In response to a statement made by me, a friend gave the following comment, which necessitated giving proofs that led me to form this view. The comment is as follows: “The Bhagavad Gita's "criticism" of renunciation does not end there. Krishna said renunciation is not for Arjun or, by inference, it is not for people with worldly responsibilities. Krishna approves of renunciation by people who chose not to get entangled in worldly responsibilities, in addition to those who are in the 'sanyas' stage of life. Krishna differentiates between the 'gyani' (who renounces) and the 'karmi' (who does not renounce, but stays unattached while seeming to be attached). Therefore, Alvi, I think it is wrong to make a blanket statement that 'Krishna criticized renunciation'. You can say he criticized renunciation as mask for cowardice, but he did not debunk renunciation.”
Mohammad Alvi writes from here: Dear friend, ‘renunciation’ is the least understood topic from Bhagavad Gita, as are so many others. I have tried to explain these in my unpublished commentary of Gita. In fact, subject of renunciation (sanyas) is the perfect one which shows how we read a philosophy or view in the light of our previous views, and end up forming a biased view in the light of the view that we had at the time of reading. Most people read the views of the other religion or sect with certain pre-conceived notions and hence never reach the truth. If I, Mohammad Alvi, has been able to find the One Path in all Divine Religions, it is because I freed myself from any previous attachments and aversions, and also from the previously built views and notions, and then went ahead with the study. When I put the end-result of my study in one sentence, it is bound to get reactions.
Fact is that by renunciation, Krishna means something else but the general understanding of renunciation is altogether different. When I said that Krishna criticized the concept of renunciation, I meant that Krishna criticised the concept of the understanding that we have of the term ‘renunciation’. In fact our understanding of ‘karmi’ and that of ‘renunciation’ both are different from what Krishna meant by these terms. Not knowing that we have understood the concept wrongly, we at times do long philosophical debates to justify that concept and at times compare our understanding with the concept of another religion, which too might have been wrongly understood, and hence conclude that there are two contradictory paths that two religions preach.
I had written on my earlier post that Buddha had undertaken renunciation as a societal compulsion and the Buddhists wrongly concluded that Buddha preached renunciation of the type that they understood. In fact the real concept of renunciation as told by Buddha is not an iota different from the concept of renunciation told by Krishna, but they both are far different from the concept understood by the adherents of both the religions. In fact the concept of renunciation told by the Ahlulbayt too is the same as that preached by Buddha and Krishna. Actually speaking, whereas I have understood a lot many secrets about the Divine Plan related to Ahlulbayt through reading the Vedas and Gita, I developed a true understanding of the concept of renunciation by reading the lives of the Ahlulbayt (people with noor or light viz. devas)
You may ask why this concept has not been truly understood by people despite that so many avatars were trying to impart the true teachings. I have repeatedly said that it is not possible for a person engrossed in materialism (in other words a person who lives in a rajasik mode) to understand the subtleties of sattvik mode (i.e. a man who has ascended on the path of spirituality). When engrossed in materialism, we just tend to look at the outward aspect whereas spiritual elevation enables a man to have a deeper understanding of the same subject.
Not just Krishna, lot many Prophets prior to him, too had taught the concept of renunciation, but we failed to understand. In fact people had concluded that sanyas meant leaving the life of a normal person and going to live in caves or jungles. On the other hand, karma had got associated with various rituals associated with fire while chanting the Vedic rituals.
Here, I will stop a while to tell how the Forces of Darkness deviates us. They do not come in person and tell that you stop doing this and we want you to do this. Instead, they just waver us a little from the understanding of the real subject and in course of time that little deviation becomes so much that we move far away from the right path. The same happened in regard to the teachings related to sanyas and karma. The desired path was the Middle Way but we deviated on one end to reach the deviated understanding of sanyas and on other hand to reach the deviated understanding of karma.
Concepts of sanyas and karma were so grossly misunderstood by the commentators that it is said that this commentator considers sanyas as the true path whereas the other commentator considers karma as the ideal path. Commentators of Gita with either of the two understandings criticized the view of the other commentators through giving philosophical arguments whereas the other commentators too did the same. You have tried to incorporate both the views in your understanding but fact remains that you too are grossly on the wrong regarding the understanding of these concepts.
You say that “Krishna said renunciation is not for Arjun or, by inference, it is not for people with worldly responsibilities. Krishna approves of renunciation by people who chose not to get entangled in worldly responsibilities, in addition to those who are in the 'sanyas' stage of life. Krishna differentiates between the 'gyani' (who renounces) and the 'karmi' (who does not renounce, but stays unattached while seeming to be attached).”
You came to this view because Arjuna had dropped his bow and arrow and had said that becoming a sanyasi was better than killing of gurus. But Arjuna had wrong notions of sanyas (like all the people of those time had) and Krishna corrected those views. But despite Krishna giving the correct interpretation, we because of our attachment to our previously built view couldn’t understand the explanations given by Krishna.
Since Buddha too was confronted with materialism all around, his teachings naturally practiced simple living. Unable to understand this, the Buddhists went to the other extreme of renouncing the world and leading a monastic life. In general, it was against the human tendency to lead a life of renunciation of this kind. A silent and gradual backlash led to the decline of Buddhism and people returned to the old customs and manners.
Let us understand renunciation as has been described in Gita.
True Arjuna was not a coward or afraid, as some commentators have expressed. He was a valiant fighter who would fight till his last breath, without turning away from the battlefield. Already, his deftness in archery was well famous. Then why did Arjuna want to stop in the midst of the two fighting armies? The very fact that it was he who asked Krishna to lead him in the midst of two armies, that too at a time when arrows had begun to fly, shows clearly that Arjuna was a confused man at this stage. Till some time back, he and the rest of Pandavas followed the same type of religion as the Kauravas. Later in Gita, Arjuna has himself confessed that there was a time when he too mocked at Krishna’s teachings. Yet, God had mercy on him and he was shown the true path. However, some doubts still remained… particularly in regard to the true identity of Krishna and the validity of the war. For the first time, he was not being asked to fight because, being Kshatriya, it was his duty to fight. Krishna was asking him to fight for a cause; for upholding truth and justice. Moreover, he might have expected that a God’s emissary would lead him to a life of renunciation, wherein he would be asked to go to a secluded place and chant God’s name. Instead, this emissary of God wanted Arjuna to take part in the affairs of the world, but only while remembering God at all times. He even wanted Arjuna to fight in the name of God. Thoroughly confused, Arjuna wanted to reflect, when he was equidistant from the two armies.
It is sad that most commentators have not understood this and said that from here Gita talks about philosophical or abstract values, which are altogether different from the warfare being discussed till this stage. As Nataraj Guru (we will call him NG henceforth) says: “Actual circumstances belonging to this first part should not be mixed up with considerations pertaining to the part that follows. This latter takes a more abstract or philosophical turn, though only of a first degree for the present.”
Unfortunate indeed! Right in the midst of the battle, when arrows had started flying, Krishna and Arjuna go in the middle of the battlefield, to discuss a subject that has no relevance to the situation in which they were. Can this be expected of somebody of the level of Krishna, who as charioteer, brought Arjuna face to face with death, only to talk of issues that were of least concern to him at that point of time?
We will understand from the text that follows that Krishna never wanted Arjuna to refrain from fight. But he wanted Arjuna to refrain from a fight that was meant to accomplish worldly desires, fame or wealth. We find later that as Krishna leads Arjuna to God, talks of the true path of reaching God, tells Arjuna of the traits that God likes in the Absolute Men, and thereby, after making him understand God and the purpose of our creation, he asks Arjuna to kill everybody in the opposite camp. No doubt this was a fight between right and wrong, and through Gita’s verses, Krishna tells Arjuna of the desired path or the true path that led to God.
Struck down by the evil of a tender disposition, with a mind confounded in regard to what is right to do, I ask you: that which is definitely more meritorious, that do indicate to me. I am your disciple; do discipline me coming thus for refuge to you.
Arjuna asks a clear and open question as to what is more meritorious, having to eat of a beggar’s pittance or choosing to kill these Gurus. In fact Arjuna refers to the word “dharma” thus saying: “confounded in regards to what is my dharma, I seek to know what is more meritorious”. It is again clear that it was a war where ‘Dharma’ was paramount in the minds of the fighters. Perhaps the response of Krishna that killing of the Gurus is more meritorious is what troubles the commentators so much so they go on to make vague commentaries. But we ought to accept God’s words as they are uttered, isn’t it so? So the truth is that Krishna does say in the end that killing of those Gurus, who stood for worldly benefits, and who denied the avatar of God and his teachings, when they had been presented to them, is more meritorious than living the life of renunciation. But before coming to conclusions, there is a warning. Krishna gave this opinion after a lengthy discussion on the way of life. Only those who subscribe to that kind of living, who truly follow the path shown by Gita and abide by what God’s representatives have told them, are eligible for fighting in the name of God. And they can do so only after seeking permission from the true representative of God.
By refraining from initiating activities a person does not come to have (the attainment of) transcending action (naishkarmya) nor can one by renunciation alone come to perfection.
This line is wrongly understood by some commentators, whose work we have seen till now. A very common nature of people in general is described here, who prefers neutrality when faced with a conflicting situation. But when the conflict is between good and bad, religiosity and pseudo-religiosity, justice and injustice, truth and untruth, God does not like the conduct of those who prefer to remain neutral.
The aforesaid lines can be more easily understood through understanding the situation at the time of Mahabharata. Krishna’s army had come to a conflict with those who called their way of following religion as true. Clearly, there were two clear paths to be chosen. There must have been people who preferred to remain neutral. Proof of this can be seen by Arjuna’s own conduct who puts down the bow and says that he would prefer to become a roaming ascetic than fight with his own near and dear ones. After giving discourse on applying reason in the preceding verse, Paramatma or the Manifest Self (through the mouth of the material body of Krishna) says that through renunciation, one cannot come to perfection. Inaction, or refraining from initiating action - both have been condemned in clear words. Contrary to this, Paramatma wants his true followers to go a step ahead and instead of refraining from initiating activities, they should, through their attitude, stance, words and deeds, act to make this world a better a place to live – a world where God is worshipped as he deserves to be worshipped, truth and justice prevail and injustice, crime, inhumanity, torture, corruption, hatred, killing of innocents and all such vices are wiped out.
An example of exactly similar nature is available in Quran as well. Prophet Mohammad and his followers were faced with an army of the infidels. At this time, there were several Quraish who were refraining from taking sides by giving various pleas. Some would say that since they are engaged in the act of serving water to those distant travelers who came to Kaaba for Hajj, they are exempt from fighting. The Manifest Self of God denounced their actions in Quran saying that what they were doing was merely shirking their duty.
Not even for a single instant can one ever remain engaged in no action at all. By virtue of modalities (gunas) born from nature, all are made to engage in action helplessly.
Therefore, those who claim that they would do no action at all and confine themselves to a life of inactivity, which is talked about in the previous verse, are on the wrong as this will be contrary to the nature of life. This is the word of Gita. This is reason enough for all self-proclaimed sanyasis of today who consider living in caves and forests as sanyasa to ponder and reflect. At no time can they lead a life without action. Why then run away from the society? Why not perform actions that would eventually lead to God?
Some sanyasis would say that they live in caves and forest so that they can perform actions that would eventually lead to God. If you have read the reasoning that Krishna has given till now, you must have realized that to reach God, it is prerequisite that the lower self is not allowed to gain supremacy. What is the guarantee that it would not happen in the forest? The real challenge is to live a life of detachment while staying in the society.
He who sits controlling the organs of activity while ruminating mentally over items of sensuous interest, such a lost soul is said to be one of spurious conduct.
This verse is a clear criticism of those who take to renunciation (sanyasa) as was understood by the people at that time and as is still understood to this day. It is the duty of all the humans to refrain from doing wrong and to take the side of truth and justice, and sanyasis are no exception. This has been mentioned already in the earlier verse. In fact, by renouncing the world, they are even renouncing their duty to act against injustice and untruth. Moreover, there are many who say they are controlling the organs of activity by taking sanyasa, but are actually ruminating mentally over items of sensuous interest. And that is why God calls such people as “lost souls” and their conduct as “spurious”.
He, on the other hand, who keeps the senses under control by means of the mind, and then commences unitive activity while still unattached, he excels.
All senses that lead a man to pursuit of materialistic desires or those desires that are prohibited by God need to be checked first by means of the mind (intellect). This is utmost necessary for a person before he proceeds on the path that leads him to get united with God. Use of reason and following the path shown by the divinely designated yogis will help him attain that unity with God. He will live in the society and pursue all activities like earning a living, having a marital life and having children, but without having an attachment to them. Such a person is said to have excelled in life.
The reason described by God here in Gita is the same why several staunch Muslims do not allow non-believers to read Quran. Quran is said to be the Revealed Book that shows the way to get united with God. But those who are still engaged in worldly pursuits and allow their senses to go out of control will not be able to understand what it says. Therefore, imaan (faith) was termed necessary for anyone to read Quran. However, I do not agree with this dictate. There is no guarantee that the Muslims who are reading Quran would do so with faith. If that would have been happening, in general, Muslims would have become far more righteous and truthful than others. With self-confessed professors of faith indulging in activities that reveal that they have made themselves slaves of their senses, such a ruling becomes meaningless.
Do engage yourself in action that is necessary; activity is indeed better than non-activity and even the bodily life of yours would not progress satisfactorily through non-action.
We will put it in this way! In earlier verse, it was stated: “Not even for a single instant can one ever remain engaged in no action at all.” This means that since action is part and parcel of the human life, God wants all of us to live a life of activity, and not lead a life that renounces the world physically. Unfortunately, the commentators have not dared to say so for fear of opposition from those who leave the world and start living in caves or other secluded places. As we will know later the purpose of life, as per Gita, is not just to become a better person, but to endeavour to make this world a better place to live. This is not possible if we take to living a life of a sanyasi. Had all the men on Krishna’s side and also Krishna himself would have taken to sanyas, who would have fought the might of the pseudo-religious teachings that Bhishma and Dronacharya were propagating. Fact is that all the great prophets and saints, including Krishna himself, have toiled hard, faced torture and hardships, yet stood upright against mighty powers that propagated injustice and untruth. How easy would it have been for Krishna to start living in a cave, and asking his followers to queue up to listen to his sermons? Yet he didn’t do it, because it was not the desired thing to do.
That is why God, after asking us to forego the worldly pursuits and materialistic desires and to remain unattached to the world, now asks us to “perform our prescribed duty, for doing so is better than not working. One cannot even maintain one’s physical body without work.” Is it not criticism of the belief of those who said that by going for sanyas, they were leaving all actions?
Outside of activity with a sacrificial purpose, this world is bound by action. Even with such a purpose, do engage in work, O Kaunteya (Arjuna), freed of all attachments.
We have said earlier that Gita cannot be understood without understanding the socio-religious tendencies of the people of the time. A detailed study of the Vedas and the Upanishads can only help us reach the right conclusions.
There are innumerable examples in the Upanishads, many of them written a shade prior to the time of the battle of Mahabharata, which tell us that people had started associating karma (action) with the ritualistic context of the agnihotra (burnt offering). It is unfortunate that commentators like Nataraj Guru still persist with the same idea, thereby vitiating the entire teachings of Gita. Says he: “Karma (action) primarily suggests to the Indian mind ritualist action whether worship of the ancestors or the gods (devas). Worship of the ancestors, as it constitutes now normally the purva-paksha (the side of the anterior sceptic) of the Gita revaluation, was referred to already by Arjuna the disciple and condemned indirectly as being non-Aryan in II.2. Aryan ritualism proper is concerned with the pleasing or propitiation of Indra and other gods (devas) through burnt offerings. Although the word karma covers all activity, the attention is focused here more particularly on sacrificial ritualism.”
I have shown at other places how several commentators believe till this date that the entire Vedas are full of ritualistic offerings and sacrificial rites to please Indra and the rest of the devatas. When they are groping in dark about the identity of Indra and the rest of the devatas, how can we accept that they can be true in their observations? Secondly, it is these translations that make people like A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (henceforth we will call him ACBSP), the founder-Acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, infer that Gita too talks about following those rituals as karma; if they had not done so, they would have more problems explaining the differences that appear to arise between their inferences of Gita and the Vedas.
On the other hand, I am repeatedly showing that the Vedic mantras have been wrongly translated and even you, while using a Sanskrit-English dictionary, can come to the true meanings, and can henceforth understand the Divine Personalities of Indra and the rest of the devatas in a different light. It is evident that the misguided translations were result of centuries of deviation. So much so that in various Upanishads, sages like Yajnavalkya try to teach the priests of the time the real inherent meanings behind the rituals, but to no avail. Also we find that during most of the times, Yajnavalkya is seen imparting his teachings to the priests in the courts of kings of the time, signifying firstly that it were the priests who were the most misguided and secondly, the usual place to find the priests was in the courts, where they were lavished with gifts by the kings.
Paramatma knew that people had taken to understand karma in a different way. Therefore, he elaborates on the subject and says that outside of the activity with a sacrificial purpose, there are several other actions that a man has to perform. But we must notice that these sacrifices have not been altogether rejected, perhaps so because they are the source of remembering Indra and the rest of the devatas, who are actually the identified Yogis that guide us to God. But it is essential that the activities with a sacrificial purpose and the rest of the good deeds in life that a man has to perform should be performed without any attachment to worldly desires or things.
But for him who happens to be attached to the Self alone, who finds full satisfaction in the Self, for such a man who is happy in the Self as such, too, there is nothing that he should do.
By this verse the possibility of a man who can do altogether without ritualistic sacrifice is recognized. But they are not men who are under the influence of the senses or modalities of nature.
These are men who do not need ritualistic sacrifices to identify their existence in relation to the Manifest Self of God or Paramatma. Self inside each of the animate and non-animate beings in this world traces its origin and relation to the Manifest Self that was created by God, as mentioned in the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad. It is clearly stated that the self inside us has both choices – either to get united with the Manifest Self of God or to get associated with the material world. Those who are able to do the former achieve salvation. Such people are immortal.
We have also inferred from various Upanishads and Puranas that the 14 devatas or Masooms are exact replica of the Manifest Self of God, which underwent a process at the end of which the fourteen were created. There are several Upanishads who even describe a direct link of these 14 inside our body. This is perhaps the reason why the entire cosmos would perish when the last of the 14 Masooms or the Kalki Avatar, who is also the 12th and last Aditya, would be killed. This is the view held by both Muslim and Hindu scriptures.
A little later in Gita, you will read lot more about this relationship between our self and the Divine Spirit or the Manifest Self of God. Be prepared to read more on the subject. The subject has been dealt in length because this itself was the cause of the war of Mahabharata; on one side were those who wanted to bestow true position to the devatas and Manifest Self and on other side were those who had elevated them as gods but didn’t allow these ‘gods’ to have any say in their acts.
Neither is there anything indeed for him resulting from work done nor any from work omitted here nor is there either for him any dependence in respect of anything derivable from any being whatsoever.
Eventual purpose is to lead to God. For a man whose self has attained union with the Manifest Self or Paramatma, it does not matter much if he performs the ritual sacrifices or omits performing them. This person is at a much higher level of spirituality, where mundane rituals and offerings do not matter anymore.
Therefore, always remaining detached, engage yourself in actions that are necessary; indeed performing actions with detachment man attains to the supreme.
This verse continues the conversation that was left in the previous verse. A person who has realized the self does not show any attachment to other living beings, even so they are his wife or children. He is independent of all attachments. It has already been said earlier that such a person remains neutral in all situations. He believes that he is from God and has to return to Him. Anything and everything that will come his way will be ordained from God Himself. He does good to others without expecting anything in return only because God desires so. He works to earn a living because God has given him the responsibility of feeding the family. And he loves his wife because she is the creation of God, who by His will, has come to live with him. He loves his children because it is through them that his progeny will multiply and do good deeds; and perhaps live to be on the side of any of the devatas, when they come to live on earth.
This is the detachment that is being talked about here and not the renunciation that is synonymous with present day sanyasis. Through this detachment alone can a person engage in actions that are necessary to perform; indeed performing actions with detachment man attains to the Supreme God.
The meaning gets clear if we understand the verse in this manner. Otherwise, commentators like Nataraj Guru have remained perplexed. See what he says: “The use of the word tasmad (therefore) here cannot be fully justified inasmuch as the two previous verses refer to a man who need not act. Its use here can be justified only on the assumption that the two previous verses refer to exceptions to the rule by way of digression.”
See how commentators have groped in the dark for meanings, which become clear with our explanation. When they have been unable to come to a concrete meaning they have gone to the extent of finding errors in the text. They have called verses 14 and 15 to be having some vagueness and say: The “multiplicity of gods referred to in this verse (12) are only incidental extra characters brought in for the purposes of discussions only.” At another point in verse 14, NG says that Prajapati has been introduced for “literary requirements”.
Fact is that the word used in Sanskrit is devas, which has been wrongly translated as gods. We have already seen who these devatas are. If you have been reading my posts, I am sure you are aware that Prajapati too is the name given to one of the devatas at a certain time of creation.
My view is that if we believe Gita or Vedas to be revealed text then we will have to take each and every line of it as correct, unless we acknowledge that the text has got distorted with time. Who are we to point a finger on God’s usage of words? My view is that not a single word or phrase from God can be meaningless. And if we are unable to find their true meanings it is due to fault in our own intellect or understanding capabilities. Thankfully, God has shown us the way so much so that we are able to find solutions to several mysteries that have perplexed the commentators of these sacred books and also the common man.
Janaka and such others reached perfection even performing acts. Again, having due regard for the integration of the world too, you have to act.
Janaka and many others like him attained perfection not through taking sanyasa but through living in this world and doing acts that are necessary. Since they were self-realized souls who ruled the world, they had no obligation to perform various actions. But they lived in this world and performed actions with regard for the betterment of the rest of mankind. If all the self-realized people confine themselves to corners, who will show the true path to the rest of the people?
This verse again talks about the point that we raised earlier. Elsewhere in Gita, it has been mentioned that leading a materialistic life will lead to the decay of this world. This verse says the same, in another fashion. Even if we are bound by materialistic desires and do not perform acts as ordained by God, we have to remember that even for continuing our pursuits of material world, it is necessary that the world continue to exist. If the world disintegrates, we too won’t be there to continue our materialistic exploits. Therefore, Krishna says clearly that action in accordance with the God’s will is necessary even for this purpose. Or else the world is decaying and is sure to collapse one fine day!
Whichever may be the way of life that a superior man may adopt, that very one is by other people too (followed). What he might make his guiding principle, the world too behaves even according to the same.
This further explains why Janaka and such others performed all actions, even when they were at a level when it was not essential for them to do so. In spite of attaining high spiritual level, if Janaka and others continued to perform those acts, it was because they knew that they were at a level at which others looked up to them for guidance and followed them. Otherwise, they had already realized the relationship of their self with the Divine Self and it was not obligatory for them to perform those actions. On the other hand, this is a pointer to those ‘superior men’ who go to live in caves. If all such men will be living in caves, who will the society emulate. Bereft of self-realized souls, society will go from bad to worse.
Says ACBSP: “People in general always require a leader who can teach the public by practical behaviour. A leader cannot teach the public to stop smoking if he himself smokes. Lord Caitanya said that a teacher should behave properly before he begins teaching. One who teaches in that way is called acharya, or the ideal teacher. Therefore, a teacher must follow the principles of sastra (scripture) to teach the common man. The teacher cannot manufacture rules against the principles of revealed scriptures. The revealed scriptures, like Manu-samhita and similar others, are considered the standard books to be followed by human society. Thus the leader’s teaching should be based on the principles of such standard sastras. One who desires to improve himself must follow the standard rules as they are practiced by the great teachers. The Srimad-Bhagavatam also affirms that one should follow in the footsteps of great devotees, and that is the way of progress on the path of spiritual realization. The king or the executive head of a state, the father and the school teacher are all considered to be natural leaders of the innocent people in general. All such natural leaders have a great responsibility to their dependents; therefore they must be conversant with standard books of moral and spiritual codes.”
Taking ACBSP’s argument forward, we claim that the teacher, particularly one appointed by God, should be such that he should be better than all the rest in all respects, he should be more knowledgeable than all the rest, his conduct should be better than all the rest, he should perform greater sacrifices than the rest and should perform oblations in a better manner. We invite you all to study the life of the devatas when they came to live on this earth with names like Mohammad, Ali, Fatima, Hasan and Husain. See whether or not they are better than all the rest in the characteristics that we have described? You will yourself realize that they were Divine Teachers, perfect in all manners, sent as torchbearers of knowledge and guidance. If you don’t do this and continue to follow ordinary gurus as your guides, there is a great chance that you may end up getting heart-break when the guru whom you considered a ‘self-realized soul’ is found to be having forceful sex with the inmate or is found indulging in other materialistic activities.
There is nothing in the three worlds that I am obliged to do, O Partha (Arjuna), nor anything unaccomplished to be accomplished, while still remain active (in principle).
Action as a means for sustenance of the world is the topic that is being discussed here. Previously too such wordings have been used where the speaker in Gita has sneered at those who lead a life of inactivity. Here, He is talking about those who shirk action or what is their prescribed duty on earth.
But who the speaker actually is? Is he God Himself, as most commentators have understood from these verses? Yes and no! The speaker is clearly not the Absolute Non-Manifest Imperishable God. Several Upanishads have clearly stated that this Non-Manifest Absolute God is the name of a Power that is formless and unfathomable. The same is the view of the Muslims about Allah. They believe that the God just has to say ‘kun’ (let it be) and what He wishes come into play. Does this mean that the God keeps wishing for this or that all the times? Remember, we are told to use our reason a little earlier.
Fact is that the later day commentators have not clearly understood the relationship between the Absolute Non-Manifest God and the Manifest Self of God, which is very much a creation of the Absolute God, and the Manifest Self has created us so that there are more worshippers of the Absolute God. Manifest Self of God (which is perhaps in the form of a spirit or light) is ceaselessly at work, creating beings and ceaselessly showing them the path that would lead them to God. Puranas and Vedas, and also Quran, confirm that the Manifest Self would eventually be successful and there will surely be a time when the entire world including all the humans would return to the straight path from which they had got deviated. It is this Manifest Self whose spirit (rooh or atma), when put inside Krishna, made him the avatar or Messenger of God. The same spirit, when inside Jesus, made him the Prophet; the Christians wrongly concluded that the trinity ended in Jesus alone. We already know, courtesy the Upanishads, that the atma of the Manifest Self or Paramatma is fourteen-fold. All the components of this Manifest Self or the Supreme Spirit later came down to earth at a distant land of Arabia. That is why Jesus too had foretold of the coming of Mohammad and his progeny by calling them as the ‘Spirit of Truth’. The last of these 14 – the Kalki avatar – too has taken birth and will shortly present himself in front of this world.
If I should not remain active (in principle) never relaxing, men in every walk of life, O Partha (Arjuna), would take to my way.
This verse further says why it is essential for all to act, even if they have realized the Self and attained union with God. What’s more, acts are essential even for the Manifest Self of God itself.
To sum up Gita says:
Better is one’s own duty (though) inferior, than the duty of another well-performed. One doing the duty determined by his own nature incurs no sin. (verse 47) Duty naturally belonging to one by birth, O Son of Kunti (Arjuna), though accompanied by defects, ought not to be abandoned; all undertakings are enveloped with defects, as fire by smoke. (verse 48) He whose reason is unattached in situations, whose Self has been won over, from whom desire has gone, by renunciation (sanyasa) he reaches the supreme perfection of transcending action. (verse 49).”
And further says:
One who is able to see action (karma) in inaction (akarma) and inaction in action, he among men is intelligent; he is one of unitive attitude (yogi) while still engaged in every (possible) kind of work.
We have cited before how important this subject is from the point of view of Paramatma. That is why a proper base was being built before Paramatma came to explaining the subject. Unfortunately, commentators have found paradoxes here as well, which makes us conclude that most of the commentators have been unable to understand Gita at all.
See what NG writes: “Here is a typical verse in which paradox excels. Sankara and others have tried in vain to reduce the meaning of this verse to rational terms by various clever examples, such as that of the appearance or recession of trees on the shore to a man sitting in a moving boat.
The mystery is better left unsolved, so as to retain the element of wonder and the sense of the numinous emerging out of the verse.”
A typical example of one who sees action in inaction can be given from the life of Ali. Ali was going on the road when he saw a person running towards him. He came to Ali and said that he was innocent but such and such person was coming behind to kill him. He further asked Ali not to tell that person which way he had gone. When the person who was following with a sword in hand approached Ali and asked him whether he had seen such and such person passed by, it was expected that Ali, the greatest champion of truth, would have told him the direction to which the former person had gone. However, Ali knew that truth also implied that he had to endeavour to save the life of a human from the hands of a murderer. He moved a few paces and said to him that he had not seen any such person from the time he had come there. The pursuer, being satisfied, went the other way. Is it not action in inaction?
See another example. Ali was witness to the fact that Prophet had on innumerable occasions publicly announced him as his successor. However, when the Prophet died and when Ali was busy performing his last rites, people congregated and elected Abu Bakr as the Caliph. Ali was of the opinion that what was rightfully his had been usurped. Yet he knew that if he raised his voice, that would create a division among the Muslims and all the Prophet’s teachings of Muslims as one Ummah would go waste. Therefore, he confided himself to the house and when people like Abu Sufiyan came to him and said that Ali deserved the Caliphate and if Ali agreed, Abu Sufiyan would fill the lanes of Medina with fighters from his tribe, Ali rebuked him and decided to lead a secluded life. He continued to do so when people put a rope in his neck like a noose and pulled him on the streets, or when the door of his house was put on fire, which consequently fell on the abdomen of his pregnant wife, Fatima, thereby killing the baby in the womb instantaneously and also Fatima after a gap of few days… all this for the sake of unity in the teachings of the Prophet. Was it not action in inaction?
Likewise, in the battle of Khandaq (trench), the most renowned warrior of the opposite camp made his horse jump across the trench that Muslims had dug for their protection and came to their side. He challenged anybody from amongst the Muslims to come out and fight. No body dared as everyone had heard the stories of his strength and fighting acumen. Thrice he called, and every time none but Ali got up in response. Finally the Prophet allowed Ali to go and fight Amr bin Abd-e-Wad. A prolonged fight commenced, and after a considerable time, Ali was able to subdue his opponent, who had fallen on the ground and Ali was sitting on his chest. Unable to bear the ignominy of defeat that stared at his face, he spat on Ali’s face. Immediately Ali got down from his chest and started walking alongside, which gave Amr the chance to get up, pick up his arms and commence fighting again. Consequently Ali got injured but was eventually able to defeat his opponent. When people who had not dared to come out to fight, asked the reason for his action, Ali said that he was fighting for the cause of God and when Amr spat at him he got angry for a while. He did not want to kill his opponent in the fit of rage. Therefore he got down and resumed fighting only when he was able to subdue his anger. Isn’t it action in inaction at its peak, when even a fighter has to abide by certain conditions of karma and akarma?
The same argument can be given to give example of inaction in action. Even when Ali was fighting the most severe of wars, not for a moment did he allowed his personal emotions to come in the way of fighting. He was fighting because it was his duty to fight and not for a moment did he think of the benefit or loss that may accrue to him while performing his duty.
Another example can be given from the incident of the Prophet’s hijrat (migration) from Makkah to Medina. Prophet got to know that the various tribal heads of Makkah had hatched a plan to kill him in his sleep. He asked Ali to sleep on his bed at night so that others won’t get to know that he has departed. Ali asked that if he slept on the Prophet’s bed, would the Prophet’s life be saved. When given a reply in the affirmative he not only laid down on the bed, but the man who was habitual of staying awake at night for the worship of God, actually went to sleep, unmindful that he was surrounded by innumerable sword-wielding men who could have attacked at any moment. In fact, they climbed the wall to do so and Ali got up only when they pulled the quilt from over his face.
See another example. Muawiyah’s army had laid siege to the only source of water in the vicinity. Ali and men on his side were dying for want of water. Ali knew that the only way they could have lived was to fight and win control over water. A long-battle ensued as a consequence of which Ali and his supporters gained control over water. Now Ali was in charge and it was the turn of Muawiyah’s army to die of thirst. Yet Ali lifted the siege over water, despite his followers advising him to the contrary, because he argued that water was God’s bounty for all, and nobody should exercise control over it.
All these examples show that Ali performed each and every act of his in accordance of the God’s will. Whether it was action in inaction, or inaction in action, it did not matter.
Does the verse not become clear? ‘One who is able to see action in inaction and inaction in action, he among men is intelligent; he is one of unitive attitude (yogi) while still engaged in every (possible) kind of work.’ How sorry indeed that those who were unable to understand the true meaning had termed it as paradox in place of their inability to understand.
That man whose works are all devoid of desire and wilful motive, whose (impulse of) action has been reduced to nothing in the fire of wisdom, he is recognized as a knowing person (pandit) by the wise.
We are sure that the definition of karma is clear now. This verse and the succeeding verses constitute a section in which the purest kind of free action as recommended in III, 9, is finally stated.
The first prerequisite of such a freedom-yielding absolutist action is indicated here. Such action has to be free from kama (desire) and samkalpa (wilful motivation). Even after these two outgoing tendencies have been curbed or withdrawn, a knowing person is one who seeks no fruits of actions that he performs.
NG is again justifying the principle of sanyasa as it is understood in the present society. He says that karma and akarma cancel out into neutrality of all action and says that action cannot stand the light of absolute wisdom, being a negative factor, just as light and shade cannot live together. We call it absurd argument in the light of Gita’s teaching, which commences with Krishna cajoling Arjuna to fight and ends with Arjuna ready to fight.
Relinquishing attachment for the benefit of works, ever happy and independent, though such a man be engaged in work, he (in principle) does nothing at all.
The meaning is clear. All actions and inactions should be performed without seeking any benefit. Whether it is earning a living for the sustenance of his family, educating the children, pursuing knowledge, helping the poor or the needy, or even opposing the forces of evil and injustice, each of these activities should be performed while remembering the Absolute God. This person always takes the side of truth and is opposed to untruth. He is happy and independent under all circumstances and seeks no benefit of work even when he appears to be doing the work.
Again, true examples can only be found from the lives of the Masooms i.e. the devatas. Ali lived a life of hardship under the rule of the Caliphs. He confined himself to prayers. Later, circumstances changed and Ali was acknowledged as the Caliph of the Muslims. Yet, his lifestyle remained the same so much so that the tattered garment that he used to wear too did not change. He was always for upholding the truth and justice and continued to do so even when it was against the rules of political statesmanship. He himself had said on an occasion that he could have been the biggest statesman if his duty had not forced him to act contrarily. People used to material approach to wins and losses criticize him but Gita would always uphold the acts of this Purushottam (Loftiest of men) viz. Ali.
If you wish to read the example of adverse circumstances, you are invited to come to Karbala where a great army has surrounded the companions of Husain. Husain is wounded, has had no water for days and most of his near and dear ones have been killed. Even the six-month old child of Husain has not been spared. Husain knows fully that it is his turn next to die. Yet, all that we can hear from his lips is the prayer whose words are as follows:
“We are from God and we are to return to God.
We are fully in agreement with what is in store for us and we subjugate to Him in all our acts.”
The same is being described here in Gita. The person who continues to perform actions but relinquishes seeking benefits of actions is a Yogi of the previous verse. All his actions are performed in remembrance of God. Since the person has taken refuge in the Absolute God, he has nothing else to fear, nothing to worry; consequently he is always happy and independent. And even though he appears to be engaged in activity, he actually does nothing at all. This is true renunciation as per Gita and not that as understood by various commentators. This is also seeing action in inaction and inaction in action, as has been described earlier.
To be continued…