[Advaita-l] karma kANDa and jnAna kANDa

S.N. Sastri sn.sastri at gmail.com
Wed Sep 20 01:06:00 CDT 2006

karma kANDa and jnAna kANDa.

   The first part of the vedas, known as karma kANDa, lays down various
rituals and sacrificial acts to be performed for attaining specific ends
such as wealth, progeny, heaven, etc. While wealth and progeny are to be got
in the present life itself, heaven can be attained only after the end of the
present life. A person who performs a sacrifice intended to attain heaven
knows that he cannot go there in his physical body. So who is it that will
enjoy the fruit of his sacrifice? It is the self or AtmA. But this is not
the pure self spoken of in the upanishads, but the self associated with the
subtle body, which is known as the jIvAtmA. This subtle body does not perish
along with the physical body, but goes to other worlds in accordance with
the puNya or pApa accumulated by the person. When the sojourn in other
worlds comes to an end this jIvAatmA takes birth again in this world by
taking another physical body. The subtle body which consists of the mind and
the subtle organs of sense and action goes from one body to another until it
is also destroyed on the dawn of Self-knowledge. This jIvAtmA is the
performer of actions such as sacrifices and the enjoyer of the results
thereof. A person who performs a sacrifice for attaining heaven must be
assumed to have the knowledge that there is such a self or jIvAtmA distinct
from the physical body, which does not perish with the physical body, but
enjoys the fruits of sacrifices in another world. The karma kANDa of the
vedas is based on the view that the jIvAtmA is the performer of actions and
the enjoyer of the results thereof. Even the practice of *SravaNa, manana *
and* nididhyAsana, *hearing, reflection and meditation, which are the means
to be adopted by one who seeks liberation, is possible only as long as the
person looks upon himself as the jIvAtmA who is a doer and enjoyer. The pure
Self is however devoid of any association with the subtle and gross bodies,
is neither a doer of actions nor an enjoyer of the fruits thereof and is to
be realized as his own self, as also the self of all beings, by the person
who seeks liberation. This pure Self forms the subject matter of the second
part or jnAna kANDa of the vedas.

   The brihadAraNyaka upanishad says (4.4.22), "Those who seek brahman wish
to realize It by the study of the vedas, by performing sacrifices, by giving
gifts and by austerities". These have to be performed without desire for the
fruit, so that they lead to purification of the mind. In the gItA, 6.3, it
is said, "For the sage who wishes to ascend to the state of yoga, karma is
the means; for the same person, when he has ascended to that state and has
become a yogArUDha, Sama, or withdrawal from action is the means".
Withdrawal from action means devoting oneself solely to the practice of
jnAnayoga, i.e., SravaNa, manana, and nididhyAsana. According to gItA 6.4 a
yogArUDha is a person who has given up even thinking about sense-objects and
has given up all thought of performing action to achieve worldly ends. Until
such a state of total detachment towards worldly attainments is attained,
the performance of karma without desire for the fruit and as an offering to
God has to be continued. Thus both the karma kANDa and the jnAna kANDa are
necessary for the seeker at different stages of his life. The sAnkhyAs held
the view that karma kANDa is not necessary and jnAna kANDa alone has to be
accepted. The pUrva mImAmsakas, on the other hand, said that karma kANDa
alone has to be followed and jnAna kANDa is not necessary. SrI Sankara has,
however, repeatedly pointed out that each kANDa is important in its own

   Though the karma kANDa prescribes various rituals and sacrifices in order
to achieve objectives  such as wealth, progeny, heaven, etc., it is not the
intention of the vedas that people should always continue to perform these
and enjoy the results thereof. These are given only as inducements at the
initial stage, to divert people from improper actions and make them perform
actions approved by the vedas. Ultimately the idea of the vedas is that
people should perform the same actions without desire and attain purity of
mind, so that they become fit for Self-knowledge. This has been said in
SrImad bhAgAvata, skandha11, chapter 3, Slokas 43 to 46. SrI Sankara says in
SataSlokI, verse 8, that this is like a mother pacifying a child who is
crying because of some pain by giving it a raisin, a piece of date, or a
small piece of banana, etc., so that the child will thereafter accept the
medicine to cure its ailment. In a similar way the vedas induce the ordinary
man to perform actions which will yield worldly benefits only as the first
step in his progress towards the ultimate goal of liberation.


More information about the Advaita-l mailing list