Karma and Sanyasa

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Thu Jul 30 15:31:34 CDT 1998

On Mon, 27 Jul 1998, Sankaran Jayanarayanan wrote:

> I've just begun following the discussion on the subject and I find that
> Maadhavan's questions are so relevant that they're exactly what need
> answers. I've read the replies by others, but here at last are some
> questions that need clarification. I'll explain:
> The answer to every one of the above questions is "It was done by
> Janaka, and he's a role model."
> I do remember the thread earlier on by Anand Hudli and others about how
> Shankara says that karma yoga ought to be rejected by the wise, etc.,
> but that does not clarify the above points that Maadhavan has raised.
> Why does Krishna give the example of Janaka at all?

In the Gita Krishna Bhagavan at one point (I think in chapter 2) says "By
karma alone great men of old like Janaka attained Moksha."
Let's look at the context.  Arjuna a Kshatriya of royal lineage whose
dharma is to fight has expressed fear and doubt as to whether he should go
through with it.  It is he not Krishna Bhagavan who brings up the
topic of renunciation.  So what? you may think.  Isn't that a good thing?
The problem is he is doing the right thing for the wrog reason.  Sannyasa
is the conquest of the illusions of the world not a hiding place for those
to weak to deal with it.  Thus Bhagavans job is to encourage him to face
his duty.  He does so by giving the example of another great King of old.
_This_ is why Janaka is a role model or Arjuna.  As a duty bound Kshatriya
not as a Jivanmukta.

What does "by karma alone" mean here?  Some schools of Vedanta or Mimamsa
would take it literally.  However there is evidence this is not so.  For
instance in brhadaranyakopanishad we see Janaka engaging in atmavichara
and learning from Maharshi Yagnavalkya.  (Note: Obviously at this stage he
is not a jivanmukta or he would not need a teacher.)  But it is by giving
dana (quintessential karma) to his teacher he has earned the favor of
learning brahmavidya.  Merely abandoning ones karma is irresponsibility.
But practicing it diligently can lead to the opportunity for brahmavidya
even though it is in no way the cause of it.

Also Shankaracharya observes on this verse that just because we see
learned people doing karma doesn't mean they endorse it.  As a king Janaka
was responsible for the welfare of his subjects and thus  maintained
the appearance of doing karma so the common people wouldn't have been led
down the wrong path.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>

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