[Advaita-l] On Karma Yoga: VI - Choiceless Choice

kuntimaddi sadananda kuntimaddisada at yahoo.com
Mon Jan 2 04:52:25 CST 2006

Choiceless choice:

After reading the last post, Shree Rajesh Ramachander asked some
relevant questions starting from - what should guide our choice of
action and what are its consequences?  Before we address these issues,
it important to recapitulate from the second chapter of Geeta the
fundamental law of action that Krishna provides.
‘karmaNyevaadhikaaraste maa phaleshu kadaachana|
maakarma phalaheturbhuuH maate sangostvakarmaNi||
Recognize that you have only right (choice) to perform an action and
never in the results.  Do not let the fruits of the action motivate your
action.  Also, do not let your attachment be towards inaction. 

The first part contains the law of action and the second part contains
some guidelines to follow.  Let us examine the law of action first.  
adhikaari is normally translated as right, where as in the context here,
‘choice’ is more meaningful as we shall see. 

Human being is a crown in the creation since he is given a choice to
evolve rapidly.  What makes him to standout among the creation?  It is
the discriminative intellect or buddhi, which is the most precious gift
to humans.  BartRihari subhaashhitam says:

ahaara nidraa bhaya maitunamca saamaanya metad pashhubhirnaraaNaam|
buddhirhi teshaa adhiko visheshhaH, buddhyaa vihiinaaH pashubhiH

Eating, sleeping, being afraid, producing, etc are all common for both
humans and animals.  Humans have something more than what the animals
have, and that is the discriminative intellect or buddhi.  If one does
not have it (or use it properly), then he is as good as any animal. 
However, animals are pre-programmed and follow the path specified by the
Lord; where as a man without buddhi will behave like unprogrammed
animal, which is worse than an animal. animal does not become a
Rakshasa.  Man alone has the capacity to become either sura or asura,
godly or devilish being.  

Hence, Shankara says in VivekachuuDaamaNi that three things in the order
are rare indeed. First is the birth in the human form.  It is not a
choice but a gift.  Having been given such a rare birth, the second
difficult thing to have is the intense desire for liberation.  Krishna
gives a statistics – 
manushyaaNaam sahasreshhu kaschidyatati siddhaye|
yatataamapi siddhaanaam kaschinmaam vetti tatvataH|
Only one in thousand people try to reach me. Of those who try, only one
in many will know Me by complete surrender.   
Finally, the third one is the association with a great soul or right
guru who can provide the needed guidance for evolution.  These three
come only because of the blessings from the Gods. 
durlabham trayamevaitad daivaanugraha hetukam| 
munushyatvam mumukshutvam mahaapurushha samsrayaH||

Animals are mostly driven by instincts.  Birds build their nests exactly
the same way and that skill is in born.  Their actions are dictated by
instincts.  On the other hand, since a superior intellect is provided
for a human being, a man has to make a choice at every moment.  He
always has three choices at any time:  to act, not to act and to act in
a different way – kartum shakyam, akartum shakyam or anyathaa kartum
shakyam- are the three choices.  Hence, not to act is also a choice of
action that he can exercise.  People complain that they do not have any
choice.  What they really mean is that they do not have a choice since
they want to have only a particular desired result. 

The first line of the above the well quoted Geeta sloka says that at
every moment I have a choice to make.  In fact I have no choice but to
choose. As an intelligent being, I always act expecting a desired
result.  I cannot act without any expectation.  I cannot even put a step
forward without expecting to move forward. I may fall in the process;
but that is the result but not my expectation.  Even Krishna does not
begin to teach Arjuna without at least expecting Arjuna to learn.  That
is the least expectation.  Hence, human intellect cannot function
without a goal in mind, which is the expectation for the action. 
However, if I am intelligent enough I should also expect that my
expectation could go wrong.  Why?  Because, I am not omniscient to
dictate the result to meet my expectation.  Hence Krishna says “you have
only choice in action and never in the results”.  You can only choose
how to act but never can choose the result you are going to get.  Let us
illustrate with an example.  Let us say I have a big stone in my hand. I
have a choice – I can throw that stone to the left side, to the right,
throw up and pray it will not fall on my head, or throw in the back or
just not throw anywhere at all.  These are some of the choices I have. 
However, once I perform an action – say throw the stone up, I cannot
determine its result.  I cannot control its trajectory.  I can pray the
Lord to freeze the stone hanging in the air so that it would not fall on
my baldhead.  That prayer is also a course of action that I can choose
to make. It may or may not give the desired result.  The trajectory of
the stone, however, is determined by the gravitational force, Newton’s
laws of action and frictional forces, etc.  I cannot mend or amend those
laws to suite the results that I want, since I am not the author of
those laws.  They are part of the creation and Lord is the author of
these laws that dictate the result of my action.  Hence, Krishna says
‘you have only a choice in the action, but never in the result.  The
results are given by Me since I am the author of these laws. (Hence Lord
is called karma phala data, giver of the fruits of action).  You have to
take whatever the result that comes’.  I can demand or pray the Lord to
change the Newton’s laws, at least once for my sake, since I have been
very devoted Bhakta all my life, and have been contributing in this
advaitin list since its inception.  However, Krishna says; Samo2ham
sarva bhuteshu name dveshyo2ati na priyam| - I am impartial to every
body, I have no liking for any one nor hatred for any one.  Whether one
prays or not, whether one is a devotee or even non-believer, Krishna is
impartial.  Just as gravitational forces act impartially whether I
believe in it or not whether I pray it four times a day or not.  I have
to use my intelligence to learn the laws and think how I can make use of
these laws to my advantage.  Hence Krishna says: “ye bhajantitu maa
bhaktyaa mayi te teshu chaapyaham – whoever worships me with devotion
they are with me and I am also with them – Those who understand the laws
of nature and operate correctly they are in union with Me and I also
bless them appropriately”. Therefore, I have no choice than to learn to
accept the results as given by the laws of nature.  In the 18th, Ch.
Krishna gives more details of all the factors that enter in formulating
the results of an action.     

Having a stone in my hand for me to choose the course of action is my
praarabda and what kind of action I do with the stone that I have in my
hand is my purushhaartha.  Furthermore, after I receive the results,
what I do next with the results that I have and the next set of choices
that are open to me will determine my next course of action.  Hence I am
at cross roads all the time, where I have to choose – to do, not to do
or do it another way.  Swami Chinmayanandaji puts this beautifully – 
    ‘What I have is praarabda and what I do with what I have is
Future praarabda is nothing but past praarabda modified by my present
action.  If the result is not meeting my expectation, then by observing
the action and the result, I can deduce how the laws of nature act and
devise the next course of action that is more conducive to meet my
expectations.  There also, I have only choice in the action.  If an
action is performed, you can try to alter the results of the previous
action by performing another action – that is called praayaschitta
karma.  There again the choice in the action is only ours but not in the

Another way of looking at this law of action is that I can only act in
the present. Past is gone and there is nothing I can do about it.  I can
sit down and cry about it but that crying is also my present action. 
The future has not yet come for me to act.  I can plan for the future,
but that planning is also a present action.  Hence, I can act only in
the present.  The results of an action follow the action and not precede
it.  Thus, results are future to the action.  I cannot do anything about
the future.  Therefore, I have no control on the results, maa phaleshhu
As a digression, an interesting point to note is that I can act only in
the present and I can enjoy only in the present.  In fact, I can live
only in the present.  Present only is given to me in a silver plate for
me to act and to enjoy. Past always remains past and future is always in
future, while I live only in the present.  Unfortunately, we refuse to
live in the present. We live either in the past (regrets of the past) or
in the future (anxiety about the future) and not in the present. When
someone asks ‘who are you?’ – We answer, giving our whole Bio-data; it
is all about my accomplishments in the past and my aspirations about my
future, but nothing about the present.  On the other hand, a sage or
wise man lives in the present.  Interestingly, we cannot even define
that present also.  Present is a thin imaginary gap where the past meets
the future.  I can subdivide that gap as small as possible,
microseconds, nano seconds, peco seconds, etc.  Ultimately, the concept
of time itself evaporates.  What remains in the present is only my
presence, which is beyond any concept of time.  The movement of that
imaginary line creates the concept of time, which is only imaginary. 
Actually, the concept of space and time arises in me only, and it is
folded when I go deep sleep state. 

Efficiency in action: 

Efficiency is different from proficiency.  A doctor may be most
proficient surgeon in the world, yet his efficiency goes down the drain
if the patient on the operating table is his own beloved son.  The
attachment makes his intellect blind and makes him inefficient.  Arjuna
had the same problem.  Hence, perform the action, without any attachment
for the fruits of the action.  There are three channels through which
our energy gets dissipated while performing an action. One is the
regrets of the past, second is the excitement while acting in the
present and the third is the anxiety about the future. I can optimize my
energy in the present action and perform to my best by arresting all
three channels of energy leak.  I will be most efficient in my action
and that happens when I perform the action as an offering to the Lord. 
Even though Lord provides the results impartially whether I offer or
not, but recognizing His role and offering the action itself as a
prayer, I ensure that I perform the action to the best that I can. 
Secondly, Krishna says if it done in the spirit of yagna then the action
will not bind us.   

 Right Choice of action:  

The questioner asked, since I have no choice but to choose, what should
be the right choice of action, or what should guide my choice of action.
 Since what I have is praarabda and what I do with what I have
purushhaartha, I should know what is right purushhaartha that determines
my right choice of action.  The scriptures provide the primary
guidelines.  The four purushhaartha-s that scripture provides is dharma,
artha, kaama and moksha.  Artha and karma, earning wealth and fulfilling
the desires are bounded first by dharma and with a goal in moksha. What
is my dharma?  We have discussed this aspect before in terms of what is
my swadharma.  We can give a simple rule to guide what is the right
course of action.

Whatever I expect others to do to me, I should do that to others. 
Whatever I expect others not to do to me, I should not do to others. 
This is a basic ethical and intelligent living and dharma for humanity
itself (animals do not need dharma – they have no choice but to live by
dharma). For example, I want others to be good to me, treat me kindly,
compassionate towards me, forgive my mistakes, help me when I am in
need, etc.  Then I have to be good to them, treat them kindly,
compassionate towards them, forgive their mistakes, help them when they
are in need; these become my dharma.  Similarly, I expect others not to
lie to me, not to steal my property, not to hurt me, not to step over me
for their needs, etc then I should not do those to others.  One need not
be religious to follow these simple ethical principles.  By following,
these ethical principles my mind is purified and  it brings in healthy
attitude in life. At any time before getting action, think what would I
expect others do or not to do if they are in the same situation. That
forms my swadharma – since I have a value for those set of actions.  As
grow and learn, my intellect becomes more and more sensitive to other’s
needs and my actions will be governed by what is right rather than what
I feel like doing.  

The next level of dharma is to follow the sanaatana dharma what is
wrongly translated as Hinduism.  It is not an ‘ism’ but a way of life to
appreciate my role in the creation. That involves the panca bhuuta
yagnas to appreciate my inheritance in this earth.  I am born in a
culture and tradition that is centered on the moksha as the eternal goal
of life.  Every art – dance, music, education, festivals, etc– all
centered on guiding me towards higher values of life.  I have to begin
to recognize that I am a full time devotee as we discussed before. 
Performing the action as a prayer to the Lord becomes my attitude in the
action.  Every act that emanates from me becomes a devoted action,
whether it is in the temple or outside the temple, since I recognize
that Lord is everywhere and in every set-up.  adhaarmic choices of
action, I would not even entertain, since those will hurt me more than
they will hurt others.  Whatever I offer to the Lord has to be
immaculately pure and noble and to the best that I could do since I am
offering to the Lord of the entire universe. That is what devotion calls
for and the choice of action is dictated by those values.  Krishna gives
exhaustive details of the values that one should follow in several
chapters of Geeta.  These help to purify myself. These include the right
course of action that I should do and food that I should eat etc, all
discussed in the 18th Ch. of Geeta.  Prof. VK has discussed these
exhaustively and one can get that information from his web site.  

How do I know that a particular action is dhaarmic action or not? This
is the problem with Arjuna also? I do not know what my dharma is – “Hay
Krishna  I am your student, please teach me. I will follow whatever you
instruct me” – was the outcry of Arjuna.  First, by education I learn
what is right and what is wrong. Education from parents, from teachers
and from noble persons, I learn what is the right choice of action. 
Scriptures teach us what is the right course of action. Ultimately, Guru
teaches us, what is the right course of action, provided one becomes a
disciple just as Arjuna did.  If none of these available, just surrender
to the Lord and do what you think is the right course of action taking
it as Lord’s dictate. Know that wherever dharma is Lord is, and wherever
Lord is dharma is. 

As long as I have the notion that I am doer (kartRitva bhaava), I have
to do my best in any action that I undertake in the spirit of yagna.  As
long as I have a feeling that I am the doer, the results belong to me
along with the associated impressions or vasanaas-s.  When I do the
action in the attitude of yagna, then the results are neutralized since
I accept the results as prasaadam.  My attitude is only service and
results are not the motivating force.  Hence, Krishna advises in the
sloka do not let fruits of the action motivate your action.  More than
that, if my vision is in the results, my mind is already in the future
since results are future to the action.  Therefore, the mind is not
available for the action that is being done in the present.  I have to
engage all the equipments that I have – body, mind and intellect-
completely and fully in the action for it to become a devoted action, in
the spirit of yagna. In addition, inaction is not the choice either.    

Therefore, Krishna advises that everyone to be participant in the
eternal wheel of action.  There are only few exceptions to this rule and
that we will discuss in the next post. 

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