October 31, 2012

Krishna Says, “Walk the Talk!” ~ Vic DiCara

Bhagavad-Gita, Plain and Simple—Chapter Three

This is the sixth installment of my Bhagavad-Gita series. You can find the previous discussion here.

Putting Philosophy into Practice.

Arjuna asked:

“You say philosophy is better than action, so why are you pushing me towards terrible deeds? I’m confused by this contradiction. So please tell me plainly, which is better for me: action or philosophy?” [1-2]

All-Attractive Krishna replied:

“I did not say ‘philosophy is better than action,’ Arjuna. I said that yogis synthesize the two paths: the science of philosophy and the practicality of action.” [3]

The path proposed by Krishna in Bhagavad-Gita synthesizes two of the three yogic paths: jnana-yoga and karma-yoga. It will gradually become clear, by chapter seven, that this synthesis is itself the third path: bhakti-yoga.

Arjuna wonders, “Why synthesize them? Since philosophy is more sublime, why not give up all activity and cultivate philosophy?”

So Krishna explains:

“No one gets free from worldliness by just sitting around doing nothing. Renunciation itself is not the goal.” [4]

Arjuna would ask, “Why not?”

“Because it is impossible not to act; no one can ever pass a single moment without doing something. Everyone is helplessly forced to act, habituated by their very nature.” [5]

“But what about the sadhus sitting in the forest doing nothing but meditating?” Arjuna would ask.

“They are in self-denial. They keep their senses repressed, but their minds reminisce on interacting with sense objects. That’s why they are famous as ‘pretenders.’” [6]

How can one avoid being a pretender?

“Real sense-control starts with freeing the mind from selfishness by using the senses intelligently.”

Arjuna would ask, “How can we use the senses intelligently without first cultivating intelligence?”

Krishna suggests that at first we borrow intelligence from the elders, guides and scriptures that establish our selfless actions: our duties. So he says:

“Do your duties responsibly.” [7]

Arjuna hesitates, thinking, “but there is always some flaw in my duties.”

So Krishna continues:

“Doing your duty is certainly better than giving it up. If you give up your activities you won’t even be able to keep your body functioning properly.” [8]

Arjuna will protest, “But sensual action is supposed to be the cause of bondage!?” So Krishna explains:

“Don’t work for the sake of sensuality. Work only for the sake of ‘sacrifice.{1} If you work for your own worldly desires you will suffer degradation and bondage; but if you work as a sacrifice you will become perfectly liberated.” [9]

Arjuna will ask, “But even if I work as a sacrifice, results will come to me, and I will enjoy them. For example, my duty is to fight. If I win, I will enjoy a kingdom. Won’t accepting the kingdom implicate me in sense gratification?”

Krishna will explain that the side effects of duty are wholesome.

Side Effects of Duty.

“The Creator created duties and told the people, ‘May these duties make you prosperous and fulfill your every desire. Please the gods by these duties, and they will be pleased with you. Pleased by your dutiful sacrifices, the gods will bless you with everything you desire. Thus both of you will prosper.

Image courtesy of BBT

‘Don’t be a thief and try to enjoy without sacrifice and duty. Those who eat the food that remains after they feed others are relieved from all sufferings; but those who try to enjoy food they prepare only for themselves eat their own ruination.

‘Your bodies are made from the nutrients in food. Food comes from rain. Rain comes from nature. Nature is pleased when you are selfless and dutiful. Duties are defined by the Vedas, which are spiritual sound waves. Therefore duties are essentially spiritual.’”[10-15]

Krishna paraphrases Brahma, the creator, to accurately represent the ancient Vedic concept of interwoven practicality and spirituality. The essence is that those who responsibly fulfill their selfless duties rightfully enjoy the healthy byproducts of their good deeds.

“Arjuna, not following this approach to prosperity is filthy. People living that way are meaninglessly intoxicated by sensual ‘pleasures.’” [16]

To be happy and healthy as a natural side effect of being dutiful is right and good, but to seek enjoyment independently of duty is selfish, superficial and ‘filthy.’ Such endeavors incur karmic ruination.

The Main Purpose of Duty.

“Although duty can naturally produce pleasant side effects, such benefits are not the motive of a spiritual person, who is perfectly satisfied by his own being, whose thirst is quenched by his own soul and who experiences pleasure within himself. Such people are completely self-sustained and have no ulterior motive for doing or not doing anything. Be like them. Always try to fulfill your responsibilities without ulterior motive. Working without personal attachment is the best means by which human beings evolve.” [17-19]

Setting the Right Example.

Arjuna might ask, “If a spiritual person is self-satisfied and already evolved to purity, why would he take the trouble of doing any deeds, even moral and responsible ones?”

So Krishna says:

“Whatever leaders do, the masses imitate. Whatever examples they set, the world adopts. Many kings, like Janaka, attained perfection through the yoga of duty. You should do the same and set the right example for all your citizens and admirers.

“Look at me. I have no motive for any deed: no emptiness to fill, no goal unattained, no debt to repay to anyone in the three worlds. Yet still I responsibly perform all my duties with great care. Why? Because if I didn’t, all of humanity would follow suit. I would therefore destroy civilization, cause confusion and create calamity.” [20-24]

Earlier, Arjuna said that if he kills all these soldiers, who are fathers and husbands, he would ruin families, and thus cause mass social confusion and degradation. Now Krishna counters this by saying, “Maybe, but also consider this: If you set an example of abandoning your duty when it becomes unpleasant you will cause the same terrible effect.”

The Difference between Wisdom and Ignorance.

“Ignorant people work hard, driven by selfish motivations. Wise people also work hard, but for the well-being of the world. The wise do not confuse the unenlightened with impractical philosophy, but encourage them to pursue their many desires in a somewhat spiritually progressive way.” [25-26]

Arjuna would ask, “What’s the difference between the worldly deeds of a fool and the worldly deeds of the wise?”

So Krishna says:

“The fool thinks, ‘I am doing this,'{2} when in truth everything he does is simply a reaction in the causal chain of the material world. Wise people understand the relationship between causality and action, knowing that their deeds are a complex series of causes within effects. Thus, unlike fools, they do not become personally wrapped up in their deeds. The knowledge of selfish fools is quite incomplete, and they have very little interest in changing that. Knowing this, the wise do not unnecessarily upset them with philosophy.” [27-29]

Painting courtesy of BBT

Arjuna had previously argued that he should leave the battlefield to set a good example of being able to give up one’s livelihood and possessions for an ideal. But here Krishna points out that practically no one who would see this example was qualified to follow it. They would either misunderstand and imitate it, or would simply mock and ridicule it. So the wise have realized that the best example to set for the general public is being dutiful and responsible “come hell or high water.”

Put Philosophy into Practice.

“Be spiritually aware, and renounce all implication in activity by doing your duty only for my sake. Have no personal ambition in your deeds. Have no sense of entitlement. Throw off your feebleness and do your duty in this state of mind. Fight!”

Krishna’s advice is to renounce personal motives in our work, not to renounce the work itself. He says we should work for the sake of others, and for the sake of pleasing him—not for our own sake.

Arjuna was afraid of the karmic reaction to his horrible duties, so Krishna says:

“Anyone who steadily and surely embraces this advice of mine gets free from karmic reactions. But those who loathe and reject my advice become perfect fools in every way, ruined and thoughtless.” [30-32]

Arjuna would ask, “Why would I become ruined by not following this advice?”

So Krishna explains:

“Even a philosophical person acts out of habit. How can anyone repress their own nature?” [33]

If we reject Krishna’s advice and insist that spirituality means ceasing all activities we are doomed to failure and ruination, because no one can stop their activities. It is simply impossible.

Arjuna would doubt, “But if I don’t stop sensual activities, how can I become spiritual?” Krishna now explains that regulation, not repression, is the ideal.

“Regulate the attachment and repulsion between your senses and various objects. Control your senses; don’t be controlled by them, for that would block the progressive path.” [34]

Arjuna would suggest, “Let me regulate myself according to the codes of saints who dwell in the forest. Let me cast aside these codes of the warrior.”

So Krishna will explain that everyone has different ways of regulation, and should stick to the way that is prescribed specifically for them.

“It is better to stick to your duties, even if they sometimes look difficult or faulty, than to try to follow someone else’s path, even if it sometimes seems perfect for you. It is better to endure the difficulties of one’s own path, because to walk a path meant for another is very dangerous.” [35]

Medicine is good, but to take medicine for a disease you don’t have is dangerous and likely to make you ill. Similarly we must adhere to our own responsibilities and not imitate someone else’s.

Why Can’t I do What I Know is Right?

Arjuna has no further doubts about what he should do. Yet, still he finds himself unable to do it.

So he asks:

“What forces a person to do wrong things, even against his will?” [36]

Krishna answers:

“Selfishness, which is born from passion and matures into wrath. Selfishness is all-devouring, the worst evil and your worst enemy. Selfishness eclipses your true self ever more thickly: like smoke covering a fire, dust covering a mirror or even a womb covering a child. Selfishness devours all wisdom. It is an insatiable inferno, the constant enemy of the wise.” [37-39]

Arjuna would want to know where this enemy has its base. So Krishna says:

“It makes fortresses in your senses, in your emotions and deep within your thoughts. From there it bewilders the soul and eclipses its wisdom.” [40]

Arjuna would want to know how to attack and fight with this enemy. So Krishna says:

“Attack selfishness by regulating the practical activities of your senses. Only then can you begin to defeat this villain who devours knowledge and wisdom. Gradually progress from your senses to your emotions, and from your emotions to your thoughts. You can conquer and reclaim all these strategic locations because you, the soul, are superior to all of them.” [41-42]

Control of the emotions and intellect is a natural result of controlling the senses by engaging them in selfless action.

“Become strong by placing yourself within your self—knowing that the real you is beyond even your thoughts. Be victorious in the very difficult battle against the true enemy: selfishness.” [43]


{1} There is a double-entendre here because in Sanskrit, ‘Sacrifice’ [yajna] is widely used as a proper name for Visnu, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The double meaning is that the best sacrifice is one done for the sake of Godhead.

{2} Krishna says that fools act with ahamkara. Literally, this word means “I (aham) am doing (kara).” This attitude makes us feel entitled to do anything we want and enjoy the results. The wise do not have this misconception.


To continue reading, click here.

Vic DiCara (Vraja Kishor das) practices Gaudiya Vaishnava sadhana in Southwestern Japan. His blogs are Bhagavatam by Braja and Bhagavad Gita Plain and Simple.

He is also a practicing astrologer, prolific writer and former guitarist and song writer in the popular underground spiritual-punk band, 108. His astrology website is available here.




Editor: Thaddeus Haas

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