‘Gītā for the Millennia’ (Lecture V)
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Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF) organised the fifth session on ‘Gītā for the Millennia’, an online talk series based on Śrīmad Bhagavad Gītā by Svāmī Mitrananda of Chinmaya Mission on June 10, 2022. In this session, Svāmīji focussed on the third chapter of the Gītā, where Karma Yoga is discussed.

Svāmīji said that the chapter deals with the art of making our work into worship (Karma into Yoga), which was also one of the life lessons told and demonstrated to us by Svāmī Vivekānanda. Arjuna asks an important question at the very beginning of the third chapter (Gītā 3.1), that if ‘Knowledge’ is superior to ‘action’, why then do you, O Keśava, engage me in this terrible action (ghore karma). This question comes as a genuine enquiry, because Arjuna so far have heard Kṛṣṇa talking about performing duty and withdrawing. Therefore, Arjuna is basically asking if the path of knowledge and withdrawal is superior, then why bother to perform our actions? Here, Arjuna is confused between whether he should choose a secluded path of withdrawal/renunciation or a social life, where performing duties are fundamental. At this point, Svāmīji highlighted the importance of asking questions in Indian tradition, which helps one to gain clarity. The tradition always have appreciated questioning because, only then one can ‘go through’ the experience of the knowledge in their own pace. Gītā doesn’t let others take responsibility and decide for us, rather it is through asking questions that genuinely arise out of our intellect when satisfying answers are received with piety, one gains clarity. In Gītā, Kṛṣṇa guides Arjuna through 18 chapters, but ultimately it is Arjuna, who has to walk through and work on his life.

So, Kṛṣṇa answers to make Arjuna understand that there is a twofold path in the world, the ‘path of knowledge’ of the Sāṃkhyas and the ‘path of action’ of the Yogins. These paths in Hinduism broadly can accomodate students of different levels, of different kinds to find their path to realisation. This, all inclusive nature of Sanātana Dharma needs to be understood and celebrated. This very beautiful aspect of Hindu Dharma also makes it confusing to an uninitiated seeker. Hence, it is important for us to think about a right path based on our own temperament, understanding our own level as a seeker. Kṛṣṇa further tells Arjuna that not by non performance of action does one reach ‘actionlessness’; nor by mere renunciation does one attain perfection (Gītā 3.4).

Svāmiji explained the verse by saying ‘preparation’ is required for one to perform actions or to renounce by withdrawing from action. One is certainly deluded if s/he decides to drop action without preparation or an indulgence in the action produces more or less the same result. It is through ‘Karma-Phala Tyāga’ can one attain the purity of mind, which would gradually prepare one to renunciate. Svāmīji also mentioned that if one decides to escape to a cave and meditate, without his mind purified, desires channelised, without having enough capacity to meditate on a higher level for a prolonged time, s/he might end up being a ‘hypocrite’. Svāmīji highlighted that the word ‘Mithyācāri’(a person with false conduct) is used in the Gītā to denote such a person (Gita 3.6). This indicates that the tendency to renunciate (Sannyāsa) is a natural urge. Hindu life prescribes four ashrams a person would ideally undergo; Brahmacārī, Gṛhastha, Vānaprastha and Sannyāsa. Svāmīji mentioned that a person who has lived well in all the three Āśramas, there would be a natural urge for Sannyāsa to come to him or her. This way, Sannyāsa becomes an irresistible tendency, which is not born out as a method to ‘escape’ from any situation or something that is forced on anybody. This Sannyāsa shouldn’t appear as a choice to someone, rather it should come as the only way out, like a child naturally moves out of his or her interest for toys.

After explaining this, Svāmīji entered into one of the most important verses of this chapter, which explains Karma Yoga (Gītā 3.7). This verse was simplified in the following way for the audience to grasp and remember it easily:

  1. Controlling organs of perceptions (sense by the mind)
  2. Dedicating organs of action to the work
  3. Detaching from the action and to the outcome of that work

Now that we have a craving for different objects, along with the distractions we face in our life, it becomes very hard for us to perform such kinds of actions in the world. Therefore, Svāmīji suggested a method that is being practised by many seekers in India, which is to commit to a selfless work, where we can serve intensely for a cause and be detached from the work and its outcome. Karma Yoga becomes possible or easier if the action that we have chosen is ‘noble’ in its nature. Such a practice would help us to gradually put down our thought flows and bring purity to our mind. Svāmīji further recollected a message of his Guru, who told him that if your mind can’t go to the Lord, try to carry the Lord where your mind goes. This way, we can bring the Lord to our daily responsibilities with family or workplace as mentioned in Gītā 3.8.

The world is created in the spirit of togetherness or the spirit of yajña, so to perform actions with attachments or ego would mean going against the flow of the cosmos. So, every action has to be performed for that sake (for yajña) alone. With such a living, we become prosperous and our desire gets fulfilled (Gītā 3.10). While explaining this, Svāmīji highlighted that the issue related to climate change aggravated along with the diminishing of pagan cultures in the world. As in Hinduism, these traditions with many gods could find divinity in nature. These cultures did not understand the ‘creator’ as someone, who is completely separated from the ‘created’. However, the actions that are producing positively on combating climate change are also coming from a sense of togetherness. Likewise, in the collective mind, what dominates would manifest in our action and it gets actualised in the result by its own. So, even a positive change outside begins from our own mind. To elaborate on this, Svāmīji mentioned that we all would tend to love and care for the Gītā only when we become aware about its values. As more and more people become aware, through collective minds, collective actions get produced and we would be able to eventually produce beautiful results, for example, make Gītā a part of our curriculum. In yajña, we all give our part and in totality it produces a beautiful outcome on its own and we share the outcome. This way of looking at social life, desire, actions, would make us selfless. Yajña transforms a mind that always demands to grab, to a mind that wants to give. Even that sense of giving, is coming selflessly by saying ‘idam na mama’ (it is not mine).

Dr. Arvind Gupta, Director, VIF, who chaired the session gave concluding remark by saying that the lecture gave a brief summary of various concepts in a connected manner. Though many of us might have heard these terms and concepts in a dispersed way, when we get to listen to them in an organised manner, it helps provide the listeners with some conceptual clarity.

Event Date 
June 10, 2022

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