14. Karma Needs Vikarma To Complement It
Brothers, in the last chapter, we
discussed the yoga of desireless action. It is impossible
to attain desirelessness if we give up swadharma and
embrace the dharma which is not ours. It is a trader’s
swadharma to sell indigenous goods. But when he gives it up
and starts selling foreign goods imported from distant lands,
his motive is nothing but to earn more profit. How can such work
be free from desire? Pursuit of swadharma is therefore
indispensable for desireless work. But swadharma could
also be pursued with an eye on the gains. Take the case of
non-violence. Violence is taboo for a votary of non-violence;
but he could be outwardly nonviolent while being steeped in
violence inwardly. For, violence is an attribute of the mind.
The mind would not be non-violent merely by giving up outward
violence. A sword in hand is a sure sign of a violent mind; but
one does not become non-violent merely by throwing the sword
away. The same is true about swadharma also. To have
desirelessness, one must definitely avoid dharma which is
not one’s own; but that is only the first step towards
desirelessness. It is not sufficient for attainment of that
Desirelessness is a state of the mind.
Pursuit of swadharma is necessary but not sufficient for
acquiring that state. Other means must also be used towards this
end. To light a lamp, oil and wick are necessary but not sufficient.
It is also necessary to have a flame. Darkness disappears only when
we light a flame. How to light a flame? For this one must purify
one’s mind. The mind should be thoroughly cleansed through intense
self-examination. The Lord has given this important advice at the
end of the Third Chapter. The Fourth Chapter has its genesis in this
- The Gita uses the word 'karma'
(action) in the sense of swadharma. We eat, drink, sleep;
these are all actions. But these are not the actions that the
Gita refers to when it talks of karma. Karma
refers to the performance of swadharma. But in order to
attain desirelessness through such karma, an important
aid is necessary. One must overcome desire, attachment and
anger. One cannot have desirelessness unless and until the mind
has become pure and calm like the waters of the Ganga. The
actions necessary for the purification of mind are called 'vikarma'
by the Gita. Karma, vikarma and akarma—these
three terms are important in the Fourth Chapter. Karma
means the outward actions done in the pursuit of swadharma.
Vikarma means total involvement of the mind therein. We may
bow to somebody, but that outward action is meaningless without
inner humility in the mind. There should be unity between the
inner and the outer. I may worship the image of the Lord; but
that act is worthless if it is not accompanied with devotion. In
the absence of devotion, the idol will just be a piece of stone
and so shall I; and the worship will only mean that a stone is
facing a stone! Desireless, selfless karmayoga is
attained only when outward actions are complemented with the
inward action of the purification of mind.
- In the term 'desireless action', the adjective 'desireless'
is more important than the word ‘action’, just as in the phrase
'non-violent non-cooperation', the adjective 'non-violent'
is more important than the word 'non-cooperation'.
Non-cooperation without non-violence could be a terrible thing.
In the same way, it could be dangerous if performance of
swadharma is not complemented with vikarma of the
Those engaged in social service today
are certainly pursuing their swadharma. When people are poor
and destitute, it is a natural duty to serve them and make them
happy. But all social workers cannot, therefore, be called
karmayogis. Social service without pure motives in the heart of
the workers could have disastrous results. Such a social service can
generate in equal measure the vanity, hatred, envy and selfishness
that we generate when we serve our families exclusively. This is
clearly evident in the world of social work today.
15. Karma + Vikarma = Akarma2
The mind should be fully in tune with and involved in work. 'Vikarma'
is the word that the Gita uses for this involvement and
application of the mind in work.
'Vikarma' means the special karma which varies with the needs of
each individual mind. Many kinds of vikarma have been
illustratively mentioned in the Fourth Chapter. They have been
further elaborated from the Sixth Chapter onwards. Only when we
perform this special karma, only when the mind is in tune
with the outward action, will the flame of desirelessness be
lighted. Desirelessness is gradually developed when karma
and vikarma come together. The body and the mind are
distinct entities; so the means to be employed for their growth
are bound to be different. The goal is reached when they are in
tune with each other. To achieve harmony between them, the
authors of the scriptures have prescribed a two-fold path. In
bhaktiyoga (the yoga of devotion) they have
prescribed penance and austerities without and japa
within. If the japa within does not accompany outer forms
of penance like fasting, the latter would be in vain. One should
always reflect on why one is doing penance; the motive, the
spirit should always be alive in the mind like a burning flame.
The word 'upavas'
(fasting) etymologically means 'to dwell close to God'.
In order that our mind and heart may dwell close to God, sensual
pleasures are to be abjured. But if we give up such pleasures
and do not think of God, of what value is the physical act of
fasting? If, instead of thinking of God, we think of things to
eat and drink while fasting, that
'fast’ would be worse
than a feast! In fact, there is nothing more dangerous than
thinking about sensual pleasures. Tantra (technique,
means) must be accompanied by mantra (pondering over,
meditation). Tantra in itself is not important; and
mantra without action has no value. Only when the hands
are engaged in service and there is spirit of service in the
heart can true service be rendered.
- Performance of swadharma
will be a dreary affair without the warmth of feelings in the
heart. It would not then blossom forth and bear the fruit of
desirelessness. Suppose we undertake the work of nursing the
sick. If there is no compassion in the heart, it would be a
burdensome drudgery for us. The patients too will find the
service to be a burdensome obligation. If the mind is not
absorbed in it, such service will boost the ego. Expectations
will then arise in the mind: "I
am helping them today; tomorrow they should help me. They should
praise me. People should admire me."
Or else, we may get fed up and complain that the patient is
peevish and irritable even though we are taking so much care of
him. Sick men are usually in a depressed and irritable mood. If
the spirit of service is lacking, we would get tired of nursing
- If the mind is in tune with the
work, the work is transformed into something unique. When
vikarma joins karma, desirelessness comes into being.
When a spark touches the gunpowder, it explodes. Karma is
like the gunpowder. It works wonders when the flame of
vikarma ignites it. Karma in itself is inert and
lifeless; it is the spark of vikarma that makes it
indescribably powerful. We may keep a packet of gunpowder in our
pockets or handle it with impunity; but when ignited, it would
blow up the body into pieces. The infinite power in swadharma
is likewise dormant. Combine it with vikarma, and then
see what transformation it can bring about! The resultant
explosion would reduce to ashes ego, desires, passions and
anger, and then supreme wisdom will be attained.
- Action is in the nature of
kindling, burning of whichresults into knowledge When you
ignite a log of wood, it turns into burning coal. How different
is the fire from the log! But it is, after all, the log which
has undergone this transformation. When vikarma is
united with karma, karma attains a divine
radiance. A mother’s action of caressing her child is apparently
insignificant; but who can describe the upsurge of emotions it
gives rise to in the hearts of both the mother and the child?
It would be utterly nonsensical if one were to say that such
emotions would result if a hand of such weight and such softness
is moved up and down such a back. Yes, the action is
insignificant; but the mother has put her whole heart into it,
and it is this vikarma that causes unprecedented joy.
There is an incident described in the Ramcharitmanas (the
Ramayana written by saint Tulsidas). The vanaras3 had
come wounded and bleeding after a battle with the demons.
They were in great pains. Lord Rama just looked at them with
love, and all their pain vanished. It would be ridiculous if
someone else were to try to bring about such a result by looking
at them in an outwardly similar way.
- Vikarma, combined with
karma, results in a powerful explosion of energy, and then
akarma is produced. A big log of wood, when burnt, turns
into just a handful of harmless ash. In the same way karma,
ignited by vikarma, ends up in producing akarma.
Is there any relation between the properties of wood and that of
the ash? Absolutely none. You can collect the ash in your
hands and merrily smear it all over your body without harm. But
there is no doubt that the ash has come out of the burning of
that log of wood.
- When vikarma is united with
karma, akarma results. What does it mean? It
means that one does not then have the feeling of having done
anything. Action does not weigh on the mind of the actor. We
act, but still we are not the doers. As the Gita says, you are
not the slayer even if you slay somebody. A mother may give a
thrashing to her child, but the child will still turn to her for
solace. He would not do so if you thrash him. It is so because
the mother's heart is pure. Her action is totally devoid of any self-interest.
Vikarma, or the purity of mind, erases the
'action-ness' of the action. Infused with the inner vikarma, Lord
Rama’s action of looking at the vanaras became a sheer
outpouring of love that acted as a balm on their wounds. But it
did not tire Rama a bit. Action performed with pure heart is
free from any attachment. There is, therefore, no question of
any sin nor merit remaining as a residue after that action is
Otherwise, an action puts great burden
and pressure on the mind and the heart. Suppose, news breaks out
now that all the political prisoners are going to be released
tomorrow. Imagine the resulting commotion! We are always agitated
and strained with anxiety by the thought of the goodness or badness
of our actions. Action engulfs us from all sides. It catches us by
the scruff of our neck. Just as the sea-waves dash against the shore
and make channels into it, the forceful waves of karma enter
the mind and agitate it. Dualities of pleasure and pain are created.
Peace of the mind is lost. Even after the action is over, its
momentum remains. It takes hold of the mind and makes it restless.
But if karma is coupled with
vikarma, any amount of action does not tire. The mind remains
calm, peaceful and radiant. When vikarma is poured into
karma, it becomes akarma. It is as if karma is
erased after it is over.
16. Art Of Akarma Should Be Learnt From The Saints
How does karma become akarma? From whom can we learn this art? From the saints,
of course. The Lord says at the end of this Chapter, "Go to the saints and learn from them."
Language fails in describing how karma is transformed
into akarma. To gain an understanding of this, one has to
sit at the feet of the saints. The Lord is described as
is fully at peace even though He is lying on the thousand-hooded
cobra (Shesha). The saints too do hundreds of actions, but do
not allow even a little ripple of commotion to arise in the
still waters of their minds. This remarkable thing can never be
understood unless the lives of saints are observed from close
- Nowadays, books have become quite
cheap. There is no dearth of teachers. Education is widespread
and cheap. Universities are liberally doling out knowledge. But
nobody seems to have assimilated it. In fact, the more one looks
at the heaps of books, the more one realises how necessary it is
to sit at the feet of the saints. Knowledge encased within
the thick covers of the books does not come out of those covers.
I am always reminded of an abhang (devotional poem) in
this context: 'काम
क्रोध आड पडिले पर्वत, राहिला अनंत पैलीकडे ।।’
('The high mountains of desires, passions and anger bar the way to the
Lord.') Similarly, the way to knowledge is barred by the heaps of books. Although
libraries are everywhere, man still seems to be a
monkey—ignorant and uncouth. There is a big library at Baroda.
Once a gentleman was carrying a thick volume with a lot of
pictures, thinking it to be an English book. When I browsed
through it, I found it to be a French book! The gentleman must
have thought that as the book was in the Roman script, had nice
pictures and good binding, it must be full of knowledge!
- Every year, tens of thousands of
books are published in English. This is so in other languages
too. With such spread of knowledge, how is it that man behaves
so stupidly? Some say that the power of the memory has weakened,
some say that concentration is becoming difficult, some say that
whatever a man reads, appears true to him. Some say that there
is no time left for thinking! The Lord says to Arjuna,
"Yoga will be far
away so long as your intellect, confused by listening to
different things, remains unsteady. So stop reading books and
listening to others and surrender yourself to the saints. There
you would read the book of life. Your doubts will get dissolved
by the silent, wordless sermons there. You would know how to
remain perfectly serene even while constantly performing acts of
service, how the heart could be tuned to produce music without a
break even as the storm of action rages outside."
- Vikarma is normally translated as wrong or
forbidden action. Vinoba is perhaps the only one who has
given the term a different meaning, which has been explained in
the following paragraphs. It can be considered a major
contribution to the interpretation of the Gita.
- Commentators have usually translated it as inaction, but Vinoba's interpretation
is refreshingly different.
- Vanara (commonly believed to be monkeys) was probably an aboriginal
community living in the forests of south India. They
formed Lord Rama's army which vanquished the forces of Ravan,
the demon king of Lanka.