karma yoga

Sankaran Jayanarayanan kartik at ECE.UTEXAS.EDU
Wed Jan 5 10:58:01 CST 2000

On Tue, 4 Jan 2000, Ravisankar S. Mayavaram wrote:


> * Most of my understanding in this post is from a book called
> "Introduction to bhagavad giita " by G. Prakash Rao.  Only few
> copies of this book was printed and circulated. It is based on
> shankara's bhaashhya.

I'm now reading the translation of Shankara's GItA Bhaashhya by
A.G. Krishna Warrier, and in the introduction to the work, there is a
discussion of karma yoga from the advaitic standpoint. Here's my
understanding on the subject.

Shankara's fundamental postulates regarding karma and GYAna are:
1) Only GYAna leads to mukti (karma leads to bondage).
2) When there is GYAna, there is no karma.

The sequence of events is:
karma yoga --> karma sannyAsa --> GYAna --> mukti

The central verse regarding this is BG 4.37:
yathaidhAMsi samiddhogniH bhasmasaatkurute arjuna .
GYAnAgniH sarvakarmANi bhasmasAtkurute tathA ..
"Just as fire reduces all fuel to ashes, Arjuna, so does the fire of GYAna
reduce all karma to ashes."

There is little doubt that GYAna leads to mukti, as Krishna says in 7.18:
GYAni tu Atmaiva me matam.h .
"The GYAni is My very Self: this is my judgment"

But can karma be an *alternate* path to mukti? Shankara argues no, and
explains in his BGB 2.11 that karma-yoga is the performace of nishhkAMya
karma (either not craving for the fruits of karma, or dedicating the
fruits of karma to the Lord), which leads to "saMsiddhi" or purity of
mind, denoting the dawn of Self-knowledge. Shankara here also refers
to BG 5.11, where Krishna says that nishhkAMya karma leads to Atma shuddhi
(purity of the self).

In Chapter 17, there is a discussion of the different attitudes with which
karma can be performed: saattvic (knowledge-oriented), rAjasic
(result-oriented), and tAmasic (deluded/error-oriented).

Only saattvic karma leads to GYAna-saN^ga, BG 14.6:
... sattvaM ... GYAna saN^gena ... ||
"sattva...is associated with GYAna"

The nature of this saattvic karma is that it is performed without desire
for results, vide BG 17.11:
aphala aakaa.nkShibhiH yaGYo ... saattvikaH .
"saattvic yaGYa is performed without desire for its fruits."

But saattvic karma also does not confer mukti -- just as all karma has
its effects, one must reap the effects of saatvic karma also. Therefore,
karma yoga must be followed by karma-sannyAsa. BG 5.13:
 sarva karmANi manasaa sannyaasa aste
 "mentally renounce all karma"

The way to mukti is therefore *only* through GYAna, but karma-yoga is
essential for the purity of the mind, and is a pre-requisite.

BG 3.36 gives the assurance that if even the greatest of sinners achieves
GYAna, he can attain mukti. But MadhUsUdana sarasvatI has emphasized the
"IF" in the statement: because a great sinner cannot achieve GYAna. Anand
had posted on this sometime ago.

Since most people cannot attain GYAna right away, one may suggest sannyAsa
for mukti -- but BG 3.4 warns us that this is not for everyone:
na karmaNAM anAraMbhAt.h naishhkarMyaM purushhoshnute .
na cha saMnyasanAdeva siddhiM samagachchhati ..
"One cannot achieve liberation from works by the mere non-initiation of
works, nor does one attain perfection by merely taking up sannyAsa."

Shankara comments on the above verse,"By abstention from -- the mere
non-initiation of -- works like sacrifices, man cannot achieve freedom
from them, i.e., the discipline of knowledge or existence as pure Self.
Works performed in this life or past lives serve to attenuate the sins
incurred and to purify the mind; thus they give a start to the discipline
of knowledge by generating knowledge."

This is the reason the average person needs karma yoga for chitta shuddhi
before the next step of karma sannyAsa. BG 5.6 explains that:
 (sannyAsa is difficult without (karma) yoga)

Shankara says in his commentary on the above verse,"Therefore, the seeds
of the transmigratory life are grief and delusion. They can be exhausted
only by the knowledge of the Self, preceded by the renunciation of all
activities, and not by any other means."

I have a doubt here: is the performance of saattvic karma the same as
karma yoga? There is little doubt that saattvic karma is a good thing, and
that it is performed without desire for results, but it is associated with
sukha (BG 14.6), and karma yoga is said to be work done with complete
detachment, even to sukha (BG 2.38).



bhava shankara deshikame sharaNam

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