Invitation To Health: 28 ►Niṣkāma Karma And The Gītā

Published: 12.04.2017

Niṣkāma Karma And The Gītā

The Acaryapravara (Shri Tulsi) was being felicitated in Patna University. The famous Hindi poet Ramdhari Singh Dinkar was giving welcome speech. He said in his speech, "Today there is a great problem. The problem is that of pravṛtti (indulgence in worldly life). Today it is an age of predominance of indulgence. Indulgence has increased so much that due to this there is rise of mental tension, mental complexes and mental diseases.

Indulgence: necessity of life

Where indulgence crosses its limits, problems arise. Mere non-indulgence is not enough. One question is confronting human being from ancient times as to whether he should indulge or withdraw. Of the two which one is to be given importance? Religion talked of withdrawal, but the story of life is such that without indulgence nothing can be done. Body cannot work without indulgence. Mind indulges by itself and speech also indulges. Indulgence is associated with the conduct of life and the talk of withdrawal comes with some expectancy.

The duel of indulgence and withdrawal, activity and inactivity, karma and akarma (withdrawal from action) continues regularly. Of religion two conceptions were formed. One is motivating or indulgent religion and the other is withdrawing or deterrent religion. It is not that along with indulgent religion there is no deterrent religion, and vice versa. The problem is that no human can give up indulgence. It is a necessity of life. In this situation, what has he to do?

Question is that of knowing the consequences

What are the consequences of indulgence and withdrawal? This question has been discussed a lot in philosophical circles. Taking a one-sided view some people said that a person should withdraw giving up indulgence. This has been one stream. In some traditions thinking went to such an extreme that it was believed that the eyes should be pierced since when they see that gives rise to perversion. Many ascetics have pierced their eyes. This is not a story; this has been a tradition. There was annoyance on ears as well that through ear there should be no hearing. The contention of this belief was that there should be no activities of the senses. In India, there are recluses who do not go where there are women facing them and if they go the women are removed from there first. On the one hand, there is this development and on the other there is extreme indulgence.

In the Gītā there is subtle discussion on karma, akarma and vikarma. It gave an important principle of Niṣkāma karma. It has been accepted in principle that in the world no one can remain without action. This is impossible. Then how can there be freedom from bondage? And how can there be mental peace? For its solution, a new principle was discovered. It was said that while acting also one can be non-active. It is a well-known maxim that 'while doing he does not do, while hearing he does not hear, while seeing he does not see.' This was a new propagation.

Withdrawal is difficult

There was one Jain practitioner (sādhaka) in Japan. One person came to him and asked: "What is your sādhanā(spiritual practice)"

He replied, "When there is hunger I eat and when I feel sleepy I sleep. This alone is my sādhanā"

"I also do the same then what new you are doing?"

"You are not doing so. You cannot do so."

"How can I not do it?'

Both sat down; started taking food. While eating the mind of that person went astray.

The practitioner asked, "Are you eating?" "Yes, I am eating."

"Only eating, and not doing anything else?"

"How can this be? I am thinking also."

"That is why I said that you cannot do so."

Sādhanā means to take food when there is hunger and to sleep when one is sleepy. Who really sleeps? After going to bed immediately there is no sleep and if there is sleep it is a sleep of dreams, the real sleep is not at all experienced. There are dreams and dreams. Dreamless sleep, mere sleep, and mere taking of food, these are very difficult.

Important discovery

The same thing was asked to the founder of Taoism (Daoism). "O revered preceptor! What is sādhanā? He replied in one word. ''Sādhanā is only to hear." It is very difficult to just hear. Hearing is a common thing but when the word 'just' is added then the situation becomes very difficult. Mere hearing and doing nothing; when such situation develops then the Niṣkāma karma of the Gītā is realized.

To remain non-active while doing activity, this is a very important discovery. In the Gītā such a principle was discovered by following which neither karma is left out nor is there any bond of karma attached to it. We may read it in the words of the Gītā, "one who renounces the fruits of action, gives up attachment, does not expect result, he is ktakṛtya (well-satisfied), he is the agent, and while engaged in action he is not doing anything. This is Anekānta. He is not doing (even though acting) because he has no attachment to fruits of action. He has given up attachment. He is satisfied in himself; he is not dissatisfied. There is no passion, no feeling of fondness, he is just doing the act out of necessity. His longing has gone away; action gives rise to bond due to longing only.

Where longing is left out, expectation of fruits is left out, and action is done out of necessity their karma becomes akarma, becomes niṣkāma karma.

Detachment: niṣkāmakarma

Today biggest problem is that of sakāma karma (intended action). Human being acts and gets tied up with many longings along with action. It is another question whether one thinks from the point of view of mokṣa (liberation) or not. The first question is that of mental peace, mental ease. Mind be peaceful and steadfast, there is no increase of impulsiveness in mind, evil thoughts do not come, bad feelings do not develop, for this it is necessary to be free from longings.

Within human being there is such a seed of bondage that even if he does not work he gets entangled in bondage. Of course, he gets bondage in doing action but while not doing also he gets bondage. Inside longing continues to work. In the fields of psychology and medicine there is talk of tension very much. The rise of mental tension is not sudden. In the inner being there is a sort of fire continuously burning and it keeps on heating. Its heat keeps on existing constantly. That heat never gets extinguished. That heat is that of internal longings. It is called 'avirati' in Jain term. It remains active while sleeping-awaking, while in bed also, and gives rise to tension continuously. The important principle of getting rid of this tension is virati (detachment). In the language of the Gītā this is niṣkāma karma.

Root of the problem

Once there was a conference of doctors in Jodhpur. Some people met in the context of Prekṣā dhyāna. They said, "If only the problem of tension is taken up and it can be met to some extent then it will be a great boon for the whole world." This is correct. Tension alone is the cause of all problems. Tension increases due to expectation, due to longing.

Inside the flow of longing is so strong that a human being cannot cross over it. So long as the door of avirati or the door of longing is not closed, there is no samvara, the way of inflow of water remains open till then there cannot be redemption from tension. The question is that of closing the door. How to close the door? Its principle is, "to remain niṣkāma or akāma even while doing."

Contribution of Krishna

This is an important contribution of Krishna to Indian thought that one can have akarma in karma and niṣkāma in kāma. But again, the same question comes that Indian thought got such a great principle which is very much useful for freedom from bondage and redemption from mental tension, even then neither there is freedom from bondage nor there is redemption from mental tension. Why is it so? This is so because by mere verbosity one does not become niṣkāma. A person works for some reason and says that he is doing with niṣkāma bhāva (detached feeling), this is never possible. It has become such an excuse that a person does anything he likes and if someone points out that this is not a good work he would say that 'you do not understand, I have no attachment to this. I am doing it out of pure niṣkāma bhāva.' Some people earn money by worst possible means. When it is asked to them, why they are earning money in this way? They will reply that they have no craving for wealth. 'We are just earning. We have no attachment. We want to use the money for pious work.'

Voice of mind: voice of soul

St. Francis wrote that in life there come some moments of meanness. He wrote about himself, "In my life there came nine moments of meanness. One meanness was that I regarded the voice of mind as the voice of soul. Many people say that this is the voice of my soul. It is the voice of mind but it is taken as voice of soul. How much is the difference! The voice of mind is very mean, very dangerous, deceiving others and that voice is taken as the voice of soul and declaration is made "this is the voice of my conscience or inner self. Alas! You do not recognize the inner soul. From where is the voice of soul coming? Mahatma Gandhi has given a very good thought on this. He said, "Sometimes it happens that everyone vouchsafes for the voice of soul but a person who is infected by passion, malice, envy etc. and if he says that it is the voice of my inner soul then it is a delusion. He has no inner soul. Then from where the voice of inner soul come? One who has become dispassionate, has overcome passion-malice, whose consciousness has become pure that person alone can say that this is the voice of my inner soul."

The question is that of practice

In the same way, this principle of the Gītā is being misused. Everyone says that he doing action with detached feeling. This declaration is made but from where the feeling of detachment will come? At the back of it how much sādhanā is required? As big is the principle so much big has to be the sādhanā. So long as that sādhanā is not there, there is no feeling of detachment in life, it is not possible that in such situation while doing an act one becomes niṣkāma (intention -less) or there is akarma.

Once in Ahmedabad some Gītā-lovers were sitting and there was a talk going on. During the talk, I said, "These days there are many discourses going on the Gītā and there are many expositions also. There are people who give discourses (pravacanakāra) but I have not found any who practices the Gītā (prayogakāra). A principle has been put forth that while doing karma you can be akarma. Niṣkāma karma is possible by renunciation of the desire for fruits. Such an important principle has been put forth but how will it be practiced? We have captured half of the matter and left the other half. By mere knowing one does not become anāsakta (detached). It needs to be practiced but today who practices it? Many people say that they do not know about this principle. There are important principles of sādhanā in the Gītā. On them Jñāneśvari (a commentary on the Gītā) has shed much light, has beautifully discussed about practices also and in some other expositions also there are discussions on practices but generally all these practices are left out.

Meaning of yajña (spiritual sacrifice)

To offer prāṇa as sacrifice to apāna and vice versa is yajña. Dravyayajña, tapoyajña, svādyāyayajña, jñāñayajña etc, all these were yajña. Jnanayajña is left out, svādyāyayajña is left out, tapoyajña is left out. The yajña of prāṇa to apāna is left out. And the meaning of yajña that has come to stay is homa (oblation in fire). Homa has come to mean putting ghee (fried butter) into fire, to give oblation. The original idea was to offer prāṇa as sacrifice to apāna and vice versa but it was left out.

In Ayurveda, the stream of prāṇa (vital breaths) has been divided into five parts. In Hathayoga also prāṇa is divided into five parts. They are-prāṇa, apāna, samāna, udāna, and vyāna. These are five prāṇas which conduct our life journey. So long as there is no yoga (union) of apāna with prāṇaand vice versa till then anāsakti (detachment) cannot be realized. This may be expressed in other language that so long as there is no awakening (jāgaraa) of kundalini (hidden power lying dormant inside) till then anāsakti cannot be practiced in life. To speak in the language of Medical science so long as the vital energy does not rise up to central cerebral system till then inward looking-ness (antarmukhatā) does not come. So long as the energy does not transcend 'Suśumnā' the grey matter cannot be affected and till then anāsakti cannot be realized in life and the way of inward looking-ness does not open. A human being is outward looking. His face is towards outside. He likes objects only. His longings and attachments continue. He cannot give up longings and attachments. We may know the principle to any extent; the longing cannot be given up. Longing is given up only when the way to inner being is opened.

It is difficult to give up longing

When the energy of longing (kāma urjā) moves upward, it ascends, then that energy gets removed from the center and reaches Merudanḍa, Suśumnā or even above that in the brain, the energy of Kāmakendra merges in Jñānakendra then there is a change in human being and attachment ceases. The same thing has been stated in the Gītā as sacrificing apāna to prāṇa and vice versa. By this a human being can be anāsakta.

The difficulty is that we have accepted the principle and given up the practice. So long as we do not get its solution till then loud talk or discussion of niṣkāma karma will be mere verbal jugglery, it will not be a part of life. To give up longing is a difficult and tough task. It is so much entrenched inside that a human being cannot give it up. But if we come to the sphere of practice then bonds get dissipated spontaneously.

Mere key is not sufficient

Sometimes we remain in this deception and believe that we have with us a great principle of niṣkāma karma and therefore we need not worry.

There was a theft in the house of a wealthy merchant. The merchant asked the watchman, "What were you doing during night? Were you sleeping?" He replied, "No, I was not sleeping. I was quite awake." The merchant further asked, "Did you not notice the theft?" The watchman replied, "I knew that the thief has come. I also saw that he went away with the box. I did not stop him because the key of the box was with you."

Sometimes we also start thinking that the key is with us. We have the Gītā with us. We have the Uttarādhyayana with us. Then why should we worry? But by mere key the matter is not served.

We have to pay attention to the basic thing and concentrate on practice. The practice of anāsakti is as important as the principle of anāsakti. The dharma of a sect or a scripture is not great. That dharma is great which is available in our behaviour in life.

The principle of anāsakti of the Gītā is very great but for us it will be great when the principle of anāsakti will be actualized in life and this is possible only then when we shall practice it in life. If we understand both principle and practice together then really, we shall be doing justice to an important principle and shall be doing justice to ourselves as well.

Title: Invitation To Health
Author: Acharya Mahaprajna
Publisher: Adarsh Sahitya Sangh
Edition: 2013
HN4U Digital Edition: Ratna & Amit Kumar Jain

Share this page on:
Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Ahmedabad
  2. Akarma
  3. Anekānta
  4. Apāna
  5. Avirati
  6. Ayurveda
  7. Bhāva
  8. Body
  9. Brain
  10. Consciousness
  11. Daoism
  12. Dharma
  13. Dhyāna
  14. Ghee
  15. Jodhpur
  16. Karma
  17. Krishna
  18. Kundalini
  19. Kāma
  20. Mahatma
  21. Mahatma Gandhi
  22. Mokṣa
  23. Patna
  24. Pravṛtti
  25. Prekṣā
  26. Prekṣā Dhyāna
  27. Prāṇa
  28. Samvara
  29. Science
  30. Soul
  31. Sādhaka
  32. Sādhanā
  33. Taoism
  34. Tulsi
  35. Uttarādhyayana
  36. Yoga
Page statistics
This page has been viewed 298 times.
© 1997-2021 HereNow4U, Version 4.06
Contact us
Social Networking

HN4U Deutsche Version
Today's Counter: