[Advaita-l] karma kanda

S.N. Sastri sn.sastri at gmail.com
Mon Sep 10 04:28:33 CDT 2007

With ref. To the discussions that have been going on, on the subject of
karma kanda, I am giving below some extracts from Sri Sankara's Bhashya and
some other texts which throw light on the relevance of karma kanda for
aspirants to liberation:

Br.up.1.3.1. Sankara Bhashya (S.B)--- *yathaa svargakaamaadidoshavataH
-------------------*---- *karmaavasaraH asti *

Just as the rites with material ends (*kaamya karma), *such as the new and
full moon sacrifices, are laid down for those who desire to attain heaven,
etc, so are the regular and obligatory rites (*nitya *and *naimittika karma)
* prescribed for those who have the root of all evils, namely ignorance, and
the consequent defects of attachment and aversion, manifesting themselves as
the quest for what is pleasant and avoidance of the unpleasant. Rites such
as *agnihotra, chaaturmaasya, pas'ubandha *and *somayaaga *are not
intrinsically either rites with material ends (*kaamya) *or obligatory rites
(*nitya).*They come under the former category only when they are performed
with desire for results such as heaven. (The same rites can also be
performed without desire for the result, in which case they become *nishkaama
karma *and have the effect of purifying the mind and making it fit for
Self-knowledge). No rites are enjoined in the scriptures for one who has
realized the true nature of the Self. Self-knowledge arises only on the
obliteration of the very cause of rites. One who has realized that he is
Brahman has no obligation to perform even the obligatory rites. (They are
not applicable to him, though he may still perform them to set an example to
others or for the general welfare, as stated by the Lord in the

    Br.up.3.3.1.S.B--- *tasmaat saabhisandhiinaam--- ------- phalaani*

Therefore the obligatory rites and rites like *sarvamedha *and
*as'vamedha *performed
with desire for the fruit lead to the attainment of oneness with
*etc*. *

*yeshaam punaH nityaani nirabhisandhiini------------*

But in the case of those who perform the obligatory rites without desire for
the fruit, merely for the purification of the mind, the rites help towards
the attainment of Self-knowledge.

B.G.18.9.S.B--- *nityaanaam karmaNaam------ phalam cha iti---*

We said that the Lord's utterance is proof of the fact that *nitya
*and *naimittika
karma *also yield fruit. Or, even if these are considered to be devoid of
any fruit on the ground that no fruit is specifically mentioned in the *Sruti,
*still the ordinary, unenlightened man does certainly think that these
produce a result in the form of purification of the mind or avoidance of
evil. The Lord indicates by the words 'giving up the fruit' that even this
thought should be given up.

Br.up.3.5.1.S.B---* na hi paramaarthaavadhaaraNa----------*

We do not postulate the existence of things different from Brahman in the
state when one is established in the highest truth. See 'one only without a
second' (2.5.19) and 'without interior or exterior' (3.8.8). Nor do we deny
the validity, for the unenlightened, of actions with their factors and
results as long as the relative world of name and form is accepted as

Br.up.4.4.22.S.B--- *vedaanuvachana-yajna-

The words 'study of the Vedas, sacrifices, charity and austerity' refer to
all obligatory rites *(nitya karma). *Thus all the obligatory rites (that is
all those other than *kaamya karma) *serve as means to liberation through
the attainment of Self-knowledge. Hence we see that the ultimate purpose of
the two parts of the Vedas, that dealing with rites and that dealing with
Self-knowledge, (karma kanda and jnana kanda) is the same, (namely

taitt.up.1.1.S.B---* nityaanaam cha akaraNam-------- * The mere
non-performance of the obligatory duties cannot give rise to a positive
demerit *(paapa),* because something positive cannot arise from a mere
negation (*abhaava).* The failure on the part of a person to perform
obligatory duties (laid down in the scriptures) is merely an indication that
he has accumulated sins resulting from past actions. (The performance of the
obligatory duties eradicates such accumulated sins, while, by their
non-performance, the sins continue. Thus the view of Advaita Vedaanta in
this matter is opposed to that of the Miimaamsakas who hold that
non-performance produces a new sin).

taitt. up. 1.11. S.B. pUrvopachitaduritakshaya----- karmANi.

The vedic rites help in the attainment of Self-knowledge by eradicating the
accumulated sins.

taitt.up.1.11.S.B---- *svaatmalaabhe tu puurvopachita----- nityaaniiti.*

For the attainment of Self-knowledge, the *nitya karma *can be considered as
a means only to the extent that it helps to eradicate the obstruction in the
form of accumulated sins. (karma cannot by itself lead to knowledge or
liberation, because liberation is not something produced).
The fruit of karma is given by God

Br.up.4.4.5.S.B--- *tatra kaamakrodhaadipuurvaka-----  samsaarasya kaaraNam.

Doing good and bad deeds under the impulse of desire, anger, etc, is the
cause of bondage and transmigration from one body to another.

*kaamya karma **also produces some purity   *

Br.up.Bhaashya Vaartika, Sambandhabhaashya-verse 1130 says--- Some
purification does occur through *kaamya karma *also. But that is useful only
for the enjoyment of the fruit of the karma, such as heaven, etc., (and not
for liberation). Surely, one cannot enjoy the pleasures befitting Indra with
the body of a hog (which is impure).

Br.up.4.5.15.S.B--  *karmaNaam cha avidvatvishayatvam---- vividishanti iti.

We have said that rites are for the unenlightened. As long as there is
ignorance of the Self, there is need for the performance of rites which are
intended to produce, attain, modify or purify. (These are the four kinds of
results produced by action). Rites are the means to Self-knowledge through
the purification of the mind.

Br.up.6.2.1.S.B--- *kevalena karmaNaa pitr.lokah---- -- devalokah. *

Mere rites lead to the world of the manes and meditation combined with rites
leads to heaven.

Ch.up.S.B. Introduction--  *samastam karmaadhigatam -----*

Rites performed along with meditation on various deities lead to the
attainment of Brahmaloka through the path of light (*devayaana
maarga).*Rites alone (without meditation) lead to the world of the
moon through the
path of smoke, etc (*pitr.yaana). *

*Rites performed with knowledge of the meaning of the mantras are  more
effective. *

Ch.up.1.1.10.S.B*--- tasmaat yadeva vidyayaa vijnaanena--- --- bhavati iti

Therefore that rite which is performed with knowledge (of the meaning of the
mantras), faith and meditation is more effective than the rites performed by
a man who does not know the meaning. By declaring that a rite performed with
knowledge of the meaning is more effective it is implied that a rite
performed by an ignorant man also produces results, though it is less

Ch.up.1.1.10.S.B--- *na cha avidushaH------- *It is not as if an ignorant
man is not competent to perform rites, because in the story about Ushasta (
Ch.up.1.10.1) it is seen that even a man ignorant of the meaning can be a
priest in the performance of rites.  * *

             *The three debts (to the rishis or sages, the manes and the
gods) are only for householders. *

B.S.1.1.1.Bhaamatii--- *ata eva na brahmachaariNaH-------*

Therefore for a *brahmachaarii* there are no debts (to sages, manes and
gods), for the discharge of which rites would have to be performed.
Accordingly, the statement "A *BraahmaNa* is born with three debts" should
be explained as applicable only to householders. Otherwise the statement of
the Veda "Or, let him renounce from the stage of *brahmacharya *itself "
would be contradicted. Even for the householder the discharge of these three
debts is only for the purpose of purification of the mind.

   The same is stated also in the Introduction to Ait. Up. Bhashya.

B.S.1.1.1. Bhaamatii--- *tathaa hi- nityakarmaanushThaanaat----- karmaNaam
yuktam. *

>From the performance of the obligatory rites merit (*puNya)* is generated;
as a result, demerit (*paapa)* is attenuated; it is that demerit that made
the mind impure through wrongly looking upon what is transient, impure and
miserable as eternal, pure and pleasant. On the cessation of *paapa *the
world is recognized as impermanent, impure and the cause of misery. Thus the
obligatory rites are the remote means for the attainment of Self-knowledge.

S.N.Sastri* *

More information about the Advaita-l mailing list