Perennial Psychology of the Bhagwad Geeta

  • By Swami Rama
  • January 2002

Knowledge of Renunciation and Action            

1.    Krishna, you advise renunciation of actions and again the yoga of action; whichever is the better one of these two, please tell me definitely
2.    Both the yoga of renunciation and of action lead to supreme beatitude. Between those two, however, the yoga of action excels the renunciation of action.
3.    Know him to be ever a renunciate who neither hates nor desires; devoid of the opposites of duality, indeed, O Mighty-armed One, he is effortlessly relieved from bondage.

Arjuna wants comprehensive knowledge of each path so he can know which to follow and how. He asks Sri Krishna to show him the path that will lead to the highest bliss. Although Sri Krishna imparts the knowledge of both paths, renunciation and action, he leads Arjuna along the path of action because Arjuna in his despondency has forgotten his duty and thinks of turning to renunciation as an escape. In the path of renunciation both action and fruits are renounced. But in the path of action only the fruits are renounced, and action is performed with non-attachment. Both the path of action and the path of renunciation are valid, but Sri Krishna recommends the path of action for Arjuna for the following reasons: (1) Arjuna is infatuated and full of grief because of attachment to his relatives; (2) He is in a state of confusion yet is talking of renunciation, which is merely an escape for him because he does not have the courage to confront the mental conflict he experiences; (3) He is being selfish, thinking only about himself and his position; (4) Thinking of renouncing is a clear sign of cowardice for a warrior. Refusing to fight a just war and running away from the battlefield have nothing to do with renunciation. It is quite evident that Arjuna is not prepared either to perform his duties or to follow the path of renunciation.

We have already explained that the path of renunciation is only for a fortunate few; the masses are more inclined toward action. The path of action is thus the only path for the people of the world. In the path of renunciation both action and fruits are renounced: the fire of knowledge burns all the actions and the fruits of actions. There is no desire, no action, and therefore no fruits. The actions that the renunciate performs are not the same actions as those performed by the people of the world. The actions performed by the renunciate are preparation for deepening his renunciation so he can attain profound knowledge. The renunciate’s actions do not lead him toward worldly attainments but toward the divine.

No aspirant should decide to follow the path of renunciation in a fit of emotion or if he is not successful in the world. Disappointment and frustration create the desire for withdrawal and diversion in ordinary minds. It is a state of confusion-not a preparation for renunciation. (Renunciation of the world must not arise out of escapism but a desire to realize the divinity within you).

When one genuinely wants to renounce, he has a single desire to attain liberation. The quality of that desire is not like the quality of other desires that motivate one to perform actions and reap the fruits. It is a desire for lighting the fire to burn all the samskaras, all the impressions in the unconscious. The fire of knowledge alone purifies and makes one free. Then that desire to attain knowledge is also renounced. The real renunciate is he who freed himself from the pairs of opposites such as pleasure and pain, love and hate, for the remains in the state of bliss by being one with the Absolute. He has freed himself from the divisions of the phenomenal world.

Arjuna’s path is that of action. That path is valid because: (1) It is the path of the masses; (2) When one cannot live without doing actions, he can still discipline himself and practice non-attachment; (3) Deeds performed with non-attachment are selfless deeds, and selfless deeds lead to emancipation; (4) Performing deeds with a tranquil mind and with non-attachment is worship, for in this path the fruits of one’s actions are offered to the Lord.

4.    Only the childish argue about Samkhya and Yoga as being separate-not so the pandits. Resorting to either one properly, one attains the fruit of both.
5.    The place that is attained by the followers of Samkhya is also attained by those of Yoga. He who sees Samkhya and Yoga as one, truly sees.

The great learned ones who understand both the path of Samkhya yoga (the path of knowledge) and karma yoga (the path of action) do not find a huge gulf between two paths, for they know them to be two aspects of the same pursuit. How can one possibly perform actions without knowledge, and how can the fire of knowledge be kindled without action? Behind the yoga of action stands the profound philosophy of Samkhya, and the science of yoga furnishes the means to practice the goal of life. Thus they are inseparable. Both paths lead the aspirant to the spiritual summit. Learning to perform actions is beneficial for the ordinary person, but for one who is free from the pairs of opposites, it is immaterial whether he follows the path of renunciation or the path of action. To one who has attained the state of tranquility, it makes no difference which path he follows. Therefore the conflict over following one path or the other does not arise in the mind of the learned. Both paths lead to the same end: liberation, emancipation, fulfillment, and Self-realization.

10.    Placing his actions in Brahman, abandoning attachment, he who performs actions is not smeared by sin, any more than a lotus leaf by water.
11.    With the body, with the mind, with intelligence, or with senses alone the yogis perform their actions, abandoning attachment, for the purification of themselves.
12.    Joined in yoga, abandoning the fruits of action, one attains the peace of those who have conviction. One not joined in yoga, acting out of desire and attached to fruits becomes bound.

One needs to control the senses and mind and at the same time to have knowledge of the Ultimate in order to give up attachment. Mere discipline does not help one to attain the virtue of non-attachment. He alone who gives up all the fruits of his actions, offering them to the Lord of life and the universe, is not affected by the evil of attachment. He is like the lotus: though it lives in the water, its petals remain unaffected by the water. The lotus, which is a symbol of yoga, reminds us not to be attached while performing actions.

Many people confuse attachment with love. But in fact it is non-attachment that is love, whereas attachment is merely lust and addiction. If we learn to practice non-attachment in our relationships, we can create a heaven for ourselves here. We can live in a garden of delight. If in the close relationship between husband and wife, both partners learn to see the presence of divinity in one another and remain conscious of it all the time, the relationship will turn from lust to love, from attachment to non-attachment. but if the consciousness of the body remains only on the level of sense pleasures, lust grows and therefore attachment as well. The spiritualization of a relationship is possible provided both partners have one and the same aim, like two wheels of the same chariot, which can make the path easy and joyful. Any relationship that is worthwhile is an expression of love of the divine.
Sri Krishna teaches that all actions can be performed as worship, dedicating the fruits of actions to the Lord. If every action is taken as a gesture of worship, then how can the fruits of action bind the human being? Bondage comes from action performed selfishly for the purpose of sense gratification. Those who have learned the art of dedicating the fruits of their actions and who remain constantly aware of the Lord of life and of the universe, though they live in the word they remain unaffected like the lotus in water.

Yogis perform their actions selflessly. Their actions are not directed toward reaping fruits for the sake of pleasure. Such yogis are always in perennial joy, for they do not create attachment. This path is the path of selfless love and service. These great lovers of humanity attain the highest state of peace and tranquility. One who performs his actions with attachment and with selfish motives does not know how to give and give up and suffers from the fruits of his actions, which imprison him.

13.    Renouncing all actions with the mind, the self-controlled one sits happily in the city with nine gates; the body-bearer neither doing anything nor causing anything to be done.
The nine gates referred to in this verse are the nine openings in the body: two nostrils, two ears, two eyes, the mouth, and the organs of excretion and generation. It is beautifully said in the Ramayana that these nine gates are guarded by guards who are so evil that, instead of protecting the city of life, they always keep these gates open to all pleasurable sensations, for they do not know any other way. But the yogis, having perfect mastery of the nine portals or openings in the body, are not trapped by sense gratification. They yogic control these gates and remain free from the sense pleasures that gradually destroy the city of life. The master of this city, the Self, is seated in the inner chamber of our being. Instead of having the profound consciousness of the master, the ego creates a false sense of individuality and ownership, and thus serious problems arise.

Because it indulges in sense gratification, the ego forgets the master and separates itself from the pure Self. This separation is actually the greatest of all pains for those who have already trodden the path and are conscious of the Self. The yogi is fully aware that the master of this city of life is the Self, not the ego. The yogi knows that it is the pleasures obtained from the nine gates that feed the ego, so he shuts all these gates with his power of discrimination and self-control. These nine gates then do not remain a source of distraction and misery. By being aware of the Reality and being free of the problems created by the ego, the yogi remains non-attached. His happiness is undisturbed.

In the city of life there are in fact ten portals. Nine are known by everyone, but the tenth is understood only by yogis. It is called Brahma randhra ( the fontanel or soft spot on the crown of the head), and its function is only known by accomplished yogis. When the pranas (vital energies) depart or a abandon their duties, the whole city of life crumbles, and a serious split or division is created. This is the separation that the ordinary man thinks of as death. Without the bridge that is formed by prana, the two units of life separate. One unit is the individual self and the unconscious mind; the other is the conscious mind, senses, and body. This is not actual death; it is only separation. Those who wait for death to release them from their circumstances are merely fantasizing about something that never occurs. They should instead devote their energies to accomplishing their task on this earth. When one’s vision is limited, the horizon is not seen as it is Death is a change and not annihilation. The wise who understand this are never affected by the horror of death created by ignorant minds. The wise person knows that he was never born and so he never dies. When a yogi leaves the body, he opens the tenth gate from which he can visualize the life hereafter. For a yogi there is no mystery concerning life here and hereafter.

18.    Towards a philosopher endowed with knowledge and discipline, toward a cow, toward an elephant, and toward a dog as well as toward a cremation ground attendant, the wise are of a single eye.
19.    They whose minds are established in equanimity have conquered the entire creation right here. Brahman is faultless and even; therefore they are established in Brahman.

One who has attained the profound knowledge of Atman and sees the real Self as the Self of all is called a brahmana. A brahmana, enriched with the knowledge of Atman, is always modest and humble. Such a learned one who is devoted to acquiring knowledge of the Ultimate is also called a pandit, and he attains samatvam (evenness). He conquers the fear of death and is free from the bondage of birth and death. The real Self is free of attributes of all kinds. Those who realize the Self everywhere are absorbed in the Self. Just as the stream meets the ocean, becomes one with it, and can no longer be separated from it, the brahmana is no longer separated after becoming one with the Self of all.

The ignorant do not have profound knowledge of birth and death. The secret of these two events is known only by the learned. They have already solved the riddles of these two occurrences, for past, present, and future are equally comprehended by them. They also have knowledge of the hereafter. For those who have attained Brahman, Brahman’s knowledge is ever present.

20.    One should not be exhilarated upon attaining something pleasant nor should he tremble over attaining the unpleasant. A person of steady wisdom, entirely free of confusion, knowing Brahman, dwells in Brahman.
21.    The happiness that he finds in the Self, whose self is unattached to external contacts, he with his self joined in the yoga of Brahman attains imperishable comfort.

Those even-minded great men are neither excited by nor proud of their achievements, nor do they become disappointed or disgusted with which is unpleasant. Their buddhi is firmly established in Brahman, and the knower of Brahman never becomes deluded. Those who are not attached to the objects of enjoyment experience everlasting happiness within themselves. Evenness leads such great ones to the attainment of perfection. They are revered by all.

This is an important lesson for all aspirants: one should not become overwhelmed by his attainments and should also not be affected by disagreeable situations. In all circumstances the great ones maintain their evenness. They do not lose their serenity, and they are not subject to the temptations and charms of the mundane world. There tranquility comes with non-attachment; their peace and serenity remain undisturbed. Being one with Brahman, they remain in a state of joy everlasting yet ever changing.

Ordinarily people become imbalanced when they experience both success and failure. In success one becomes inflated with pride and thinks too much of himself, and in failure he becomes deflated and depressed. When one becomes inflated he sets himself for a fall, for he then creates a false impression of his worth, and the course of events established by his own unconscious is bound to bring him down. Similarly the depressed state is a deluded state in which one falsely identifies with his failure or supposed inadequacy. Although one may hold on to either state for some time, his own internal learning process will tend to eventually bring him to a state of balance. The wise man, however, avoids such swings of emotion; he has learned to balance his emotions and maintains that balance all the time. A tranquil mind is never deluded by these illusory events; whereas the mind of the ignorant is easily swayed by pain and Ordinary people find happiness only after obtaining the pleasurable objects of their desire, but those who are Self-realized experience the flow of perennial joy. The great yogis experience the happiness of perennial joy without interruption in the waking, dreaming, and sleeping sates. The fountain of joy is within and can never be experienced if it is not realized within. As long as one finds delight in the temporary enjoyments of the world, perennial joy cannot be experienced. The desire to obtain joy through external experiences is always in vain.

Those who have intense thirst for knowledge cannot quench that thirst with the waters of streams and wells: only the knowledge of the Eternal quenches it. When in a systematic manner the aspirant practices inwardness, he learns to stop the outward flow, to experience the joy of the Eternal. He is constantly aware of that joy. Through yogic sadhana the yogi is able to reach a state of equilibrium, evenness, and tranquility. For him external pleasures do not have value, and he does not search for happiness in the external world. He knows that the source of happiness is within. He constantly remains aware of this truth, undisturbed and united with the Eternal.   
Here ends the fifth chapter in which Sri Krishna leads Arjuna on the path of action, which leads one to develop perfect control over his mind and to abandon all desires and anger thus attaining liberation.

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