Karma and Sanyasa

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vidya at CCO.CALTECH.EDU
Thu Aug 6 17:39:29 CDT 1998

On Thu, 6 Aug 1998, Gummuluru Murthy wrote:

> > I was responding to your argument that it is the very nature of Moksha
> > that demands certain conclusions.  But it is the Vedas that define the
> > naure of Moksha.  If there was some statement that Moksha was the state of
> > having an extra pair of ears then we would have to argue on that basis.
> > It is like in Law you have the concept of a corporation being a "person."
> > It would be quite reasonable to say based on the nature of personhood to
> > say that a corporation isn't a person.  After all it doesn't have arms,
> > legs etc.  But if you said that in a courtroom the argument would
> > considered be invalid because _as_far_as_the_law_is_concerned_, a
> > corporation is defined to be a person.
> >
> > In the same way, Vedanta is the philosophical system that is based on
> > analysing the meaning of statements in the Jnanakanda of the Vedas (and by
> > extension, all the works based on it.)  These are its definitions and to
> > go beyond them you need some sort of Meta-Vedanta.
> >
> But, is there a *definition* of moksha ?  By defining, we are limiting it
> to be bound within the definition. But moksha is ananta, the infinite, the
> undefinable bliss. I do not think the Upanishhads ever defined moksha in
> terms of the explainable. If it is, I would certainly like to see
> reference to it.

There are at least two definitions in the upanishads - neha nAnAsti
kiMcana, and na sa punar Avartate. As you can see, both are definitions by
negation. On the other hand, even to say that moksha is infinite bliss is
a definition.

However, I do not completely agree with Jaldhar's legal analogy. It is
perfectly valid for mImAMsA and karmakANDa of the veda, but not always for
the jnAnakANDa. But when one says the word "vedAnta" it is not synonymous
with "moksha". We can discuss vedAnta for infinite lifetimes, but in the
end, the moksha is silence, it is in silence.

> > > Yes. but that renunciation is detachement at the manas level that I have
> > > been emphasizing from the begining.  No disagreemnt that the external will
> > > help.
> >
> > The mental sannyasa includes the external.  The external  may not
> > include the mental but  anyone who is detached will by necessity not act.
> >
> As I understand it (again, I would request members to look at this
> rationally and ponder over it): mental sannyAsa (renunciation) is all
> there is. Does it make a difference whether the entity wears a grihastha
> garb or a sannyAsi garb ? In what way are the grihastha or sannyAsi garbs
> different than say a mole on the cheek ?

It may make a difference to that entity, if not to others. That is why the
jAbAla upanishad advises - yad ahar eva virajet, tad ahar eva pravrajet.
In one sense, physical sannyAsa is only symbolic of mental sannyAsa, but
it is a very powerful symbol. We gain little by denying the power of the
symbol, nor do we gain anything by exalting the symbol over all else.

> The only renunciation that the scriptures talk of is the mental
> renunciation (MahAnArAyanopanishhad, kaivalyopanishhad). We can arrive at
> that from various routes (i) by doing nitya karmAs in a sense of
> dispassion, (ii) by complete and unqualified surrender to personal God
> with the firm belief that the personal God will lead us to moksha.

Either case requires the notion of the Atman as an agent. So long as
agency is superimposed upon oneself, this is fine, but this has to be
based on the higher reality that the Atman is never really an agent. And
I'm not talking of fate vs. free-will here. When one knows that the Atman
is really a non-agent, there is neither fate nor is there any will.

As for scripture, there are many which talk of physical sannyAsa too -
e.g. the various texts that have been labelled the saMnyAsa upanishads.
Also, even in bRhadAraNyaka upanishads, we have the story of yAjnavalkya
going away into the forest, and offering to partition his property among
his wives. This is the occasion for the central teaching of this
upanishad, when he instructs maitreyI. Now, wasn't yAjnavalkya already an
AtmajnAnI at the time he gave this instruction to her? Still, he
*physically* renounced his wives and possessions, and went away into the
forests. Isn't this physical sannyAsa?

As I said in another post, it is a futile debate if one pits the mental
vs. the physical in this issue. One needs to understand and acknowledge
the value of both. The answer to the perceived problems with those who
wear ochre robes but don't seem to be true renouncers is not to undercut
the value of physical sannyAsa, but to exhort the value of mental sannyAsa
to the one who has renounced only physically.

> I fully agree with that interpretation of the essence of gitA. But let us
> also keep this in perspective. There are karmAs designated for any one who
> is embodied (or for anyone who feels that he/she is embodied and who
> thinks that the physical form is the boundary for that entity). For a
> grihastha, there are nitya karmAs (shhaTkarmANi dine dine), for a
> sannyAsa, there are other karmAs designated. No one can give up action as
> long as they think they are limited by the embodiment.  If we accept that,
> the whole debate may be unnecessary.
> Yes, everything involves action. One cannot deny it. Even a sannyAsa has
> to perform action (may be different from a tax return, but still action
> nevertheless)
> But who is this renouncer of karma (action) ?

He who knows that the Atman is not a kartA and not a bhoktA (vidvat
sannyAsa). Or, he who wants to know the real nature of the Atman
(vividishA sannyAsa). If the renouncing of action is itself an action, it
is an action that annihilates itself. This should be distinguished
from inaction out of laziness or out of some fear, which has tAmasic

The difference between the classical Hindu gRhastha and the classical
Hindu saMnyAsin is that the former *has* to perform action, but for the
latter, action is optional. The sannyAsin does not *have* to perform any
action, even to nourish the physical body. This is a *religious*
distinction, and based on the scriptures. Contemporary reality, especially
outside India, may be different from this classical distinction, but let
us not deride the institution of saMnyAsa itself.

There have been many instances of true saMnyAsins (physical_and_mental),
who did not eat anything for such extended periods of time as two whole
months, "lost" as they were in the non-dual Atman. This does not mean that
the true saMnyAsin should starve to death, as that may also be motivated
by some desire. For every desire, there is an antidote, which may either
be learnt from scripture, or may be manifestly clear to the intellect.
The jIvanmukta is not required to act at all, and neither human society
(which changes with time) nor scripture (which is fixed) can say
otherwise. As a matter of fact, scripture does say that the jIvanmukta is
not required to act. But scripture cannot prohibit the jIvanmukta from
acting either. There can neither be an enjoining (vidhi) nor a prohibition
(pratishedha) of action here.


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