Shivakumar Viswanathan, Thursday, July 30, 2015 11:47 am

Musings on Karma – 2

We work. Day & night. Helplessly. There is no one who cannot refain from working. Whether it is physical or mental, activity happens all the time. The seminal work, Panchadashi of Swami Vidyaranya says:

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kurvate karma bhogAya karma kartuM cha bhu~njate

nadyAM kITA ivAvartAdAvartAntaramAshu te

vrajanto janmano janma labhante naiva nirvRRitim |Panchadashi 30|

jIva perform actions for the purpose of enjoying. They enjoy having done the actions. They go from one birth to another like a worm caught up in a stream passes from one whirlpool to another; and they don’t get any happiness at all.

When we are so driven to act – day in & day out – it makes sense for us to understand the domain of action, karma. The elders also speak very often about ‘karma yoga.’ Pray, what is this blessed karma? And how does it become a yoga?

Karma & the four puruShArthAs – a goal based differentiation:

We all know that there are four types of human goals. They are

dharma, artha, kAma & mOkSha

artha refers to all types of wealth, movable & immovable, that is acquired for one’s own security and happiness.

KAma is desire. It is the clinging on to a flat-panel TV and a blue-ray player for some. For some it is travel. For some it is the fine arts & antiques. And for many others its cars. And for some…I am sure we get the point. Its all about pleasure-hunting, entertainment and recreation. This typically happens after our security through artha is taken care of.

Dharma or puNyam is the third goal. Just like we save for our post-retirement and take insurance policies against future risks, dharma is the accumulation of merit to ensure that future lives are also happy ones. Good karma gives rise to happiness and bad karma creates sorrow. We believe in past and future births as evidenced through the concepts of sanchita, AgAmi and prArabdha karmas.

The last goal is that of mOkSha, or the ultimate liberation. A state of complete freedom including the freedom to say no to oneself when assaulted by the tyranny of desires! A state in which one is no more the slave to one’s own likes and dislikes. A state in which one enjoyes unmitigated bliss.

Now any goal is achieved only through proper and well directed action, karma. Most of the people are artha- and kAma-pradhAna – they give importance only to the two goals of acquiring wealth and fulfilling their desires. Dharma or puNyam is a distant third, if at all it finds a place in the list! The scriptures, knowing that the natural tendencies of humans lean towards these three, gives a blue print for the types of actions that need to be performed so that one is purified and helped to progress towards the fourth goal, mOkSha. Because the scriptures know that the path of dharma-artha-kAma is faught with difficulties and is a permenent struggle to acquire, preserve and protect. Whereas mOkSha is freedom from such struggle. In this scheme of things, the student is asked to focus on dharma and mOSkha pradhana karma, actions that orient towards acquiring puNyam and freedom.

Karma & guNas:

We can also look at actions based on the types of guNas – sAttvika, rAjasa and tAmasa karmas. All sAtttvika karmas promote inner peace and growth. Hence they are considered compusory or mandatory – for the sake of the individual. One has to remember that nowhere does the scripture prescribe a path to ruin. On the contrary, the shAstras, like a compassionate mother, keeps guiding us on to a path of the highest good. Sattvika karmas will predominantly orient towards dharma and mOkSha. They are also desireless & unselfish actions.

We then have rAjas karmas which are desire prompted. The scriptures do permit the fulfillment of the desires in a moral and ethical manner. Since these are desire based, most of these actions will lean towards artha and kAma. These karmAs are typically selfish actions directed towards the fulfillment one’s own needs.

The third guNa is tAmasa and actions that are typically oriented in this angle are prohibited because they eventually led the individual away from mOkSha. Actions like lying, cheating, violence etc come under this category.

Vedic lifestyle:

The Vedic lifestyle gives a clean blueprint for gradually integrating one’s personality and obtaining spiritual growth. It mainly consists of three thing mainly: bhavanA, guNA and karma

bhavana means certain healthy attitudes. Examples like mAtru devo bhava, pitr devo bhava, Acharya devo bhava, athithi devo bhava are well known to everyone. The focus is on developing a healthy and reverential attitude to everyone and everything in life. This is seeing divinity everywhere!

guNah refers to certain values or virtues. The Yoga sutras talk about yama & niyama like satyam, asteyam, aprigraham, brahmacharyam, shoucham, svadhyayah, Ishwara praNidhanam etc. These virtues help in refining the individual and integrating his personality.

Karma indicates actions that the student performs. We live in an era of a myriad shades of grey. There are no more clear distinctions between various varNAs and Ashramas. We see brahmins involved in business and vaishyas ruling the country etc. The Vedic lifestyle prescribes certain types of karma for the benefit of the individual, to help him gain chitta shuddhi, purity of mind. What are these different types of karmas?

Types of Karma:

There are 5 types of karma in the Vedic lifestyle. They are

nitya karma, compulsory regular actions

naimttika karma, compulsory but conditional actions like those performed during eclipses

kAmya karma, those actions done to fulfill desires

nishiddha karma, prohibited actions and

prayaschitta karma, compensatory or expiatory or atoning acts

The student has to understand what is permitted and what is prohibited! In the above division 4 types are to be performed and one is to be eschewed.

Nitya karma are actions that are performed regularly. They are mandatory, like the daily sandhya vandana. The performance of these actions gives purity of mind. If it be asked, ‘what will I get by doing nitya karmas..?’ Well, the very desire or expectation for some material benefit converts the nitya karma into the third category, kAmya karma! Nitya and namittika karmas are the ones that will help the individual progress spiritually. They are done with the attitude of surrender to the Lord.

pa~ncha mahAyaj~nA

Swami Paramarthananda, in his lectures, highly recommends the pa~ncha mahAyaj~nA as part of one’s nitya karmas. They are:

brahma yaj~na: This involves the study of scriptures, learning & teaching.

deva yaj~na: upAsana, worshipping of Guru, Gods & Goddesses

pitr yaj~na: Offering prayers to ancestors and elders as a mark of respect & gratitude

manuShya yaj~na: Serving fellow humans through charity etc

bhUta yaj~na: Taking care of the animal kingdom by feeding them etc

These actions integrate the human personality and purifies the mind. Impurities like rAga or likes, dveSha or aversion & vikShepa or mental projections & wanderings are removed through these karmas thereby rendering one fit to understand the dep import of the shAstras.

The Yoga part in karma yoga:

The yoga part of karma would essentially revolve around the right attitude with which the action is performed. If the right action is done in a spirit of surrender without hankering for the results, then it becomes a yoga. It purifies the person.

Krishna says,

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yatkaroShi yadashnAsi yajjuhoShi dadAsi yat

yattapasyasi kaunteya tatkuruShva madarpaNam

O Son of Kunti, whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever sacrifices you perform, whatever you give, whatever austerities you undertake, make them all an offering to me.

This is particularly beautiful in that Lord Krishna says that one need not under take some other actions other than what is inevitable and offer the results of those actions to Him. All our daily actions are being converted into spirituality. All actions, secular or vedic in nature tat kuruSva, make them all, madarpaNaM an offering unto me! When one offers and dedicates everything to God then there is no bandhakam, bondage.

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yaj~nArthAtkarmaNonyatra loko~yaM karmabandhanaH

tadarthaM karma kaunteya muktasa~NgaH samAchara

When a man performs actions other than as a sacrifice to the Lord he becomes bound. Only when one does karma as a yaj~nA one is not bound. If one performs actions other than as a yaj~nA then one will become bound. {I had written about this portion which, His Holiness, the Mahaswamin of Sringeri, spoke about in one of His lectures which is available on Youtube as a link elsewhere in my blog.}

What is yaj~nA?

The scriptures say that yaj~no vai viShNuH – yaj~nA is indeed Vishnu.

yaj~nArthAt, will then mean ishwarArthAt – for God.

When it is performed for the sake of God in the right manner, saMyak, that is with shraddha etc; then it becomes a yaj~na, a sacrifice unto Him and looses its hold over the doer.

Shastram is the pramanam:

If it be asked how do we know what to do and what not to do, the answer is that the scriptures alone are the authority on this.

Krishna, again, says:

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yaH shAstravidhimutsRRijya vartate kAmakArataH

na sa siddhimavApnoti na sukhaM na parAM gatim BG 16-23

Ignoring scriptural injunctions, he who acts wilfully, he does not attain success, nor happiness, nor the highest goal.

And also,

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tasmAcChAstraM pramANaM te kAryAkAryavyavasthitau

j~nAtvA shAstravidhAnoktaM karma kartumihArhasi BG 16-24

The scripture is your authority in the mater of ascertaining what is to be done and what is not to be done. Having understod the actions well, as presented by the scriptures, you ought to perform you actions, duties, here.

But what if we don’t know the scriptural guidance. What then? Is not knowing a valid excuse? Well, if we find an empty plot of land somewhere and then randomly build a house on top of it, the authorities will come and fine us. Not only that, they will demolish the structure and take the money for that as well. If we claim that we did not know that we shouldn’t build on that land…well, they are very likely to tell us that it is our duty to learn certain rules mentioned in the systems. We are obligated to know them, at least at a rudimentary level. In the same way, it is important to know what the scriptures say and the best place to begin is the association of wise elders who are well versed in the scriptural lore and who can guide us in this mattter.

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