[Advaita-l] On Karma yoga - Part I

kuntimaddi sadananda kuntimaddisada at yahoo.com
Tue Dec 20 21:30:59 CST 2005

I attended recently Swami Paramaarthanadaji class on Bhagawat Geeta and
on that day he was summarizing Ch. 3. That motivated me to jot down some
notes. I am going to post as couple of parts since it is becoming too
Hari OM!
Karma Yoga: Summary of Chapter III: Part I  
The chapter starts with Arjuna's question; what yoga is good for him;
Should he do jnaana yoga or karma yoga?.  Krishna glorified at the end
of the second chapter Jnaana yoga with the discussions on sthitaprajna
lakshaNa. At the same time, Arjuna feels that he is being pushed to
perform Karma yoga, which in his case involves fighting the terrible
war.  He wants Krishna to decide what is the most appropriate for him.
Implication of Arjuna’s question is that a seeker has a choice to do
Karma Yoga or Jnaana Yoga. Since Jnaana Yoga leads to Jnaana, which is
the means for liberation, then why one should do karma yoga? This forms
the basis for this chapter.

Krishna essentially answers that there is no choice between karma yoga
and jnaana yoga. Everyone has to do karma yoga since that is
prerequisite for jnaana yoga. Karma yoga prepares the mind for jnaana
yoga.  Jnaana yoga only liberates the person.

na karmaNaamanaarambhaat naiskharmyam purusho2shnute|
na ca sanyaasanaat eva siddhim samadhi gacchati|

Essentially without karmayoga one cannot gain the requisite
qualifications for jnaana yoga. By just giving up karma one cannot
attain the equanimity of the mind. In addition, no one can ever remain a
moment without performing an action – He will be propelled to act
because of his vaasana-s.
Na hi kaschit kshaNamapi jaatu tushhTasya karma kRit|
kaaryate hyavashhaH karma sarvaH prakRitijaiH guNaiH||
Later in the 6th Chapter Krishna tells us when to give up Karma yoga –
that is when one becomes yogaarudhaH – that is when one is able to
contemplate single pointedly in the direction specified by the
scriptures. yogaaruuDhasya tasaiva shamaH kaaraNamuchyate| and who is
yogaaruuDaH? – sarva sankalpa sanyaasi yogaaruuDha stadocyate|| - the
one who has no more interest in the sense pleasures, or in performing
any action, and who likes to withdraw from all non-essential activities,
he is said to be yogaruuDhaH|

If so, then what constitutes Karma yoga? This is discussed in slokas
8-20 of the Chapter.

One who performs the vidita karma-s; that is obligatory duties -  these
can be shaastra vidita or Veda vihita and some desha kaala aashrama
vidita – Those actions specified by the scriptures.  Some obligatory
duties depend  on time, place as well as on ones vocation or position in
the family and society.
The essential ingredient of the obligatory actions or niyata karma are,
they are all intended for the benefit of the others and not for oneself
- that is they are not self-fish activities.
The purpose of doing these niyata karma-s is they expand the mind or par
gates the selfishness in the saadhak and purifies him.
According to Swami Paramaarthanandaji there are 5 important vidita
karma-s which are considered as yagna-s – and grouped as panca mahaa

1. deva yagna
2. pitRi yagna
3. Rishi yagna
4. manushya yagna
5. bhuuta yagna

1. Deva yagna – also called deva RiNa – is obligation to the Gods.  Gods
are the phenomenal forces that give results for the actions.  Whatever
is given to us is due to blessings of the Deva-s.  Deva yagna involves a
recognition of the fact that you are getting benefit from the Nature and
it is your duty to return back (with interest) to the nature. Swami
Chinmayanandaji puts in a beautiful form: What I have is His gift to me
and what I do with what I have is my gift to Him.

Yanga means worship. Deva yagna involves worship of the Gods recognizing
that you are the beneficiary of the natural forces.  It starts with
prayer, first thing in the morning and ends with a prayer as last thing
before one sleeps.  One benefits from nature immensely - air to breath,
water to drink, food to eat and so on.  Krishna says in the 15th chapter
– aham vishvaanaro bhuutvaa praaNinaam dehamaashritaH| praaNaapaana
samaayuktaH pachaamyannam caturvidham|| I am the one in all beings who
is propelling all the essential physiological functions – praNa to
appana, vyaana, udaaana, samaana – contributing to the digestion of the
four types of food that one intakes. So while we are sleeping, Krishna
is awake working whole night digesting the food that we eat. Without his
presence we cannot even breathe for a second. A recognition of this fact
with a reverential attitude is deva yagna. Of course it also includes
other obligatory duties including sandhyaa vandanam, puuja, etc.

For obligatory duties, it is said that by commission one does not gain
any merits but by omission one gains demerits or paapam.  Fact of the
mater is, it purifies the mind and makes one humble, since one
recognizes that every thing is gift from Gods, and nothing is taken for
granted. I recognized how lucky I am, when I visited a cousin of mine
few months ago, who lost both his kidneys and had to undergo painful
dialysis everyday. God has given us a double gift to be safe, but we
take things for granted. Only when they do not function we recognize how
lucky we were upto that point. Ability to breathe without a problem is a
God-given gift, and we can recognize that only when we are not able to
breathe and had to use a machine to force the air in.  Deva RiNa or
obligation to gods is the recognition that we cannot even lift a blade
of a grass without their help, and that there is nothing that really
belongs to us and everything that we have is only a gift from the Gods.
In the last chapter of Kenopanishad there a story of how Gods, vaayu,
varuNa, agni learn that they cannot even lift, wet or burn a blade of
grass without the help of that life-principle.

Shankara says in VivekachuuDaamani – manushyatvam, mumukshutvam,
mahaapurushha samsrayam, daivaanugaha hetukam – being born as a human
being, intensive desire for liberation and association with great souls
are only due to the blessings of the God. Since God is the giver of the
fruits of actions, karma yoga starts by recognizing this fact and
performing all actions in the attitude of prayer to the Gods and
accepting the results as prasaada. Iswaraarpana buddhi and prasaada
budhhi are two essential ingredients of Karma yoga.

2. PitRi yagna: worship of our forefathers – It is the recognition that
how blessed I am for having parents who could take care of me when I was
in pitiable condition and educate me with proper values.  Particularly
the Indian parents sacrifice everything they have for the benefit of
their children. It is blessing to be born to such parents.  It is the
recognition that everything that I have is the result of their
sacrifice.  Vedic instructions maatRi devo bhava, pitRi devo bhava
recognizes that these two are the first Gods that need to be worshiped.
Formally, pitRi yagna includes all the vedic rituals that need to be
performed, tarpanas, shraadha-s, etc, where three generation of fore
fathers are prayed.  Incidentally, tarpana is also done not only for
ones parents, but for other parents, whose children are failing to do
their duties.

3. Rishi yagna: Rishi stands for both the Veda-s and also guru parampara
starting from Veda Vyaasa all the way to ones own teacher.   This yagna
is done by daily study of the scriptures and by passing on the knowledge
to others what one has gained from his teacher. Thus, guru parampara is
established and veda-s are handed down from generation to generation to
come.  We are blessed indeed by such unparalleled treasure of knowledge
left behind by our fore-fathers and it becomes our duty study them and
pass it on to the next generation.  The daily study of the scriptures is
Rishi yagna.

4. Manushya yagna: This is service to humanity.  ‘Maanava sevaye
maadhava seva’ is well know proverb.  One ends all prayers with – sarve
janaaH sukhino bhavantu. Samasta san mangalaani santu|  kaale varshhatu
parjanyaH, pRithiviH sasyashaalinii, deshoyam shoba rahitaH, brahmanaas
santu nirbhayaaH – go braahmanebhyam shubamastu nityam lokas samastaa
sukhino bhavantu – are the prayers to be done with devoted mind.  Here
BrahmanaaH stands for wise people who are the backbone of the society
preserving and passing on the knowledge and wisdom to the next
generation.  Self-less service to humanity at large is emphasized in all

5. Bhuuta yagna: This is service to the other living beings with
appropriate attitude. – ‘sarva bhuuta hete rataaH’ – one has to be well
wishers to the whole jiivas – without disturbing the ecology.  Polluting
the rivers and oceans destroys the ecology.  Unnecssary hurting any
animal in the name of sport is very bad – This include fishing and
hunting as sport.  Bhuta yagna as daily prayer and olden feeding the
animals is part of become sensitive to the needs of other beings.
Taking more than what one needs from the Nature is a sin. Animals take
what they need.  It is only human that takes more than what he needs –
that is essentially is due to Greed.

These panca mahaa yagnaas are considered as obligatory duties and helps
in recognizing ones role and responsibilities in the whole creation. We
are only travelers in this earth and have no right to destroy other
co-travelers in our pursuit for our happiness. In the US constitutuion
it is stated that all men are equal right in the pursuit of life/liberty
and happiness.  Vedanta recognizes that and extends to all beings. 

Hence Krishna says niyatam kuru karma tvam|. Niyatam includes nitya and
naimittika – the daily obligatory and occasional obligatory duties. Kuru
means one has to do – it is viddhi vaakyam – therefore not doing or
omission results in sin. Hence Krishna declares – karma jyaayo
hyakarmaNaH – It is better to do the actions than omitting them. Hence
karma yoga is not a choice that one has.

Krishna also gives a worning for those who do not want to follow karma
yoga and we will discuss that later.
end of part I

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