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Karma yoga or Karta yoga PDF Print E-mail
Gita - Gita Articles

sri-bhagavan uvaca
loke 'smin dvi-vidha nistha
pura prokta mayanagha
jnana-yogena sankhyanam
karma-yogena yoginam
na karmanam anarambhan
naiskarmyam puruso 'snute
na ca sannyasanad eva
siddhim samadhigacchati

Shri Bhagavan speaks

O sinless one (Arjuna)
Once upon a time in the past
I have told these two paths of devotion
One the path of gyan yoga for the meditative
The other the path of karma yoga for the rest ||3:3||

No person gets to the state of non-working (nishkarma)
Simply by not performing of karma
Neither does any one get to the centering (siddhi)
By merely giving up (tyag) of any karma ||3:4)
(nishkarma = absence of doer-ship)

Never is it possible in any domain of time
For even an instant in the realm of life
That one does not do any karma
For he is forced to act (do karma)
By the attributes (gunas) of nature (prakriti) ||3:5||
(The momentum continues)

When Krishna first spoke to Arjuna in 2nd chapter, he was blunt and straightforward. Some feel that Krishna was sarcastic and even rude. Krishna almost called Arjuna a coward (klaivam). Here in the beginning of his words to Arjuna, Krishna is complementing Arjuna; Krishna calls him the sinless one (anadh, nishpaap). Arjuna is one with a clean conscience. It is such a huge complement for Arjuna to be called Mr. Clean by someone like Krishna. This name of Mr. Clean was bestowed upon Rajiv Gandhi when he first became the Prime Minsinter of India. How long a Mr. Clean image last in politics? But a complementary name of Mr. clean by Krishna is quite different. And Arjuna deserves this completely. Arjuna’s questions are now coming from his heart. He really wants to know. Arjuna is no more a pundit now that he was in the first chapter. He is getting close to surrendering himself to the greatness of Krishna. But questions arise in his mind. And questions arise in our minds too.

Krishna agrees with Arjuna that there are two paths, the path of gyan yoga for the meditative type and the path of karma yoga for the rest. The difference is, however, more like two different roads to the same destination rather than like two cars going in different directions. The destination is the same. The scenery may vary, but one still has to drive to get there. A gyani also has to do karma; he may be doing different karmas than one who is a karma yogi. This is what is so revolutionary in what Krishna has to say. Everyone who is born has to do karma. There is no escape from this basic truth.

What do we want from our life? We want success, we want happiness and we want prosperity. Once we get these then we start longing for the ultimate. We start looking for nishkarma and we start looking for samaadhi (becoming centered). Krishna talked about the state of sthitapragya and Brahmanirvana in the second chapter. He also talked about the nishkam karma as well. And Arjuna has asked the question. The question is why do karma if you can get there by gyan yoga.

Arjuna believes that gyan yoga implies no karma. Krishna clarifies it immediately. Krishna says that it is simply not possible. A man is condemned to do karma or you can also say it that man is blessed to do karma. Why does man have to do karma? What is the driving force? What is the science behind it? Krishna says it is the three attributes (gunas) of the nature. It is not God, it is not Krishna and it is not me; it is the gunas (attributes) of nature. There is a momentum from within. The momentum comes from our samskaras. There is more to come on this topic as we go along.

We need to realize one important factor here. Arjuna’s emphasis is on karma (doing). We all have a similar emphasis. We all want to do good karma or say the right karma. And we always debate about what is that right karma. Was it right (for the USA) to bomb Afghanistan or is it right to support Pakistan. Some find the right thing to do in the Ten Commandments while others find it in their holy book. Arjuna is asking the same question to Krishna. He is asking Krishna to tell him what that one thing he should do is. Krishna is not evading the question, but he knows that right and wrong are but relative. Krishna is more concerned about the intentions. Why do you want to do what you do? What is you interests and what are your intentions. What is in it for you? What is your state of being? Arjuna has to arise and fight, but he has to fight with sum-bhava. Arjuna has to fight but he has to fight without focusing on the results.

Krishna’s emphasis is on the karta (the doer). The question for Krishna is not what karma to do, but what is the state of being of the person who has to do the karma. Gyan yoga is perfect for someone like Buddha or someone like Mahavira. Arjuna being an extrovert and a soldier at heart and in reality may do better on the path of karma yoga. A soldier has to kill, but is he killing with anger and hatred or is he killing without any of these. Krishna is not talking about a cold blooded killer; he is talking about a cool headed person.

And that is why Krishna clarifies some misconceptions that existed in those times (and they persist even today). There is a belief that God can be realized by renunciation of karma. All you have to do is to leave your house and start begging. Krishna simply says that it is not so. No one gets to nishkarma (non-doer status) by quitting. Nishkarma is a state of being and one can get there even while he is in the middle of all the chaos of Manhattan in New York or of Connaught circle in Delhi. No one gets enlightened by begging like Buddha or walking naked like Mahavira. There are many nudists in several colonies in the world. Many of them do not even know about Mahavira. Being a Buddha or a Mahavira is a change in the fundamentals. When you become a Buddha, you may not even beg.

So Krishna makes sure Arjuna understands this. Arjuna wants to quit doing his karma. The karma of a soldier is to fight. Arjuna does not want to fight, and he believes that by doing so he might reach somewhere higher. Krishna wants Arjuna to get it now and that is that getting some where higher is not to be achieved by mere quitting of what Arjuna should be doing anyway.

Giving up of Karma will not take Arjuna anywhere and the same applies to all of us. Krishna’s emphasis is on transformation Arjuna’s being. Krishna is not going to give eight or Ten Commandments to Arjuna. He is not going to talk about right, wrong, good or bad. Krishna is going to talk more about transformation of our being. He is going to focus our doer ship status. That is why I feel that we should perhaps call Krishn’s karma yoga “karta yoga.” After all that is where Krishna’s focus is.

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