[Advaita-l] Karma yoga: the kinder, softer preparation for self-inquiry and surrender

jaldhar at braincells.com jaldhar at braincells.com
Mon Mar 8 16:42:38 EST 2021

On Fri, 5 Mar 2021, Akilesh Ayyar wrote:

> Yes, karma as you define it is easier still than karma yoga. But that does
> not mean that karma yoga is not one step easier than self-inquiry or
> surrender. Karma yoga still involves decision based on duty. But dharma is
> not relevant to one whose mind is fixed on jnana.

Dharma is relevant to one who acts regardless of what he is thinking as he 
does it.

> The idea that "I will decide what is dharmic and do that in an unattached
> way" is, while mentally purifying, accepting rather than challenging the
> notion that I am the doer.
> Duty as a concept is still basically karmic, is still basically founded on
> the dictates of doership. One who is attached to duty still has a sattvic
> attachment... which must be eliminated before atma jnana can be attained.
> Duty is mithya and bondage, ultimately.

Yes it is as all karma is.  And if one renounces all karma then they 
thereby renounce duty too.  But just talking about it changes nothing.

> This is misunderstanding the meaning of challenging the illusion of
> doership. Challenging that illusion does not involve repeating mechanically
> "I am not the doer." It involves turning the mind away from the changing
> manifestations at all times and abandoning the worry about what is done or
> not done. 
> As Sankara says in Upadeshasahri verse 210: "For knowing oneself to be
> Brahman one has no duty to perform; nor can one be a knower of Brahman when
> one has duties to perform. One deceives oneself by having recourse to both
> sides."

As I'm sure you are well aware, Shankaracharya only considers a sannyasi 
(and of them only the highest rank, the paramahamsas) as knowers of 
Brahman.  Swami Vidyaranya in jivanmuktiviveka has further analyzed the 
types of sadhakas.  He divides them into vidvan and vividisha.  ("knowers" 
and "seekers")  The latter (who in his formulation are also sannyasis btw 
but not paramahamsas) are still bound to perform duties though their 
duties may not be the same as a grhastha.

Now if one is a seeker (even moreso if you are a grhastha seeker as most 
of the readers of this list are) you are literally on both sides.

> Or see what Gaudapada says in his Mandukya Karika (in the Advaita
> Prakarana): "[R]emembering that everything is the Unborn Reality, one does
> not certainly see the born [i.e. duality]."

Gaudapadacharya was also a sannyasi.

> Or see the BG in chapter 2: "And when he withdraws completely the senses
> from the objects of the senses, as a tortoise withdraws its limbs into its
> shell, his wisdom stands firm." 

If one still acts he has not withdrawn completely from the objects of the 

> Without duty, without seeing duality, and without seeing the objects of the
> senses, there is no question of deciding what to do in accordance with
> dharma -- whether one renounces the fruit or not.
> The attempt to live like that -- that is self-inquiry and surrender, that
> goes beyond karma yoga.

Yes to "live" like that.  Just talking about it is not enough.  Even 
Ramana who is frequently cited as the authority for such sentiments, 
expressed them alone from atop a mountain.  If after logging off advaita-l 
one is not returning to an ashram on a mountain, ones self-inquiry is 
incomplete and one has not surrendered.  Such a person is not beyond 
anything and if they are shirking their dharmic duties they are actually 
regressing backward.

> No, the idea of choice is itself merely a kind of theater.

That is ultimately true of everything in the realm of maya isn't it?  But 
as far the world we live in is concerned, of course we have choices.  The 
occasion for the instruction of the Bhagavadgita was Arjuna _chose_ to lay 
down his weapons and refused to fight.  After instruction from Krishna 
Bhagavan he _chose_ to resume the fight.

This whole fixation on "choice" and "ease" seems bizarre to me.  Whether 
one goes on the path of karmi, karmayogi or sannyasi depends entirely on 
how one acts (or doesn't act) one should try and evaluate themselves 
objectively in order to choose wisely but human nature being what it is 
that doesn't always happen.

> The ultimate
> outcome is quite determined by the gunas. This is explicit at the end of the
> Gita: "What you wish not to do, through delusion, you shall do that against
> your will, Arjuna, bound by your own karma, born of your own material
> nature. The Lord abides in the hearts of all beings, Arjuna, causing all
> beings to revolve, by the power of illusion, as if fixed on a machine." 

Krishna Bhagavan gives the commonsense advice that one should not try and 
fight nature; it is futile in the long run.  But people do exactly that. 
Not only in dharmic matters.  Think of how many people continue to eat 
junk food, smoke, drink etc. knowing full well it is bad for their health.
But back to the dharmic arena, there is a certain type of wouldbe 
"spiritual" person who thinks that by talking about "self-enquiry" or 
"mentally renouncing" etc. they are somehow exempt from the obligations 
set forth in the shastras.  Such people are nastikas; that is not 
at all what Advaita Vedanta proposes.  In a few days we will be observing
Shivaratri.  At that time we will not be paying attention to the parts of 
shastras relating to e.g. Janmashtami.  But it is not because we repudiate 
the parts relating to janmashtami or anything like that.  They are simply 
not relevant to Shivaratri.  Similarly, on Janmashtami we ignore the parts 
concerning Shivaratri.  The Advaitin answers criticism from the karmakandi 
"we do not deny the validity of the karmakanda but for the brahmavid there 
is no cause to act so for him, there is no scope for the karmakanda to be 
operative."  This also goes the other way.  If one is even slightly 
entangled in worldly affairs, the dictates and obligations of dharma hold 
sway no matter how many hours one spends in meditation or whatever.

> No, it is going to help you. The effort at karma yoga will result in mental
> purification, even if your mind is roiled by emotion.

The "effort" as you put it is in stopping your mind from being roiled by 
emotion.  "emotionally unstable karmayogi" is an oxymoron.

> Arjuna says: "The mind, indeed, is unstable, Krishna, turbulent, powerful
> and obstinate; I think it is as difficult to control as the wind." (6:34) 
> Bhagavan replies "Without doubt, O Arjuna, the mind is unsteady and
> difficult to restrain, but by practice, Arjuna, and by indifference to
> worldly objects, it is restrained." (6:35)
> Bhagavan goes on to say that if necessary, perfection in the practice of
> yoga will calm the mind over the course of many lifetimes.

Ok but the practice (abhyasa) and indifference (vairagya) referred to 
means sannyasa.  This is Shankaracharyas comments on 6.41

योगमार्गे प्रवृत्तः संन्यासी सामर्थ्यात् प्राप्य गत्वा पुण्यकृताम् अश्वमेधादियाजिनां लोकान् , 
तत्र च उषित्वा वासमनुभूय शाश्वतीः नित्याः समाः संवत्सरान् , तद्भोगक्षये शुचीनां 
यथोक्तकारिणां श्रीमतां विभूतिमतां गेहे गृहे योगभ्रष्टः अभिजायते ॥ ४१ ॥

The sannyasi who fails to achieve liberation in this life (jivanmukti) is 
reborn in more favorable circumstances first in the same heavenly worlds 
that are the reward of those who have done righteous deeds, and then here 
in a family that is pure (i.e. yathoktakari, those who do their duty.)

Mental control and renunciation of action are orthogonal.  They reinforce 
each other but can proceed at different paces.  It is possible to succeed 
in one and fail in the other though liberation will require perfection in 

This is how to understand Krishna Bhagavans puzzling remark in 6.46 that a 
yogi is superior to tapasvis (those who renounce) as well as jnanis (those 
who understand the meaning of the shastras) as well as karmis.

> Who has reached that stage by means of karma yoga... that does not mean that
> he is any longer using that means. He is no longer practicing. He is
> released from practice, from effort, from all types of yogas, because he
> knows who he is.

This is why I showed you the bhashya so you could see that you are 
mistaken.  Jnanis should be sthitaprajnas but sthitaprajnas are not 
necessarily jnanis.  In fact steadiness of mind is not necessarily even 
adhyatmik.  Consider that Arjuna is a soldier.  An expert archer, he could 
hit a bird and pierce its' eye from far away.  That kind of skill requires 
tremendous ability to focus the mind.  Military discipline in general is 
designed to remove ego and make the soldier act as part of a unit.  The 
difference is that oneness is limited to a particular regiment etc.  The 
sadhaka aims to be one with all.

"karma yogi released from practice" is another oxymoron.  It is the fact 
that he acts that defines him separately from a sannyasi.

> Otherwise jnana yoga could not also lead to that result.

I don't see why not.

> Karma yoga is clearly preliminary. 
> "For the sage desirous of attaining [karma] yoga, action is said to be the
> means; for him who has already attained yoga, tranquility is said to be the
> means." (BG 6:3)

Shankaracharya introducing this shloka says:

ध्यानयोगस्य फलनिरपेक्षः कर्मयोगो बहिरङ्गं साधनमिति तं संन्यासत्वेन स्तुत्वा अधुना कर्मयोगस्य 
ध्यानयोगसाधनत्वं दर्शयति

karmayoga is a preliminary (bahiranga) to dhyanayoga which as we have 
seen, Shankaracharya equates with sannyasa.  Not some amorphous 
"self-inquiry" or "surrender."

> So the one who lacks tranquility practices dutiful action while renouncing
> the fruit... at the end of which there is mental purification. But that is
> not the end of the story! 

This shloka also refers to sannyasis ("munis") not karmayogis. While 
introducing the 6th adhyaya, Shankaracharya observes

योगविभ्रष्टवचनाच्च  गृहस्थस्य चेत् कर्मिणो योगो विहितः षष्ठे अध्याये, सः योगविभ्रष्टोऽपि 
कर्मगतिं कर्मफलं प्राप्नोति इति तस्य नाशाशङ्का अनुपपन्ना स्यात् ।

This adhyaya talks of yogabrashtas -- those who have failed to achieve the 
goal of yoga. It talks of them reaching the heavenly  worlds of the 
righteous and then being reborn and that would be redundant if talking 
about grhasthas as heaven, rebirth etc. are their lot anyway.

The proper way of understanding this shloka is that those sannyasis who 
are not yet perfected in yoga should act with a view to 
remaining steady in dhyanayoga.  This is different from both a karmi who 
acts from motivated reasons and a karmayogi who acts out of a sense of 
duty.  For the sannyasi who is yogarudha (perfected in dhyanayoga) the 
qualities such as shama are enough.

> This is why Krishna says earlier: "No purifier equal to knowledge is found
> here in the world; he who is himself perfected in yoga in time finds that
> knowledge in the Self." Even one who is perfected in karma yoga, lacking
> knowledge, is not complete. That knowledge will challenge the idea that he
> is acting at all.

> To understand that knowledge requires a relentless
> inward-turning of the mind without regard to action and without regard to
> duty... the body and the mind will anyway act of their own accord, but the
> spiritual aspirant will to the best of his or her abilities ignore their
> workings.

The body doesn't drive to the office or raise a family of its own accord. 
If one is involved in such things one must not be self-delusional and 
realize they are not relentlessly turning inward.  If at the point they
wish to relentlessly turn inward they should give up home, wealth etc. and 
repair to the forests and mountains.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>

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