Gita is a powerful framework of ideas but it introduces hundreds of Sanskrit terms that are alien to western world. Even for Hindi speaking populace, most of these evoke mixed connotations as they have been used in different contexts across rich Indian mythological sphere. I say this from my own experience. Before listening to Gita, I misconstrued Karma. I thought Karma as any activity whatsoever. I even thought ‘inaction’ is
Karma too. Nothing can be farther from truth!
Another aspiration is to make Gita accessible to generation Y. Religion is not a place where today’s youngster seeks wisdom. I frankly think, Gita is in bad company with religion. Mutated religion of 21st century has let itself down. Be it child abuse in churches or Devdaasies in temples. And Gita doesn’t even belong to religions. In fact it strongly condemns most of the religious rituals. It was no different then - at the time of writing of Gita. Krishna incarnated himself as a warrior. To keep the messaging correct, he (symbolically) indulged himself as a celebrity. Even the discourse is set midst the battle field - not in a Himalyan cave.
A word about this post - This attempt is NOT exhaustive. Rather a running notebook of my interpretations. I just want to define the terms used in Gita’s elaborate framework. A glossary that parses all the religious fluff. You will generate faith in it if you find the arguments compelling. I don’t consider myself a Gita scholar. I have read heard it many times but that is pretty much it. I can’t guarantee this to be a final version nor do I claim accuracy but I do make an attempt to interweave the framework through definitions. As long as reader appreciates that natural languages have limited abstraction. And be careful with their own imagination, I think this post will somewhat serve the purpose. That said, Gita is experiential. Reading it is analogous to reading about swimming . If you knew swimming, reading will help. If you didn’t, it will at best raise your curiosity
The Faith - The source of Manifestation
Faith is a belief that is not based on scientific proof . For example, we don’t need faith in Einstein to trust the Theory of Relativity. We don’t need faith in Math for it is pure logic. But we need faith in God if we want to believe in him.
Shraddha is slightly different. Faith has a tinge of authority. If not full authority at least an equal footing. You have faith in a master or a friend.
Shraddha is bit more devotional and less demanding. Unlike faith, it can change. Its NOT set in stone. In fact, it changes quite frequently.
A word on mindless comparisons - Science v/s God- How many of us understand Relativity? Or Quantum Mechanics? But most of us trust science cuz someone has seen the scientific proof. Isn’t it faith in that someone? That someone could be a teacher, a friend or a book. Another requirement - the proof must be available in open domain. If we are willing to invest our time, we should be able to verify the proof on our own. Isn’t that true about spirituality as well ? Books like Gita and Bible tell us that that there exists something beyond physical. And we can find one (ourselves) if we are willing to invest our time. Then where is the conflict ?. Another difference is that science has experimental proofs. So does spirituality. There is proven healing effect of meditation . People cure and endure through faith. Bottom line - comparisons are misplaced. Don’t really serve any purpose. On the contrary, We know for sure that science continuously evolves . Einstein proved Newton was wrong and later changed his own theory. Quantum Mechanics is still at odds with classical science. Does that mean that we can’t have absolute trust in science? Or should we say we have faith in science?
As per Gita, humans are made out of
Shraddha. We are what we believe in. We manifest our faith. The physicality around us is a creation of our faith.
sattvanurupa sarvasya sraddha bhavati bharata sraddha-mayo 'yam puruso yo yac-chraddhah sa eva sah (17.03) sattva-anurupa -is shaped in accordance to one's own nature; sarvasya — of each; sraddha — faith; bhavati — is; bharata - O Bharata, Arjuna; sraddha — faith; mayah - instinct with; ayam — this; purusah — man; yah — who; yat sraddhah - as (his) faith is; sah — thus; eva — verily; sah - (so is)he.
Obviously, there is no mathematical proof here but the argument appears compelling. I see it in my own experiences. And in experiences of many around me. We do science only if we have faith in science. We run if we have faith in running. We live if we have faith in life. In essence, faith is the root. Not the other way around.
We don't develop faith in things. We develop things because of faith.
Atma is something that doesn’t die. Fire can’t burn it, Water can’t wet it. In essence, it is beyond the physical realm. What is it then ? Well
Atma represents ‘Energy’’ in physical parlance. It is unmanifested but has potential to manifest. In fact, it is the only thing that can manifest. It manifests in line with your
na jay ate mriyate va kadacin nayam bhutva bhavita va na bhuyah ajo nityah sasvato 'yam purano na hanyate hanyamane sarire (2.20) na - not, never; jay ate - is born, takes birth; mriyate — dies; va - or, either; kadacit — at any time (past, present or future); na - not, never; ay am — this; bhutva — having come into being; bhavita — will come to be; va — or; na — not; bhuyah - (any) more, or is again coming to be; ajah — unborn; nityah — eternal; sasvatah - changeless, permanent; ay am — this; puranah - ancient, the oldest; na - not, never; hanyate - is killed; hanyamane — being killed; sarire - in the body.
A close comparison would be electricity. Electricity can manifest itself into fans, cars, refrigerators or thousands of other gadgets. Without electricity, they are all dead. We can’t dry the current or wet it. Nor can we burn it. It doesn’t die or takes birth. Its just there. Motion of electrons is everywhere but electrons are NOT electricity either.. It sits there unmanifested but has potential to manifest. Unlimited potential. But we can’t know electricity by looking at a refrigerator or a fan. Electricity is connected to a common source. It can inter-operate on machines. Same current runs refrigerator as well as fans. It doesn’t build gadgets but it is the life in them. You know it is there but you can’t see it. It is older than anything you know and it will outlive anything you know.
`Atma` shapes your reality based on the `Sharddha` you have.
The Manifested - living or dead
Everything that we see around us, that we can feel with our senses is a
Bhoota. Gita doesn’t differentiate living from non-living. Carrying on the example above - A refrigerator is a
Bhoota. So is a fan. A stone, a mountain , a river , you and me. All are
In another context,
Bhootameans past. Which is correct cuz all that is manifested is already in past.
Bhootasand also represents all the possibilities of future. Thus
Atmais future already wrapped within you. You will unpack it with your
The purpose of human life is to move from `Bhoota` to `Atma`. That is to disengage from the manifestations and live in potential.
The nature of
Every manifestation, be it living or non-living, has a nature. For example refrigerator has a nature of cooling things. That is what it is made for. Water is supposed to move down. Air spreads in all directions. The designed nature of manifested is called
Swabhava and acting in line with one’s nature is
Swadharma. We are bound by our
Swadharma. We can’t sway much from it even if we wish to. That is the downside of manifested.
We are slave to our
Buddhi allows to to deviate from
Swabhava. How much can you deviate ? Very little. No matter how strong your intelligence, it is still miniscule to the complexity of your manifestation. No one can significantly alter
Swadharma with sheer Intelligence. But many can understand their nature with intelligence. In Gita, this is called
Atmoupamyen Drishti - which means our ability to look at us as a third person and analyse our nature.
Human life is a gift because of our intelligence. No other living or non-living has this blessing. In effect, most animals and non-living act as per their `Swabhava`.
Most animals are driven by their sensory organs
Indriyas. As per Gita
Mana (the desires) are stronger than senses. As such, most humans are slaves of desires. Desires can be controlled with Intelligence but Intelligence is a double edged sword. To keep intelligence pious, one needs to invoke
Chitta which is possible through inwards focus on
Yagna is described as set of rituals and activities to please demi gods. These include setting up a fire; sacrificing flowers and food etc ; and chanting vedic mantras. Gita doesn’t recongnizes such Vedic rituals as
Yagna. These may be called
Dravya Yagnas and may be useful to show devotion. Instead, Gita lays greater stress on
Pranayama controlling the breath , and self control. However , the basic idea of Yagna is a predefined set of activities -
Niyat karma. And following it on regular basis. In fact Gita goes to an extent that real
Karma is the one that enables a
Yagna. Means all the things you must do to hit a perscribed routine is
This is probably the key to practicing Gita. Our daily routine is controlled by our work, social circle and family responsibilities. So much that we don’t have time for ourselves. If we build our own routine and safeguard it against said external impluses ( work, society and family), we can soon be on a path of self realization. In fact, the goal is NOT to accomplish great things. It is actually to control your time and routine. Great things
Daivi Sampad will automatically happen. The purpose is to live a tight routine driven by intelligence invoked in
Chitta. In essence Living a controlled life is
Yagna. And the activities that help accomplishment of
The Action of free will
Karma is the action guided by our
Buddhi that is beyond our
Swadhrama. That means , it is something you do against (or different from) your programmed nature. Thus Karma manifests something new. In a way, it brings in subtle changes into our manifestation. It is because of
Buddhi (intelligence) , humans could do
Karma that, over a long time, led to significant change in our manifestation. For example roads, buildings, transportation , communication - all are because of collective human
Karma. Building airplanes was NOT human nature. It is because we had intelligence to sway from our
Bhoot swabhava (manifested / programmed nature).
Karmais the action of free will . Beyond the slavery of our
Swabhava(nature) . However though , the window of
Karmais very small. We are still the same animal at core - built by our manifestation. Depending on what Karma manifests into , Gita defines three types of
Satvik- That leads to internal development and happiness, in essence that accomplishes
Rajas- That leads to external growth, conflict and chase, and lastly
Tamas- That leads to lust, consumption and lethargy.
To over simplify this - all
bhootas (living and non living) have a pre programmed routine. This is
swabhava. Humans have intelligence to subtly alter
swabhava and accomlish something new through intelligence. If the intelligence is well controlled by
Chitta the resulting change is eternal happiness , bliss and exit from the cycle. Gita calls this
satvik karma. This set of activities is called
Yagna. The activities that you need to do to accomplish
yagna on daily basis is called
Niyat Karma. If the intelligence is not well controlled , the resulting manifestation is that of pain and sorrow for intelligence is a double edged sword. Such
Karma is referred to as Rajas or Tamas`.
For a long time, I had internal conflict if working for a corporate career and working very hard to accomplish a corporate goal is good karma ? I am sure many grapple with the same conflict. This normally leads to a never ending cycle of evaluation and debate- if the corporate goal is good for mankind, living beings or the planet? No one can ever get to the bottom of it and most of the actions can be justified / rationalized in different ways. We normally end up proving / debating that what we are doing is better for society. Thus my hard work on my job is good Karma. All this has nothing to do with Gita or its definition of Karma. As above said , the goal is simply to control our own routine. Its NOT to fix the world. It is to fix our own self for world is noting but a reflection of self.
In addition to creating something new,
Karma has the ability to reshape your own
Swabhava (nature). Regular indulgence in
Tamasik Karmas will make you lethargic and consumer. Similarly
Satvik Karma will make you interested in pursuit of knowledge and happiness.
It appears to an untrained eye that we should indulge in
Satvik Karma. But Gita says that we want to reach a stage where none of these are playing. Such karma is called Nishkam Karma. This is what leads ‘to’ ultimate eternal exit from manifestations.
Nishkam Karma means actions without any expectation.
Rajas as well as
Tamas actions, all have expectations tied to it. In fact anything you do beyond
swabhava must have a solid incentive for change. Why else would you do it? Thus normally strong desires lead to
Karma (good or bad). Accordingly you manifest new stuff and change yourself (good or bad). And manifestations continues to increase in complexity.
`Nishkam Karma` is a deed that's neither `swavhava` nor done out of any desire. It is beyond worldly comprehension as to why anyone would indulge in `Nishkam Karma`. As per conventional wisdom, it would be sheer wastage of time and other resources. This exactly is the catch. Gita asks you to indulge in `Nishkam Karma` as it is the easiest way to detatch from manifestation. Why ? Since `Nishkam Karma` has no worldly desires attacthed to it , it effectively has no `Shraddha`. Thus there is no worldly manifestation. Let us say you are sitting alone at a sea shore, and counting the waves. It is not your nature `swabhava` to count waves. Nor it has any attached desires. You are just counting the waves. A similar example is to sit alone and focus on your breath. Start counting as you breath in and out. As long as you are not breathing to improve your lung capacity or counting the waves to improve your arithmatic, these activities have no attached outcome. In effect , there is nothing changed in physical world. However , internally , your nature `swabhava` is changing. You have started a journey. And as proportion of `Nishkam` increases in your `swabhava`, manifestation starts gradually receding. This journey from zero `Nishkam` to say 90% Nishkam is called `Nishkam Karm Yoga`. Gita does say that with a living body, you can never attain 100 % `Nishkam Yoga`. Obviously cuz manifestation will cease to exist for you. That stage is normally referred to as `Moksha` - meaning exit from circle of life and death. Important to distingusih `Nishkam Karma` from inaction. Inaction is a `Tamsik Karma`.
The question is why should we try to stop manifestation. Answer is simple. As long as you are occupied in external manifestation, you are deprecating your potential. The more time you spend ‘not indulged’ , the more you are increasing the potential. Mind you , potential is unmanifested possibilities. Less manifestaion by definition means more possibilities thus more potential.
People normally think
Nishkam Karma is a good deed done for benefits of others. It can be as long as there is no desires attached. Though the truth is most of the good actions have expectations attached. Raising a family, social work etc all have a motive. Gita says that motives will bear fruit. Good deeds will manifest good. But they will always deprecate your
Atma - the inner potential. For a beginner, doing complex actions (good or bad) without motives is almost impossible. Thus you need to start with simple tasks - counting your breath commonly known as meditation , or counting the waves. Cleaning the house, chores. Serving and charity without disclosing your identity. Learning a new skill that you will probably not use for any gains. As your practice evolves, your
Nishkam actions will growinto good for others. Reverse may not be true. If you start with good deeds, chances are you will grow a community around you (manifestation of good) and later that will become your detriment. This Gita says that a
Nishkam Yogi must be very careful of what he is growing around him.
Last but the most important , Gita says that
Nishkam Karma is experiential. As said above , reading about it like reading about swimming. Reading helps a swimmer do better but it doesn’t make you a swimmer. When you take first step with knowledge of purpose and information , you are called a
Gyan Yogi. When you do the similar
Nishkam activities as a follower - You are called
Bhakti Yogi. Later done under a watchful eye is easier.
Gyan Yog is difficult.
Duality of Nature
The complete set of all
Bhootas , their
Swadharmas , their
Karmas represent something called
Prakriti. Generally speaking all that is manifested and its collective nature is
Prakriti. Complementary to
Purush - the potential at source and sitting in small buckets in all the
Pusrush are eternal. Neither is good or bad. There is no beginning or end to their existence. It is the
Maya that causes all the troubles :-)
From science standpoint , imagine
Prakritias all the observable universe (and multiverses if they exist). And
Purushas the energy that has potential to convert into matter. May be dark energy :-). If a universe gets to big crunch , all that is left is energy. Energy converts into matter with big bang. Thus the clever definition by design encompasses everything including nothingness and its claim to eternal perpetuity is quite logical. This rest the constant nagging question - When and How it all started? Why and how it would end ? If we take all these unnecessary questions out of debate, we can get started on to something constructive. Which is how do I fix myself !
The web of Manifestation
Maya is the complexity of
Prakriti grows beyond a certain level, our
Buddhi is unable to decipher desires from
Nishkam. Its like a spider caught in its own web. Along with
Kaama (desires) ,
Krodha (anger) ,
Lobha (greed) , Moha (lust) ; it becomes the fifth sin.
A word on web of Maya (Matrix) - Manifestations rarely live in isolation. For example it is as incorrect to say ‘God alone created universe’ as it would be to say ‘Steve Jobs alone created iPhone’. A better way to understand is that Steve had some
Karmathat led to manifestation of an idea. Then Johnny Ive manifested his design onto Steve’s idea. Phil Schiller added his marketing machine atop. And thousands of designers, developers, marketers made it a web of manifestation. That is just one product. Imagine this at a universal scale. Imagine there are beings with much greater capacities than humans. Beings that can manifest stars and planets and galaxies. But never alone. Even for a simple bottle of wine we take help of bacteria. All this mush mush of
Karmaleads to an creation.
The field and the warrior
Gita is written for a person who strives to end the misery of
Karmas (except Nishkam) are essentially driven by desires. All desires during the process of acquisition as well as on fulfillment, lead to misery.
A word on desires - Think of desires as addiction. Lets say liquor. An alcoholic strives hard to get his evening fix. Drinks with effort. But next day a hangover hits. Repeated use will lead to destroyed liver. Similarly everything that we are manifesting , including our body, is an addiction. We need more of it. One day, it must end. Process of end has perceived pains. Process of managing our collection is a pain too. Indulgence must end in sorrow. Love will end in grief.
Krishna describes the Maya around you as a battlefield
Kshetra. The battles are not outside in some physical field. We are constantly at battle with in ourselves. One who understand this internal battle field is called
The spoils of war
The path to
Nishkam is not one but for most it goes from lowly
Tamasik Karma to middle
Rajasi Karma and the upper
Satvik Karma. The real battle starts when your
Satva started manifesting into self actualization, recognition and respect. The accomplishments and influence - known as
Daivy Sampad of this stage normally leads to
Ahankara (extreme pride) and that becomes the reason of fall. Gita says that ones with
Daivy Sampad must tread carefully.
Quite the opposite is
Aasuri Sampad which is manifestation of
Tamasik Karma. Led by extreme desires, anger and lust
Aasuri Sampad is the lowest fall of
Violence - Fall of
Unlike the definitions of Jain and Buddhism - Gita doesn’t care about external violence. Though the outcomes may be similar. As per Gita
Hinsa is fall of one’s own Atma. Gita says that through
Karma we can push our
Aasuri stages or pull it up into
Devi Sampad. A person with
Devi Sampad will obviously abstain from mental, verbal or physical violence. The focus is
Atma ; outcome is non-violence. Not the other way around. This definition solves many problems. For example - a soldier fighting for his country, though committing acts of violence, is fine with Gita cuz he is not putting is
A common problem for the starter on this path is to find out where he or she is? It is obvious question cuz unless you know your co-ordinates, it is hard to navigate to a destination.
Here is my take
If you are looking at
gyan yoga ; imagine
Gandhi. They made a path of their own. They were inspired by scriptures, cultures and traditions of their times, but above all, it was their own calling. They slowly created their own method. They walked themselves first. Without caring if people would follow or not. A common theme among
gyan yogies is extreme focus on self righteousness. They practice before preaching. They practice and reflect internally hundreds of times till they figure a solution out. With that they solve their own lives first. And then they come out for the greater good. The question one needs to ask; before seeking the path of
gyan is if he or she willing to put everything on stake? There are many aspiring
gyan yogies among and around us. We should not confuse them with people with extreme passion for physical accomplishments. Those with desires of worldly success are at best trying hard for
Daivi Sampad. Their current path may (or may not) lead to higher purpose but as of now they are NOT
On the other hand,
Nishkam Karm Yogi are hard to find. Not because they are less in number. In fact they are an order of magnitude more . It is difficult to find them cuz they are almost invisible. You may come across them in a hospital serving the patients, in a school teaching the children , writing open source software or by the sea gazing into the waves. Most often, they live detached, looking at every breath and every action they undertake. Some of them may not even be aware of their
yoga. They don’t need to go through extreme make over of
gyan yogies. They are naturally uninvolved in
Maya. Their concious clean and their presence like smell of roses. They don’t eat much. Neither do they collect more than they need. They are happy with people but even happier alone. Their journey, continuously cleanse their souls and they live in peace. They don’t endeavour to accomplish great missions but their every action a tiny improvement in whatever they were detachedly engaged in. They are not changing the world. They are changing themselves one miniscule bit at a time. They are neither lazy nor in a hurry. They do when and whatever they need to do. And they enjoy every action as if they were spectators of their own act.
Krishna thus told
Nishkam is a better path and very dear to him. Though it appears simple, getting into
Nishkam mode does need practice ; some times spanning across many lives. Just like
Nishkam Yogi, too has focus on self righteousness. Instead of preaching, their actions normally convey the message.