Krishna told Arjuna repeatedly, "Arjuna! Do your duty. Engage yourself in rightful action. But do not aspire for the fruit of your action." Krishna's intent was to turn all of Arjuna's actions into sacred actions, into karma yoga, and thereby help him to reach his spiritual goal.
In the world, all actions are performed for the sake of the rewards, or what can be called the fruits. If there were no fruits resulting from their actions, if they were not compensated or paid in some form or other, the great majority of human beings would not undertake any work at all. What is Krishna's objection to Arjuna aspiring for the fruit of his labor? When almost everyone performs actions for the sake of the reward, what is the deeper meaning in Krishna directing Arjuna to perform all his actions without expecting any reward? Krishna's sole interest was to see to it that all of Arjuna's actions be transformed into yoga, in other words, that Arjuna's will be aligned with the divine will. This would happen when Arjuna surrendered himself fully to the divinity, offered all his actions to the divine and gave up all his attachments to the results. Then his karma became karma yoga.
As long as you act with body-consciousness, that is, as long as you identify yourself as the doer of an action, then that action cannot be karma yoga. Any action performed with the feeling of ego, the sense that I did it, or with the sense of attachment, that it is my act, can only bring sorrow to you in the end. Such actions will always result in further bondage. However, when you transform your actions into yoga, then you become free from bondage. How does action or karma become yoga? All actions performed as offerings to the divinity, without any sense of individual doership and without seeking any personal results, will be transformed into yoga.
Numerous troubles arise when one acts with a feeling of egoism. Inwardly, you might feel, 'This action was performed by me, so I should derive the benefits from this action. I worked, so I deserve to get paid. I am certainly entitled to the rewards accruing from these actions that I have performed.' Such feelings serve only to further strengthen the sense of ego, the sense of I and mine. As this sense of I and mine goes on increasing, the atma goes further and further into obscurity, and the joy emerging from the atma goes on decreasing. To destroy egoism completely, Krishna asked Arjuna to transform all his actions into yoga.
What is the method of transforming your action into yoga? You must become impersonal; you must not identify yourself with the actions or the results that accrue from them, but, instead, concentrate fully on the action itself, remaining indifferent to the results. In other words, you act because it is your nature to do so, offering all your efforts to the indwelling divinity, and remaining totally unconcerned and disinterested in the fruit. With such a feeling of detachment, whatever task you become engaged in will become sacred.
There is the example of King Janaka, who showed by his life that if you perform actions without any desire for the fruit and without any personal interest in the act, then your accomplishments can indeed become very great. While ruling a kingdom, and bearing all the responsibilities associated with it, King Janaka performed all his acts with the attitude that he was only the witness. Because he acted without any attachment to the results, Janaka became a sacred king, a monarch who was also a yogi.
Every action that is offered to the Lord and is performed without any personal interest becomes a holy sacrifice and can be considered as yoga. But when an action is performed with a personal interest in the action and its results, then it is nothing but roga, which in Sanskrit means disease. The root cause of all such disease is attachment. From attachment follows hatred and anger. These are the demons that will hide all your human qualities.
It is the same for everyone; once attachment and hatred begin to show themselves in you, they encourage all the demonic tendencies and you forget your true human nature. Therefore, Krishna commanded Arjuna, "Perform your actions free from all attachments. Be impersonal. When you perform actions without having any personal interest, the fruit of these actions will not touch you. That is how I rule over all the three worlds. Can you not rule over even one little body that way?
"Develop the firm faith that when you remain disinterested in the rewards you will be able to achieve many great tasks. But when you have attachment to the results of a task, you will be subject to disappointment. If you get the fruits you expected, you will be overjoyed. If you do not succeed, you will be worried. Try to control this sense of dejection and elation. Become truly wise. Do not allow yourself to be subjected to these wavering feelings of elation and dejection."
There is no human being who is not engaged in actions. Every person has a human body for the express purpose of performing actions. To sanctify the body, you have to perform only good actions. For every action there will be a fruit. You should realize that the joy which you get in performing an action is much greater than the joy you get from the fruit of the action.
For example, on an auspicious religious festival, a family may choose to be together throughout the night with other devotees, relatives and friends to sing devotional songs. As long as they are engaged in their practice and involved in their ceremonies they are unaware of any feeling of fatigue. Even if some of them were suffering from fever they would not mind; they would be completely absorbed in the function. During that period, when they are immersed in their practice, no one feels tired. But when you visit this family soon after the function is over, you find them all looking rather weary.
You get joy while performing an action, but you do not experience joy to the same extent after the action is completed. You are simply deluded by the feeling that there is some joy in the fruit of the action. But, truly speaking, there is no joy whatsoever in the fruit. The joy which you believe you get from the fruit is only a reflection; it is a shadow of the real joy. It is just a phantom joy. It is not the permanent joy that you are seeking. When the actions themselves are temporary and transient, how can the fruits derived from them be anything more than fleeting shadows?
Perhaps you feel that by performing acts of charity or by doing good, involving yourself in good causes, participating in auspicious events or by engaging in various acts of personal sacrifice, you will earn heavenly rewards. However, Krishna declared that heaven is only temporary. He said, "Arjuna, there is something which is far greater than heaven. Of course, you should always do good. I am not saying that you should stop performing good deeds, sacrifices, austerities, religious rituals and the like. It is not only your right but your duty to continue with such good actions; but, do everything you do with only the welfare of the whole world in mind. Do not act with any selfish motive. Perform every action selflessly, disinterestedly, concerned only with the peace, welfare and prosperity of all living beings, everywhere.
"Do not be concerned with reaching heaven. Set your sight on a much higher goal, beyond heaven. Heaven will last only as long as the merits of your actions last. Once these merits are exhausted, you will have to come back to earth. Therefore, give up your longing for heaven, which is temporary and impermanent. Cultivate nearness and dearness to the Lord. Become merged in him; that is what is truly important. The principle of divinity is greater than heaven. When you understand the secret of action and perform all your actions from the proper perspective, you will be able to acquire the divinity itself."
The Gita has not asked you to renounce all worldly activities and become a sanyasin, a wandering mendicant. Some people are under the impression that the Gita should not be taught to children, for the youngsters might get a notion to renounce the world and go to the forest. Many people suffer from such wrong impressions. But consider the great number of people who have been teaching the Gita. Are they all sanyasins? Have they renounced all the things of the world? Did Arjuna, who heard the Gita directly from Krishna, become a sanyasin?
The inner significance of the Gita has to be understood in the context of human nature as it is expressed in the world, in the everyday activities of people. The most important objective of the Gita is to bring down the priceless, ancient wisdom to the level of the mundane world and to raise worldly life to the level of the highest wisdom. The Gita brings down Vedanta into daily life and elevates daily life to the level of Vedanta; it not only introduces philosophy and spirituality into daily life, but it also introduces daily life into philosophy and spirituality. Hence, it reconciles spirituality and daily life.
Human existence does not just involve the daily, secular activities; it is not meant at all for just eking out a livelihood. The Gita teaches the sanctity of human life; it directs man to his ultimate goal. It teaches him how to make his livelihood in the world, in a way that enables him to transcend the human condition, and in a way that does not bind him to further human births. You will not be bound by your actions when they are performed selflessly, without any interest in the fruits. The Gita teaches you to develop nonattachment to all your activities, duties and possessions. What actually happens by having this attitude of detachment is that your actions become sacred. The Gita does not encourage you to renounce work; on the contrary, it encourages you to do your duty and perform all the activities appropriate to your status in life. But you must transform all these actions into sacred works by offering them to the Lord.
For example, consider the work of a cook. Cooks perform their duties properly and do their job well when they keep their mind on the cooking. If instead, they do everything keeping only the wages in view, then they will not have much interest in their work and the cooking will not be good. Cooking should be performed with a sense of love and absorption in the work and with the welfare of all in mind, without concern for the monetary rewards. Then it becomes a sacred and pure service that nourishes and sanctifies.
In the same way, when you perform your assigned duties, whatever they are, with full concentration on the work, offering it to the divinity, and without any personal interest in the fruit, then your actions become sacred and grand. With this feeling of disinterestedness in the fruits, your work becomes steady and you will also progress steadily forward towards your goal. But when you have a personal interest in the work that you are performing, there will be ups and downs, fickleness will develop and your desires will quickly grow.
Krishna held out King Janaka as an ideal person because he ruled his kingdom with this sense of detachment, and thereby attained perfection. There are some people who have only outward vision. There are others who have developed inward vision. Outward vision sees only the illusory world outside. Inward vision transforms the mind and fills the heart with sacred feelings. In order to gain inner vision, you have to develop this quality of absorption in the work and detachment from the results, offering everything you do to the divinity within. There is a story to illustrate the great spiritual power of this lofty practice.
Once, in the age previous to Krishna and Arjuna's, the young sage Suka, had entered King Janaka's kingdom and was traveling in the neighborhood of the capital city. King Janaka heard that Suka was in the vicinity, but did not know where Suka chose to make his camp. The king sent out messengers in all directions, to get news of Suka's whereabouts. They located Suka living in a shelter in a forest, near the capital city. Janaka, along with his ministers, went to visit Suka. Janaka did not go there as a king or ruler. He went as a servant of the Lord. Janaka had long ago removed all traces of ego and now went as a humble spiritual seeker. Suka was giving a discourse to his disciples on a spiritual topic.
During this discourse, Janaka stood and listened with full concentration. Evening came. Before he left, Janaka went to Suka and asked, "Swami, may I come every day and experience your inspiring discourses?" Suka replied, "Janaka, spirituality and philosophy are not anyone's private property. Whoever has the interest, whoever enjoys listening to these teachings, whoever believes in reaching the goal, has a right to this knowledge. Certainly you may come. You are most welcome." Janaka went back to his palace and returned each day to attend the discourses.
Now, Suka wanted to demonstrate to the world that King Janaka had inward vision, whereas most people have only outward vision. With this in mind, he moved to a spot on the crest of a hill overlooking the capital city, and made his camp there. From this place, he continued his daily discourses on Vedanta. One particular day, King Janaka, because of some urgent responsibilities of administration, was delayed in coming there. Suka purposely held up starting his discourse until Janaka had arrived.
Suka took no cognizance of the large gathering of people that were already assembled there, waiting for the discourse to commence. To demonstrate his interest, Suka started asking questions of this person and that, trying to find out why King Janaka had not come. He also told some people to go and find out what had delayed the king. He himself stood on the roadside and watched for the royal party to arrive.
At this, some murmur began among the people there. The disciples, the elders and youngsters who had assembled there, began whispering among themselves. One said, "Look at Suka. He is considered to be such a great sage who has renounced everything; but it does not seem to be true. Here he is waiting for King Janaka. Just because Janaka is an important ruler, Suka is not paying any attention to us and does not seem to care about starting the discourse."
Another person said, "Look at this peculiar behavior of Suka. Why does he show so much partiality to kings? For a sage, should there be any difference in his feelings for a king and for others?" Now, Suka noted all this talk that was going on. In fact, it was with the intention of teaching them a good lesson that he had conducted himself this way. Half an hour passed. An hour passed. Two hours passed. Suka continued to wait for Janaka to come; he did not make any attempt to start his discourse.
Meanwhile, those people whose hearts were a little polluted, gave expression to their feelings of jealousy and anger. All those impure feelings which were inherent in them, but had been hidden inside, now started coming out. That is just what Suka wanted, for only after the venom that was in their hearts had come out could the teachings of the Vedanta enter there. If there is nothing inside one's head, then it can be filled with sacred teachings. But if one's head is already filled with all sorts of impure stuff, how can it take anything pure and sacred in?
Without emptying the head of all the useless dross, sacred teachings will never take hold there. So, Suka's wish was that all these baser feelings should manifest themselves and be expressed. He wanted his students to pour out all the dirt and filth which was inside their minds. He knew that as long as their hearts harbored attachments and bad feelings, his teachings would not take hold. So he had them undergo this process of purification.
Meanwhile, with a great deal of anxiety, Janaka rushed to attend the discourse. Suka noted the approach of Janaka. He could be seen coming from a long way off because Janaka did not usually come alone. Although Janaka was not interested in bringing ministers and servants, they would invariably accompany him to provide security and protection to the king. Soon all the people became aware that King Janaka was approaching. Entering the area where the discourse was given, Janaka prostrated himself before the guru and humbly asked his pardon for coming late. Then Janaka spread his grass mat and sat down.
Immediately Suka commenced his discourse. Now, in the hearts of the young disciples who had assembled there, hatred fructified. Their faces began changing because of their feelings towards Suka and King Janaka. 'Look at this Suka!', they thought to themselves. 'He only cares about pleasing the king. That is the extent of his Vedanta.'
Suka decided to teach a lesson to all the people assembled there who were harboring such negative feelings. After some time, he interrupted his discourse suddenly and said, "Janaka, look at your kingdom. It is on fire!" King Janaka, who had closed his eyes and was totally absorbed in listening to the sacred teachings, took no notice of these words. He had fixed his mind on the Vedanta, and so he kept his concentration only on the Vedanta.
The other people who had assembled there saw the flames and smoke rising above the city. Some of the disciples, thinking of their relatives and belongings, began running towards the capital city, in the plain below. All the attachments which had lain hidden deep in their hearts now came to the surface and fully exposed themselves.
A few moments later, Suka told King Janaka, "Janaka, this fire has now spread to your palace." Even then, Janaka did not take any notice of Suka's statement; Janaka did not move from his seat. He had the true feeling of complete detachment and indifference to all things worldly. His interest was only in the atma. Except for this absorption in the atma he had no other feelings.
Among those in attendance at the discourse were a number of celebrated spiritual teachers having worldwide reputations. Suka wanted to demonstrate to them that they might be very great scholars but they had not killed their attachments. When these scholars saw the flames, they were apprehensive; they turned to King Janaka and began praying, "O, King! O, King! Please do something about this terrible catastrophe happening below!" But Janaka had entered into a state of samadhi; he was enjoying the bliss of the atma.
Tears of joy were coursing down Janaka's cheek. He did not waver for even a moment from the holy thoughts on which he had fixed his concentration. Suka observed Janaka's state and was very pleased. After some time, those disciples who had run away towards the capital returned, reporting that, in fact, there had been no fire at all. Then Suka began to explain to the disciples the meaning of all that had gone on.
Suka said, "Well, children, I did not delay starting my discourse for two hours because Janaka is the king and, therefore, a very important man. I delayed because he is a deserving person, a true seeker; and I believe in waiting for such a one. Because he has purged himself of ego and pride, because he has true humility, dedication and detachment he has the authority to hold up the discourse. You listen, but you do not hear what is said or put it into practice; therefore, you have no such authority.
"Instead of teaching hundreds of people who have made no effort in applying these teachings to their daily lives, I can teach at least one person who truly has a right to being taught, because he has integrated these sacred precepts into his very life. What is the use of teaching people full of attachment and egoism? It is something like throwing a stone into water. For any number of years the stone may lie in the water, but it will not absorb even a drop of water.
"Even if I can get just one person like Janaka, it is sufficient for me to go on. Why have useless shining stones in great numbers? If there is at least one gem which is truly valuable, that is enough. Why have ten acres of barren land if you can have even a small plot that is fertile and abundant in its yield? If one king like Janaka can become sacred, then he can transform his entire kingdom and turn it into a sacred realm that will be an example to the whole world." Suka's intent was to make Janaka a sacred king and at the same time to teach a valuable lesson to the conceited disciples who had gathered around him.
Krishna had a similar intent when he taught the Gita to Arjuna. Arjuna was also a sacred person, and he had qualified himself for the teachings by his character and his high ideals. Arjuna had control of the senses; he had won a great deal of spiritual power from the penance he had performed. He had, to a large extent, suppressed his worldly attachments. He had a highly developed intellect and had become skilled in many arts. And he had surrendered himself to Krishna in true humility.
Krishna decided that Arjuna was ready for the highest wisdom and resolved to turn him into a truly wise being. With the intention that if Arjuna could be corrected, the whole world would benefit thereby, Krishna took great care to give these sacred teachings to Arjuna. Arjuna had both the capacity and the virtue to rise to great spiritual heights. That is the reason he had been given a number of titles. The Sanskrit word arjuna means one who is pure.
Another title Krishna gave Arjuna was the sacred-hearted one; another was the jewel-of-men. Arjuna was such a powerful person that he could, if he wanted to, undertake acts which would terrify the entire world. But Arjuna always acted purely in keeping with righteousness. He earned the right to use a powerful weapon which could not be wielded by any other living person of his day. Originally, this weapon belonged to Lord Shiva. This same fearsome weapon which was originally with Shiva and then with King Janaka in an earlier age, in Krishna and Arjuna's time, became the Gandhiva, Arjuna's formidable bow. By earning the grace of Shiva, Arjuna was able to obtain this magnificent weapon. In every respect Arjuna was an outstanding hero, and it was such a noble and righteous human being that Krishna chose to teach the Gita, so that the entire world would benefit thereby.
It is through your mouth that you offer food to the stomach. Then it is through the stomach that the food reaches the entire body. In the same way as food reaches all the limbs of the body when offered to the stomach, the Gita was given to a pure and selfless person such as Arjuna so that it might reach the entire world. One of Arjuna's names is Parthiva which means son of the earth. All of you are children of the earth. Since Arjuna may be considered an outstanding representative of all mankind, Krishna felt that the whole world would in time be transformed by converting him into a sacred person.
Compared to ordinary actions which are done by thinking of yourself as the doer, actions done without any sense of doership will be much greater. But, an action that is done with complete selflessness, performed impersonally with total indifference and without any attachment - is greater still. But when the action is entirely offered to the Lord, when it becomes a holy sacrifice, it is even more sacred than all of these. Thus, Krishna commanded Arjuna to offer all his acts to the Lord. When Arjuna reached this state of evolution, that is, when Arjuna acted completely selflessly and offered everything he did to the Lord, Krishna began to teach him the Gita.
In the primary stage, every human being has to perform actions and be actively employed in the tasks for which he is suited. One needs to perform action in order not to develop laziness. A lazy person is absolutely useless to the world. Swami does not approve or encourage anyone to be lazy. First, you must perform ordinary actions. Then you should enter into the stage where you perform all your actions without any self-interest. Gradually you transform these actions into yoga, you transform work into worship. This is one of the core teachings of the Gita.
It is to utterly destroy selfishness, egoism, arrogance, pride, possessiveness, attachment, hatred and other such poisonous qualities that the Gita has taught the truth in so many ways. In the process, it has helped many different kinds of people to develop a sacred nature. The Gita may be compared to a wish fulfilling tree. Whatever you desire from the Gita it will give. The meaning given to different teachings in the Gita depends on your outlook and stage of spiritual preparation. No one can say that he knows the one correct meaning for a particular verse; no one has the authority to claim that theirs is the only meaning.
The Gita teachings apply to every level of spiritual seeker. Therefore, the Gita may be described as the heart of the Vedanta. It is its very essence. The Gita is a treasure chest of gold; the Gita is a flower-strewn path; the Gita is the support of all earnest seekers and aspirants; the Gita allows them to swim and survive in this sea of worldly life; the Gita helps them to traverse all obstacles and reach their goal. A person who does not care for the Gita misses the very purpose of life.
Whatever be your feelings, the meaning you will derive from the Gita will be commensurate to your level of spiritual development. For example, many of the devotees here will know the Sanskrit chant which is used as an incantation for evoking the blessing of the Lord. Its first line translates, 'to the white attired Lord'. Lord Vishnu is this all pervasive one. He is omnipresent. He is described as ash-colored. He is also described as having the color of the moon, being whitish, which is the same as saying that he has the color of ashes. He has also been described as having four hands and a most pleasing and sacred face, which does not exhibit any feeling of elation or dejection. This is the feeling of believers, and it is in this way that they pray to the Lord. But non-believers may use the very same words, although the image they describe with these words may be completely different.
The Sanskrit word that starts this incantation also refers to the one who carries white clothes. In whatever situation you see this one, you find it does not exhibit any feelings; it is ash-colored, and it has four limbs. One can take these attributes, put them all together and say that these words describe a donkey. A donkey will be carrying white clothes from the washerman, it has four limbs, an ash-colored body and a most patient face. It is not tied down to any place, you can find it roaming in the roads, in front of the house, everywhere. This is the meaning given to these very same words by non-believers. So, whether it is the exalted Lord or a lowly ass, depends on how you look at it, whether you are a devotee or a non-believer, and whether you are interested in or oblivious to such spiritual expressions.
In the same way, the Gita yields up different meanings to different types of people. Based upon the state of your feelings, each of you will get the meaning which is appropriate to the stage you have reached on the spiritual path. So, this Gita is a great wish-fulfilling tree. It is a celestial cow, giving freely of its milk. You can take from it whatever meaning you like, whatever teaching you are ready to absorb. There is plenty of water in the ocean, but the amount of water you can take away from it depends upon the capacity of the vessel that you have brought to fill up. The water will be the same; the difference will only be in the size of the vessel. Likewise, there may be differences in your feelings, but the Gita is only one.
The basic message of the Gita is the same for all; its sacred purpose is to transform humanity into divinity. You should not take such a holy book lightly. You should approach the Gita with a deep feeling of devotion and commitment. You should chant the verses with genuine feeling and understanding. And you should practice daily at least one or two of the precepts given here. Only then will you gain complete fulfillment in your life.
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