commentary
The Bhagavad-Gita
by Dr. Ramanada Prasad
4. PATH OF RENUNCIATION WITH KNOWLEDGE

KARMA-YOGA IS AN ANCIENT FORGOTTEN COMMANDMENT

Lord Krishna said: I taught this KarmaYoga, the eternal science of right action, to King Vivasvan. Vivasvan taught it to Manu. Manu taught it to Ikshvaku. Thus handed down in succession the saintly Kings knew this science of proper action (KarmaYoga). After a long time this science was lost from this earth. Today I have described the same ancient science to you, because you are my sincere devotee and friend. This science is a supreme secret indeed. (4.01-03)

KarmaYoga, discussed in the previous chapter, is declared by the Lord as the supreme secret science of right action. According to Swami Karmananda, a practitioner of KarmaYoga, unless Lord Himself reveals this secret science, no one can practice, or even understand it.

Arjuna said: You were born later, but Vivasvan was born in ancient time. How am I to understand that You taught this science in the beginning of the creation? (4.04)

Arjuna questions how Krishna, a contemporary of Arjuna, could have taught this science of KarmaYoga to King Vivasvan who was born earlier in ancient times, long before Lord Krishna. The doctrine of Bhagavad-Gita is not just five thousand years old, but it is primeval. Lord Krishna restated it in the Gita for the benefit of humanity. All great masters come to rekindle the fire of forgotten Truth. Different people have said everything we hear or read at different times.

THE PURPOSE OF INCARNATION OF GOD

Lord Krishna said: Both you and I have taken many births. I remember them all, O Arjuna, but you do not remember. (4.05)

Though I am eternal, immutable, and the Lord of all beings, yet I manifest Myself by controlling the material Nature using My own divine potential energy. (See also 10.14) (4.06)

The divine kinetic energy (Maya) is the supernatural, extraordinary, and mystic power of God. Material Nature is considered the reflection of Maya. It is said that the lord has created Maya that deceives and controls us. The word 'Maya' also means unreal, illusory, or deceptive image of Reality. Due to the power of Maya one considers the universe existent and distinct from the Supreme Being. The Eternal Light is the invisible potential energy; Maya is kinetic energy, the force of action of the Lord. They are inseparable like fire and heat. Maya is also used as a metaphor to explain the visible world to common people.

Whenever there is a decline of Dharma (Righteousness) and a predominance of Adharma (Unrighteousness), O Arjuna, I manifest Myself. I appear from time to time for protecting the good, for transforming the wicked, and for establishing world order (Dharma). (4.07-08)

The Supreme Being is both divine and human (AV 4.16.08). Prophets appear from time to time as divine dispensation sees the need for the welfare of the society. Whenever miscreants are born to destroy world order (Dharma), the good Lord incarnates to put everything in proper balance (VR 7.08.27). His compassion is the main reason for Lord’s incarnation (SBS 49). There are other reasons, besides the protection of righteousness (Dharma), for the Lord’s incarnation. The Supreme Being, which is beyond birth and death, incarnates in human form through a great soul on earth to satisfy the longings of devotees who want to see Him and be in His personal presence. Saint Tulasidasa said: Though devoid of material attributes, unattached, and immutable; yet for the love of His votaries the Lord assumes a form with attributes (TR 2.218.03).

Lord performs many ordinary human, and also uncommon or controversial pastimes just to please His devotees, or to set things right. Ordinary human beings cannot understand the reasons behind these pastimes, and therefore should not pass judgment on Lord's activities when He incarnates. Great personalities and incarnations are sometimes known to be acting contrary to the scriptural rules; just as a King has the freedom to break certain rules. These acts are done for a very good purpose and with a reason beyond human comprehension. One should neither criticize nor follow such acts.

Ramakrishna said that he would live in a subtle body for three hundred years in the hearts and minds of his devotees. Yogananda said: So long as people in this world are crying for help, I shall return to ply my boat and offer to take them to heavenly shores.

The one who truly understands My transcendental appearance, and activities of creation, maintenance, and dissolution attains My Supreme Abode and is not born again after leaving this body, O Arjuna. (4.09)

One develops love of God by studying and listening to the transcendental birth and sportive acts of the Lord as narrated by the saints and sages in the scriptures. True understanding of the transcendental nature of Lord’s form, His incarnation, and His activities is the Self-knowledge that leads o salvation.

Many have become free from attachment, fear, anger, and attained salvation by taking refuge in Me, by becoming fully absorbed in My thoughts, and by getting purified by the fire of Self-knowledge. (4.10)

PATH OF WORSHIP AND PRAYER

With whatever motive people worship Me, I fulfill their desires accordingly. People worship Me with different motives. (4.11)

Ask, and you will receive; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you (Luke 11.09). It is due to divine illusion (Maya) that most people seek temporary material gains such as health, wealth, and success; and not the Self-knowledge and devotion to His lotus feet.

Those who long for success in their work here on the earth worship the celestial controllers. Success in work comes quickly in this human world. (4.12)

Would you give to your son a stone, when he asks you for bread? Your Father in the heaven will give good things to those who ask Him (Matthew 7.09-11). When you ask for something in prayer, have faith and believe that you have received it, and it will be given to you (Mark 11.24). In a prayer one asks the Lord's help in getting what one needs; in worship you adore, glorify, and thank Him for what you have. One should first be aware of and contemplate on one's plight, feel helpless in getting out of the difficulty, then seek divine help --- through prayer --- in a state of helplessness with intense faith. Lord will take the first step if you know your plight and seek His help for transformation. Show yourself --- open up, confess --- to the Lord as you are in a prayer, and be specific in what you ask, and cry for His help.

All prayers are answered, but the prayers for the benefit of others are given first priority. Lord actually knows our needs at all times and is simply waiting to be asked for help due to our free will. Paul Castagna says: Meditation is listening to God by stilling the mind, and assuming a receptive posture in order to hear Lord's instructions, insights, and revelations. For example, embracing the attitude: Thank You for answering my prayers and all You have given me, but now what do You want me to do with what You have given? And then, having said that, be still and alert, and just try to listen. Pray so that you can talk to God and tell Him how you are and what you have been doing. Meditate so that God can effectively tell you what you are supposed to do.

DIVISION OF LABOR IS BASED ON THE APTITUDE OF PEOPLE

I created the four divisions of human society based on aptitude and vocation. Though I am the author of this system of the division of labor, one should know that I do nothing directly and I am eternal. (See also 18.41) (4.13)

Works do not bind Me, because I have no desire for the fruits of work. The one who fully understands and practices this truth is also not bound by Karma. (4.14)

Whoever wants to be first must place oneself last and be the servant of all (Mark 10.44). All works, including prayers, should be undertaken for a just cause, rather than just for personal gain.

The ancient seekers of salvation also performed their duties without concern for the fruits. Therefore, you should do your duty as the ancients did. (4.15)

ATTACHED, DETACHED, AND FORBIDDEN ACTION

Even the wise ones are confused about what is action and what is inaction. Therefore, I shall clearly explain what is action, knowing that one shall be liberated from the evil of birth and death. (4.16)

The true nature of action is very difficult to understand. Therefore, one should know the nature of attached action, the nature of detached action, and also the nature of forbidden action. (4.17)

Attached action is selfish work, done in the mode of passion, that produces Karmic bondage and leads to transmigration. Detached action is unselfish work, done in the mode of goodness, that leads to salvation. Detached action is considered to be inaction; because from the Karmic viewpoint, it is as if no action was performed. Action forbidden by the scriptures, done in the mode of ignorance, is harmful to both the doer and the society. It creates misfortunes here and hereafter.

A KARMA-YOGI IS NOT SUBJECT TO THE KARMIC LAWS

The one who sees inaction in action, and action in inaction, is a wise person. Such a person is a yogi and has accomplished everything. (See also 3.05, 3.27, 5.08 and 13.29) (4.18)

All acts are the acts of the Supreme Being, the inactively active actor. The Bible says: The words you speak are not yours, they come from the Spirit of your Father (Matthew 10.20). The wise perceive the inactive, infinite, and invisible reservoir of potential energy of the Supreme as the ultimate source of all visible kinetic energy in the cosmos, just as the invisible electricity runs the fan. The urge and power to do action come from the Supreme Being. Therefore, one should spiritualize all work by perceiving that one does nothing at all, and everything is done by the energy of the Supreme Being using us only as an instrument.

A person, whose desires have become selfless by being roasted in the fire of Self-knowledge, is called a sage by the wise. (4.19)

The one who has abandoned selfish attachment to the fruits of work, and remains ever content and dependent on no one but God, such a person --- though engaged in activity --- does nothing at all, and incurs no Karmic reaction. (4.20)

The one who is free from desires, whose mind and senses are under control, and who has renounced all proprietorship, does not incur sin --- the Karmic reaction --- by doing bodily action. (4.21)

A KarmaYogi --- who is content with whatever gain comes naturally by His will, who is unaffected by pairs of opposites, and free from envy, equanimous in success and failure --- is not bound by Karma. (4.22)

All Karmic bonds of a KarmaYogi --- who is free from attachment, whose mind is fixed in Self-knowledge, and who does work as a service to the Lord --- dissolves away (4.23)

The divine Spirit has become everything. The Divinity (Brahma, Self, Spirit) shall be realized by the one who considers everything as a manifestation (or an act) of Divine. (Also see 9.16) (4.24)

Life itself is an ever-burning fire where sacrificial ceremony is going on constantly. Every action must be thought of as a holy sacrifice, a holy act. Everything is not the Supreme Being but the Supreme Being is the root or basis of everything. One attains salvation and becomes one with the Supreme Being when a person perceives the Supreme Being in every action, and the things one uses as a transformation of the Supreme Being, and realizes that the very process of all action is also the Supreme Being.

DIFFERENT TYPES OF SPIRITUAL PRACTICES OR SACRIFICES

Some yogis perform the service of worship to celestial controllers, while others study scriptures for Self-knowledge. Some restrain their senses and give up their sensual pleasures. Others perform breathing and other yogic exercises. Some give charity and offer their wealth as a sacrifice. (4.25-28)

Those who are engaged in yogic practices, reach the breathless state of trance by offering inhalation into exhalation and exhalation into inhalation as a sacrifice (by using short breathing Kriya techniques). (4.29)

Deep spiritual meaning and interpretation of the practical yogic verses (4.29, 4.30, 5.27, 6.13, 8.10, 8.12, 8.13, 8.24, and 8.25) cannot be explained here. It should be acquired from a Self-realized master of KriyaYoga.

The breathing process can be slowed down by: (1) Watching the breath going in and coming out like one watches the ocean waves going up and down. (2) The practice of diaphragmatic (or deep yogic) breathing, and (3) The use of yogic techniques and KriyaYoga. The aim of yogic practice is to achieve the superconscious or breathless state of trance by gradually mastering the breathing process.

Others restrict their diet and offer their inhalations as sacrifice into their inhalations. All these people are the knowers of sacrifice, and their minds become purified by the sacrifice. (4.30)

Those who perform selfless service obtain the nectar of Self-knowledge as a result of their sacrifice and attain the Supreme Being. O Arjuna, even this world is not a happy place for the non-sacrificer, how can the other world be? (See also 4.38, and 5.06). (4.31)

Many types of spiritual disciplines are described in the Vedas. Know that all of them are the action of body, mind, and senses prompted by the forces of Nature. Understanding this, one shall attain Nirvana or salvation. (See also 3.14) (4.32)

In order to attain salvation, spiritual discipline or sacrifice should be performed as a duty without attachment, and with full understanding that oneself is not the doer.

ACQUIRING TRANSCENDENTAL KNOWLEDGE IS A SUPERIOR SPIRITUAL PRACTICE

Acquiring transcendental knowledge is superior to any material sacrifice --- such as giving charity. Because, purification of mind and intellect that eventually leads to the dawn of transcendental knowledge and Self-realization is the sole purpose of any spiritual practice. (4.33)

Acquire this transcendental knowledge from a Self-realized master by humble reverence, by sincere inquiry, and by service. The empowered ones, who have realized the Truth, will teach you. (4.34)

The contact of great souls who have realized the truth is helpful. Reading scriptures, giving charity, and doing spiritual practices alone may not give God-realization. Only a God-realized soul can awaken and kindle another soul. But, no guru can give a secret formula for Self-realization without His grace. The Vedas say: the one, who knows the land, gives direction to the one who does not know and asks (RV 9.70.09). It is also said that the precepts of Truth are essentially an individual process. People discover the truth by their own efforts. One has to row his or her boat through the turbulent waters of this material world.

The Vedas prohibit the sale of God in any form. It says: O mighty Lord of countless wealth, I will not sell thee for any price (RV 8.01.05). The role of a guru is that of a guide and a giver, and not of a taker. Before accepting a human guru, one must first have — or develop — full faith in the guru, and leave the human frailties of the guru out of consideration; take the pearls of wisdom and throw away the oyster shells. If this is not possible, it should be remembered that the word guru also means the light of Self-knowledge that dispels ignorance and delusion; and the light comes — automatically — from the Supreme Being, the internal guru, when one’s mind is purified by selfless service, spiritual practice, and surrender.

There are four categories of gurus: A false guru, guru, realized guru, and the divine guru. In this age too many false gurus are coming to teach, or just give a mantra, for a price. These false gurus are the merchants of mantra. They take money from disciples to fulfill their personal material needs without giving the true knowledge of the Supreme Being. Jesus also said: Watch out for false prophets; they come to you looking like sheep on the outside, but they are really like wild wolves on the inside (Matthew 7.15). Saint Tulasidasa said that a guru, who takes money from the disciples and does not remove their ignorance, goes to hell (TR 7.98.04). A guru is the one who imparts true knowledge and complete understanding of the Absolute and temporal. A realized guru is a Self-realized master mentioned in this verse here. A realized guru helps the devotee maintain God-consciousness all the time by his or her own vested spiritual power.

When the mind and intellect are purified, Supreme Lord, the divine guru, reflects Himself in the inner psyche of a devotee, and sends a guru or a realized guru to him or her. A real guru is the giver. He never asks any money or a fee from a disciple, because he depends on God only. A real guru would not ask anything from a disciple for personal or even for organizational gain. However, a disciple is obliged to do the best he or she can to help the cause of the guru. It is said that one should not accept any fee from a pupil without giving full instruction and understanding of the Absolute, divine kinetic energy (Maya), temporal material Nature, and the living entity (BrU 4.01.02).

Our own Spirit inside all of us is the divine guru. Outside teachers only help us in the beginning of the spiritual journey. Our own mind — when purified by selfless service, prayer, meditation, worship, silent chanting of Lord’s name, congregational chanting of holy names, and scriptural study — becomes the best channel and guide for the flow of divine knowledge (See also Gita 4.38, and 13.22). The Divine Being within all of us is the real guru, and one must learn how to tune in with Him. It is said that there is no greater guru than one’s own mind. A pure mind becomes a spiritual guide and the inner divine guru leading to a real guru, and Self-realization. This is expressed by the common saying that the guru comes to a person when he or she is ready. The word guru also means vast, and is used to describe the Supreme Being — the divine guru and internal guide.

The wise spiritual teacher disapproves the idea of blind personal service, or the guru cult, which is so common in India. A Self-realized (SR) master says that God only is the guru, and all are His disciples. A disciple should be like a bee seeking honey from flowers. If the bee does not get honey from one flower, it immediately goes to another flower and stays at that flower as long as it gets the nectar. Idolization and blind worship of a human guru may become a stumbling block in spiritual progress, and is harmful to both the disciple and the guru.

After knowing the transcendental science, O Arjuna, you shall not again become deluded like this. With this knowledge you shall see the entire creation within your own higher Self, and thus within Me. (See also 6.29, 6.30, 11.07, 11.13) (4.35)

The same life force of the Supreme Being reflects in all living beings to support and activate them. Therefore, we are all connected with each other, and are parts and parcels of the Self. At the dawn of enlightenment, one merges within the Absolute (Gita 18.55) and all diversities appear as nothing but the expansion of one's own higher Self.

Even if one is the most sinful of all sinners, one shall cross over the river of sin by the raft of Self-knowledge. (4.36)

The fire of Self-knowledge reduces all bonds of Karma to ashes, O Arjuna, like the blazing fire reduces wood to ashes. (4.37)

The Bible also says: You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free (John 8.32). The fire of Self-knowledge burns all past Karma --- the root cause of the soul’s transmigration --- just as fire instantly burns a mountain of cotton. The present action does not produce any new Karma; because, the wise knows that all works are done by the forces of nature, and therefore, he or she is not the doer. Thus, when Self-knowledge dawns, only a part of the past Karma known as fate that is responsible for the present birth has to be exhausted before freedom from transmigration is attained by the enlightened person.

The physical body and mind generate new Karma; the subtle body carries the fate; and the causal body is the repository of past Karma. Karma produces body, and body generates Karma. Thus the cycle of birth and death continues indefinitely. Only selfless service can break this cycle; and selfless service is not possible without Self-knowledge. Thus, transcendental knowledge breaks the bonds of Karma and leads to salvation. This knowledge does not manifest to a sinful person --- or to any person --- whose time to receive the spiritual knowledge has not come.

Loss and gain, life and death, fame and infamy lie in the hands of one’s Karma. Fate is all-powerful. This being so, one should neither be angry, nor put blame on anybody (TR 2.171.01). People know virtue and vice, but one’s choice is ordained by fate or Karmic footprints, because the mind and intellect are controlled by fate. When success does not come in spite of best efforts, it may be concluded that fate precedes endeavor.

TRANSCENDENTAL KNOWLEDGE IS AUTOMATICALLY REVEALED TO
A KARMA-YOGI

Verily, there is no purifier in this world like the true knowledge of the Supreme Being. One discovers this knowledge within, naturally, in course of time when one's mind is cleansed of selfishness by KarmaYoga. (See also 4.31, 5.06, and 18.78). (4.38)

The intense fire of devotion to God burns all Karma, and purifies and illuminates the mind and intellect as the sunlight illumines the earth (BP 11.03.40). Selfless service should be performed to the best of one’s ability until purity of mind is attained (DB 7.34.15). True knowledge of the Self is automatically reflected in a selfless mind. KarmaYoga cleanses the dirt of selfishness from the mind and prepares it to receive Self-knowledge. Selfless service (KarmaYoga) and Self-knowledge are thus the two wings to take one to salvation.

The one who has faith in God, is sincere in yogic practice, and has control over the mind and senses gains this transcendental knowledge. Having gained this knowledge, one quickly attains supreme peace or liberation. (4.39)

The fires of mental grief and sorrows, born of attachment, can be completely extinguished by the water of Self-knowledge (MB 3.02.26). There is no basis for right thought and action without Self-knowledge.

The irrational, the faithless, and the disbeliever (atheist) perishes. There is neither this world, nor the world beyond, nor happiness for a disbeliever. (4.40)

BOTH TRANSCENDENTAL KNOWLEDGE AND KARMA-YOGA ARE NEEDED
FOR NIRVANA

Work does not bind a person who has renounced work --- by renouncing the fruits of work --- through KarmaYoga, and whose confusion with regard to body and Spirit is completely destroyed by the Self-knowledge, O Arjuna. (4.41)

Therefore, cut the ignorance-born confusion with regard to body and Spirit by the sword of Self-knowledge, resort to KarmaYoga, and get up for the war, O Arjuna. (4.42)

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