Act but without attachment

Bhagavad Gita - 16

One should continue to do actions in this world.

These dialogues which follow are all from the last chapter of the Gita. After the conclusion of these dialogues, Arjuna decides to fight the war with a clear mind. Krishna makes some definite, conclusive remarks about matters and also classifies much of them under sattwa, rajas and tamas.

Arjuna: What is sanyaasaa (renunciation) and what is tyaagaa (abandonment)?

Krishna: To give up result-oriented acts is what is sanyaasaa. To give up the fruits of any action is what tyaagaa is. Some scholars say that all actions have an element of evil or error-prone. So, one should abandon all acts.

Some say that one should never abandon acts of gift, austerity and sacrifice. My definite opinion is also the same. These acts of gift, austerity and sacrifice should be performed. But these acts also should be done with no attachment and looking for the fruits.

One simply abandoning action just out of laziness is tamasic. If actions are abandoned because of physical inconvenience then it is rajasic. Obligatory actions are to be performed without attachment and not looking for fruits. This is sattwic.

The abandoner (tyaagi) welcomes not an agreeable work nor does he hate that work which is disagreeable (karmayogi/stitapragna).

One cannot abandon actions entirely in this world.

The results of our actions can be good, bad or mixed. These results accrue only for a person who hankers for the fruits and not the one who has no desire for the results.

Five causes are present for action to take place: the body or the seat of action, the doer, the senses, functions of the senses, and the presiding deity (daiva).

Let us discuss this declaration.

Action is performed in the body (seat).
Action is performed by the performer who thinks he does (enjoyer/sufferer).
Action is performed by some organ (indriyaas such as hands, mouth, etc.).
Action is performed as various functions (e.g., mouth can speak or eat).
Action is performed with the help of the presiding deity.

(Adityaas are the deities of various organs in our bodies. This is a classical idea, but we can conveniently equate this ‘Daiva’ to chance, luck, or one’s favourite god/goddess).

If we look at any action in this world, we shall find these five factors are present. Swami Chitbhavananda gives a nice analogy. A motorcar is built from materials like steel, rubber, fuel, etc. The factory is the seat or the place of action. The owner of the premises is the doer or the maker. The wheels, steering, brakes, etc., are the organs (indriyaa). The petrol becomes the life force. The owner/driver of the vehicle becomes the presiding deity who wills to use it as desired for various purposes. This is somewhat complex but makes our understanding better.

Now let us follow Krishna…

He says that whenever any man does actions with body, speech or mind (kaayika-vaachika-manasika), these five causes are present.

One should understand that thought is also classified as action. Many tend to believe that an action can be considered only if it is performed. This is not so. If one contemplates on stealing or denude a woman in mind these are verily actions. The logical reason for such consideration is that the person doing so, begets the mental feeling (fruits) of pleasure or displeasure. The Gita emphasises the modality and nature of actions and not on the physical quality of actions. A truth can be told to harm someone as well as to get some benefits for oneself. So, just by speaking the truth, one does not get the minimum marks for speaking the truth.

This is well supported by Krishna’s next words:

Whatever a man does by speech, body or mind, whether righteous deeds or contrary to those, these five are the causes. This being the case, if anyone sees his self to be the doer, he is one of untrained and perverted intelligence.

What is meant here is that there are natural causes for action to take place. One should not assume the position of a doer and claim credit for the same.

Let us pause here for a moment and reflect.

Krishna approves of action. He attributes actions to nature. He insists that one should not think that he is the doer. We have to constantly remind ourselves of this fact that our actions belong to nature and we are just instruments. If we have to do that, we should know the quality of our actions. How do we act? What is good action and bad action?

Krishna elaborates action further…

The impulse for action comes from the knowledge, what is knowable and the knower. The basis of action is formed by the organ, the act itself and the agent who does that. (These declarations on impulse/basis for actions are from the Sankhya philosophy).

What are these - knowledge, knowable, knower, organ, act and the agent? Krishna defines these with the help of sattwa, rajas and tamas.

Knowledge: In various creations if one sees an indestructible, non-separate reality, this kind of knowledge is sattwa. This idea is simply put by Swami Vivekananda – All beings are divine. (So, all are same!)

If one sees all creations as being different and varied and consider them as different entities then that kind of knowledge is rajas. - This is the generally perceived notion. The proverb, ‘All men are equal, but some are more equal than others’ indicates the worldly attitude of men like us.

If one attaches to a single effect as if it was the whole, with no basis or truth and what is trivial, that kind of knowledge is tamas. - This is very easily explained. People place money (wealth and materialistic gains) above all other factors and try to conduct life accordingly. This develops into a life obsession and as time passes everything in life is qualified (read ‘success in life’) according to one’s monetary affluence.

Man’s perspective at times is getting so distorted that one fails to comprehend even simple feelings in life. At times, a sort of non-clarity prevails even in good minds.

A king once had a dream that he was a butterfly.

He woke from the dream and called the minister. He said to him, “I dreamt I was a butterfly and I flapped around a garden from flower to flower. I woke up to find myself in bed as a king. Tell me was it the truth?”

The minister replied, “Truly no, O king! You are our king and that is the reality”

The king laughed and he said, “What if I am really a butterfly and I am dreaming that I am a king?”

We all undergo this feeling in life. Let us reflect on these words for now.

These Gita talks were earlier published as ‘Gita - A reassurance from Godhead’ in ‘Nandini Voice for the Deprived’.

Apr 25, 2010
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