of the king the whole atmosphere of the state was polluted and pervaded by greed, treachery and deceit. The main purpose of the holy Mahabharata war was to purify this soul atmosphere and reestablish the rule of righteousness and morality. Nothing but good could come out of such a holy war fought for the universal good of all subjects.
xMyaRiÏ yuÏaCD+eyae=NyT]iÇySy n iv*te.

dharmy˜ddhi yuddh˜c-chreyo'nyat-kÿatriyasya na vidyate
-- II-31
(Nothing is more meritorious for a king than a holy war.)

Only righteous wars are meritorious, not others. Some complain that in the olden days, kshatriyas were encouraged in mere warmongering. This is not true. Sri Krishna does not recommend wanton expansionism. People who initiate such wars are branded as tyrants and enemies of the world. Wars fought inevitably for achieving a definite ideal and for the welfare of mankind are called righteous wars and those who take part in such holy wars were praised and said to have gained a place in heaven. The shastras have never encouraged selfish, aggressive and imperialistic wars. Rarely do people get a chance to fight a righteous war. Sri Krishna says that Arjuna has got such a unique opportunity now when the gates of heaven are thrown wide open for him.

9. Desire is the root of sin:

Sri Krishna’s teachings of non-attachment no doubt reduces the anguish of Arjuna but still his fear of committing sin by killing preceptors and relatives has not completely disappeared. Even though this is a holy war, some sin is bound to be committed by the killing of innocent people and this will lead to unhappiness and misery in the other world. The war will thus give mixed results of happiness and misery. Instead, asks Arjuna: "Is it not better to be a recluse, forsake all action, retire into a forest and lead the life of a mendicant, which is free from any sin. The old doubt still persists.

In answer to this query the Lord proceeds to describe the philosophy of Bhagavata religion or desireless action which is uncontaminated by sin. Just as attachment is the root of misery so also desire is the root of sin. We should try to conquer this desire. Does the mere performance of a violent act lead to sin? No. For example, the judge passes death sentence on many culprits and the executioners hang them. Do they acquire sin? No. This violence is committed not for any personal gain but as a part of one’s duty. Desireless action, therefore, does not result in sin. The Lord Himself destroys the universe, still he is sinless. Under anesthesia, the doctor performs operations on the human body without the patient feeling any pain. So also desireless action is like the anesthesia which enables man to perform his duties in this world unsoiled by sin.

Even if such desireless and godly actions are discontinued in the middle due to unforeseen circumstances, they will not go in vain. They bear fruit unlike other worldly activities like industry and agriculture which if discontinued in the middle may not yield any fruit at all; on the contrary, it may become difficult to recover from the loss.
nehai-Krmnazae=iSt àTyvayae n iv*te,
SvLpmPySy xmRSy Çayte mhtae -yat!,,

neh˜bhikraman˜þo'sti pratyav˜yo na vidyate
svalpamapyasya dharmasya tr˜yate mahato bhay˜t
-- II-40

In taking medicine if the dose is either too small or too big there is harm but in the practice of Bhagavata religion of desireless action, there is no such fear. If the heart is pure, even if there are some lapses in our action, they will be forgiven. Sri Madhvacharya says in Gita Tatparya:
àarM-maÇimCDava iv:[uxmeR n in:)la,

pr˜rambham˜tramicch˜v˜ viÿõudharme na niÿphal˜
-- Gita Tatparya

The Lord has thus given a simple and straightforward religion the practice of which in our day to day life, even to a limited extent, will yield great results. It is not how much we do, but how we do, that matters. Sudama gave but a handful of beaten rice to the Lord. It is the spirit, the purity of mind and the devotion behind that simple offering that produced the result. It is the quality that matters, not the quantity. A single piece of currency note bearing the seal of the Government is more valuable than heaps of ordinary paper. Even little deeds bearing the stamp of devotion are more fruitful than scores of others performed without it. This in brief is the principle of desireless action.

10. The sole path of truth:

Regarding action, there is diversity of opinion. Some say that all action is illusory and that performance of action is mandatory to ignorant people only. Mimamsakas say that the supreme goal in life is to perform action like sacrifice etc., and attain worldly and heavenly pleasure. Sri Krishna says that the performance of desireless action is mandatory both to the ignorant and to the illumined. Sri Krishna further elaborates on this theme to clear the confusion wrought by various theories.
VyvsayiTmka buiÏrekeh k…énNdn,
b÷zaoa ýnNtaZc buÏyae=Vyvsaiynam!.

vyavas˜yatmik˜ buddhir-ekeha kurunandana
bahu-þ˜kh˜ hy-anant˜þ-ca buddhayo'vyavas˜yin˜m
-- II-41

Sri Krishna says that the path of desireless action alone is what is preached in all scriptures and this conclusion has been arrived at by a critical examination and careful study of the scriptures. Some may argue that if all roads lead to the same goal, it is immaterial what road we take. This is not correct. We should examine more critically which one is true? If there are two contradictory opinions on the same subject, both cannot be true. If it were so, truth and untruth should both lead us to salvation. This is absurd. We cannot raise truth and untruth on the same pedestal without injuring the very cause of truth.

I had a discussion on this topic with Sri Vinobha Bhave. He was of the opinion that people could follow different paths and different religions according to their tastes and inclinations. "Some people like sweets, others like savoury dishes and both the dishes fill the stomach and satiate the hunger," he argued. I answered: "Different types of food produce different biochemical reactions in the body. Similarly different religions produce different reactions in the mind and the soul. Both truth and untruth cannot have the same effect on the soul. Two contradictory statements cannot both be correct." Sri Bhave conceded the point. We both agreed that there are many things common to all religions and on this highest common factor we should seek cooperation between members of different religions and in areas where there is a fundamental difference we should agree to differ and part as friends. Thus we too parted as friends.

Some others argue: "Truth has many facets and each religion emphasises a particular aspect of this truth. Even though there are apparent contradictions between different religions they may be different facets of the same truth. Just as babies, grown up persons, sick persons and healthy persons partake of different types of food according to their needs, so also different persons may follow different religions and still earn merit." But we must note that each religious founder claims that his is the only true religion that leads to salvation and all other religions lead but to perdition. How can different religions holding contradictory beliefs all be true? How can two doctors prescribe two contradictory lines of treatment to a patient suffering from a single ailment. Sri Krishna therefore says that the scriptures preach one religion and that is the sole path of truth. Ishavasya Upanishad also comes to the same conclusion while discussing science and nescience (Vidya and Avidya). It is also stated in the same Upanishad that we should get at the Truth by a critical examination. Just because we are hungry it is not wise to fill the belly with anything and everything that comes our way; this may lead to indigestion and disease. It is better to go hungry and safeguard our health than eat unhygienic food. So also with knowledge. No-knowledge is better than foul knowledge.

Merit will not accrue from either inaction or desire-prompted action. Only desireless action preached in the Gita can give us merit and it should be kept as a guiding principle in life.

11. Vedas and desire-prompted action:

Vedas recommend sacrificial rituals for the attainment of worldly and heavenly pleasures. Such action is truly desire-prompted. The Gita advocates the performance of desireless action. The two teachings appear to be contradictory to each other. Actually there is no such contradiction because in the ultimate analysis even the Vedas advocate desireless action. It is the protagonists of Mimamsa who hold that the attainment of worldly pleasures is the goal of the Vedas. By holding this limited view they have abused the Vedas and have led men away from the physical study of the Vedas; they have succeeded in provoking men’s greed only. These people merely repeat the words of the Vedas parrot-like without understanding their full meaning. The Vedas do offer worldly benefits for those who seek but they offer much more if you care to dive deeper and get at the truth. The followers of Mimamsa are like the foolish people who pluck the flowers for their fragrance robbing themselves of the taste of the delicious fruits. Without knowing the mystic import of the Vedas and by running after the cheap superficial rewards, we would be robbed of the fruit of immortality. Mimamsakas committed this mistake. The Gita criticises them as follows:
yaimma< pui:pta< vac< àvdNTyivpiít>,
vedvadrta> pawR naNydStIit vaidn>.

y˜m-im˜Õ puÿpit˜Õ v˜caÕ pravadanty-avipaþcita×
veda-v˜da-rat˜× p˜rtha n˜nyad-astŸti v˜dina×
-- II-42
The promise of the worldly pleasures held out by the Vedas is only to lure the people to its study just as the mother gives some sugar to children before administering bitter medicine. But we shall be foolish if we stop halfway and be satisfied with worldly pleasures only. We have to dive deeper. The spiritual upliftment derived from the study of the Vedas depends upon our mental make-up. The same is stated in the Bhagavata:
raecnaw¡ )l ïuit>

rocan˜rthaÕ phala þruti×

In the Chandogya Upanishad there is a beautiful parable. Once Death chased a soul. The soul took shelter in the Vedas. Death pursued it even there. The soul dived deeper and deeper into the Vedas and thus escaped from the clutches of Death. We can have another illustration. If a fish swims near the surface of water any kingfisher can easily catch it with its long beak. But by diving deeper the fish can go beyond the reach of the kingfisher’s long beak and thus save itself. Similarly a mere superficial study of the Vedas does not lead us to immortality. For that we have to make a deeper metaphysical study.

Sri Krishna says:
ÇEgu{yiv;ya veda inSÇEgu{yae -vajuRn,
traiguõya-viÿay˜ ved˜ nistraiguõyo bhav˜rjuna
-- II-45
(Vedas preach action born of the threefold modes (of Prakriti). You do not follow them, Oh Arjuna.) Some say that this advice amounts to a criticism of the Vedas and conclude that the Gita has preached a new religion not found in the Vedas. But the desireless action preached in the Gita is nothing novel. The Upanishads have taught this much earlier. In the Ishavashya Upanishad there is a beautiful reference to this idea. Superficially Vedas appear to preach desire-prompted action but in the ultimate analysis they preach desireless action. It is our duty to eschew desire-prompted action and turn our attention to desireless action as preached by Sri Krishna.

Vedas are like a huge reservoir and they contain many ideas. From the reservoir we take water to the extent we need and to the extent we can utilise. We have to make a critical study of the Vedas and select only those ideas which we can assimilate and which we can turn to our benefit. Vedas preach desire-prompted action only to create an interest in us in divine knowledge and initiate us into the path of pure devotion. Prizes are given to the best student in the class just to encourage students to study hard. Desire-prompted action is not the goal of the Vedas. Acquisition of a true knowledge of God and performance of desireless action with pure devotion to God is the essence of the Vedic teaching and as such, there is no contradiction between the Vedas and the Gita and there is no room for any criticism or misunderstanding on this score.

There is one more point. Vedas no doubt have stated many rituals for those who want worldly rewards but nowhere has it emphasised that in performing such action, we should be concerned with results. Only the desire and eagerness for salvation has been stressed in the Vedas and there are no commandments regarding the desire for fruit. Let those who want the results perform such and such a ritual. By saying this it does not mean that everyone should perform these actions for fruit only. Action can still be performed without any expectation of the reward. Let those who are needy and greedy perform their duties and get paid for it. It does not mean that there are not others who are willing to do the same work in an honorary capacity, without any pay and doing the work just for the love of it. The same rituals which are performed in the hope of getting heavenly and worldly pleasure could still be performed without bothering about the rewards.
kmR{yevaixkarSte ma )le;u kdacn,
karmaõy-ev˜dhik˜ras-te m˜ phaleÿu kad˜cana
-- II-47

12. Action and concern for the results:

The above stanza also states: "Performing actions is alone within your capacity -- Rewards never. Since God alone is the giver of reward or fulfillment, only the performance of actions is within our reach." Whilst discarding the desire for fruit, we should not discard action itself. Let not the baby be thrown away along with the bath water. This warning has been given by the Lord. For family people forsaking worldly pleasures may indeed be a difficult proposition. But what we gain by desireless action far outweighs the loss. We may have to lose worldly pleasures but we gain, instead, supreme bliss. Hence we need not grieve. The firefly gives some light in darkness, no doubt, but do we on that score prefer darkness and shun sunrise. While building dams and reservoirs, some wells may be submerged. But do we therefore stop building reservoirs. What use is a tiny well when you have the whole reservoir. What are these petty pleasures worth in comparison with the supreme bliss born of desireless action.

Gita thus says:
yavanwR %dpane svRt> s<Plutaedke,
y˜v˜n-artha udap˜ne sarvata× samplutodake
-- II-46
"Miserable are those who work for rewards," says Krishna:
k«p[a> )lhetv>

k®paõ˜× phala-hetava×
-- II-49
The householder toils day and night. In toil he is not inferior to a karmayogi. The karmayogi toils for God and the family man toils for his wife and children. That is the only difference. But even this toiling for family can be done in the name of God and as an offering to God. We undergo untold miseries, trials and tribulations in our day-to-day life all because of our attachment to worldly things. These very acts can be done disinterestedly for His sake and as a dedication to Him. The Lord pities those who fritter away their energy in hankering after petty things.

The Gita no doubt repeatedly praises desireless action. But is it a practical proposition to perform action without any concern for its result? We indulge in action only to achieve certain objectives and results. Desire motivates all action and is at its root. "There is no meaning in preaching desireless action," say the followers of other religions. Certainly, without aim, all action is meaningless. But this aim and goal of all action should be noble. Gita does not eschew all desires. Only selfish desires for mundane things have been condemned. Have a worthwhile ideal and goal in life and work for it wholeheartedly for public welfare. Let your only desire be to earn the grace of God. The message or the Gita is that we should not fritter away our energy being enticed by petty attachments and desires. There is nothing impractical in the advice of the Gita. It preaches the genuine philosophy of life itself.

There is a story in the Mahabharata which is relevant here. After hearing a long discourse on morality and religion by Bhishma, Yudhishthira raises an important query: "0 Bhishma, of the four ideals (pué;awR) of human life, Virtue (xmR), Wealth (AwR), Desire (kam) and Release (mae]), which is the best?" Vidura replies that virtue is the most meritorious ideal. The practical-minded Arjuna says that for the achievement of all other ideals and for the performance of religious duties, wealth is absolutely essential and hence it is supreme. Dharmaraja of course argues that the ultimate goal of all human beings must be the liberation from the cycle of birth and death and hence it should take the pride of place. But to the surprise of all Bhimasena argues that desire ought to be the dominant ideal. Elaborating his point he explains that desire is the motivating force behind all actions. Without it there is no morality, no wealth and no liberation. Noble desires and righteous ambition spur us into worthwhile action. All other ideals of human life are subservient to this ideal of noble desire. Desire is not merely lust for power or base enjoyment. It can also be a driving force to the attainment of the highest goal in life.
Aini;ÏkaimtEv ýkaimTvaimtIyRte,
aniÿiddhak˜mitaiva hyak˜mitv˜mitŸryate
-- Gita Tatparya
(Not hankering after the unworthy things itself is renunciation of action.) Forsaking the desire for selfish worldly pleasures and performing action purely for the attainment of God’s grace, liberation and universal welfare is the essence of desirable action.

Performance of selfless and desireless action is easy to preach but difficult to practice. Even good and noble acts are performed by people in their day-to-day life either to earn merit or fame or a place in heaven. We may be scared by the high ideal preached by the Gita. But we need not be disheartened. Even some great men have fallen a prey to such desire-prompted action due to their delusion. Even illumined souls may chance to be victims of low, worldly desires. But though difficult to follow, we can keep this as our ideal to guide us in our day-to-day life. The pole star is far away and beyond our reach. But it guides many a sailor on the high seas. Similarly the high ideal of karmayoga or desireless action may be beyond our reach but it should always be kept before our mind’s eye as a guiding star in our spiritual journey and by following this path blazed by such a high ideal we shall certainly reach our highest goal. Hence, though difficult, we should try sincerely to follow this ideal without unnecessarily being disheartened.

13. Excellence of disinterested action:

Wherever there is fire there is smoke. Wherever there is action there is bound to be some lapse here and there. But there is a way of getting over this difficulty and the special value of karmayoga lies in performing action without being affected by the incidental taint.

If you want to swim across a river, you cannot do it unless you get into the water. But you will get drowned if you do not know the art of swimming. Similarly, if you want liberation from this life-cycle, you have to get into the worldly life and perform action; if you do not know he art of performing action selflessly you may get drowned in the ocean of life.
tSma*aegay yuJySv yaeg> kmRsu kaEzlm!,

tasm˜d-yog˜ya yujyasva yoga× karmasu kauþalam
-- II-50
(Disinterested action alone is skillful action, performing action in a disinterested way is an art itself.) If one performs an action disinterestedly, one can cross over this life without being drowned.

Let me give you another example. You cut open a jackfruit and try to remove the pulp. It is all sticky. But you can avoid this stickiness by smearing your fingers with a few drops of oil. Karmayoga or desirelessness in action is like the oil which enables you to perform action without being stuck in it. Even while performing good deeds some lapses may occur but no sin will accrue if we follow be path of karmayoga. Even as I give this discourse I may be causing injuries to many insects inadvertently. In our day-to-day life we may cause the death of many ants, insects etc. We cannot avoid it. But if we perform all our actions desirelessly in a spirit of dedication to God these little lapses which are beyond our control and which are committed inadvertently, will not affect us and we shall enjoy the perennial fruit of the duty we have performed.

14. The fruit of desireless action:

The next question is how long are we to perform such desireless action?
yda te maehkill< buiÏVyRittir:yit,
tda gNtais inveRd< ïaetVySy ïutSyc.

yad˜ te moha-kalilaÕ buddhir-vyatitariÿyati
tad˜ gant˜si nirvedaÕ þrotavyasya þrutasyaca
-- II-52

The answer is that we should continue such action till the heart becomes pure, ignorance is removed and spiritual wisdom is attained. For meditation and realisation of God, purity of heart is most essential. God’s image will not be cast in a mind sullied by lust and hatred. The sun’s reflection can be seen only in the waters of a lake when they are calm and placid and not when they are disturbed and wave-tossed. Even so the heart must be pure to see God.
kmR[a }anmatnaeit
karmaõ˜ jñ˜nam˜tanoti

The purification of the heart is possible through right action. When you are engaged in performing good deeds, there is no chance for any weakness of the mind to show up. The mind is thus purified. During the struggle for Indian independence, the political atmosphere was pure and people fought for a noble cause and suffered great difficulties. They were as yet uncorrupted by lust for power and wealth. But the same spirit of selfless sacrifice is missing in the recent times in our political life and people are running after wealth and power. Seeing this we get a feeling, sometimes, that independence came to us a little too soon. Desireless action leads to purity of heart. When the heart becomes pure, one’s mind turns towards God and one is now set on the path of realisation of God.

In the above stanza the word ‘nirveda’ does not mean resignation towards knowledge. How can you be disinterested in knowledge which has been acquired with great effort? Would Sri Krishna ever be preaching resignation in matters of spiritual knowledge instead of renunciation of desires? If any commentator gives this meaning it is indeed strange.

In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
tSmat! äaü[> pai{fTy< inivR*
tasm˜t br˜hmaõa× p˜õýityaÕ nirvidya

the word ‘Nirveda’ has been used to denote ‘attainment’. We reap the fruit of our study only when the mind is purified and ignorance is removed.
buiÏyuKtae jhatIh %-e suk«tÊ:k«te,

buddhi-yukto jah˜tŸha ubhe suk®ta-duÿk®te
-- II-50
(By doing such desireless action, one gets beyond both merit and sin.) Does this mean then that by doing desireless action, even the merit is lost? No. By doing good deeds we get the grace of God and this verily is merit and this grace is essential for salvation. How could Gita then advocate forsaking merit?

There are two kinds of merit, desirable and undesirable. The merit earned by performing desire-prompted action brings us only worldly pleasures and leads us astray from the goal of final liberation. Such a merit is called ‘undesirable merit.’ Desireless action and meditation give us merit which leads us to spiritual evolution and ultimate liberation. This is called desirable merit. Gita advocates the forsaking of undesirable merit and not the desirable merit. In fact, to attain final liberation, one has to forsake the ‘undesirable’ merit which leads only to worldly happiness. Even in our everyday life we find that to stand as a candidate for any public selective post and to become a minister one has to give up his Government post, contract, or any other office of profit. So also to obtain final liberation we have to give up worldly pleasures though they are acquired by merit.
There are two categories of knowledge. One is indirect (prae]) and the other is direct (Aprae]). Knowledge acquired from the teacher, from reasoning and from scriptures all belong to the first category. The knowledge be comes firm by rightful action. After acquiring this knowledge of God through these external sources, we desire to realise God and see Him within us without the help of either reasoning or words. For this we should concentrate our mind on Him and meditate. Then we can realise God within us and this is called direct knowledge or God-realisation.

Desireless action is as much necessary in the state of indirect perception as it is in the state of direct perception. As disinterested action is necessary for the perfecting of the indirect knowledge, so also is such action needed in the post-indirect knowledge to prepare a background of meditation for direct knowledge. Mere dipping the cloth in water and wetting it is not sufficient for cleansing. We have to take steps to wash it, rinse it and squeeze it in order to remove the soil. So we have to continue our desireless action even beyond the stage of indirect knowledge till the mind reaches the stage of direct knowledge and becomes pure enough to catch the image of God and hold fast to it. Hence we should realise that desireless action is necessary both for direct and indirect knowledge. One who is steeped in God-realisation and beatitude is absolutely dead to worldly happenings. Nothing external can wake him up from this bliss and bring him back to the affairs of the world. Such a person is called a Sthitaprajna (a person with a steady poise of awareness.)

15. The Sthitaprajna and the control of the senses:

The Lord now describes the qualities of a Sthitaprajna or a person of equable mind. He is one whose mind is turned towards God and who is free from worldly desires. Pleasure and pain are both alike to him. Emotions like love, hatred and fear do not perturb him. We all have need to develop these qualities step by step before realising God. But in a Sthitaprajna these qualities are found to be native or inbuilt. A child has to totter while learning to walk but when it grows up it walks so naturally and effortlessly. We see a similar difference between an aspirant and an illumined soul. Whereas an aspirant, a novice in the art, has to strive for it like a child, an illumined soul gets it effortlessly. One who does not require any effort at all in the expression of these virtues is termed a Sthitaprajna.

With his senses under control, he does not fall a prey to temptations and he leads a pure life untorn by lust and anger. Just as a tortoise withdraws its legs into its shell, so also can a Sthitaprajna easily withdraw his senses from the world of sense. He is not hampered by the world of the senses. Mix milk with water, it is hard to separate. But the same milk when boiled well and made into curds and churned yields butter and this butter can be taken out of water easily. Our mind is like milk and if we let it go into worldly temptations, it gets thoroughly mixed up with it and we cannot take it out. But the mind of the illumined soul is like butter. Even when immersed in worldly affairs it does not get mixed up with it. It can be withdrawn from worldly things at will. We only know how to let go our senses but do not at all know how to withdraw them from carnal pleasures. That weakness is the product of a feeble mind.

There is a story in the Mahabharata. During the Bharata war, Ashwathama sneaks into Arjuna’s camp at the dead of night and murders his sons and other brave soldiers. The fight starts between the two. Ashwathama tries all his weapons and as a last resort uses his Brahmastra. Arjuna has no other go but use his own Brahmastra. Caught between these two deadly weapons, the whole world quakes. At this Sri Vedavyasa orders both of them to withdraw their respective weapons. Arjuna withdraws his weapon easily but Ashwathma does not succeed in doing so because he had lost that power due to his moral turpitude in murdering Arjuna’s children against all canons of warfare. We are also in the same ridiculous situation as Ashwathama. We only know how to send our senses out into the world but hardly know how to withdraw them when required. Our senses behave as did the Brahmastra from the hands of Ashwathama. Instead of we dictating to them, they are dictating to us. We, who should have been masters of the senses, have become their slaves.

By self-discipline and fasting we try to overcome temptations and control our senses. But what usually happens is that we abstain from these temptations physically but hanker after them mentally. While we fast on Ekadashi we are always thinking of the next day’s feast. Without food, all the other sense-organs may become weak, but the tongue remains ever sharp and hankers after delicious food. Even if we cut the branches of a tree, so long as the root is intact, it will put forth afresh when we water; similarly if the tongue is left uncontrolled, the sensual desires keep on cropping up. But complete termination of the sensual desires can happen only by the realisation of God. Before that beatitude all other worldly pleasures fade into insignificance. An illumined soul is not tempted by such worldly pleasures. You may give sweets to a child crying for its lost mother but the child will throw away the sweets in its ecstasy when it sees its mother. So also an illumined soul spurns all worldly pleasures when it reaches this beatitude. The Lord says:
rsvj¡ rsae=PySy pr< †òœva invtRte,

rasa-varjaÕ raso'py-asya paraÕ d®ÿ÷v˜ nivartate
-- II-59
(The realised soul loses his taste for worldly pleasures at the sight of God.)

We run after worldly pleasures because we have no idea of the supreme bliss that devotion begets. We are too weak to turn our attention to God. To overcome this weakness we have to keep our mind engrossed always in the infinite good qualities of the Lord and realise how futile it is to run after worldly pleasures. Instead of finding fault with our fellow-beings why shouldn’t we realise the dangers lurking in these worldly pleasures? Thus by rejecting on the shortcomings of the worldly things we easily renounce them; by meditating on divine attributes devotion dawns on us naturally.

We are tempted by these worldly pleasures because we have not overcome them. Even during prayer, we cannot concentrate our mind on God. The beads no doubt turn mechanically between our fingers but the mind is wandering all over the world. By yielding to the seductions of worldly things we are but confirmed in our attachment to them. When obstructions are there anger is provoked; deluded by anger a man forgets his duties and obligations. He cleanly forgets the commandments of the Shastras. He loses his sense of right and wrong and grows wanton in his desires. Then he only courts his ruin.

The Lord says:
Xyaytae iv;yaNpu<s> s¼Ste;Upjayte,
s¼aTs<jayte kam> kamaTKraexae=i-jayte.
KraexaÑvit s<maeh> s<maehaTSm&itivæm>,
Sm&itæ<zadœ buiÏnazae buiÏnazaTà[Zyit.

dhy˜yato viÿay˜n-puÕsa× saðgas-teÿ¨paj˜yate
saðg˜t-sañj˜yate k˜ma× k˜m˜t-krodho'bhij˜yate
-- II-62
krodh˜d-bhavati saÕmoha× saÕmoh˜t-sm®ti-vibhrama×
sm®ti-bhraÕþ˜d buddhin˜þo buddhi-n˜þ˜t-praõaþyati
-- II-63
(Brooding on the objects of sense a man gets attached to them and out of attachment proceeds desire for them. When the desire is thwarted, anger erupts and anger generates confusion. The confusion then leads to the loss of sense of dharma; (sense of right and wrong as taught by the shastras.) With this loss there is the collapse of the discriminating intellect and when this discrimination is lost, he is ruined.)

Thus we must be wary of unchecked desires and save ourselves from imminent ruin. Desire is the poison that lurks behind all senses. They attack like poisonous snakes. For this we need not suppress our senses. We need not kill the poisonous snake. We have only to remove its fangs and then we can play with it as the snake-charmer does.
ragÖe;ivmuKtEStu iv;yainiNÔyEZcrn!,
AaTmvZyEivRxeyaTma àsadmixgCDit.

r˜ga-dveÿa-vimuktais-tu viÿay˜n-indriyaiþ-caran
˜tma-vaþyair-vidhey˜tm˜ pras˜dam-adhigacchati
-- II-64
(One who is bereft of attachment and aversion attains a pleased state of mind, sporting his senses in the objects but keeping them under perfect control.)

Thus if we control our senses and overcome greed and hatred, attachment and aversion, these senses will not harm us even if we move about among the objects of the senses. Controlling the senses does not mean torturing them or unnerving them. When we direct them into worthwhile channels we are said to have controlled them. There is a story of the emperor Alarka who in order to control his senses started cutting his sense organs one by one. Then the presiding deities of these organs appeared before him, and said,: "Oh king, do not take recourse to such foolish step as cutting away your organs. It is only through these sense organs can you perform good deeds also. By removing these organs you will not be able to achieve anything worthwhile and your whole life will be wasted. Proper sense control consists in only guiding then in the right path."
naiSt buiÏryuKtSy n cayuKtSy -avna,
nca-avyt> zaiNtrzaNtSy k…t> suom!.

n˜sti buddhir-ayuktasya na c˜yuktasya bh˜van˜
nac˜bh˜vayata× þ˜ntir-aþ˜ntasya kuta× sukham
-- II-66
(The mind of the one who is not self-pleased does not have a control of the senses; without the control there is no knowledge; without the steadiness of mind there is no self-knowledge; without the self-knowledge there is no salvation; without salvation wherefrom would bliss come?)

16. Sthitaprajna and his way of life:

What is the difference between an illumined soul and an ordinary person? The Lord describes it as follows:
ya inza svR-Utana< tSya< jagitR s<ymI,
ySya< ja¢it -Utain sa inza pZytae mune>.

 y˜ niþ˜ sarva-bh¨t˜n˜Õ tasy˜Õ j˜garti saÕyamŸ
yasy˜Õ j˜grati bh¨t˜ni s˜ niþ˜ paþyato mune×
-- II-69
(What is night for ordinary people, is day for the illumined soul. What is day for them, is night for him.)

We have great attachment for worldly pleasures and we are therefore drowned in them. To what we are keen upon, the illumined soul is totally indifferent. The illumined souls are not attracted by worldly pleasures. They are interested in God only and they are wholly engrossed in His meditation. They are dead to all other worldly attractions. In our case it is the opposite. Even as we are sitting for prayer our minds wander and dwell on worldly pleasures. In short, the illumined souls are interested in God and disinterested in worldly pleasures. We are very much interested in worldly pleasures and disinterested in God.

Has the illumined soul, engrossed in God, any duties to perform? Does he eat and drink? How does he live? The Lord continues:
AapUyRma[mclPritò< smuÔmap> àivziNt yÖt!,
tÖTkama y< àivziNt sveR s zaiNtmaPnaeit n kamkamI.

˜p¨ryam˜õam-acala-pratiÿ÷aÕ samudram-˜pa× praviþanti yadvat
tadvat-k˜m˜ yaÕ praviþanti sarve sa þ˜ntim-˜pnoti na k˜ma-k˜mŸ
-- II-70

All rivers flow into the sea but the level of the water in the sea does not change. Whether rivers flow in or not, it matters little to the ocean which is least perturbed. Similarly in the illumined soul flow the worldly pleasures but he is not affected by them. He can go without them too. Like the ocean he is unperturbed.
-u<janaeipiÿy> kaman! myaRda<ntreTKvict!,
smuÔtt! xmRmyI— na saE kamIs %Cyte.

bhuñj˜nopihriya× k˜m˜n mary˜d˜nnataretkvacit
samudratat dharmamayŸÕ n˜ sau k˜mŸsa ucyate
-- Gita Tatparya
Whatever water may come into the sea, it does not transgress its shore. Similarly however much an illumined soul may enjoy the worldly pleasures, he will not transgress the moral limits. He is the most disciplined servant of God. He confines himself to all the moral rules and regulations and even as he enjoys legitimate worldly pleasures he leads a superior, unperverted and contended life. All rivers flow into the sea even without its asking for it. So also do all worldly pleasures come to him without his running after them. If we run after our shadow turning our back to the sun we cannot catch it. The faster we run, the faster does it run away from us. But if we give up running after it, turn our face towards the sun and run, the shadow will follow us as fast as we run. The same is the case with worldly pleasures. If we run after them they will elude us forever. On the other hand, if we look upon them with contempt and turn our attention towards God, they themselves will follow us of their own accord. An illumined soul need not struggle to get them, they go to him unsought.

 Vibhishana did not ask Brahma for any favours. Ravana and Kumbhakarna did penance in propitiation of Brahma to attain superhuman powers to rule the world as they pleased and not be vanquished by anybody. When Brahma appeared before Kumbharkarna, the latter got thoroughly confused, forgot whatever he wanted to ask and obtained only the boon of fast sleep! Ravana obtained the boon of invincibility from gods and demons, and also immortality. But he had to meet his death from the hands of God in the form of a mortal being. But Vibhishana did not ask any boon of God. He only prayed for enlightenment and pure devotion. God was pleased with his attitude and blessed him with immortality which he enjoys even to this day. An illumined soul thus gets what he wants even unasked.

Thus after being blessed with the sight of the Lord, the illumined soul lives a God-permeated life which is free from voluptuousness and full of blessedness and serenity. This is called the Brahmic state. Through the gates of the purified mind attained by the performance of noble deeds, he walks on the path of meditation and realisation into the Brahmic state.

The second chapter of the Gita concludes with the description of the Sthitaprajna. In it are beautifully described the various stages of the perfecting of the soul out of the lowest into the highest.

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This page prepared by  Ramadas
Created March 02, 2000; last modified March 08, 2000