Bhagavad-Gita, Plain and Simple—Chapter Four: Part Two.
This is the eighth installment of my Bhagavad-Gita series. You can find the previous discussion here.
Krishna explains the difference between good-karma, bad-karma and non-karma.
Krishna: What is karma? What is not karma? Even the experts find it difficult to answer these questions so I will explain it to you clearly, erasing all misfortune. Karma is a deep, difficult subject. It has three types: “good karma”—right action, “bad karma”—wrong action and “non-karma”—inaction.
Arjuna: I understand the first two. “Right action” is responsibility and duty. “Wrong action” is irresponsibility. But what is “inaction” really? Just sitting around doing nothing?
Krishna: No. Inaction can exist within action, and action can exist within inaction. Since wise people can see this, they can achieve inaction even in their worldly deeds.
Arjuna [puzzled]: Action and inaction are opposites. How can one exist within the other?
Krishna: When you decide to cast out selfish motivation from all your deeds, the fire of knowledge consumes your actions. The wise declare that you are “inactive,” enlightened.
Arjuna: But how can I give up selfish motivations?
Krishna: You can throw away selfish ambitions only if you are already satisfied, within yourself. Then, even if you seem busy in so many ways, you are never truly involved in worldly action. When you give up selfish pursuits, your mind will become clear and under your control. Then you will see that it is only your body doing things. You are inactive—unimplicated in worldly reactions.
Arjuna: Anyone can say, “I don’t desire anything, it is merely my body doing all these things.” How do we know if we are sincere?
Krishna: If you are satisfied by whatever destiny provides, you will see success and failure as equal accomplishments. That is the sign that you are truly inactive and never implicated in the worldliness of deeds. When your mind operates in clarity and knowledge you will naturally abandon selfish motives, and your work thus becomes a sacred sacrifice. All your karmas will dissolve and you will be enlightened.
“Sacrifice” means work done to benefit others, not oneself. In the highest sense, this means working to satisfy the divine. The Sanskrit word for “sacrifice,” yajna, is a synonym for Visnu, the Divine Godhead.
Arjuna: How is possible that worldly deeds can have spiritual effects?
Krishna: In a sacrifice, everything becomes spiritual: the oil is spiritual, the fire is spiritual, the utensils are spiritual, the priest is spiritual and the offerings are spiritual. Anything thoroughly involved in spirit becomes spiritual.
Arjuna: But I am not asking about a ritual, I am asking how our worldly deeds can be spiritual.
Krishna: Sacrifice is not a ritual. There are many ways to make sacrifices: some do it by carefully worshipping the gods, others by sacrificing rituals into the fire of spirituality. Some sacrifice sense perception into the fire of restrictions; others sacrifice the sense objects into the fires of the senses. Still others, illuminated by knowledge, sacrifice all their senses and even their breath into the fire of self-control.
All of them submit to strict vows; it’s merely the form of their sacrifice that differs, not the substance. Some sacrifice wealth, others austerities, others deeds; still others sacrifice by studying philosophy. Some sacrifice their very breath, arresting it by making exhalation an offering to inhalation and visa-versa. Others cease inhalation altogether and offer exhalation into itself.
All of them understand sacrifice. All of them are purified by sacrifice, enjoy the immortal nectar resulting from it, and attain the eternal spirit. But, my friend, those who don’t understand sacrifice gain nothing in this world or the next.
Arjuna: Where are all these sacrifices explained?
Krishna: They all come from the “mouth of spirit,” the Vedas. The important thing to understand is that they all involve work. Understand that and you will be emancipated.
Arjuna: Then, is any work a “sacrifice”?
Krishna: It is the wisdom within the work which enables selflessness, which is spiritual. The work itself is not important.
Arjuna: Why are there so many forms of sacrifice?
Krishna: Because there are so many different types of people. The external form of sacrifice is not important; it is merely the catalyst to ignite the real fire of sacrifice, wisdom.
Arjuna: How can I best become wise?
Krishna: We will comprehend wisdom when we respect wise people, who have true vision. They impart wisdom to us when we attentively inquire from all angles.
Arjuna: What will I see when I gain wisdom from those who see the truth?
Krishna: You will see all the countless living beings within yourself, and yourself within me. You will never again fall into confusion.
All things are rays of Krishna’s energy. Seeing this makes us feel that all living things are just as important as we are.
Arjuna: But what if I am very wicked? I am a warrior and kill so many people. Can even I attain this spiritual vision?
Krishna: Wisdom is a boat that will carry even the heaviest of the heinously wicked across the ocean of misery. Wisdom is a raging fire that burns wickedness to ash, as if it were dry wood. Definitely, nothing in this world is as purifying as wisdom. Follow the yoga of sacrifice to its final end and you will eventually enjoy this wisdom within your own soul.
Arjuna:Am I qualified to follow this yoga to its perfection?
Krishna: Anyone who puts their hearts into it attains true wisdom.
Arjuna: What does it mean to “put my heart into it”?
Krishna: Make it more important than anything else, and therefore curtail all other endeavors. Trust that it will be worth it, for when you attain wisdom, you will very quickly attain the supreme peace.
Don’t doubt this! Fools who have no conviction in the value of wisdom are ruined by their own doubts. Such bewildered people find no happiness here or hereafter. But a person who cuts through the bondage of doubts with knowledge can follow to perfection this yoga of renouncing selfish action. Karma cannot bind him, Arjuna, for he is situated in his soul.
Therefore, grasp the weapon of wisdom and slice through the doubts born of ignorance that have crowded your heart. On the strength of this wisdom, arise and stand firm, Arjuna.
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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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