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Karma yoga and eka-buddi PDF Print E-mail
Gita - Gita Articles

vyavasayatmika buddhir
ekeha kuru-nandana
bahu-sakha hy anantas ca
buddhayo 'vyavasayinam

Those who are on this path are resolute in purpose, and their aim is one (eka-budhi). O beloved child of the Kurus, the intelligence of those who are irresolute is many-branched. ||2:41||

Kamana (desire) is the contaminant to buddhi (intellect) and also to karma. It is important to realize that Kamana is not good or bad; it simply contaminates the karma and also the intellect. The relationship is somewhat similar to mud and the water. The water becomes muddy and clarity is lost. If mud is allowed to settle down, clarity returns. Karma with kamana is sakam karma and a buddhi with kamana always travels in multiple directions. Arjuna is confused. He does not want to fight but at the same time he is not sure if that is the right decision. If he fights he fights for certain kamanas (desires) and if he does not fight he does so for other kamanas. Kamana is present in both the situations. And his budhi is therefore also divided. He is not sure what to do. Krishna is suggesting to Arjuna to drop the Kamana itself. Once the kamana is dropped, clarity of ek-buddhi will have a chance to set in and then Arjuna will have no difficulty deciding.

This ek-buddhi is a very neat concept proposed by Krishna here. Swami Chinmayananda has translated this shloka as moving with a one pointed mind. He says:

“In this stanza lies the secret of Hindu success – briefly hinted in hasty words herein. With a single pointed mind, if an individual can entertain any single resolute determination and act consistently towards the success, achievement must certainly result…..”

Swami Chinmayananda is right in what he is saying but that does not touch the heart of this shloka (verse). Krishna’s emphasis is not so much on the single pointed mind as much as it is on this being the outcome of a nishkam karmi’s mind. A nishkam karmi’s mind is one pointed, is a better statement and therefore he can be more successful. A mind contaminated with desires cannot think straight while a mind free of desires can think clearly.

A mind contaminated with desires thinks in multiple directions. It has to by default because there are multiple possibilities to get to the multiple interests of the desires. A man with kamana (desires) wants a given result and can think of numerous possibilities and approaches to get to it. There can be many types of fallout of these desire-oriented actions. A person whose desire is intense can take any path to obtain a desired result. Such a group or person will not hesitate in blowing up a plane or a building if that is the way he can find his desired result. When such a person is obsessed by his desire, he stops seeing any harm that he may cause to the humanity at large. He or she or a group can become blinded by the desire element. The other fallout of this desire-oriented action is a complete freeze-up. Sometimes there are so many options in the head of such a person that he cannot decide which path to take. The extreme of this indecision is also called decidophobia. In simple routine life desire oriented actions are o.k, but this in certain situation can be the source for the phenomenon of decidophobia and in worse situation lead to the possibilities of producing the people of worst kind, the terrorists, the Hitlers, the Cengis Khans of this world.

Nishkam karma on the other hand is uncontaminated with any kamana (desires). The actions of such a person comes from inside him and is based on the decisive capabilities of the ek-buddhi. Arjuna is confused. His brain is going in all directions as to what is the right thing to do in his situation. All these directions are based on one desire or the other. Krishna is saying that if only Arjuna can drop desires, he can get to the ek-buddhi and then there will be clarity in his mind. Such a mind can take the one appropriate decision, which will be the response for a given situation. Such a person does not suffer with the problems of decidophobia and is also not capable of harming anybody intentionally. Although such a person can counter a terrorist or is capable of dealing with Hitler or Cengis Khan, he will never become a terrorist himself. To become bad you have to have desire; without desire there is no possibility to evil hood. Put it differently, once the state of ek-buddhi is reached the karma that follows is nishkam karma.

Why do we have so much difficulty understanding this nishkam karma? I think that it is because of our unfamiliarity with the possibility of pure karma or with the existence of pure buddhi. When I say pure, I mean non-contaminated, non-contaminated with desires. We live in the world of muddy water and it is difficult to conceptualize what a clear water can be. Let us try to understand by another example. We are used to getting water from a well, a river or a pond. We make an effort to get this water. We then have to heat it to use for shower or making tea. And then you go to Japan or in the Himalayas and find this beautiful hot springs. The hot water flowing freely and it has some medicinal properties as well. The water just dwells up. No effort is needed. All you have to do is be there. Pure karma is like spontaneous flowing of this hot spring except that the hot spring does not need any intellect. It just flows. In our case, however, when the kamana (dsire) drops then there is pure buddhi (ek-buddhi) and where there is pure buddhi there is the pure karma (nishkam karma).

It is difficult to grasp this pure buddhi and that is one reason why Krishna calls it ek-buddhi (decisive, clarity, one mind, one intellect or may be uni-psychichness). I am a surgeon and surgeons know what ek-buddhi really means. When a surgeon is performing a surgery, and he has to decide to cut certain structure, he has to have this ek-buddhi or he will be cutting out the wrong organ all the time. And surgeons have been wrong at times, but that is definitely not a desirable thing. It is a common saying in the medical field that a physician should not treat people who are close to him and this especially applies to performing surgeries. A surgeon never wants to have to operate on his son, daughter or wife. There is too much attachment there. And this attachment can become bondage. Krishna is saying the same thing in a different context. If you have attachments, decision-making can be difficult. Drop the attachment and then you can think more clearly and be more effective.

What is this pure buddhi or ek-buddhi. In the desire originated karma buddhi is intermediary. There is a desire to become a tennis champion. The buddhi suggests the player to train, hire a coach and practice. And there is good chance that this player can become a champion. The well-known sequence is desire, buddhi and result. A luck factor can be added to that as well. What happens when you drop the desire? It feels like a vacuum. Krishna will argue that the player will have a better chance of becoming a champion if he drops the desire of winning and just does his best. He will not be influence by the tension of the desire to win.

We have not trusted ourselves enough to accept this concept. This shloka is really important one in my opinion and also is the key to understanding of the whole concept of karma-yoga. And unfortunately, this shloka has not received the importance it truly deserves. I totally agree with Swami Chinmayananda when he says, “briefly hinted in hasty words..” You are hiking on a mountain. You see some one exhausted there and he or she appears to be in need of water. Your hand goes in your backpack, the water bottle comes out and you give it to the person who drinks and thanks you. All this happened before you thought whether you would get a seat in heaven or not. Such spontaneous acts are the ones Krishna is talking about. The act flows out of you, there is no thinking of whether to give the water or not, there is just ke-buddhi that the water bottle has to be given. Some simple methods can be tried. You have to get up at 6 a.m. in the morning. Do not put the alarm clock. Just talk to yourself. Go to sleep. Sleep with total trust. And you may be surprised to find that something from inside you wakes you up exactly at 6 a.m. This is not a major breakthrough but such simple acts can add confidence in trying out spontaneous functions that exist with us. We simply do not pay attention to theses functions. Alarm clocks are easier options. I am not suggesting replacing alarm clocks; I am simply suggesting trying out some simple experiments so that nishkam karma can be internalized. Theoretical knowledge is not enough and as I said before just not worrying about the results is not the end all of nishkam karma.

So far we have covered the following attributes of Nishkam Karma:

  • Nishkam karma frees one from bondage of karma
  • No effort of nishkam karma is wasted
  • There are no obstacles in the path of nishkam karma
  • Nishkam karma protects one from the greatest fears
  • Nishkam karma leads to ek-buddhi (clarity)

Whether we do sakam karma or nishkam karma we need the help of buddhi all the time. Buddhi is divided by default whenever there is sakam karma and it is unified in the case of nishkam karma. This ek-buddhi forms one of the greatest strengths of nishkam karma and thereby is inherently capable of producing superior results, superior to sakam karma. And this is one reason why Arjuna became the hero of Mahabharata. Krishna is not talking some exotic theory; he is talking about how Arjuna can come to a decision and give the best performance of his life.

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