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17. Then why bother about action?

Arjuna senses some apparent contradictions in what Sri Krishna said regarding Action and Knowledge.
Ëre[ ývr< kmR buiÏyaegat!
... ... ... ,
d¨reõa hyavaraÕ karma buddhiyog˜t ... ... ...
-- II-49
From such verses it appears that action is inferior to knowledge. Yet the lord has said

-- II-47
yaegSw> k…êkmaRi[>
... ... ... ,
yogastha× kur¨karm˜õi× ... ... ... -- II-48
(Do not desist from action.) (Perform Actions as a karmayogi.) But in the earlier verses Sri Krishna has stated that action must be performed by all means.

If knowledge is superior to action, then why not follow it as the sole path? Why bother about action at all? This is indeed a genuine doubt and Arjuna says: "Oh, Lord! in one statement you extol knowledge; in another you extol action. I am thoroughly confused by your contradictory advice. I do not know which is the better of the two, and which path to follow. Please give me a clear-cut and unambiguous advice."

Even if we say that when Sri Krishna criticised action He had in mind only the desire-prompted action and not the desireless action, the problem is not fully solved. If we have to perform desireless action, then why go in for war? There are many other actions which can be performed without any desire. As for example, the duties of a saint or a mendicant. In other spheres of life, action performed may be desire-prompted, depending upon the state of one’s mind at that time. Sacrificial ritual may be performed either to get some results or for its own sake. But in the actions prescribed for a monk (Sanyasi) there is no room for desire at all. If all action is to be desireless action, then is it not better to embrace the life of a mendicant rather than engage in a war which is desire-prompted? It is impossible to fight a war desirelessly. War is nothing but shooting and killing and, from the beginning to the end, it is desire-prompted. To engage in a fight and be detached is as impossible as working in a coal mine and trying to keep the hands clean. When there are hosts of other deeds which can be performed desirelessly, why engage in a war where there is so much vulgar display of anger and passion. Arjuna gets a doubt whether it is not preferable to don the robes of a recluse rather than fight a war and he asks Sri Krishna: "Why then do you coax me into this bloody war?"
tiTk< kmRi[ "aere ma< inyaejyis kezv,

tat-kiÕ karmaõi ghore m˜Õ niyojayasi keþava
-- III-1
Here Arjuna raises two fundamental issues. Firstly, if action is inferior to knowledge, then why not eschew action. Secondly, if action is so inevitable, then why not perform desireless action prescribed for mendicants instead of engaging in war.

18. Forsaking action is impracticable:

To the first question Sri Krishna gives the following answer: If action is the root of the cycle of birth and death and by eschewing action, we can free ourselves from such a cycle, then why do not birds and animals for whom no action is religiously prescribed, automatically get salvation? The animals, birds, insects and other creatures are not touched by sin or merit which alone are the source of further lives. Since they do not have either merit or sin, why should they not automatically be released from the chain of lives? But merely by this negative approach of forsaking action, one does not get release. It is only by a positive approach of performing all action enjoined on him but desirelessly, that one can get release from his cycle of birth and death. One should not embrace the life of a mendicant just to run away from action; he should do it with a positive view to meditating on God and leading a holy life.
n c s<Nysnadev isiÏ< smixgCDit,

na ca sannyasan˜d-eva siddhiÕ samadhigacchati
-- III-4
Mere renunciation (of desire-prompted action) does not lead to salvation. For final release both true knowledge and desireless action are necessary. If action is the root of birth and death then you may think that by eschewing all action you may get out of this cycle, just as you can bring down a tree by cutting its roots. But it is impossible to free ourselves from all action. It sticks to us even if we try to get rid of it. Even if we try not to get into new enterprises we have to put an end to consequences of our past actions only through living them out. One action gives rise to ten other new actions like the family of the Raktabija. When one Raktabija dies, out of his blood cells thousands of other Raktabijas are born. Similarly when one action is completed, hundred others crop up as a consequence of this in an endless chain. It is therefore foolish to think of eschewing action and attaining liberation.

Nor can we rest idle without performing any action. We are always doing something or the other. Even breathing is an action. Many bacteria get into our body during breathing and get killed. We cannot run away from action even though it binds us and leads us to many sins. It is impracticable to forsake action. At the most we may give up all physical activity, retire into a forest and do penance. But what can we achieve by sitting in the forest if our mind is entangled? Our sense organs may not be engaged in any physical activity but our minds continue to crave for worldly pleasures. By this we achieve neither worldly pleasure nor heavenly bliss and be double losers, losing both this world and the other. If we eschew action and enter the forest, we have to make our entry fruitful. Our mind has to be controlled. But if the mind is controlled, we may as well be in family life. There is no need to go to a forest. If control over mind is more essential for salvation than renunciation of action, then is it not worthier to control the mind and be in the family itself?
naNtSyikmr{yen twa naNtSy -art,
yÇEvinvseÏa<t> tdr{y< sca ïm>.

n˜ntasyakimaraõyena tath˜ n˜ntasya bh˜rata
yatraivanivaseddh˜nta× tadaraõyaÕ sac˜ þrama×
-- Mahabharata, Shanti Parva
(If you can control your mind, why go to a forest? If you cannot control your mind, what can you do by going to a forest? For one who can control the mind, wherever he is that is his forest and that is his hermitage).

Hence concentrate on mind-control rather than on action control. Even to control the mind, some sort of action is necessary. Without action the control of mind and subjugation of desire are difficult. In any case action is indispensable and unavoidable. Sri Krishna says:
kmeRiNÔyai[ s<yMy y AaSte mnsa Smrn!,
#iNÔyawaRn! ivmUFaTma imWyacar> s %Cyte.

karmendriy˜õi saÕyamya ya ˜ste manas˜ smaran
indriy˜rth˜n vim¨ýh˜tm˜ mithy˜c˜ra× sa ucyate
-- III-6
(One who merely controls action but keeps on brooding on the objects of the senses is called a deluded soul and a hypocrite.)

19. Let action be in the form of sacrifice:

One more question arises here. Our scriptures say that action binds us:
kmR[a bÏyte jNtu>,

karmaõ˜ baddhayate jantu×

Performing the action which binds us, how at all can we obtain liberation? It is waste of effort to try to obtain liberation while continuing with action which is inimical to it. As medicine without controlling the diet is useless, similarly striving for liberation while doing action which binds us is a vain effort. This question has been answered in the third chapter of the Gita. No doubt, since we cannot live without food, we must take some food; but bad food ruins our health. If we do not take any food at all since it may be harmful, the body may perish. Thus, we have to take only good and wholesome food to nourish the body. Since action binds us, it does not mean that we should give up all action. It is only bad action that binds us. Good action performed with good intentions always leads to good results and such action cannot be a hindrance to our liberation. On the other hand, it helps spiritual enlightenment. Just as we discriminate between good food and bad food and partake only of good food, so also in the performance of action we should discriminate between good and bad, and do only the good ones. Action may be described as the key which opens the case of ignorance which clouds the auspicious nature of our soul. With one and the same key we can either open a box or close it. Similarly action can both be a binding as well as a liberating agent. It depends on the person who wields it.

We must first of all realise which actions bind us. Discriminating between good and evil deeds, we must eschew actions which bind us down to the cycle of birth and death, and perform those actions which ultimately lead us to God. Sri Krishna says:
y}awaRTkmR[ae=NyÇ laekae=y<kmRbNxn>,

yajñ˜rth˜t-karmaõo'nyatra loko'yaÕ-karma-bandhana×
-- III-9
(If a man performs actions which are not dedicated to the Lord (sacrifice in the name of the lord), he is bound by them.)

Sacrifice is a sort of service rendered selflessly in the name of God. Anything done for the sake of God cannot bind us. It is only selfish deeds and actions that bind us further to worldly life. But if we perform actions as an offering to God, the very same chain that binds us becomes a garland and an ornament which enhance the beauty of our person. Earlier it was mentioned that we should avoid attachment while performing action; now it is further said that action should be performed as a sacrifice. Service and sacrifice are the two constituents of a Yajna. Sacrificing whatever we have as a service to God is the highest type of Yajna. Yajna should not be construed in the narrow sense of offering things in the sacrificial fire. It has a wider significance. Any good deed performed desirelessly in the spirit of an offering to God becomes Yajna. How can a war be fought without the play of emotions, was Arjuna’s question and Sri Krishna answers it by saying that he should fight the war desirelessly as a dedication to God and not for reaping any selfish desires.

Only selfish action should be eschewed and it is such action which is criticised by Lord Krishna and not action which is performed as Yajna. Hence it is clear there is no contradiction or inconsistency in Sri Krishna’s advice.

20. Pleasing each other:

All actions should be performed as a Yajna in a spirit of service and sacrifice. Every man born in this world should engage himself in his stipulated duties as a token of gratitude to God and this will keep the wheel of the world moving. We are indebted to God every minute of our existence in this world. The earth, air, fire, water and ether are His gifts and we live by them. The deities that preside over these elements and the gods that control them provide us with the food and drink and activate us. In return for all these bounties enjoyed by us minute by minute, we should realise that we owe Him duties and whatever we do, we should dedicate that to Him, as the Lord of this universe. No mortal or society has such a sway on the whole Universe.
$zavaSyimd< sv¡
... ... ...
Ÿþ˜v˜syam-idaÕ sarvaÕ ... ... ... -- Ishopanishad 1

There is only one supreme Lord over the whole universe. He is Shri Hari. All the things in the Universe are His. How can we partake of the bounties of nature unless we perform our stipulated duties as humble offerings to God? Even the richest man has no right to any of the worldly things unless he too performs his duties in a spirit of dedication to God. On the other hand, even the poorest man has every right to take, within limits, whatever he wants from God’s Universe by performing his stipulated duties. The same idea is expressed in the Isavasya Upanishad.
k…vRÚeveh kmaRi[ ijjIiv;et!
... ... ...
kurvann-eveha karm˜õi jijŸviÿet ... ... ... -- Ishopanishad 2

An individual uses his private property for himself and for his family. To increase his profit he exploits others. In this way the power of some individuals or a party or a group increases, which may lead to monopoly. If the idea that the ownership of all means of production rests neither with the individual nor with the Government but with God, then it will be good both for the individual and the Government and both will prosper. In this way good deeds multiply. If God is the only Lord of the Universe and if His law rules the world, we become his humble and disciplined subjects. We then engage ourselves in actions which not only please God but also serve His other creatures. In this way only we can repay Him. We get food from Him, and in return we should give Him offerings. Puranas say that gods are starved when dharma and karma are at a discount. The Lord and the other lesser gods do accept all our offerings however humble they may be.
zu-< ipbTysaE inTy< nazu-< shir> ipbet!,

þubhaÕ pibatyasau nityaÕ n˜þubhaÕ sahari× pibet

Gods get nourishment so to say by the noble deeds performed by people on the earth. Goodness grows in this world only by the performance of noble deeds. If noble deeds diminish, goodness suffers and godly spirit slowly disappears. Then calamity overtakes the land. Therefore as a token of our gratitude we should offer to God only such things that please Him. Dedicated services formed selflessly is the best offering which man can give to God. This will increase the godly spirit and create a favourable and efficacious atmosphere throughout the world.
prSpr< -avyNt> ïey> prmvaPSyw,

parasparaÕ bh˜vayanta× þreya× param-av˜psyatha -- III-11

21. Yajna and the life cycle:

Yajnas keep the life cycle going. The good and evil deeds performed by us produce good and evil results on nature also. Good deeds ensure prosperity and they ward off evil. All our deeds have some invisible effect upon nature. Atomic radiation is invisible to the human eye but it causes great harm to those who are exposed to it. Our scriptures say that good deeds performed by us affect nature invisibly and there are no reasons to deny them. Some may argue that all around us sin is committed and injustice is perpetrated but still rains come and crops grow. There are persons who ignore medical advice but still are hale and healthy. The answer to this is that there are many causes for an effect. For timely rain and bumper crop there are many natural causes and performance of good deeds by men is certainly one of them.

The good deeds we perform have a twin effect on the world at large, one on the natural and the other on the social. If we perform good deeds in the form of Yajna, our character improves. There will thus be an all-round prosperity. This is the social benefit of Yajna. Besides there will be timely rain and bumper crops and there will be plenty to eat. This is the natural benefit of Yajna. Today everybody is selfish and if Yajna in the true spirit is not performed we are duped of both the fruits of Yajna. Since we have starved the gods by not doing good deeds, we are also punished with starvation.

We have to do our allotted task to keep the life cycle going. By our good deeds and clean dealings we should develop a healthy social environment and strive for the development of the whole society and thus serve the almighty God.
@v< àvitRt< c³< nanuvtRytIh y>,

evaÕ pravartitaÕ cakraÕ n˜nuvartayatŸha ya×
-- III-16

Sri Krishna says that if one keeps himself busy with his own personal affairs and has no time for social work, his life is wasted. A father gives some money to his son and launches him in some business. In the same way the Lord has given us capital of Yajna before launching us into this world.
shy}a> àja> s&òœva puraevac àjapit>,
Anen àsiv:yXvm!
... ... ...
saha-yajñ˜× praj˜× s®þ÷v˜ purov˜ca praj˜pati×|
anena prasaviÿyadhvam ... ... ... -- III-10
"Using the secret of Yajna, enjoy social pleasures, worldly happiness and the otherworldly bliss," saying this the Lord has sent us here. The whole creation is for the spiritual consummation of the soul. God has created this world only to enable the soul to realise its hidden loveliness and identity. For this the Lord has given us the secret of Yajna. Understanding that the design of God is the spiritual evolution of the soul, we should play our part in the evolution of the whole universe. If we ignore this responsibility of ours and fail to perform the Yajna and indulge in narrow selfish interests it will be an act not only anti-God but also anti-world. Even after being indebted to God if we do not redeem our indebtedness by performing holy acts, we shall be committing an unpardonable crime.

Thus besides driving home the fact that duty performed in the form of sacrifice does not lead to bondage, the Gita also aims at convincing that it is absolutely necessary to perform such action with a sense of gratefulness and a desire to guard the interests of maintaining the natural and social establishment in order. The Gita proposes that every one who belongs to mankind should not withdraw in fear from karma as the cause of bondage but should perform actions in the form of Yajna, in a spirit of service to God.

22. Evil deeds cannot be Yajna:

One doubt may arise here. Can we- perform evil deeds and heinous crimes in a spirit of Yajna and escape their consequences? All action is binding. But if it is performed in a spirit of Yajna, it is not binding. Can we perform sinful deeds in a spirit of Yajna and escape its consequences?

First of all we must examine whether sinful deeds can he performed in a spirit of Yajna at all. Freedom from desire and hatred, and devotion to God are the essential elements of the Yajna spirit. Any action can be considered as Yajna only if it is based on these principles. Can anybody indulge in deceit, loot and crime without greed or hatred? If a man is truly devoted to God he cannot have the impudence and arrogance to dedicate the actions not sanctioned by the shastras, to God. Therefore only those deeds which are prescribed by the scriptures and which lead to universal welfare can be performed in the true spirit of Yajna. Even these good deeds, prescribed by the scriptures, bind us if performed for selfish interests, with a mind full of desire and hatred. Deeds prohibited by scriptures do always bind us. The import of Gita is that it is not at all possible to perform them both with a selfish interest as well as in a spirit of Yajna.

23. Remission of action:

If every one is bound to perform duties laid down in the scriptures, then what about the persons who are in a state of samadhi? These people spend days together in contemplation of God utterly unaware of what goes on in the outer world. They have idea neither of the sunrise nor of the sunset. It is impossible for them to perform the duties prescribed for the various times of the day. Can they be condemned for this? Sri Krishna has an answer for this.
ySTvaTmritrev SyadaTmt&PtZc manv>,
AaTmNyev c s<tuòStSy kay¡ n iv*te.

yas-tv-˜tma-ratir-eva sy˜d-˜tma-t®ptaþ-ca m˜nava×
˜tmany-eva ca santuÿ÷as-tasya k˜ryaÕ na vidyate
-- III-17
(For the person who is absorbed in the contemplation of God in a state of samadhi and who is enjoying the supreme bliss of the intuitive sight of God, there is no compulsion for doing any prescribed duties.) But when he comes out of this samadhi state, he is obliged to perform all the prescribed duties. Only those who are liberated and thus unaffected by the laws of nature (muKta>) and those who are in a state of samadhi have no prescribed duties. The teaching of the Gita is that all the rest have to perform the prescribed duties in a spirit of service to God.

24. Obligation of action on the Jnani:

Some people argue that only in the state of ajnana there is room for performing action and for a jnani there is absolutely no duties to perform. The Gita does not subscribe to this view. Jnanis are only those who are capable of showing by their own practice the ideal of disinterested action. Only such persons have acquired the mental poise to perform action in a spirit of Yajna. Besides, by their realisation of God they have developed the sense of devotion to God and they have no worldly desires and so they can perform their actions with a pure mind. If such Jnanis do not have to perform action, then who else can set an example to the world? God stands eternally liberated. Nor is He bound by the laws of prescription or prohibition (ivixin;ex). Even He performs action to exemplify the lofty ideal of karmayoga; where do others stand?
n me pawaRiSt ktRVy< iÇ;u laeke;u ik<cn,
nanvaPtmvaPtVy< vtR @v c kmRi[.

na me p˜rth˜sti kartavyaÕ triÿu lokeÿu kiñcana
n˜nav˜ptam-av˜ptavyaÕ varta eva ca karmaõi
-- III-22
(Oh Partha, even though my desires are ever fulfilled and I am not obliged to perform any duties, I do continue to perform them.) So says the Lord. Even Arjuna is not an ordinary person. He is an incarnation of god Indra. Unless he had realised the supreme God he could not have attained this position. The Lord is advising even him to perform actions. This shows that whether one is a jnani or not, he has to perform action.

This God-created world which is meant as a ground for the perfecting of souls, is real. This ground is not illusory. As soon as you attain spiritual knowledge, the world does not fade away into nothingness as some think. The world is the bridge by which we cross the ocean of "Samsara" and reach God. If this is a dream world and if it disappears as soon as we wake up into perfect knowledge, the jnani will not see any world at all and the question of his performing duty in this world will not arise. But the Gita preaches the performance of action both before as well as after the attainment of spiritual knowledge. Therefore the Gita does not subscribe to the view that the world and actions performed in it are illusory. He who denies the reality of the world also indirectly denies the reality of God.
AsTymàitó< te jgda÷rnIZvrm!,

asatyam-apratiÿ÷haÕ te jagad-˜hur-anŸþvaram
-- XVI-8
If from the sight of a jnani the world disappears, then we will have to deny the existence of jnanis who convey the vision of God to men. He will have no world to preach to. But many a prophet had walked this earth and preached the religion of God. All prophets are jnanis. Therefore we have to believe that this world is real. The jnanis have to show the way of good action to others by doing it themselves. They do it for setting an excellent example to others and to attain intenser bliss in salvation. They perform action up to the very end of their existence till they attain salvation. Even if they reach the very top of the ladder they tarry there to give a helping hand to other aspirants to climb likewise, as a man might stop and help the children climb up.

25. Difference between jnani and ajnani:

But there is a lot of difference between the actions performed by a jnani and an ajnani. After having obtained the sight of the glorious Paramatma, the jnani has no desire left for any sensuous objects. All his love is for God alone. Hence no worldly desires tempt him. And he performs desireless action in a perfect way. Outwardly, there may seem no difference between the actions of a jnani and an ajnani. Two lakes may look alike when viewed from outside. But if you dive in you may find in one more mud than water while the other may be full of crystal clear water. Similarly, in the deeds of a jnani and an ajnani there may be outward resemblance. We cannot judge the spiritual depth of the individual from outside. If his heart is full of wickedness, his actions cannot bear good fruit. It is not how much you do but how you do that matters. A rich man may donate a lot of money in ostentation for his own glorification, but if a poor man gives his little mite with a pure heart it becomes a greater and real sacrifice. We must judge one’s actions not by the external deeds but by the spirit with which they are performed. There is a beautiful parable in the Mahabharata. Once there was a famine. A family consisting of four members after starving for many days at last managed to get a little grain and they cooked their food. At that time the deity of dharma appeared in the form of a guest. The head of the family welcomed him and offered him his share of the food. The guest ate the food but he was still hungry. So the lady of the house, her son and daughter-in-law in turn, one by one, offered their share of food, vying with each other. God was pleased by the spirit of sacrifice shown by this poor family, and blessed them. When the food was thus offered to the guest some water spilled on the floor and a mongoose which got wet in this water had its half portion turned into gold. Even if the mongoose rolled in the holy bath water (Av-&y) from sacrifices performed by kings and emperors, the other side was not transformed into gold. The moral of this parable is that it is not quantity but quality that matters. It is not how much you give but how you give it that really counts. Sincerity and purity of heart enhance the value of the sacrifice and offerings, however little they may be in quantity. The actions performed by the jnanis is of a very much higher order than the action performed by ordinary persons. Realising this difference between the jnani and the ajnani, we should strive our utmost to follow in the footsteps of the jnanis.

26. Harmonisation of knowledge with action:

Some may object to the theory that all should perform action and without action it is not possible to attain liberation. For liberation there are two paths, one is of knowledge and the other of action. When there are two clearly independent paths, why should action be imposed on all? Why can’t we attain liberation by following the path of knowledge, without performing any action?

Sri Madhvacharya discusses this question elaborately in his Gita Tatparya. If there is no action in the path of knowledge then there should be no knowledge in the path of action also. Is it possible to attain liberation by mere action unillumined by knowledge? No. Just as knowledge is associated with right action, action is also associated with right knowledge. In a jnani, if there is a preponderance of action, we call him a karmayogi; if there is a preponderance of knowledge we call him a jnanayogi. If we ask anyone to fetch water he fetches it in a tumbler. Do we object and ask him why he brought the tumbler also when we had merely asked him for water? How can water be fetched at all except in a vessel? Similarly knowledge cannot manifest itself except through action. As the medium of the body is necessary for the soul to reveal itself, so also there is no expression of knowledge except through action. If knowledge without action is lame, action without knowledge is blind. Without a confluence of both, life will never be perfectly beautiful. Be he a jnanayogi or a karmayogi, be he a jnani or an ajnani, all have to perform action in this world. Eschewing action completely is not only impracticable but also detrimental, says the Gita.

27. Death in a proper pursuit is worthy:
tiTk< kmRi[ "aere ma< inyaejyis kezv,
tat-kiÕ karmaõi ghore m˜Õ niyojayasi keþava -- III-1
Arjuna’s question, "If knowledge is superior to action then why are you goading me into terrible action?" still remains unanswered. "When there is a better method of jnanayoga followed by Sanaka and others, why should I follow the terrible path of action and engage myself in warfare? Why can’t I proceed to a forest and spend my days peacefully in prayer and meditation?" The Gita answers this question thus: diverse paths are open to each one of us. But the consummation of one’s life lies in identifying the pursuit proper to oneself and following it. The duties bestowed on each vary according to his individual nature (Sv-av) and fitness. We should determine the kind of our duty suitable to our individual identity. Shuka and Sanaka followed the path of jnana while Manu and Janaka followed the path of karma, each one according to his proper disposition based on his personal identity. Arjuna, too, by his very nature is born for karma yoga. He is not meant to lead the predominantly peaceful life of a mendicant. He belongs to the superior category of souls (Aaixkar-s). Putting down the unrighteous and wicked people and protecting good people is the activity which belongs to him as a qualified soul. If he shuns his proper pursuit and leads a life not appointed for him, he cannot accomplish his full development. Thus in the case of each and every person, the path of pursuit is determined by the special individuality of each.

Similarly we should follow strictly the duties that accrue to us by social obligation, according to the ways of life laid down on the basis of ‘varna’ and ‘ashrama’. As one determines one’s individual duty by examining the nature of one’s self, he should also follow the duties entrusted to him by the particularity of the varna-division to which he belongs and thus discharge his responsibility to the society. Since the individual way and the way of the particular varna both belong to one’s proper pursuit (SvxmR) Arjuna has to accept, from his twin-responsibility, the way of kshatriya, shunning the way of a sannyasi. Sannyasa or vanaprastha (entering the forest) may be superior but having been destined to bear the responsibility of destroying evil and protecting the good, it is not proper for Arjuna to abdicate his responsibility and become a sannyasi or retire into a forest. There are many officers in the Government. Each has duties and responsibilities allotted to him. If he neglects his duties and engages himself in other work however useful it may be, he will not be considered as a good officer. There are soldiers and administrators. During office hours if they engage themselves, thinking it to be holy, either in the study of scriptures or in meditation, that would not be dharma. Only by doing the allotted work in all sincerity can a man achieve his fullest personality. A man’s dignity and worth cannot be judged merely by looking at the work he is engaged in.

In the same way, the course of action to be followed varies with the peculiar situation and context of that action. Suppose you are sitting on a river bank engaged in meditation and you see a man drowning in the river in front of you. It is but proper that you throw off your meditation and try and save the drowning man. Meditation is no doubt meritorious but not under such circumstances. Going to the temple is good in itself, but boys should not miss their classes and go to the temple for that matter. That is not proper. If ladies neglect their husbands, and children and household duties and engage themselves in what is called ‘social work’ outside their home, it would not be proper.

In Mahabharata there is a parable illustrating the importance of every individual performing his rightful duty. A young Brahmin boy, the only son of his old parents, forsakes them and retires to the forest and performs penance for a number of years and acquires great spiritual powers. Once while sitting under the shade of a tree, a bird drops its filth on him. The Brahmin gets wild and stares at the bird and the bird at once gets reduced to ashes. He is proud of his spiritual powers. Roaming from village to village and begging for alms, the Brahmin comes to a house and stands in front of the gate. The lady of the house is a very noble person. Just as she is about to give alms to the Brahmin, she sees her husband coming in from outside, tired. Forgetting the guest, she engages herself in caring for her tired husband and looking after his comforts. After some time she remembers the guest and taking the alms runs towards him. The Brahmin gets into a rage and however much she may implore, he does not cool down. Finally the lady says: "I am not that bird which you reduced to ashes in the forest." The Brahmin is stunned, and then is cooled down and implores the lady to tell him how she came to know about the incident of the bird. She then directs him to a butcher Dharmavyadha. The Brahmin hesitates to go near him. Dharmavyadha himself asks him: "Are you the Brahmin sent by the lady?" He is again stunned and asks him how did he come to know about the lady. Dharmavyadha then explains the secret of his strength. He describes the principles on which he runs his business and shows him actually how he has been serving his old parents. This butcher and this lady who were serving their old parents and husband whilst still engaged in their day-to-day work earned greater merit than this Brahmin. Forsaking one’s duty cast upon him by virtue of his station in life and caste will not earn any merit even if he is engaged in other noble duties. The Brahmin in the parable of the Dharmavyadha is a good illustration of this principle.
SvxmeR inxn< ïey> prxmaeR -yavh>.

sva-dharme nidhanaÕ þreya× para-dharmo bhay˜vaha×
-- III - 35
(It is worthier to die following one’s own proper pursuit; an alien pursuit is perilous.)

Arjuna’s personality is that of a karmayogi. He belongs to the kshatriya varna ordained to carry the burden of protecting others. He has to take part in the holy war and he has no right to retire to a forest to perform penance. Milk is no doubt superior to water. But if a fish is put in milk instead of water, it will die. Similarly every man should determine the duties entrusted to him by considering his individual nature, the varna status and the context of action.

One can pick and choose a wife. If he does not like her, he may even divorce her. But can he choose his mother? Can he ever discard his mother as ugly and take on another? When we are born, the mother is there already. We have to accept her as our mother and perform our duties and responsibilities as a son, and there is no choice. The same is the case with dharma or duty. When we are born, this question as to what duty we have to perform is decided for us. We should not try to change it. Whatever duty is given to us we should discharge it sincerely and to the best of our ability. We should not commit the impertinence of venturing to change it. Sincere adherence to the given dharma itself is termed as "varna dharma."

28. The special virtues of the caste system:

Why have our forefathers created this caste system and what is its significance? Should each and every individual be free to choose his own profession or should the Government interfere in this and regulate? Those who uphold individual liberty advocate the former view. But such individual liberty may be harmful for the country as a whole. All might rush into profitable business only and other less profitable business may be completely neglected. If farmers grow only the lucrative crops like tobacco at the expense of rice and wheat there will be an all-round food scarcity. The equilibrium between the various professions will be lost and society will be lopsided. This will give rise to cut-throat competition. Some professions will be overcrowded while others will be neglected. Now-a-days there is a great rush for admission into medical and engineering colleges and not the arts and science colleges. We should ensure balanced and all-round development of the whole nation. Hence there is the other school of men who argue that we should force people to take up stipulated professions. Work should be distributed among all people and it should be got done, if need be, by force. Individual liberty should be curbed in the larger interests of the state. In some countries with dictatorial Governments such compulsion is resorted to and people are put to forced labour. When a man is grown up and his likes and dislikes are already well set, it is cruel to force him to do some work against his will. He will not be able to adjust himself to his new task for which he has neither the inclination nor aptitude. Also, while distributing work, there is scope for partiality, favouritism and nepotism. By such enforcement there will be scope for the suppression of the individuality of persons.

It is better to catch one young and mould him into whatever profession you want him to follow in later life. When he grows he will naturally embrace the profession which is waiting for him. There is no need for any coercion. There is neither competition nor compulsion. The question who should be trained in which profession is thus solved quite easily. Depending upon his aptitude and the environment in which he is growing, he has to select his profession. The hereditary traits flow in the family. He will naturally show an aptitude in the particular profession of his forefathers. He also grows up in the same environment and so the training for such a profession is given to him from his childhood in the ideal atmosphere of his home. A cobbler’s son learns his father’s profession much more easily than an outsider. Hereditary traits and environment are two powerful factors in deciding the aptitude of any individual. For any profession, education should start from childhood itself. By this way, enough people are allocated to each and every profession and there is no room for a cut-throat competition, and an all-round progress of the whole society is ensured. All these are achieved by the caste system which has been practised by our worthy ancestors. It is not narrow-mindedness that is at the back of the caste system. On the other hand, it is with the highest motive of material and spiritual advancement of the whole society that this caste system has been instituted. Whoever performs his caste duty for which he has aptitude and training, with the greatest devotion to God, earns the highest merit. No man is great by virtue of his caste alone. Devotion, knowledge and good nature are not the exclusive property or prerogative of any one caste. In fact, these are open to people of all castes, whoever can acquire them. On the other hand, to whatever caste one may belong, if he performs his allotted duties with sincerity and devotion, he is considered great.
Sviviht v&Åya -KTya -gvdaraxn<prmaexmR>,

svavihita v®tty˜ bhakty˜ bhagavad˜r˜dhanamparamodharma×
-- Gita Bhashya
(The loftiest dharma lies in serving God with his proper pursuit and devotion.)

Man’s greatness is measured by the yardstick of his devotion to God, good nature and right conduct. The butcher and the noble lady in the parable are worthier than the Brahmin saint. The merchant Tuladhara becomes a master to Jabali Rishi.
SvkmR[a tm_yCyR isiÏ< ivNdit manv>.

svakarmaõ˜ tam-abhyarcya siddhiÕ vindati m˜nava×
-- XVIII - 46
(A man accomplishes his final goal by worshipping God, practising actions proper to him.)

Performing actions according to our hereditary caste system in itself is a worship of God. If you neglect this, God will not be pleased even if you worship him in manifold ways. To put down the enemies of God and wicked men like Duryodhana is the supreme duty of a person born in the kshatriya caste. Arjuna being a kshatriya and a karmayogi, it behoves him to fight in this holy war and rid the world of evil forces. Thus has Sri Krishna advised Arjuna and rid him of his doubts.

29. Desire, the arch-enemy of the soul:

Even if we know what is right and what is wrong and even if we know that it is bad to commit sin, why are we forced into it? What is it that drags us into sin in spite of ourselves.
Awken àyuKtae=y< pap< crit pUé;>,

atha-kena prayukto'yaÕ p˜paÕ carati p¨ruÿa×
-- III-36
Arjuna asks the above question on behalf of all of us. If we critically examine the forces which drag us into sin and identify the enemy, we might be able to overcome them gradually. Sri Krishna says that ‘desire’ (kam) is that enemy. Desire and its concomitant ‘anger’ (³aex) are the cause of all sinful deeds in this world. Man is impelled by a great desire to amass wealth and enjoy himself. To achieve this he commits sin. If there are any obstructions for the fulfilment of his desire, he gets angry and even commits violence and murder. Desire is at the root of all evil deeds. All good men should try to conquer this enemy.

Suppressed desire gives rise to anger and so Krishna even calls desire by the name of anger itself.
kam @; Kraex @;
... ... ...
k˜ma eÿa krodha eÿa ... ... ... -- III-37
Desire is never sated by the enjoyment of the objects of desire. Instead, it grows more as the fire does with fuel,
mhaznae mhapaPma,

mah˜-þano mah˜-p˜pm˜
-- III-37
It is a terrible glutton and a monstrous source of sin. Is it possible to quench fire with fuel?
n jatu kam> kamanamup-aegen zaMyit,

na j˜tu k˜ma× k˜m˜n˜mupabhogena þ˜myati -- (Manu 2, 94) -- (Mahabharata, Adi Parva)
This is the lesson learnt by King Yayati. Even when he grew old, his desire for sex was not satiated and he became young again and enjoyed and he realised that sexual desire was never abated but became ever stronger. Then wisdom dawned on him when he realised that we can keep desire under control not by serving but by subjugating it.

Some time ago in Bombay a young couple committed suicide. The husband had a good job, a Fiat and a decent salary. But because they could not afford an air-conditioner in their bedroom, the couple committed suicide. The more gadgets we have, the more do we hanker after them and make ourselves wretched. This suicide episode gives an inkling into the mentality of the twentieth century people. In the west there was a king. He was a gourmet. However much he ate he was not satisfied and felt like eating more. The stomach revolted, no doubt. It is said that soon after eating he used to take some medicine to vomit whatever he had eaten and start all over again. It is a pity that he became a slave to his tongue. There is a famous saying: "At first we drink liquor. Later on, liquor drinks us." Desire is thus insatiable. The more you enjoy and yield to your desire, the more powerful does it become and it holds you completely in its grip. We may satiate hunger but not desire. The Gita describes it as
... ... ...
duÿp¨reõ˜nalena-ca ... ... ... -- III-39
(An insatiable fire)

30. The way desire invades man:

xUmenaiVryte viûyRwadzaeR mlen c,
ywaeLbenav&tae g-RStwa tenedmav&tm!.

dh¨men˜vriyate vahnir-yath˜darþo malena ca
yatholben˜v®to garbhas-tath˜ tenedam-˜v®tam
-- III-38
(Just as fire is covered by smoke, mirror by dust and the embryo by the foetus, so is everyone enveloped in desire.)
All men are subject to this force of desire; only, some more, and others less. Desire envelopes some in the same way as the smoke envelopes fire. The glow of the fire is no doubt seen through the smoke but not so well. Some others are covered by desire in the way a mirror is covered by dust. You may still see your reflection through the mirror, ever so dimly. But in some others the desire completely covers them like the amnion covers the embryo. Thus desire wields its sway on all mankind in one way or the other.
xUmenaiVryte viû
... ... ...
dh¨men˜vriyate vahni ... ... ... -- III-38
When desire envelopes us, it hides the beauty of God from us. God is not affected by it. It is only we who are denied the sight of God by this desire. The cloud covers the sun. The sun is not affected by it but glows ever so brightly. While smoke covers fire, the fire itself burns brightly; only we are not able to see it. Similarly, desire does not affect God but only prevents us from having His full and uninterrupted view.
ywadzaeR mlen c,

yath˜darþo malena ca
-- III-38
Desire pollutes our heart. It thus cannot reveal the true nature of the objects we perceive. A dirty mirror cannot reflect objects properly. Similarly, when covered by desire, our inner equipment cannot function properly.
ywaeLbenav&tae g-R>
… … …
yatholben˜v®to garbha× ... ... ... -- III-38
The soul in the grip of desire becomes helpless. Because of the embryonic cover, the child inside is cribbed and confined and cannot stretch its legs properly. The soul also, being in the clutches of desire, becomes cribbed and confined and cannot achieve anything worthwhile. This stanza illustrates beautifully how desire affects different strata of people and how in the same individual it affects the sense of his identity, the heart and the perception of God.
ivÏ(enimh vEir[m!.

viddhy-enam-iha vairiõam
-- III-37
(Know that in the matter of realisation, desire is the sole enemy.) It should be our primary concern to overcome this internal enemy.

31. Knowledge is the means to overcome desire:

Desire and anger attack us from the citadels of the senses and the mind. Therefore to overcome desire and anger, we have first to control our senses. In this spiritual warfare against desire and anger, knowledge will be our most potent weapon. Acquiring spiritual knowledge, we realise our own potentialities, our duties and responsibilities and thus become able to control our senses step by step. The intellect excites the mind; the mind excites the senses; from the senses rise desire and anger, and their consequences. If we get to know the presiding deities of these senses, mind and the intellect then we can proceed further to get to know the supreme power controlling these deities and then it will become but child’s play to control our senses. Only when the scientists had discovered the fundamental laws governing matter and energy were they able to control nature and utilise it for their purpose. Similarly, by understanding nature and the fundamental forces animating the senses, we will be eminently able to control them and use them to our advantage. There is so much of constructive energy latent in nature as well as in senses. Even like the natural waste, the abuse of the power of our senses is a great national loss. It can be tapped and used for constructive and nation-building purposes. All the waters of the river which go waste could be stored in huge reservoirs and used profitably either for irrigation or power generation. In fact it has been done in many places. Similarly the human energy can also be utilised constructively by controlling the senses. Such a constructive use of physical and mental energy is possible only if we lead a disciplined life with full control over our senses, mind and reason.

There are two animating powers which dwell in every insentient object, which enable it to function variously in accordance with its inherent nature. The two principles, or rather the agents, are the deity presiding (Ai-maindevta) over that particular object and the Supreme Lord. The deities are those who, under the control of the Supreme Lord, activate different objects; the indwelling controller (A<tyaRim) the omnipresent God is Sri Narayana who moves and sustains the presiding deities and both the animate jeevas and the inanimate things. By understanding these two principles, the individual presiding deities and the Universal Lord, we can control all matter and energy. We should understand the nature and power of the presiding deities like Chandra, Surya, Varuna, Yama, Indra, Shiva, Vayu and Brahma and the gradations among them and the way the higher divinity controls the lower. This gradation itself is called (devta tartMy). The physical and chemical nature of objects are derived from their presiding deities and the differences in the power and potency of the presiding deities account for the different chemical and physical properties of objects. To discipline our lives we should also understand both the Supreme Power and the presiding deity of our senses, mind and reason, all residing within us, propitiate them and obtain their grace. The reason will not then excite the mind and the mind will not ruffle the senses. It is only with the help and grace of these spiritual powers within us that we can over come the evil and demonic forces of desire and anger. The knowledge of these ‘Para’ (The Supreme Lord) and ‘Apara’ (the presiding deities) spiritual agents will be the most potent weapon for us for suppressing our enemies like desire and anger. The knowledge of and devotion to the Supreme Power controlling all material universe will gradually increase our soul force and sense of duty. When we are armed with such power and integrity, how can internal enemies like desire and anger dare attack us? On the other hand, if we do not believe in God and if we do not propitiate God and earn His Grace and if we do not lead a good, clean and moral life, naturally we fall a prey to our own internal enemies such as desire and anger.
@v< buÏe> pr< budœXva s<St_yaTmanmaTmna,
jih zÇu< mhabahae kamêp< Êrasdm!.

evaÕ buddhe× paraÕ buddhv˜ saÕstabhy˜tm˜nam-˜tman˜
jahi þatruÕ mah˜-b˜ho k˜ma-r¨paÕ dur˜sadam
-- III-43
(Understanding the Lord to be superior to the deity of intellect, controlling the mind with the superior intellect, destroy the enemy in the shape of desire, who is all but invincible.)

Thus, in the third chapter, the Lord has stated that with the knowledge of the Supreme God and other deities we should conquer our internal enemies and understand our prescribed duties and perform them selflessly in a spirit of dedication to God.

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