Article by T.K. Sreenivasan Unnithan, published in SURRENDER – Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple Renovation Souvenir 2002.
All Philosophies in the world promise happiness, either here or hereafter; in two ways they do it, through attainment of happiness or release from unhappiness (sukhaprapti or dukhanivrthi). All the sciences provide comforts with the same purpose, to provide happiness. While the sciences do not propose in which manner their discoveries are to be utilized for attaining happiness but only list the consequent results if their discoveries are used in different ways, the philosophies give rise to religions which enlists dos and don’ts (vidhi and nishedha) so that the here or hereafter be made happy. Human life is a sequence of experiences and response to them, the later experiences determined by the present responses in combination with remnants of the past. Vidhi and nishedha are commandments concerning the responses to various situations. How are these commandments arrived at ? Is there a logical way of arriving at the injunctions in a new situation?
Commandments can have only temporal value, they apply to specific situations; the method of arriving at them have eternal value. it could be applied in any situations at any time anywhere. One who applies them suitably to generate value systems and commandments to a particular society taking into account the peculiarities of it becomes its prophet. It is here that Gita differs from the other scriptures; it provides the methodology of arriving at the appropriate actions to be performed in any situation, provides the necessary information that is utilized for arriving at the conclusions, and thus provides a science to all religions. Because it provides all this, Bhagavan could say in end ‘look at all I said critically, then do what you think most appropriate’. (Vimrusyaithadaseshena yadecchasi tatha kuru). Here Gita stands apart from the other scriptures.
2. The Goal
There are two paths available for the humans, the path of ‘sreyas’ and the path of ‘preyas’. The path of preyas is brightly lit and attractive. In this path, the gains are immediate; they are fruits of actions and therefore finite. The path is long winding and goes on and on in cycles of strife and achievements, of pleasures and pains, of birth and death. While preyas is dependent on objects, sreyas is subjective and independent of any object. The path of sreyas is not attractively decorated, its gains defy description; it is the result of naishkarmya (actionlessness, not inaction). The gains are eternal; the path takes beyond the cycles of karma. The two paths are similar to the two methods in operations research in which one maximizes the immediate gains or the long run average gains. Arjuna has asked for the sreyas and the goal set in Gita is that of eternal and the long-term gains.
3. The Problem
Like a student in the examination hall, just when the question papers are distributed, Arjuna also becomes nervous in the battlefield, becomes hysterical and incapable of facing the real test of his personality. Arjuna has decided to withdraw from the battlefield and searches around for justification for his decision. As he pours out his mind in the entire first-chapter, like a well-trained psychiatrist, Bhagvan listens silently, without interrupting, never betraying his thoughts, but allowing Arjuna to throw out everything. Once Arjuna has finished and sat back, Krishna gives a pat on the back and a rude shock at the same time. He shows all sympathies and yet disagrees with Arjuna. The shock created by the words klaibiam and anaryajushtaom wakes up Arjuna from his hysteria and now he is capable of identifying his problem, which he spells out in the beginning of the second chapter.
Arjuna does not know which is better for him, whether to fight to win or let the others win. He himself says, he is ‘dharmasammmodhacheta’. That is the real problem with all of us at all times. There are many courses of action available to us, which one shall we follow, which one shall produce the most acceptable result. Prompted by the intricate egoistic tendencies in us, we do not see the problem fully. Deluded by the fancies of the mind, we see only one side of the problem, that side which corroborates with the conclusions that we thoughtlessly arrive at. If he decided to fight, Arjuna thinks he will kill all his cousins and grandfather and Guru; and if decided to run away he can peacefully live on alms.
Krishna now analyses the situation. If you decided to run away from the battlefield, how can you be sure you will be allowed to live in peace? Your enemies may never let you. They will speak everything bad of you, and life could become miserable. Those who respect will consider you of no consequence. The great men will consider you a coward. Life could become intolerable. On the other hand, if you decided to fight, there is no guarantee you will win. May be you are killed in which case you reach heaven; or may be you win, in which case you rule the earth (Hato va prapsyasi swargam, jitwa va bhokshyase mahim). Bhagavan is illustrating here a very general principle of ‘Karma’. Any act does not necessarily produce a fixed fruit. An action is a rearrangement of objects around and other objects are likely to interact with your action. The result you get is the effect of the action you performed and the way the other objects (including people) react to it. Because you cannot predict the way in which the environment reacts, you cannot also predict the result. You can only choose your action, never the result. There is uncertainty about the result and one has to be prepared to accept the result as it comes. One has to be content with what one gets by providence and not weep over the not so conducive results when they come (Yadrcchaya labhasanthushta). Bhagavan recommends the Yajna spirit in all actions – arpanabudhi at action and prasadabudhi at the result. While doinq the action, do it with the understanding that ‘I am not doing it, but I am only a part of the whole’ and while accepting the result, accept it as prasada. Doing all karmas thus in a Yajna spirit will purify the inner personality in you. A small digression to the mechanics of karma may be worthwhile.
4. Mechanics of Karma
4.1 The Equipments
The human personality can be compared to a modern computer, with an input unit, a central processing unit and an output unit. The sense organs, five in number, meant for receiving the stimuli from outside, receive the inputs, the intellect capable of discrimination is the CPU and the organs of action, five in number, give the outputs. The mind, like the monitor in the computer, carries the stimuli to the intellect and the commands of the intellect to the organs of action. In a computer, (unless virus infected) the monitor always works in unison with the CPU; a healthy mind should obey the dictates of the intellect. A computer works according to the software installed; a human mind and intellect work depending on the stored up impressions of the past experiences. These impressions determine the quality and nature of the responses.
4.2 The Cycle of Karma
The mind and the intellect are not distinct objects; they are functionally distinct. When it discriminates and arrives at decisions, it is the intellect; when it carries the input and doubts, it is the mind. The mind feels the emotions, the intellect thinks logically and understands. Each experience leaves its impression on this mind-intellect complex. The mind-intellect equipment when used as a storehouse of such impressions, it is called ‘chitta’: Stronger one feels about an experience, stronger will be the impression left, and such strong impressions can distort future experiences. For example, if one had been frightened by the villain of a film, a bus conductor with similar physical features, bring to the mind the villainous character to, the mind, gets prejudiced about his nature and acts as though he were a villain. Our response to any situation is based on our evaluation, the evaluation prejudiced by the stored up impressions will also be prejudiced. (These stored up impressions is called ‘Vasana’). Because the mind intellect is colored by the vasanas, our experiences are also colored and we do not see things as they are, but as presented by the mind. Naturally our responses also are distorted.
By the past experience, we also value objects and situations, the distorted experiences generate wrong values. These values determine our desires and the desires prompt actions, expecting a particular result. But, as we have seen earlier, the action alone not being the cause of the result, the result might deviate from the expected result: The deviation from the expected, creates strong impression on the mind, which adds up to the existing vasanas, which in turn leads to further distortion of future experiences. Thus, one falls into the vicious cycle of Karma – wrong values leading to desire prompted actions, the result of which creates an impression on the mind generating values giving rise to desires. The means to escape, is to set right the values and not allow them to be impaired by the impressions of the past experiences.
4.3 The Three Paths
The path, an individual can take to reach the goal, depends on what instrument is strong in him. If the intellect is well developed, he is capable of logical analysis and rational thinking. He cannot be satisfied unless all his rational questions are fully answered. For him, the scriptures suggest Jnanavoga – the path of knowledge. The practice Jnana is defined in terms of the eternal values as mentioned in chapter 13 of the Gita, ‘Amanitwam’ etc.
The one in whom the mind is more developed than the intellect, understands the language of emotions. He is advised to develop the subtlest of emotions – love, absolute love for all, love for Iswara. The path is Bhakthi yoga – path of devotion. Bhakthi is defined also in terms of the eternal values like ‘adweshta sarvabhoothanam’ Chapter 12.
In whom the intellect and the mind are nearly equally developed, is at times rational, at times emotional. He will have rational questions, not as subtle as one in the first group; He will be emotional, not as strong as the second. He is advised to develop equanimity by understanding the nature properly and surrendering to the Lord. That is Karma yoga-the path of action. Karma yoga is defined from three stand points. On the practice front, it is equanimity about the result of actions ‘Sidhyasidhyo samo bhutwa samatwam yog uchyate’. From the stand point of the immediate goal, Karmayoga is the dexterity in action ‘Yoga karmasu kausalam’. From the long-term perspective, Kamayoga is freedom from pains ‘Dukha samyogaviyogam yogasaminjitham’. Dukha means ‘little space’ here to mean inability to accommodate, thereby karmayoga provides the abilility to be happy and contented in all situations. With jnana and bhakthi also, Bhagawan promise the same ultimate goal, everlasting peace and contentment.
(There is a fourth path – Hatayoga meant for one in whom neither the intellect nor the mind is sufficiently developed. The prescription is to develop a healthy body and practice austerities, which will develop the mind intellect equipment.) That does not mean that the individual will have to evaluate himself to find out to which groups he belongs to and then to tread the corresponding path. Such personal assessment will always be biased and is not advised. The technique is to develop equanimity; the paths will take care of themselves. By developing the ability to accommodate to all situations, one can reach the appropriate path suited to him. Develop the four fold qualifications – sadhana chatushtaya; the rest will be automatically done.
5. Eternal Values and Commandments
Society is made up of individuals. No society with dissatisfied individuals can exist in harmony nor can individuals live happily unless the relations in the society are harmonious. The values in the society are to be in conformity with those of the individuals and the individual values shall not be opposed to the social values. With inflated values attached to objects, many individuals trying to grab the same object creates strife in the society. The values are to be cultivated so that the society can live in harmony. All economic theories are based on the competitive attitude of the members of a society to grab out of the scarce resource. Be it a society of individuals, be it the society of nations or be it the society of all living and non-living objects, it is essential to have the conformity of the individual values with that of the whole, for a consistent and peaceful existence.
Keeping all these in the background, the Gita derive the eternal values, more like the deductive technique adopted in mathematics, rather than command dos and don’ts. The values of the values are clearly described in terms of their usefulness as well as the calamity if they are not. No other text, not even the Upanishads, from which Veda vyasa has taken the essence to compose the Gita, give such elaborate description of such values. For example, the eighteen slokas in chapter 2, describing a man of perfection (stithaprajna lakshana) is unique in its content and presentation.
Religious instructions are meant for the well being of man. They are to be derived by interpreting the eternal values, for the particular society taking into account its peculiarities and according to the times. If they are contrary to the eternal values, they will not stand the test of time and society will soon crumble. If they are not continually re-interpreted as the time changes, they will lose their value. Every re-interpretation must take into account, the changed environment and yet see that the eternal values are maintained. It is this lack of re-interpretation, that has caused the religion to be relegated to the back burner in the west. That, they are interpreted cotrary of the eternal values, have on many occasions put the Hindu society to degradation. Every time such degradation manifests, some prophet or other has been thrown up to set it right. Sankara, Vyasa, Swami Vivekananda, Swami Chinmayananda and many others have done it as demanded by their times. That, such re-interpretation is permitted, is what makes Hindu dharma the Sanathana Dharma.
Gita provides the science of all such religious instructions. Prophets of any religion are those who prescribed their commandments suitable for the particular societies, which are in tune with the eternal values as explained in the Gita.
औं धै शान्तिरन्तरिक्षं शान्तिः पृथिवि शान्तिः रापः शान्तिरोषधयः शान्तिः
वनस्पतयः शान्तिर्विश्वेदेवाः शान्तिर्ब्रह्म शान्तिः सर्वं शान्तिः शान्तिरेव शान्ति
From the Vedas
Om. May there be peace in heaven.
May there be peace in the sky.
May there be peace on earth.
May there be peace in the water.
May there be peace in the paints.
May there be peace In the trees.
May there be peace in the Gods.
May there be peace in Brahman.
May there be peace in all
May that peace, real peace, be mine.