Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Canto IV : the Yoga of Action and Renunciation

Since there are four dharmas simultaenously operating and no guarantee that people will make the right choice, ups and downs in the course of over-all Dharma are inevitable. However the cosmos is fitted with a self-correcting mechanism. This 'mechanism' is explained in the key shloka 7 of Canto IV, a shloka that most Hindus know by heart and are prone to repeat whenever they feel that things are falling apart, as if it were some kind of magic panacea : ' When Dharma declines, and adharma flourishes, I give myself birth, to restore the balance.' Divinity is not born; only creatures caught in the coils of karma get born and re-born. Divinity gives itself birth as and when required. The implication is that, just as there is Krishna present to console, advise and inspire Arjuna, his devotee (bhakta) and friend (sakha), so there is always a divine presence for anyone ready to receive spiritual guidance. Knock -- and the door opens.

The important thing is to realise that all action must be treated as 'ritual' (yajna) and not sensual. In ritual action, selflessness, dedication and sacrifice are of the essence. All action is service, but not to oneself. The concept of service purifies action of selfishness. This liberates the doer from the hell brought by ill karma, and equally from the heaven of good karma. Both heaven and hell are seen in Hinduism as temporary after-life punishments for ill deeds and good deeds. The secret is to see inaction in action ('ritual' unself-concious action brings no fruits, good or bad); and action in inaction ('selfish' knowledge brings fruits, good or bad).

Krishna continued :

To Vivasat I gave this eternal discipline; Vivasat told it to Manu, Manu to Ikshvaku.

So its continuity was assured, and the royal saints understood it; but as time passed, its significance declined.

Today, because your respect me, and because you are my friend, I give you this timeless, mysterious and profound discipline.

Arjuna asked :

But you were born later than Vivasat; and yet you say you gave it to him. What do you mean ?

Krishna replied :

You, and I, have seen many births -- I can recall them all, but you cannot.

I am the birthless and changeless, I am the Lord. I am born through the power of maya.

When dharma declines and adharma flourishes, I give myself birth, to restore the balance.

And every age witnesses my birth; I come to protect the good and destroy the wicked. I come to re-establish the dharma.

The man who approves the divinity of my birth and the miracle of my work, discards his body and is not born again.

Free from greed, fear and anger, merged in me, sheltering in me, purified by the discipline of knowledge, many have known me.

I satisfy all, whatever the form of worship. My path is the path all follow, in different ways.

Men worship gods in the hope of material gain -- they know work brings quick results.

Though I am the creator of the four castes on the basis of guna and karma, I am not really their creator.

For I have no desire for the fruits of action. So work does not fetter me. To know this is to be free.

Sages in the past, seeking perfection, knew this, and knowing it, progressed. Learn from their example.

What is work ? and what is not work ? are questions that perplex the wisest of men. Let me instruct you on the nature of work and remove your confusion.

Karma is a great mystery, but what is work one must know, and what is not work, and prohibited work.

That man knows what work is, who sees action in inaction, and inaction in action. He is wise.

And if he works selflessly, if his actions are purified in the fire of knowledge, he will be called wise by the learned.

He abandons greed; he is content; he is self-sufficient; he works, yet such a man cannot be said to work.

If he forsakes hope, restrains his mind, and relinquishes reward -- he works, yet he does not work.

He is satisfied with whatever comes, unaffected by extremes, free from jealousy, he maintains poise in failure and success -- his deeds do not fetter him.

His karma disappears, his work is all discipline; he is free from greed, he is steady in knowledge.

'The ritual is Brahman, the offering is Brahman, given by Brahman in the fire of Brahman' -- such absorption in Brahman takes him to Brahman.

Some yogis sacrifice to the gods, others pay homage by offering the atman in the fire of the Brahman.

Some offer their senses as homage, others offer the objects of the senses.

Some offer wealth, others penance, and still others Yoga; some, controlled and dedicated, offer wisdom and learning.

Some channelise their vital life-breaths, the prana and apana. They concentrate on breath-restraint.

Still others, digesting food, offers the body's functions. They have realised the meaning of discipline and are purified by it.

They eat the fruits of discipline, and reach the eternal Brahman. Even this world is not for the man without discipline; how will he gain a better one, Arjuna ?

Discipline shows the face of Brahma. It is the product of acation. Know this, and be free.

Sacrifice of knowledge is superior to sacrifice of wealth; action's consummation is wisdom.

Be humble, serve others; ask questions, and you shall know; the wise who have reached the truth, shall instruct you.

Knowledge will remove your bewilderment, and you will see all creation in yourself and in me.

The raft of knowledge ferries even the worst ill-doer to safety.

As a flaming fire consumes logs into ashes, so knowledge consumes karma.

There is no purifier like knowledge in this world: time makes man see the truth in this.

The devoted man, indefatigable commander of his senses, gains knowledge; with this knowledge he finds the final peace.

The ignorant, the disrespectful, the disbelieving, await ruin. The doubt-ridden find joy neither in this world nor in the next.

Work will not fetter him who shelters in the atman. Discipline purifies his work, Arjuna, and knowledge dissipates his belief.

Slice with the sword of knowledge this disbelief in the atman ! Disbelief is the product of ignorance. Find strength in discipline, and arise, Arjuna !

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