Perennial Psychology of the Bhagwad Geeta

  • By Swami Rama
  • January 2002

The Wisdom of Renunciation and Liberation

1. Mighty-armed One, I wish to know the essence of renunciation and of relinquishing the fruits, O Lord of senses, destroyer of sin.

The Blessed Lord said

2. The wise have known that abandoning the desire-fulfilling observances is renunciation; insightful ones say that relinquishing the fruits of all actions is relinquishing.

The actions that are helpful and liberating in the path of spirituality have been described. Now Arjuna wants to better understand the profound teachings of the path of renunciation (sannyasa) and of the path of renouncing the fruits of one’s actions (tyaga). Aspirants who renounce the desire for pleasure are called sannyasins, and those who perform their duties skillfully and selflessly, giving up the fruits of their actions are called karma yogis

Sri Krishna tells Arjuna that there are characteristic differences between renunciates and those who perform actions but renounce the fruits.

However, from time immemorial there have been two paths: the path of renunciation and the path of action. The majority of people in the world follow the path of action. Only the rare and fortunate few walk the path of renunciation. Only those who have already burned their desires for self-enjoyment can walk that path. Others should not try. For the ordinary human being, the path of action is the way

When one studies various commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita, he finds an intellectual tug of war between two groups of commentators: one pulling toward renunciation and the other toward action. These two paths are distinct and separate, and there is no need to judge one as being better than the other. Those who do are prejudiced and act under the influence of their egos. When one studies the message of the Bhagavad Gita, he realizes that all knowledge originates from one source and finally leads one to that source. That source is pure Atman, from which springs the entire knowledge and toward which it flows through various avenues until it finally meets its source: the ocean of happiness, bliss, and peace.

The Bhagavad Gita’s message ends in this eighteenth chapter, which is conclusive and decisive. When he replies to Arjuna’s questions, Sri Krishna answers the questions of all aspirants. Which is the path that leads one to the immutable, unchangeable, everlasting bliss? Which is the path that should be followed? What is renunciation, and what is action? Many commentators have drawn certain conclusions because they themselves lust for the enjoyments of the world and because they think since majority of people of the world follow the path of action, it is superior to the path of renunciation. But to know Truth, one does not need the support of an army of people. Truth can and should be attained in all possible ways. To attain the absolute truth, there are various paths that lead to the same summit. It is no use to create a war of arguments, attempting to prove one path superior or inferior to another.

In the ancient tradition, the organization of one’s life was guided by the thought that one would live for at least one hundred years.

The first twenty-five years were devoted to school and learning. In the next twenty-five one attempted to understand relationships and interaction with others and the creatures of the world. The third quarter of one’s life was dedicated to understanding the values of life with is currents and cross currents. The last twenty-five were devoted to spiritual sadhana alone. One would completely wash off the past; he would renounce and become totally non-attached, dedicating himself to the supreme Self-alone. These last twenty-five years were devoted to Self-realization. With that systematic way of living, one finally attained the purpose of life. That was considered to be the normal produce. But even during ancient times a few enlightened ones joined monasteries from a very early age, renounced the normal course of life, and attained Self-realization.

The path of renunciation is meant for only a few, and those who are not prepared should not tread that path. Those who learn to dedicate the fruits of all actions to the Lord and for the well being of others are on the path. Those who renounce both actions and their fruits also follow the path to Self-realization. In the path of renunciation all action is renounced. Therefore the desire to receive the fruits of action is renounced as well. But in the path of action, action is not renounced; only the fruits are surrendered.

The question might arise: Is it possible for anyone to renounce all actions?

This can be answered with another question: When all the actions, desire and motivations for self-enjoyment are renounced, what is the action to be done and what is the purpose of doing actions? There remains only one action: doing action for the welfare of others. That action which is not done for one’s own pleasure but only for the well being of others does not have the power of bondage. Therefore such action is allowed to be done in the path of renunciation.

Those who follow the path of action believe that actions such as yajna, charity, and austerities are liberating actions that should be performed. And in the path of renunciation, actions such as meditation, contemplation, and prayer are done with the motivation of attaining liberation. Although it is important and a must in the path of renunciation, liberation is only a step toward Self-realization. Even after one has liberated himself from the bondage of attachment, he has yet to attain unity with the Self of all. Liberating the individual self from the bondage of attachment is not the same as attaining samadhi or Self-realization. Even if one performs actions that are liberating and that do not create further bondage, he still remains an individual and has yet to reach a higher state. He has to learn to expand consciousness and go on expanding it until he realizes universal consciousness.

The goal of the renunciate is to systematically fathom one after another of the various stages of consciousness that lead to the innermost One.

The following principles are the basis of the path of renunciation:

(1) The renunciate directs all his energy toward the attainment of the goal of life, Self-realization; (2) He does not waste time and energy pursuing desires based on self-interest; (3) The renunciate’s journey is inward; it is neither action nor inaction nor retreat. It consists of performing actions mentally and directing the mind and is modifications inward rather than toward the external world; (4) Non-attachment is attained spontaneously because the renunciate is not involved with objects; they have all been consciously renounced; (5) With pure reason all the samskaras are burned in the fire of knowledge; (6) There remains only one desire: the desire for Self-realization. That desire does not motivate one to do actions in the external world but becomes a means to build determination, will power, and one-pointed ness. therefore such desire is an essential means rather than an obstacle in the path of sadhana; (7) In the path of renunciation, Self-realization alone is the goal, and any action that does not becomes a means is firmly rejected and renounced. There is no half-here and half-there; total dedication and devotion are essential limbs for renunciation. This path of the rare few is the highest of all. It is difficult but not impossible. Those who are fully prepared should walk this path of fire and light. They should not listen to the suggestions of those who are not capable of following the path of renunciation.

Those who are not prepared to become renunciates should not think that they cannot realize the Self. That which is important to understand and attain is the state of non-attachment, without which treading either path-renunciation or action-is meaningless. It is important to do actions and duties for the common good and to release oneself from the helpless and inevitable law of karma. Such actions become a means to Self-realization, provided the goal always remains foremost and one’s actions are performed with zeal to offer all the fruits to the Lord. That brings freedom from the law of karma. Dedicating all the fruits of action to the lord is meditation in action, a central theme of the Bhagavad Gita, inspiring Arjuna and all aspirants. In the path of action, Self-realization is said to be attained by performing actions that are not binding, that are performed for the Lord alone. No path is superior or inferior. That which is important is to attain the wisdom of non-attachment.

11. It is not all possible for a body-bearer to abandon acts in their entirety; he however, who relinquishes the fruits of action is said to be the relinquisher.

12. The fruit of action is threefold: undesirable, desirable, and mixed; such fruit accrues after death to those who do not relinquish; but to the renunciates, there is none.

Those aspirants who are endowed with the qualities of sattva, who are free from all doubts, do not withdraw themselves from disagreeable work and do not become attached to pleasant work.

For them duty is duty,and they perform their duties with an even mind. It is not possible for the ordinary human being to abstain from his duties, for he carries his samskaras from his previous lives. He has those latent tendencies within himself that create his duties, and sooner or later they have to be performed. There is no choice but to perform one’s duty, but one can choose to renounce the fruits of his actions. The aspirants who do not relinquish the fruits of their actions receive those fruits, but they are uncertain as to what they will be. Some fruits are agreeable, some are unpleasant, and some are mixed. Those who perform their actions selflessly and skillfully, dedicating all the fruits of their actions, remain unaffected here and hereafter.

13. Learn these five causes from Me, O Mighty-armed One, taught in Samkhya where all actions end, for the fulfillment of all actions.

14. The substratum, the agent of action, and instrumentality of different kinds, separate motions of various kinds, and he rulership of the deities as the fifth-

15. The actions that a human initiates with the body, speech, and mind, whether just or its opposite, these five are its causes.

According to Samkhya philosophy and science, when an aspirant performs action from a state of equilibrium, it is accomplished without any obstacle.

Samkhya explains that five factors are necessary for accomplishing an action.

First the doer of actions needs a field for his actions and a dwelling place, called adhisthana. The second important factor is the performer of the actions who dwells within the field. He should be skilled in the performance. The third factor is the means and instruments of various kinds that are used by the performer. To attain the desired fruit, it is necessary to have health and appropriate means. The fourth factor is effort, for it a concentrated effort is not made; the desire to accomplish something is wasted. The undertaking should be well planned, and effort should be applied skillfully. The fifth factor is a favorable circumstance. Good actions performed in past lives give one the opportunity to be reborn in a family, environment, and country that offer favorable circumstances.

Some people think that a favorable circumstance is the result of luck

But luck is not a non-human factor; it is not partiality shown toward any one particular individual by a supreme being. A favorable circumstance is self-created. The Bhagavad Gita gives this as the last factor. Human endeavor, sincerity, and effort are the principle virtues, and favorable circumstances follow accordingly. Luck is the joy obtained after one’s task has been performed successfully, with skill and selflessness. Luck is within the domain of the individual and not in the hands of Providence. Those who are not aware of the actions they have done in the past to bring about their present good circumstances call it luck and attribute it to chance or to Providence. VERY GOOD

23. An act performed devoid of attachment and without attraction and aversion, by one desiring no fruit, is called sattvic.

24. That act, however, which is performed by one desirous of fruit and possessed with ego with much exertion of many kinds, that is called rajasic.

25. Without foreseeing the result, loss, violence, or capacity, the act that is initiated out of delusion is called tamasic

All actions are divided into three classes. Sattvic actions are those that are performed selflessly, the fruits being dedicated and offered to the lord. All yoga practices, including physical exercise, pranayama, and meditation, are considered to be sattvic actions. Prayers, chanting, and charity done selflessly are sattvic in nature.

Actions that are not performed with non-attachment but with desire for self-gratification are rajasic. Such actions are performed with great strain and are enveloped by selfish and egotistical desires. That way of being leads one to be chronically anxious and tense. The majority of people in modern society suffer under the strain of actions motivated by rajas. If modern therapy were to concentrate on helping one develop a sattvic way of being, many of the physical disorders and much of the psychological stress that we see would be eliminated.

Tamasic actions are those undertaken without regard for the consequences. The tamasic person stumbles along, reacting to the moment without regard to the havoc he creates as a result of his capacities or limitations. He may think that he is capable of much more than he really is and thus injures himself and others. Or he may believe that he is incapable, and thus become inert and fail to act. Although such people are unpredictable, one can accurately predict that the results of their actions will be disastrous.

26. Liberated from attachment, not uttering ‘I,’ endowed with the power to sustain and enthuse, unaffected in fulfillment or failure, such an actor is said to be sattvic.

27. Attached, desirous of the fruit of action, greedy, inclined to violence, impure, possessed by exhilaration and depression, such an actor is said to be rajasic.

28. Not joined in yoga, unrefined, unbending, a rogue, harming others, lazy, always depressed, a procrastinator, such an actor is said to be tamasic.>

After describing three kinds of performers of actions, Sri Krishna distinguishes between three types of intelligence (buddhi) and three types of resolution of firmness (dhriti). Among the four main instruments of antahkarana, buddhi is the discriminative, judging, and deciding faculty through which the light of knowledge comes forward. It is through buddhi that one discriminates and understands, judges, and makes decisions before he performs actions. There are three kinds of buddhi.

The buddhi that helps one to discriminate, judge, and decide; to know right from wrong; and to understand what is to be feared and what is not to be feared is called sattvic buddhi. Sattvic buddhi leads the aspirant inward and helps him to fathom the subtler and higher realms of life. Without any distraction, the pure reason of buddhi becomes penetrative and fathoms those levels of life that normally remain unknown to ordinary human beings.

The higher or sattvic buddhi has the following characteristics. (1) The power of discrimination is developed; (2) The buddhi that has learned to discriminate between the Self and non-Self, between the supreme Self in its unmanifest state and its power of manifestation, possesses power of non-attachment; (3) Such a buddhi has one pointed ness and inwardness; (4) It has attained calmness, quietness, and steadiness; it remains serene, undisturbed, and undissipated; (5) It is free from the desire for sense gratification; (6) It helps one to decide right from wrong and to act in a timely manner; (7) It makes one selfless and giving, without any expectations; (8) It helps one to remain tranquil and even in all conditions; (9) It helps one to remain a witness; (10) It leads one to spiritual heights.

33. That undeviating steadfastness (dhriti) which sustains activities of mind, prana, and senses through yoga, is, O Pritha, a sattvic one.

34. That by which one sustains virtue, desire, and worldly success, desire, and worldly success, desiring fruits incidentally in the context, that steadfastness (dhriti) is rajasic

35. That by which someone devoid of intuitive wisdom does not give up sleep, fear, grief, and depression, that steadfastness (dhriti), O Son of Pritha, is tamasic.

In addition to intelligence and knowledge, dhriti (firmness or steadiness) is necessary in the path to infinity. Here are aspirants who have knowledge, who know what to do and what not to do, but who lack the inner strength to be steady and firm in doing their practices. Some aspirants are very steady and firm but do not have profound knowledge of spirituality. In the path to Self-realization, sattvic buddhi and sattvic firmness are equally important. The way it is used here, the word dhriti has a meaning more profound than that, which is usually attributed to it. It is that inner strength which does not drawn all of a sudden but which is attained only after long spiritual practice under the guidance of an accomplished yogi. Human effort, sincerity, and honesty lead the aspirant to attain that power. For lack of that power, the yogi cannot reach the highest realm of spiritual knowledge.

Dhriti enables

one to have a one-pointed mind, and it helps one maintain coordination between the mind and the vital breath and pranic energy. It is a method of applying sushumna, which is important for attaining spiritual knowledge and a state of tranquility, for all inner and external distractions are controlled by sushumna application. Those who systematically learn the method of meditation know that after attaining physical stillness and steadiness, irregularity of the breath continues to disturb the mind. Mental unrest can also disrupt the breath and mind are two inseparable friends who work together until the last breathing of life. An in-depth study of the breath has not yet been undertaken by modern scientists, but the yogis know the subtle function of the breath and are aware that irregular breathing agitates the mind and vice versa. When the breath is calm and serene, when it has no jerks and no long pauses, it does not distract the mind but creates feelings of intense joy and steadiness. NOTE

The state in which both mind and breathe function in a balanced way is established by dhriti. Dhriti is that which brings mind and breath to a state of balance; it is the power that helps them to work together in a serene way. If one is not able to regulate his mind and breath in a perfectly coordinated way, his meditation will not bear the desired fruit, samadhi; no matter how many hours he practices meditation.

41.The actions of the brahmanas, kshatriyas, vaishyas, and shudras, O Scorcher of Enemies, are properly divided by the gunas born of the primordial nature Prakriti.

42. Peace, control, asceticism, purity, forgiveness, simplicity, knowledge, realization, and positive belief are the actions of a brahmana produced by nature.

43. Bravery, confidence, steadfastness, dexterity, not escaping a battle, charity, and expressing sovereign power are the actions of a kshatriya, born of nature.

44. Farming, husbandry, and trading are the actions of a vaishya, born of nature, and the actions of a shudra, consisting of service, are also born of nature.

Sri Krishna describes four kinds of people according to their innate qualities and dispositions. Birth does not take place by chance; it is not accidental. Our desires and actions from the past lead us to our circumstances, abilities, and desires in this birth, and that which we desire and do now determines our future. We experience desires, and we also act according to the qualities or samskaras that we carry from our past. We carry our samskaras from here to the hereafter and are reborn according to our own choices. As we have already noted, human beings can be broadly divided into four categories according to their inherent qualities and dispositions. In the Bhagavad Gita they are called brahmana, kshatriya, vaishya, and shudra.

The brahmana quality is found in spiritually inclined people who know that the purpose of life is to attain tranquility. These aspirats practice self-restraint and self-control, and they gain knowledge of both the internal and external worlds. They also have a profound knowledge of life here and hereafter. They are endowed with the sattva quality because they have strengthened that quality in the past. These brahmanas are called brahmanas not because they have inherited wisdom from their ancestors but because they cultivated that disposition with sincere efforts in their past lives. Sattva is not received through inheritance, but it is the result of one’s own efforts. Many times we find that a vagabond or ill-mannered and irresponsible person is born into a family of brahmanas, and often a man of brahmanic qualities and disposition is born into a shudra family. It is said that everyone is like a shudra by birth, but one becomes a brahmana only by his own efforts. It is one’s samskaras that create his disposition. One who has the qualities of a brahmana is led toward a spiritual way of life, and he is able to teach the art and science of life.

Rajasic qualities are seen in the personalities of kshatriyas. They have valor, courage, and the ability to administer and rule. The rajasic quality and disposition leads one toward an active and creative way of life. The vaishyas are another class of people; they are less endowed with sattvic and rajasic qualities than the people in the first two categories. They like to trade and conduct business. Shudra is the category of people who are not fit enough to tread the path of spirituality. They do not have zeal to be active, they lack courage, and they are not fit for trade and business. Their duty is that of service.

In ancient times this division into classes was the basis for the distribution of labor. It was designed for the well being of society. One’s position and work was determined according to the qualities he possessed. Over time, however, this concept of categorizing individuals according to their abilities has become distorted and used to separate people based on their caste, color, race, culture, or religion. That creates both psychological divisiveness and conflicts in the individual, community, and nation, and it devalues human life. Many great cultures have suffered as a result of false standards fostered by the priesthood and so-called religious leaders who have used religion and scripture to feed their own egocentric and selfish philosophies. These people are supposed to be the custodians of culture and religion, but they become caught up in the cult that serves their selfishness instead of propagating the fundamentals of truth. Instead of teaching unity, they teach diversity. Many societal diseases such as disparity, illiteracy, malnutrition, and discrimination between the poor and rich, the knowledge able and innocent, have degraded the human being so much that we have forgotten the truth that all human beings breathe the same air supplied by one and the same Lord.

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