Karma-yoga/Topic of Karma (Chapter 3…continued)

In the third chapter, in response to Arjuna’s question, Krishna makes a very interesting comment in the third verse itself. He says there are only two lifestyles available for a seeker:

1)      If you are seeking this wisdom, this moksha to the exclusion of all else, that will be called a lifestyle of sanyasa.

2)       Or you are seeking this knowledge along with other things in life because as an individual one does have other priorities as well. When you are seeking this knowledge and have other priorities to attend to as well, the lifestyle becomes one of karma-yoga.

Sribhagavan uvaca

Loke smin dvividha nistha pura prokta mayanagha

Jnanayogena sankhyanam karmayogena yoginam (ch 3, verse 3)

Sri Bhagavan said:

The sinless one (Arjuna)! The two-fold committed life style in this world, was told by Me in the beginning—the pursuit of knowledge for the renunciates and the pursuit of karma-yoga for those who pursue activity.

Really speaking, there are only two lifestyles—one of a sanyasi, one of a karma-yogi. You may have heard that there are many paths but Krishna doesn’t agree with this at all. E.g. Suppose you say you are a bhakta.  What does this mean? Bhakti is really nothing but devotion to Ishwara as you have seen in a previous post and we will see this later also. Bhakti is love for Ishwara, it is an emotion. But what are you going to do with it? You can’t practice love; with love you are supposed to do certain things.

 Take the example of this couple who has come home after a hard day’s work. I will speak here in stereotypes only to keep it simple. The wife rushes into the kitchen to get the meal ready, the husband switches on the TV and follows his wife into the kitchen, tells her “Sweetheart, I love you’’. She says, “I love u too’’. But she has to get the meal ready and she’s busy chopping the vegetables. He repeats “ I love you’’. She says, “Thank you’’ and keeps chopping. Then he says, “Aren’t these pieces too big?…but I love you’’. Now the woman is ready to climb the wall. Come on , if you love her, do something—clean the dishes, lay the table or take over the chopping of the veggies. What is the point in saying I love you, I love you…Similarly, you don’t sit around and say `God, I love you, I love you…’ With the love for God, you lead your life. That would become karma-yoga because you are leading your life. The devotion you have for Ishwara makes you a better karma-yogi because there is better prasada buddhi in your life.

Or what is it that you mean by practising bhakti? Well, if you make two broad categories, either doing pujas or homas or singing bhajans (devotional songs). So let me ask you, `Is that all you do in life?’  `Yes, nothing else, no family etc.’  Then your lifestyle is that of a sanyasi. If you have family, you have responsibilities, then you are a karma-yogi and you better be a proper karmayogi. Or you say you are a hatha yogi. What do you mean by that? Oh, I stand on my head everyday, you say,  you practice three hours a day. But is that all you do? If it is, then yours is the lifestyle of a sanyasi. But if this hatha yogi practices yoga and has family etc then his lifestyle is that of a karma-yogi.

All of yoga—I’m using this word here yoga in its original definition by Patanjali….chitta vridhi nirodha; mastery of the mind is called yoga. All of yoga is meant to get the mind ready, to have a contemplative mind.  I can do yogasanas but they are to be done as awareness exercises not mere physical exercises. I can practice martial arts, play football—Vivekananda used to encourage it—whatever you do, if you do it as an awareness exercise, it will get your mind ready. E.g. In Japan, they have Zen and the art of flower arrangement, Zen and the art of archery, Zen and the way of the sword, Zen of the way of the empty hands….any activity in the world can be converted as an exercise to increase awareness. Ironing, cooking, cleaning, including making love…you could also include psychotherapy in this because it is also meant to get your mind ready, to handle your emotions and function better. There can be millions of ways to get your mind ready. It is the contemplative mind that can know the truth.

As far as lifestyles are concerned, Krishna says there are only two. Either you live like a sanyasi, pursuing knowledge to the exclusion of everything else, or you pursue this knowledge to the inclusion of everything else. Now you can ask which is better. In fact, Arjuna does ask, `Which is the better of  the two?’ The better of the two is the one you are inclined towards. If you are ready for it, then go for sanyasa, it’s an expressway to moksha. If you are fit enough for it, If you have taken care of your priorities, if you have no other priorities left in life but moksha, then sanyasa is the right thing for you.

However, if you have other needs—the need to love and be loved, the need to be socially acknowledged, the need for pleasures in life, if you have other priorities then karma-yoga is the right way for you. Because fulfilling all these itself becomes your sadhana. Because you have converted your desires into a sadhana; this is the greatest thing about karma-yoga. Because, in the process of fulfilling my desires and taking care of my psychological needs, I am growing as a person who is ready for this knowledge……..This is the life of a karma-yogi. In fact, Krishna advises against hasty renunciation, he says nobody can sit quietly for even a moment without performing some action, which is true. If I have priorities and desires left in life, then the internal pressure will make me get up and do something.

Na hi kascit ksanamapi jatu tisthatyakarmakrt

Karyate hyavasah karma sarvah prakrtijairunaih (ch 3, verse 5)

Indeed, no one ever remains for even a second without performing action because everyone is forced to perform action by the (three) gunas (sattva, rajas, and tamas) born of prakrti

If I’m going to get up and do something, then I may as well live the life of karma-yogi.

But we do see sanyasis also doing a lot work. Some are as busy as corporate executives.

 Sanyasis also do a lot—all the sanyasis actions will revolve around gaining this knowledge and sharing it with others. They may respond to a few other needs in society also, like taking care of the downtrodden, the poor etc. They may do that because it is very difficult to think of god when your stomach is empty, but those are not the main actions of their life. The main thing in a sanyasi’’s life is gaining this knowledge and sharing it with others. You don’t need a sanyasi to stand for elections although a sanyasi  may  do that also if he feels the condition of the country is so bad he needs to do something about it. That is called àpat dharma, meaning when the conditions are extreme, a sanyasi may do something that he wouldn’t normally do….Indian history is full of such examples; wise men have responded in such a manner. But you can be called a sanyasi  if your predominant activity in life is gaining wisdom and sharing it.

Swamiji, the popular concept of a sanyasi is an emaciated, bearded, joyless person who spends his life standing on one leg, a misfit….

That’s a media image….And in fact, in the census, they are included along with prostitutes and beggars. But that’s not true.  A sanyasi is one who pursues knowledge to the exclusion of everything else and later on shares it with those who seek it.

So from where has this misleading image come about?

One, when poverty became widespread as a result of both Indian and British misrule, people found that a sanyasi is always given food in this country, his basic needs were taken care of because people knew that a sanyasi could give them this priceless wisdom. But there are a lot of unscrupulous elements who know that to keep body and soul together, all one has to do is don these robes and that’s how they  take advantage of this situation.

The third chapter stresses a lot on karma-yoga over sanyasa. Without karma-yoga you cannot be a sanyasi, all those who have taken to this sanyasi way of life early also have spent some time at least pursuing their desires, their priorities. In fact, Krishna goes on to say, “Sanyasa is difficult if you do not have a yogi’s mind’’. Remember we talked about “samatvam yogam….’’  If that balance is not gained, then a sanyasi’s life is practically impossible…Karma-yoga helps you gain that balance. After that you can decide if you want to become a sanyasi or a karma-yogi. In fact, Krishna gives examples of Janaka etc who  had gained this goal without taking to sanyasa and were karma-yogis all their lives.

Karmanaiva hi samsiddhim asthita janakadayah

Lokasangraham evapi sampasyan kartum arhasi (Ch 3, verse 20)

Indeed, by action alone, Janaka and others gained liberation. Also, by merely seeing the desirability of protecting the people from falling into unbecoming ways you ought to perform action.

 Janaka had all the kingly responsibilities and he fulfilled them and he was one of the wisest of kings, and so was Bhishma. There have been people in this country who have gained this knowledge through karma-yoga. In fact, Krishna seems to advocate it. He says pursue the truth along with your other pursuits in life so that you don’t feel deprived, you get a chance to grow, you are not cutting out the field for growth because the field of endeavour is available for you. So pursue what you want in life and along with that keep moksha as an ultimate goal. When you keep moksha as an ultimate goal, it’s important that you discover this wisdom, preferably from a live teacher.

Live a life of karma-yoga and you are certain to find moksha; it may take some time..it’s ok, you are taking the scenic route, not the express route ….you still gain and have a great life in the process as well, you live a life of proactivity, of responsibility, of achievement…it’s a fuller life, and you gain this wisdom and you are free from yr existential limitations…..


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