[Advaita-l] From karma to jnaana

kuntimaddi sadananda kuntimaddisada at yahoo.com
Sat Oct 18 00:19:27 CDT 2008

PraNAms to all

I received several mails related to my posts and some questions related to sin etc. Here is the article on karma to jnaana. 
Hari Om!
                           Karma yoga vs. Jnaana yoga

After elaborate discussion of the laws governing action and results and how one should act by surrendering all the fruits of actions, Krishna goes into elaborate glorification of jnaana yoga and how a jnaani or realized person behaves in the society.  Thus, in the end of the second chapter, Arjuna is provided the knowledge of karma yoga and also given the taste of how glorious is the jnaana yoga.  Having gained this knowledge Arjuna wonders why Krishna pushes him to do karma, involving in his case the terrible act of killing his teachers and relatives. Hence the discussion of karma vs. jnaana starts in the third chapter – with Arjuna’s question. 

Essentially Arjuna asks Krishna – Hay Krishna! If, in your opinion, jnaana is better than karma, why are you commanding me to do this terrible action? Your statements are confusing to me –if jnAna is the direct means for moksha and moksha cannot be the result of any action, then why are you asking me to follow karma yoga? 

Shankara says – Arjuna clearly understood that karma and jnaana are two distinct paths. Among the two, Arjuna also understood that jnaana is superior and it is the one that gives him moksha and not karma yoga.  His confusion is not about whether he should follow some mixture of the two (some give it a fancy name - Integral yoga, which during Shankara’s time is called - jnaana karma samucchaya) and in what proportions they should be mixed, etc. Shankara says – Arjuna’s question pertains to only why he has to follow the inferior karma yoga while Krishna has endorsed that jnaana is superior which alone takes him to the final goal. Krishna’s answer also reinforces Arjuna’s understanding that, yes, both are different, and no integral yoga or mixture of the two is intended.  Krishna is only addressing why Arjuna is qualified to do only karma yoga even though jnaana yoga is the one what gives moksha. All of us have the same problem.  Should we
 pursue karma yoga or jnaana yoga? If we need to switch from the former to the later, when do we have to switch? Is teacher is going to tell us when to switch or should we have to decide ourselves?  

What yoga to follow depends on the seeker’s qualifications.  It is like a student asking a question, should I study high school or go directly to MD course to become a doctor? What path I take depends on the prerequisites that I have. It is not that I have to do a mixture of high school and MD course together. I can not get to MD courses, even though they are fulfilling to make me doctor, unless I am prepared to get the prerequisite qualifications.  In principle it does not matter how I acquire the necessary qualifications, but I need to have them before I enter the MD courses. Similarly karma yoga and jnaana yoga are in sequence and not simultaneous. Krishna declares these are two distinct paths and the qualifications for each are different – karma yoga is the one needed for those whose life styles are tuned to yoga niShTa or yoga of action while jnaana yoga is for those who life style is tuned to saankhya or jnaana niShTa or yoga of knowledge.  The
 two life styles are different.  Karma yoga is prescribed to Arjuna since his life style is for that. If one studies Uddhava Gita, that is the last message of Krishna, he commands Uddhava to proceed to Badiri to jnaana niShTa lifestyle. The difference in life styles is more related to internal mind set than external circumstances. There are four main differences in the mind-set of a karma yogi vs. jnaana yogi. One can decide where one belongs by examining one’s own mind-set. 

1. Vision of the Goal: 
Karma yogi thinks that he has to gain moksha or looks upon himself as mumukshuH – the one who is desirous of liberation. Obviously his mind is set to look upon moksha as something to gain or something to achieve or something to acquire.  He feels that he is bound by samsaara and he wants liberation, freedom for all problems. His mind has already concluded that liberation is very difficult to acquire, and is the result of many many lives. One needs Grace of God, prayer, merits of many lives, etc. Even if teacher says you are already free, the mind set is not prepared to accept it – it still wants to seek and discover the experience of that freedom. The teaching is not sufficient; they need to do something to gain that freedom. He wants to experience that self realization.  He has read that something will happen at that time, and he is longing for that experience of self-realization. Since nothing is happening, the mind is set to the notion that it is
 a long way to go.  Moksha is ‘apraaptasya praaptam’, gaining something that one does not have it yet.  Some even believe or concluded that it will not happen in this life. 

Jnaana yogi: The mind set of jnaana yogi is the recognition that moksha is not something to gain but some thing to realize or recognize. I am already ‘nitya mukta aatma’ – ever free from all problems – freedom is my birth right. Moksha is not something to gain, something to achieve or something to acquire.  It is ‘praaptasya praaptam’ gaining something that is already gained. It is only something to abide in that knowledge.  I am actually free even when I have notion that I am not free.  Habitual thinking of the mind that I am bound is to be dropped by re-educating the mind so that it firmly abides in the knowledge that I am ever free. 

2. Attitude towards action: The attitude with respect to action is also different.
Karma yogi: He looks upon karma as saadhana or means to gain moksha as one of the puruShArtha – last thing that one has to achieve in this life – dharma, artha, kaama and moksha.  Since it is the last, some people postpone it to the last phase of their life; of course the last phase is when one cannot achieve anything else. First, one has to give up the fruits of actions or give up the attachments for the results of the action – or offer them to the Lord.  Since Lord is already full, he cannot take any more (other than bhakti) so karma yogi is stuck with the results that he cannot give up. Hence he offers every day – tan man subkuch terahi – this body, this mind, everything is yours. If he is offering everyday or every time aarati is being done, implies that he has not offered it even once, since he cannot offer the same thing again and again. So giving up involves not giving the results but giving up the sense of ownership of the results. His
 mind-set is still in between – having desire to fulfill and act upon those actions, but want to give up the results of the action.  Therefore he keeps giving up the results that really do not belong to him, in the first place.  The reason is he still has the mind-set that he is the doer, and somebody has to do it, and if he does not do it no body will, and that will be more frustrating for him. It is this mind set that sets him to do his obligatory duties in life. The most important part of this mind set is – kartRitva bhaava – I am a doer notion. It is difficult to have doership notion but give up the enjoyer-ship notion (bhoktRitva bhaava) by offering the results to Him. This can be done only for obligatory duties and not for desire prompted actions. He has to do karma yoga until he realizes that there is nothing really for him to do.  
Jnaana yogi: He does not look up karma as saadhana for moksha.  He understood that he is ‘nitya mukta aatma’ ever liberated self that does not  look upon action as a means to accomplish anything, including chitta suddhi or purification of the mind, or do selfless action for moksha saadhana or means directly or indirectly for moksha. That does not mean he stops all actions and stays like a stone.  All actions are done under his stewardship with understanding that they are meant for loka kalyaaNam – for the benefit of the totality – starting from prayer. He contributes for the benefit of the society in whatever form he can – just prayers, or teaching or actions that uplift the society. There is no ownership to the results even to give up the results.  Only when I own I can give up.  Even taking care of the body is only loka kalyaaNam.  Hence all actions will remain as they are but only the mind-set towards the actions is different.  Hence there
 is no anxiety for the results since there are no expectations. He enjoys the beauty of the Lord, manifesting in every action and every thing that happens or does not happen.   
Thus he has mentally renounced all – the sanyaasa bhavana, feeling of renunciation is firmly rooted in his mind-set. The reason is simple; he has understood that nothing really belongs to him to begin with, in order for him to give up.  

3. Moksha or Liberation: The notion about moksha is also different.
Karma yogi: He thinks moksha is something to achieve or to be accomplished.  His prayers and his saadhana all tuned towards it.  He wants to be blessed – Looks upon Iswara whose blessing he needs or whose grace is needed to gain moksha – Goes to this temple or that temple – this puja or that puja for special blessings from gods and goddesses, holy both here or there, this self-less service or that – all ultimately to gain merits to qualify for moksha.  
Jnaana yogi: Moksha is an accomplished fact since it is one’s swaruupam itself – or ones intrinsic nature. There is really nothing to look for nothing to work for or nothing to do to gain what is one’s nature.  Only the problem he finds is that his mind is not firmly abiding in that knowledge due to habitual thinking. To dissolve the habitual thinking, he keeps redirecting the mind to the fact that he is not all this but that which pervades all this.  Mind is set in jnaana or knowledge of the reality as I am that- getting the mind abiding in that knowledge is the essence of his efforts. 
4. Nature of Bhakti: The attitude of bhakti towards Iswara is also different.
Karma yogi: His bhakti or devotion towards the Lord is sakaama bhakti - devotion towards the Lord as giver of fruits of actions -  even though desires are reduced but not totally eliminated.  The desires could be different – desire for heath – desire for freedom from limitations at body, mind and intellect level – ultimately the desire for liberation or moksha.  Most of the self-fish desires are reduced but not totally eliminated.  
Jnaana yogi:  sakaama bhakti is renounced.  All prayer centered on I and mine are renounced since they are related to body, mind and intellect equipments. He invokes God or Iswara not to gain something but seeing His presence everywhere. Only desire is to abide in himself or in Godhood– the truth that is of the nature of sat-chit-ananda swaruupam. Hence pulling the mind back to its source or to Himself is his full time workless work. His prayers are nishkaama or no self-centered desires.  His prayers may end in himself as the goal of the very prayer – nothing to ask but just BE, where the desiring mind has become silent. He becomes a nitya sannyaasi – who has giving up even the giving up.  

As the mind becomes calmer, karma yogi gradually moves towards the jnaana as the Vedanta teaching sinks into his mind more and more firmly. Reinforcement of the knowledge slowly becomes the major fulltime job for a jnaana yogi until he becomes one with it.  

5. Is external sanyaasa necessary for jnaana yoga?  It is not necessary but helpful.  What is necessary is specified by the scriptures – shrotavyaH, mantavyaH, nidhidhyaasitavyaH. tavyaH involves a vidhi in the sense that one has to do – here sharvaNa means listening to the scriptural truths with full faith at the feet of a competent teacher for a length of time until the scriptural teaching is understood. A competent teacher is one who was a competent student. ShravaNa removes the pramaaNa asambhaavana –that removes all wrong notions about the nature of the reality as sarvaadhiShTAnam – substantive of jiiva, jagat and Iswara.  Manana involves reflecting on the teaching until one is doubt free. It removes the pramaatRi asambhaavana. In spite of the teaching there are always doubts centered on oneself - how can I be the substantive of the totality. NidhidhyAsana removes the vipariita bhaavana. In spite of understanding the teaching does not get
 internalized due to emotional attachments of lingering raga dvesha and habitual notions. Constant meditation on the truth will slowly remove the residual vaasanaas and the knowledge becomes one with the knower. 

Sanyaasa is essential for knowledge – ananyaaschintayantoma ye jaanaaH paryupaasate .. says Krishna – without any other thought. Hence giving up the attachments to OET (objects, emotions and thoughts) is essential. Attachments are at the mental level not at the physical level. Nevertheless external environment conducive for contemplation is helpful for nidhidhyaasana. Hence what is suggested is reduction of PORT – possessions, obligations, relations and transactions – would help the mind to focus away from getting itself entangled in the wordily environment. Then should I take bhoutika sanyaasa – if you want and are ready, you can. If you cannot for things beyond your control, no need to sweat about it – what is needed is detachment from mental attachments to PORT. External sanyaasa is helpful but does not guarantee the mental detachment either. One can get attached to koupiinam (as one remarked – if koupiinam is attached to one there is no
 problem but converse will be a problem). 

If I am gruhasta should I be committing sin if I do not do Veda vihata karamas. According to Shankara NO.  But if you are concerned about it as the way question is posed then it is better you do the actions that you think are important. Sin is the divergence between intellect and the mind. Yoga integrates the two. What I think and what I feel and what I do are integrated into one – manasaa vaachaa karmaNaa – and is called arjavam as Krishna emphasizes as important for jnaanam.  Complete surrenderance to the Lord will automatically put them aligned – that is the essence of karma yoga and sarva dharmaan parityajya maamekam sharaNam vraja.. implies.  Ultimately one has to understand that – prakrityevaca karmaaNi kriyamaaNaani sarvasaH|  yah pasyati tadaatmaanam akartaram sa pasyati – actions are done by prakRiti and one who sees himself as akartaa also sees the truth. All pujas, samskaaraas, and actions are meant to realize this simple truth. If I
 see the presence of the Lord everywhere and in everything – good or bad – then everything I do is puuja only. Sarva adhiShTAnam IswraH. 
yo maam pashyati sarvatra sarvanca mayi pashyati 
tasyaaham na praNashyaami sa ca me na praNashyati| one who sees Me everywhere and everything in Me, He is never away from Me nor I am from him; and from advaitic perspective Krishna also says 
sarva bhuutastam aatmaanam sarva bhuutani ca aatmani|
Ikshate yoga yuktAtmA sarvtra samadarshanaH| 
The yogi who sees himself in all and all in himself he has the vision of equanimity everywhere. 

The essence of all this is karma and karma leading to jnaana depends on adhikaari only – that is centered on one’s qualifications. The qualifications are related to the mental state not the physical state – that is why karma is considered as chiita suddhi. Chitta suddhi is essential to develop the four-fold qualifications required for brahma jignaasa. Perform karma yoga and slowly move to jnaana yoga making the external environment as conducive as possible for yoga. Essence of karma yoga is not some rituals - Krishna emphasizes - 
yat karoShi yadshnaasi yajjuhoShi dadaasi yat 
yattapasyasi kounteya tatkuruShvamadaarppaNam|| 
Essentially whatever you do offer it to me - obviously as we are offering to Him, it better be worthy to offer. Hence that will be automatically dhaarmic and not adhaarmic actions. 
Ultimately consider that He has put you in the right environment and thank Him for it and surrender everything to Him and it is His promise that He will take care – yoga kshemam vahaamyaham.   

The notes are based on Swami Paramarthanandaji’s discourse on Shankara BhAShya on Gita. 

Hari Om!

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