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ASSOCIATES OF MAHATMA GANDHI > VINOBA BHAVE > TALKS ON THE GITA > Vikrama1 : The Key to Karmayoga
 

05. Two-Fold State Of Akarma: Yoga And Sannyasa

17. Outward Action: A Mirror Of The Mind

  1. Samsara1 is something very terrible. It is often compared to an ocean. If you are in the midst of an ocean, you see water wherever you look. Same is the case with samsara. It has surrounded us from all the sides. Even if a man leaves his home and devotes himself to public service, samsara does not leave his mind. It is there even if one retires to a cave to lead a hermit’s life. He may have got only a few possessions there, but they become the centre of his attachment and samsara engulfs him there too. Just as a single currency note can hold one thousand rupees, a loin-cloth too can hold unlimited attachment. There is, therefore, no attenuation of samsara simply through reduction in the involvement in worldly business and/or reduction in one’s possessions. Whether you say 10/25 or 2/5, it means the same. We may be in the midst of our family or alone in a forest, the mind remains attached to samsara. Two yogis may go to the Himalayan caves for doing penance, but even there they may burn with envy if they happen to hear each others praise. The same thing happens in the realm of social service.

  2. Samsara has thus engulfed us and is ever tormenting us. It does not leave us even if we decide to remain within the bounds of swadharma. Even if we curtail our activities, engagements and affairs, attachment to I and mine’ remains the same. It is said that the demons could become small or big at will. Samsara too is like a demon. And a demon remains a demon, whatever be its size. You may live in a palace or in a hut, samsara is equally inescapable. Even if we limit samsara by choosing to remain within the bounds of swadharma, there would still be conflicts and you will feel, Enough of it! Therein too you will have to deal with a whole lot of individuals and institutions and that will exasperate you; you would become disgusted. But then that is the time of trial for your mind. Detachment does not automatically result from the performance of swadharma. To curtail activities is not the same thing as getting detached.

  3. How can then one attain detachment?  For this, the mind must cooperate fully. Nothing can be achieved without the cooperation of the mind. Parents sometimes keep their wards in a residential school. There the boy leads a disciplined life. He wakes up early, takes exercises regularly and is generally away from bad habits. But as soon as he comes home, he abandons all the good habits. A man is not like a lump of wet clay to which you can give any form you like. He has a mind of his own, which must be receptive to assume that form. If there is no cooperation on the part of his mind, all efforts to educate him would be in vain. Cooperation of the mind is, therefore, extremely necessary irrespective of the means adopted.

  4. Outward performance of swadharma and the inward mental vikarma—both are necessary. Outward work is, of course, necessary. The mind cannot otherwise be tested. In the stillness of early morning, we feel that our minds have become calm. But the moment a child cries, we lose our calm and it becomes clear that the peace of mind is illusory. There is, therefore, no point in avoiding outward work. The true nature of our minds, the real quality of our minds is revealed through outward work. Water in a pond appears clear, but throw a stone in it and the dirt settled at the bottom will immediately rise up. That happens with our minds too. There are heaps of dirt at the bottom of the minds lake. They come to the surface when disturbed by an external agent. When a man gets angry, it is not that the anger comes from without; it was already there within him. Otherwise it could never have shown itself.

People say that coloured cloth does not get dirty; white cloth does. But coloured cloth too gets dirty, although it does not appear to be so. White cloth says, I have become dirty; wash me please. People do not like such talking cloth. Our action too talks. It proclaims whether we are given to selfishness or to anger or something else. Action is the mirror that reflects our true form. We should, therefore, be grateful to it. If the mirror shows that our face is unclean, would we smash the mirror?  No. We would rather thank it and wash our face. Likewise, should we avoid action because it reveals the dirt in our minds—our defects and weaknesses?  Is the mind going to be pure simply by avoiding action?  In fact, we should continue to act while trying continually for the purification of mind.

  1. A man living alone in a mountain cave, cut off from all human contact, may imagine that he has attained perfect peace of mind. But let him leave the cave and go for meals to somebodys house and let a child playfully rattle the bolt of the door there. The innocent child may be absorbed in the music of that sound, but the recluse will find it jarring and curse the child in his mind. His stay in the isolated cave has made his mind too weak and over-sensitive to stand even the slightest disturbance. His peace of the mind may get disturbed by just a little rattling noise. It is not good that ones mind should be in such a weak state.

  2. To sum up, karma is very much needed to enable us to understand the state of our minds. We can remove our defects only when we become aware of them. If we are not aware of them, all efforts for progress and growth will come to naught. It is while doing work that we become aware of our defects. Vikarma is then to be employed to get rid of those defects. With ceaseless application of vikarma inwardly, we will gradually come to know how to remain detached while performing swadharma, how to remain beyond desires and passions, anger, greed, temptations and delusions. When there is a constant endeavour to purify karma, pure karma will follow naturally and effortlessly. When detached and passionless action begins to take place frequently and effortlessly, we would not even be aware of its occurence. When karma becomes effortless and burdenless, it is transformed into akarma. Akarma, as we have seen in the Fourth Chapter, means effortless, burdenless, natural karma. The Lord has also told at the end of the Fourth Chapter that one could learn how karma is transformed into akarma at the feet of the saints. This state of akarma cannot be described in words.


18. The Nature Of The State Of Akarma

  1. Let us take a familiar example to understand the naturalness of an action. When a child first learns to walk, how much effort he puts into it!  We encourage him, appreciate his efforts. Hey, he has learnt to walk!, we say with pride. But later, walking becomes natural; the child can then walk and talk at the same time. It is the same with eating. When a child is given solid food for the first time, we celebrate the occasion, as if the act of eating is something great.2 But in the course of time, it becomes quite natural. How hard it is to learn swimming!  In the beginning, one finds it tiring; but later one goes for swimming to relax, to shake off fatigue. Swimming is then no longer a tiring activity; the body floats over water effortlessly. The mind is in the habit of getting tired; it gets tired when it is consciously engaged in work. But when actions flow naturally, no strain is felt. Karma then becomes akarma. It is then a matter of  joy.

  2. Such transformation of karma into akarma is what we want to achieve. It is for this purpose that we should perform karma in accordance with our swadharma. In doing so, our defects will come to light. To remove them, we should take recourse to vikarma. If all this is constantly practised, the mind reaches a stage where it is no longer perturbed by actions. It remains calm and clear even though we are doing thousands of actions. If we ask the sky whether it gets scorched by the sun and drenched in the rain and shivers with the cold in winter, what reply will we get?  Will it not say, You can settle what happens to me; I know nothing.  पिसं नेसलें कीं नागवें लोकीं येऊन जाणावें ।—It is for others to see whether a mad man is naked or clad; he is totally unaware of it.

In short, when we go on performing actions in the pursuit of swadharma with the help of vikarma, they gradually become detached and purified, and eventually become natural and effortless. Such actions then become second nature. Even the most trying situations are not then felt to be daunting. This is the key to karmayoga. Our hands will simply get bruised in trying to force open a lock without a key; with the key we can open in no time. The key to karmayoga makes all the actions light and of no bother. This key can be secured by conquering the mind. There should, therefore, be continuous efforts to subdue desires and passions in the mind. Whenever we become aware of any impurities in the mind in the course of action, we should try to cleanse the mind. Outward actions then cease to be troublesome. The egoistic feeling that I am the doer’ vanishes. The powerful forces of desires, passions and anger subside. There is then no feeling of anguish. Even the awareness of performing an action is no longer there.

  1. Once a gentleman wrote to me, We have decided to recite Ramanama (Lord Ramas Name) a certain number of times. Please join us and inform us how much japa you are going to do daily. The gentleman was acting according to his lights. I do not mean to disparage him. But should we count how many times we have taken the name of the Lord?  Ramanama is not a thing to be counted. A mother cares for her child. Does she publish a report on it?  Were she to do so, we could just say, Thank you, and be free from our obligations to her. But a mother does not submit any report. She rather says, What have I done?  I have done nothing. Is this a burden to me? Karma ceases to be karma when one does it with full dedication and with the aid of vikarma. Karma then becomes akarma. There is then no question of any strain or tension to anything untoward.

  2. It is impossible to describe this state. One can at best give a rough idea. The sun rises daily. But does it rise to remove darkness, urge the birds to fly and set men working?  It just rises and that is all. Its very existence makes all the world go round. But it is not aware of it. If you thank him for dispelling darkness, he would be at a loss to understand what you are saying. He will say, Have I really done so?  Please bring a little darkness. If I could dispel it, then only I would claim any credit for doing so.  Can we carry darkness to the sun?  The existence of the sun dispels darkness and brings light. Some may read good books in that light and some may read bad ones; some may harm others while some may help others; the sun is not in any way responsible for the merits or sins committed in his light. He will say, “Light is my nature. What else but light could there be in me?  I am not conscious of giving light. For me, to be means to shine. I do not feel any strain in giving light. I do not feel that I am doing anything.”

Giving light is natural to the sun. Same is the case with the saints also. Their very existence is enlightening. If you praise a man of wisdom for his truthfulness, he would say, If I adhere to the truth, what is so special about it?  What else can I do?  Untruth just cannot exist in such a man.

  1. This is what akarma means. Actions become so much a part of one’s being and nature that one is not even aware of their happening. The sense-organs are then naturally disposed to what they should be doing; right action flows from them on its own accord. सहज बोलणें हितउपदेश—Counsel of wisdom flows out without any self-conscious deliberation and effort. When this happens, karma becomes akarma. For a man of wisdom, performance of good actions becomes as natural and effortless as singing is to the birds. Just as a child thinks of his mother naturally, the saints think of God. Another example of such a natural action is the crowing of a cock in the early morning. Panini3 has given this example while explaining swaras (musical notes). The cocks have always been crowing every morning. But has anybody presented them scrolls of honour?  Crowing is a cock’s natural action. Similarly, it is natural for a sage to speak the truth, to have compassion for all the living beings, not to find fault in others, to serve everybody. He cannot, in fact, live without this karma. Do we honour anybody for having taken his food?  Just as eating, drinking, sleeping are normal and natural actions for worldly persons, serving others is natural to a man of wisdom. Helping others is his second nature. Even if he were to decide not to help others, it is impossible for him to do so. Karma of such a sage can be said to have become akarma. Such a state has also been given the sacred term Sannyasa.  Sannyasa is nothing but the blessed state of akarma. It can also be called karmayoga. It is karmayoga since the man of wisdom goes on acting; and it is sannyasa since there is no feeling of doing anything even while actions are done. The man of wisdom acts with such ingenuity that the actions do not bind; hence it is yoga; and as nothing is done even after doing everything, it is sannyasa.


19. Yoga: One Aspect Of Akarma

  1. What does sannyasa mean, ultimately?  Does it mean renunciation of some actions, while doing others?  No. Sannyasa has, in fact, been defined as renunciation of all actions, freeing oneself absolutely from all actions. But what does not acting mean?  How can we give up all action?  Action is a queer thing. It has pervaded all life. Even sitting is an action: To sit is a verb. Sitting is not only an action in a grammatical sense, but also in physical sense. If one sits for quite a long time, the legs begin to ache. There is strain in sitting also. When such is the case, how can there be renunciation of all actions?  The Lord showed vishwaroop4 to Arjuna. That all-encompassing vision terrified Arjuna and he closed his eyes. But even then the vision did not disappear; the vishwaroop appeared before his mind’s eye. How can one escape from a thing which continues to be visible even after closing ones eyes?  How can one avoid action when it takes place even when we are doing nothing?

  2. There is a story of a man who had a lot of precious gold ornaments. He wanted to keep them safely locked up in a box. His servant got a big iron box made for them. He looked at it and said, You idiot!  Don’t you have a sense of beauty?  Should these valuable ornaments be kept in this ugly iron box?  Go and get a good gold box. The servant did as he was told. The master then ordered, Now bring a gold lock. Only a gold lock would suit the gold box.  The fellow wanted to hide his gold from other’s eyes. But what was the result?  There was then no need for the thieves to search for the gold; just taking away the box would have been enough. When not doing is also a form of doing, how to renounce action which is so all-pervasive?

  3. The way lies in continuing to do all actions in such an ingenuous way that they are shed as soon as you complete them. Only then sannyasa can be attained. How to do an action without letting it stick to you?  Look at the sun. It is working continually; even during the night it is working in the other hemisphere. Still one can say that it does not act at all. That is why the Lord says in the Fourth Chapter, I taught this yoga first to the Sun, and from him the thoughtful and contemplative Manu learnt it. The sun does no work even while working all the time. This is truly a wonderful state.


20. Sannyasa: The Other Aspect Of Akarma

  1. But this is only one form of sannyasa.  To act, and still not be the doer, is one aspect; while the other aspect is to make the whole world act without doing anything oneself.  In this state there is immense power to impel others to act. This is the beauty of akarma.  It is packed with power that is capable of infinite work. It is like steam which, when compressed, does enormous work. It can even move big trains easily. The sun also does no work outwardly, but still works round the clock and is not aware of doing anything. Working day and night and still not doing anything outwardly is one aspect and setting in motion an infinite number of actions without doing anything outwardly is another aspect. This is the two-fold splendour of sannyasa.

Both the aspects are far from the ordinary. In one aspect, the action is manifest and the state of akarma is hidden. In the other aspect, the state of akarma is manifest, yet endless activity is continuously going on. In this state, akarma is packed with power, resulting in enormous work. This state of akarma is diametrically different from laziness. A lazy man easily gets tired and bored; but a sannyasi, in the state of akarma, concentrates his energy inside him. He does not work with his limbs and organs, but still he inspires work in enormous measure.

  1. Suppose someone gets angry with us. If it is because of our fault, we go to pacify him.  But he refuses to talk to us. How great is the effect of his keeping mum, of this renunciation of the action of speaking!  Another man in the same situation may pour abuse on us. Both are angry, but one keeps mum and the other speaks out. Both the reactions express anger. Keeping mum is also an expression of anger and it too works. When a mother or a father stops speaking to the child, its impact on the child is far more decisive than that of any action. Silence can have an effect which speaking can never have. Such is the state of a jnani. His akarma, his being still, accomplishes much; it generates great power. While being in the state of akarma, he does work that no activity can accomplish. This is another type of sannyasa.

In such type of sannyasa, all enterprise, all frenetic efforts cease.  Saint Tukaram describes such a state :

उद्योगाची धांव बैसली आसनीं   

पडिलें नारायणीं मोटळें हें ।

सकळ निश्चिंती झाली हा भरंवसा 

नाहीं गर्भवासा येणें ऐसा ।

आपुलिया सत्ते नाहीं आम्हां जिणें

अभिमान तेणें नेला देवें ।

तुका म्हणे चळे एकाचिये सत्ते

आपुलें मी रितेपणें असें ।।

(Now all enterprise, all activity has ceased. The body is lying like a little sack at the feet of the Lord. All care is now over; I now feel assured that I shall not be born again. I have not to live now on my own strength, as the Lord has emptied me of my ego. I am no more master of my life; it is His power that moves me. I have been reduced to zero.’)

Tukaram is empty—his sense of I’ has dissolved. But there is tremendous power in that emptiness. The sun gives call to no one; yet, when it rises, birds soar in the sky, lambs begin to prance around, cows head for grazing, shopkeepers open their shops, farmers start out towards their farms. The whole world is on the move as it makes its appearance on the horizon. The sun’s mere existence is enough; that gives rise to innumerable activities. Its state of akarma has potentiality to stimulate those activities; it is packed with power. Such is the other wonderful aspect of sannyasa.


21. To Compare The Two Is Beyond The Power Of Words

  1. In the Fifth Chapter, these two forms of sannyasa are compared with each other. In one form, nothing is done while doing work twenty four hours a day—there is inaction within—and in the other, there is no actual action even for a moment, but still everything is done—it is caused to be done. The former shows how one could speak while being silent within, and the latter shows how one could be outwardly silent and still communicate. Now, there is a comparison between the two. To have a look at them, think over them, ruminate over them—there is sheer bliss, unprecedented joy in doing so.

  2. In fact, this whole matter is incomparably novel and noble. The idea of sannyasa is indeed grand and sacred. How thankful should we be to him who first thought of such a sublime idea!  This idea, one may say, is the highest point reached by human imagination and reason, although man has been, and even now, trying for higher and higher flight. As far as I know, it is the highest point reached by man’s intellect and his power of thought. There is a rare joy in the very contemplation of this idea. The joy recedes when we step into the domain of speech and of everyday life. We then feel like having fallen down. I am never tired of talking to my friends about this idea. For years, I have been meditating over it. Language falters in describing it. It is clearly beyond the reach of words.

  3. Doing everything without acting, and doing nothing while ceaselessly acting—how noble, enchanting and poetic the idea is!  What more can poetry offer?  Compared with the joy, ardour, inspiration and exaltation embodied in this idea, the most highly praised poetry pales into insignificance. The Fifth Chapter has thus been raised to a very high plane. Karma and vikarma have been explained upto the Fourth Chapter and then the Fifth Chapter has soared sky-high. In the Fifth Chapter two forms of the state of akarma have been directly compared with each other. Language falls short in this attempt. Who is greater: a karmayogi or a sannyasi?  It is impossible to say who works more. In fact, remaining inwardly inactive while doing everything and doing everything while outwardly remaining inactive, both are forms of yoga. But for the purpose of comparison, one is called yoga and the other is called sannyasa.


22. Two Analogies: Geometry And Mimamsa5

  1. How are we to compare the two?  It will have to be done with the help of some analogies. While doing so, one does have a feeling of falling down from the high altitude of these ideas, but it cannot be helped. In fact, absolute karma-sannyasa and absolute karma-yoga are ideas too magnificent to be expressed in a living person. These ideals cannot be fully realised when one is confined within the body. An attempt to live these ideals here in this world would shatter the body. Hence we have to take illustrations from the lives of great men who had realised these ideals to the extent possible. Analogies are never perfect, but for the time being one has to assume that they are.

  2. It is said in geometry, Let ABC be a triangle. Why is the word let used here?  Because the lines forming the triangle are not really lines according to the definition of a line. A line, by definition, has length but no breadth. How to draw such a line on a blackboard?  Breadth invariably accompanies length whenever one attempts to draw a line. Hence one has to use the word let. One has to assume that what has been drawn is a line. Is not the same thing applicable in bhakti-shastra—the science of bhakti (devotion)?  There too the devotee says, Let this tiny idol be the Lord of the universe. If someone calls it idiocy, you may ask him, Is there idiocy in geometry? We are seeing quite a thick line and you are asking us to assume that it has no breadth!

  3. Just as certain postulates are made in geometry, certain postulates are made in bhaktishastra too. It asks us to assume that there is God in an idol. If one says that God is indestructible, but the idol could break on being hit, it would not be a thoughtful statement. If postulates are valid in geometry, why cannot they be so in bhaktishastra?  Geometry asks us to assume a point also. Definition of a point is akin to that of Brahman. A point is defined as having neither length, nor breadth, nor thickness. It is without any dimension; still we try to draw it on a blackboard. What we draw is practically a circle, but it is assumed to be a point. A true triangle and a true point exist only in definitions. Yet we have to proceed on the assumption that they actually exist. In bhaktishastra too, we have to postulate the existence of the indestructible all-pervading God in an idol.

  4. What the mimamsakas (adherents of the system of Mimamsa) have done in this context is striking. Vedas refer to different deities like Indra (the king of the deities), Agni (the god of fire) and Varun (the god of rain and water). While on the subject of these deities a question is asked, What does Indra look like, what is his nature, where does he reside?  The mimamsakas answer, the word Indra is itself the form of Indra; he resides in the word Indra’. Same is true about Varuna, Agni etc. The words, made up of certain syllables arranged in certain order, are the forms of the deities; the deities are not apart from the words. This concept of the deities having the form of words is indeed fascinating. In fact, the concept of the deities cannot be contained in any form; it cannot be adequately described. Syllables comprising the words may therefore be taken as adequate representation. What is God like? The answer is, It is like the word God’ containing the syllables G, O, D.’ The most striking example of this is the letter (Om). means God. A term for God has thus been coined. It is necessary to coin such terms for great ideas which cannot be contained in any concrete material form. It is man’s strong and earnest desire which makes him invent symbolic forms for them.


23. The Sannyasi And The Yogi Are One Like Shuka And Janaka

  1. Sannyasa and yoga represent the highest flights of the human spirit. Sannyasa and yoga are ideals which are impossible to attain in their fullness here on the earth while we are confined within the body, but human thought can rise to such heights. A true yogi and a true sannyasi will exist only in definitions; the ideals will always be beyond our reach. But we have to take as examples persons who have approximated the ideals, and say, on the lines of geometry, Let so and so be taken as a perfect yogi and so and so be taken as a perfect sannyasi.  While talking about sannyasa, the names of Shuka and Yajnavalkya are usually mentioned. As examples of karmayogis, Janaka and Krishna have been mentioned in the Gita itself. Lokmanya Tilak has listed a number of yogis and sannyasis in his treatise Gita-Rahasya. He has written that King Janaka, Lord Krishna etc. took the path of karmayoga while Shuka and Yajnavalkya took the path of sannyasa, implying that these two paths are mutually exclusive. But a little reflection will show that they are not so. Yajnavalkya was a sannyasi and Janaka was a karmayogi. Janaka, the karmayogi was a disciple of Yajnavalkya, the sannyasi and Shuka, a disciple of Janaka took the path of sannyasa. What this means is that yogis and sannyasis are parts of the same chain; yoga and sannyasa constitute a single order; they are not mutually exclusive paths.

  2. Vyasa told Shuka, his son, Shuka, my son, you have certainly attained Self-knowledge, but it lacks the seal of confirmation from a guru6. So, I would like you to go to Janaka, the King for this purpose. Shuka thereupon proceeded to meet King Janaka. On the way to the palace, he passed through the capital city, observing the urban scene which was unknown to the young hermit. When he reached the palace and met the King, the following conversation took place—

Janaka - What brings you here, young man?

Shuka -  To gain knowledge, sir.

Janaka - Who has sent you?

Shuka -  Vyasa, my father, has asked me to meet you.

Janaka - Wherefrom have you come?

Shuka -  From the ashram.7

Janaka - While coming here from the ashram, what did you observe in the market?

Shuka -  I observed sweetmeats made of sugar piled up everywhere.

Janaka - What else did you see?

Shuka -  I saw sugar-statues walking on the streets and talking with each other.

Janaka - What did you see next?

Shuka -  I then saw the palace steps, made of sugar.

Janaka - And what thereafter?

Shuka -  Everywhere I found pictures made of sugar.

Janaka - What are you seeing now?

Shuka -  A sugar-statue is talking to another sugar-statue.

Janaka - Well, you may go now. You have indeed attained Self-knowledge.8

Thus Shuka got what he wanted: a certificate from Janaka that he has attained Self-knowledge. The point is that Janaka, the karmayogi, accepted Shuka, the sannyasi as his disciple.

There is another interesting story about Shuka. King Parikshit had been cursed that he would die after seven days. He wanted to prepare himself for the impending death; he wished to be instructed by a guru as to how to be so prepared. He sent for Shuka. Shuka came and sat in cross-legged position, narrating the Bhagawata9 to him continuously for full seven days. He never changed his sitting position. What was remarkable is that he felt no strain although he was made to exert himself so much. Though he was constantly working, it was as if he was not doing anything. There was no feeling of fatigue. Thus it is clear that yoga and sannyasa are not mutually exclusive.

  1. That is why the Lord says, एकं सांख्यं च योगं च, यः पश्यति पश्यति(He truly sees who sees both sankhya and yoga, that is, knowledge and selfless action as one). He who realises that yoga and sankhya are one understands the true secret. Let a true sannyasi, with mind completely pure and still, dwelling in the divine consciousness, stay amongst us for just a few days. Imagine how much he will illuminate and inspire our lives!  His mere sight, mere presence will achieve what good works accumulated over years cannot. Even a look at a photograph can cleanse the mind, pictures of dead persons can arouse devotion and love in the heart and purify it. Imagine then the inspiration one can derive from being in the presence of a living sannyasi!

  2. Both the sannyasi and the yogi do loksangraha.10 In the case of sannyasi action appears to have been renounced, but the apparent inaction is full of action. It is packed with infinite inspiration. A jnani sannyasi and a jnani karmayogi are on the same plane. Terms differ, but meaning is the same. Yoga and sannyasa are two modes of the same reality. A wheel in rapid motion seems at rest. This is the case with a sannyasi. Mahavira, Buddha, Nivrittinath11 were such realised souls. Although all the activity of such a sannyasi appears to have come to a standstill, he is doing immense work. Thus, a yogi is a sannyasi and a sannyasi is a yogi. These terms are synonymous and interchangeable.


24. But Still Yoga Is Better Than Sannyasa

  1. Nevertheless, the Lord has given a little more weight to yoga. He says that karmayoga is superior to sannyasa. Why does He say so when there is no difference between them?  What does it mean?  When the Lord says so, it is from the standpoint of a seeker. Doing everything without being active oneself is possible for a realised soul, not for a seeker. But it is possible for a seeker, at least to some extent, to follow the way of doing everything without getting attached to work, i.e. acting outwardly but remaining inactive within. Working without acting will be a riddle for a seeker; he will be at a loss to understand it. For a seeker, karmayoga is both the way and the goal. But sannyasa is only the goal; it cannot be the way. Hence, from the standpoint of the seeker, karmayoga is superior and preferable to sannyasa.

  2. By the same reasoning the Lord has, in the Twelfth Chapter, said that saguna is preferable to nirguna.12 All the organs can be put to use in saguna sadhana;13 it is not so in the nirguna sadhana where there is no work for the organs. This is difficult for a seeker to follow. In saguna sadhana, eyes can behold the Lords form, ears can hear His praise, hands can worship Him (in the form of an idol) and serve the people, feet can be used to go on a  pilgrimage. In this way, all the organs can be given some work; putting them to such use, they can be gradually saturated with the divine consciousness. This is possible in saguna sadhana, not in the nirguna one where there is no use for any organ; there is, as it were, a ban on the use of all the organs. Such a blanket ban could very well frighten the seeker. How can then nirguna get imprinted on his mind?  If he sits still, his mind will get filled with all sorts of useless and untoward thoughts. The nature of the sense-organs is such that they invariably tend to do what they are told not to do. Do not the advertisements exploit this very fact?  They start with the headline: Dont read this. So the reader is intrigued and invariably reads what follows. That is the very purpose of the advertisements—to induce the people to read their contents attentively. In nirguna sadhana, the mind will wander aimlessly, while in saguna bhakti it will be engaged in something or the other.  In saguna bhakti, there is place for worship, service, compassion. The organs have something to do in it. If the organs are so engaged, the mind will not go anywhere even if given freedom to do so; it will get interested in the activities and will automatically get concentrated without even being aware of it. But if you try to concentrate the mind forcibly, it will run away in no time. It is, therefore, better to engage the organs in some good work and let the mind go anywhere; it will not do so. But if you try to force it to be still in one place, it will invariably run away.

  3. Saguna is superior to nirguna for a man encased in the body, because it is easy. The ingenuity in seeing that the actions leave no trace on the mind even while continuing to do them is better than doing work without acting, because it is easier. In karmayoga there is scope for efforts and practice. In it one can control the organs and then try to withdraw the mind from all the activities gradually. This effort can succeed some day, even if it is not immediately possible. Karmayoga is thus easier to follow. It is its special plus point. Otherwise karmayoga and sannyasa are one and the same in their perfect states. In karmayoga, hectic activity appears on the surface but there is perfect peace within, while in sannyasa there is power of moving the whole world without doing anything. Thus both are not what they appear to be. Perfect karmayoga is sannyasa and perfect sannyasa is karmayoga; there is no difference; but karmayoga is easier for a seeker to follow.

  4. Changdeva sent a letter to Jnanadeva. It was nothing but a piece of blank paper, as he could not make up his mind on how to address Jnandeva; Jnanadeva was much younger in years but superior in wisdom. Should he address him respectfully as one addresses an elder or as one addresses a younger person?  Unable to decide, he sent the  blank letter. It first reached the hands of Nivrittinath. He read’ it and passed it on to Jnanadeva who too read’ it and passed it on to Muktabai, their youngest sister. Reading the letter, Muktabai exclaimed, Hey, Changdeva, you are so old, but still you are blank14!  Nivrittinath had read something different in that letter. He said, Yes, Changdeva is blank, which means that he is pure and innocent, and therefore deserves to be taught. So he asked Jnanadeva to send a reply to this letter. Jnanadeva sent a letter comprising 65 small stanzas. This letter is therefore called Changdeva Pasashti.15 Such is the charming story of this letter. It is easy to read written words, but difficult to read what is not written. There is no end to reading it. A sannyasi appears to be empty and blank, but he is full of infinite work.

  5. Although sannyasa and karmayoga are of equal worth in their perfect states, karmayoga has an additional practical value. A currency note and a gold coin of the same denomination have the same value as long as the government is stable; but if the government collapses, the currency note is reduced to a paper whereas the gold coin will have some worth under all circumstances as it is, after all, made of a precious metal. In the perfect state, karmayoga (action) and renunciation of action have the same value as Self-knowledge is there in both of them. Value of Self-knowledge is infinite. In mathematics there is a principle that you may add any quantity to infinity, the total remains equal to infinity. Karmayoga and renunciation of karma are of equal value when coupled with Self-knowledge, but when Self-knowledge is deleted from both the sides, karmayoga is preferable for a seeker. Action through inaction is a riddle beyond the understanding of the seeker. Karmayoga, as already said, is a path as well as the destination while sannyasa is only the destination. In the terminology of the scriptures, karmayoga is a means as well as the nishtha while sannyasa is only the nishtha, that is, the ultimate state.

(20.3.32)


References:

  1. Samsara, in fact, is untranslatable in English.  It includes the whole of man's this-wordly life and affairs in the material world in which he is totally immersed and to which he is attached.  The term has to be understood contextually.

  2. Reference is to a custom named 'ushtavan' prevalent in Maharashtra.

  3. A great grammarian of ancient India.

  4. Chapter 11 of the Gita describes the transfiguration of Lord Krishna into vishwaroop, i.e. the supreme, divine cosmic form.

  5. One of the six systems of Indian philosophy.  It is divided into two parts: Poorvamimamsa and Uttaramimamsa.  The former is usually referred to as Mimamsa.  It deals with the interpretation of the rituals in the Veda.

  6. In the Indian tradition, having a guru (a master) was considered a must for spiritual seekers to guide them.

  7. Ashram here means a hermitage, a dwelling of ascetics.

  8. A man who has attained Self-Knowledge sees that all things in the world are different forms of the same single substance.  Shuka has used the word 'sugar' to indicate that substance.

  9. A great religious and spiritual epic, said to be written by Vyasa.

  10. Here it means bringing the people together, holding them together and guiding them along the path of virtue and righteousness.

  11. Elder brother and guru of saint Jnandeva.

  12. 'Saguna' means 'with attributes' while 'nirguna' means 'without attributes'.  These are two aspects of Brahman, or God, who could be saguna (Personal God with attributes) as well as nirguna (Impersonal, Unmanifest and Absolute).  Saguna sadhana or bhakti includes service and idol-worship.  Brahman can also be 'sakar' (with form) as well as 'nirakar' (formless).  Different religions and traditions believe in one or more of these aspects.  For example, for an idol-worshipper devotee, God is saguna as well as sakar.  In Islam, God is saguna but nirakar.

  13. Sadhana means spiritual pursuit, i.e. efforts for Self-Realisation or attainment of Self-Knowledge.

  14. Implying thereby that he had yet to acquire true knowledge.

  15. Pasasht means 65.