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       =======  Understanding Hinduism  =======


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Karma Yoga (Yoga of Action)


From The Bhagavad Gita
Commentary by Swami Shivananda
The Divine Life Society, Rishikesh

Arjuna said: Those who, setting aside the ordinances of the scriptures, perform sacrifice with faith, what is their condition, O Krishna? Is it Sattwa, Rajas or Tamas?
-Gita, Ch.17, Verse 1

[Note: Addressing the Lord, Arjuna says: Thou hast said that liberation is not possible without a knowledge of the scriptures. An ordinary man, though ignorant of or unable to follow the scriptural teachings does charity, performs rituals, worships the Lord with faith, tries to follow in the footsteps of sages and saints just as a child copies letters that have been written out for him as a model, or as a blind man makes his way by the aid of another who possesses sight. What faith is his? How should the state of such a man be described? – Sattwic (pure) Rajasic (passionate)or Tamasic (dark)? What is the fate of the believers who have no knowledge of the scriptures?]

The Blessed Lord said: Three fold is the faith of the embodied, which is inherent in their nature – the Sattwic (pure), the Rajasic (passionate) and the Tamasic (dark). Do thou hear of it.
-Gita, Ch.17, Verse 2

[Note: The whole world is made up, as it were, of faith. Faith assumes a threefold aspect under the influence of the three qualities. When Sattwa is strongly developed, when there is a preponderance of Sattwa or purity in a man, it is easy for him to attain Self-realisation or the knowledge of the Self. If Rajas is predominant, the faith becomes the handmaid of activity. If Tamas or inertia prevails, faith is annihilated.

Those who are endowed with Sattwic faith aim at the attainment of liberation . Those who are endowed with Rajasic faith run after inferior duties or worldly activities. Those whose faith is Tamasic are cruel. They kill animals for sacrifice. They invoke the spirits and talk with ghosts. When faith is joined to Sattwa, it leads to salvation. When Rajas preponderates, it colours the faith and leads to various activities. When Tamas predominates, the faith results in darkness.

Faith acquires different qualities when it is in company with the mind of man. Mind is a thing of many colours. Just as the water of the Ganges River is contaminated by being put in a vessel where liquor had been kept, so also a virtuous person is spoiled by bad company or constant association with evil persons. The three gunas or attributes colour the faith of a man. The mind of a man is governed by the preponderating attribute or quality which manifests when the other two qualities are suppressed. Faith takes a threefold aspect in accordance with the inherent nature or tendencies of the man. The inclinations of men are moulded according to their quality or inherent nature born of their past samskaras (vasanas).

Faith is the main support of life. It is not a mere intellectual belief or blind acceptance of pet dogmas or doctrines. You must understand clearly its characteristics, just as you recognise a tree from the fruits, just so you can make out the mind of a man from his speech, and the actions of previous birth from worldly pleasures and pains.]

The faith of each is in accordance with his nature, O Arjuna.
The man consists of his faith; as a man’s faith is, so is he.

- Gita, Ch. 17, Verse 3

[Note: The faith of every person conforms to his inherent nature or natural temperament. Man is imbued with faith. A man’s character may be judged by his faith. A man’s faith shows what his character is. A man is what his faith has made him. A man’s conduct in life is moulded or shaped by his faith. His faith will indicate his nishtha (state of being or conviction). The faith of each man is according to his natural disposition or the specific tendencies or samskaras or the self-reproductive latent impressions of the good and bad actions which were performed in the past births. The faith of each man takes its colour and quality from the stuff of his being, his temperament, tendencies or samskaras (vasanas).]

The Sattwic or the pure men worship the gods; the Rajasic or the passionate worship the Yakshas and the rakshasas; the others (the Tamasic or the deluded people) worship the ghosts and the hosts of the nature-spirits.
–Gita,Ch.17,Verse 4

[Note: Lord Krishna, after defining faith, tells Arjuna how this faith determines the object of worship. The nature of the faith (whether it is Sattwic, Rajasic or Tamasic) has to be inferred from its characteristic effects, viz., the worship of the gods and the like. Each man selects his object of worship according to the ruling guna of his being. The expression of a man’s faith depends on the guna (Sattwa, Rajas & Tamas) that is predominant in him.

Sattwic persons or people with Sattwic faith who are devoted to the worship of the gods, are rare in this world.

Yakshas are the brothers of Kubera (the lord of wealth); gnomes, the spirits that guard wealth.

Rakshasas are beings of strength and power such as Nairta;
demons; giants gifted with illusive powers.]

Those whose wisdom has been rent away by this or that desire go to other gods, following this or that rite, led by their own nature
–Gita, Ch.7, Verse 20

[Note: ‘Those’ who desire wealth, children, the (small) siddhis (supernatural powers), etc. impelled or driven by their own nature or samskaras acquired in their previous births. They perform some kind of rites to propitiate these lower deities.]

Whatsoever form any devotee desires to worship with
faith – that same faith of his I make firm and unflinching.
– Gita, Ch.7, Verse 21

[Note: The Lord, the indweller of all beings, makes the faith of that devotee who worships the lesser divinities, which (faith) is born of the samskaras of his previous birth, steady and unswerving.]

Endowed with that faith, he engages in the worship of that form and from it he obtains his desire, these being verily ordained by Me (alone).
-Gita, Ch.7, Verse 22

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Verily the reward (fruit) that accrues to those men of small intelligence is finite. The worshippers of the gods go to them, but My devotees come to Me. -Gita,Ch.7,Verse 23

[Note: The exertion in the two kinds is the same and yet people do not attempt to worship the supreme Being in order to attain the maximum benefits or the infinite reward (liberation or moksha). The reward obtained by men of small understanding and petty intellect who worship the minor deities is small, perishable and temporary.

Yajnas (Vedic rituals), homas (rituals in which oblations are offered into the sacred fire) and tapas (penance) of various sorts can bestow only temporary rewards on the performer. Liberation from the wheel of transmigration alone will give everlasting bliss and eternal peace.

Those who worship Indra and others are Sattwic devotees; those who worship Yakshas and Rakshasas (demoniacal beings) are Rajasic devotees; and those who worship the bhutas and pretas (discarnate spirits) are Tamasic devotees.

The knowledge of those who worship the small deities is partial and incomplete. It cannot lead to liberation.]

To those men who worship Me alone, thinking of no other, of those ever-united, I secure which is not already possessed and preserve what they already possess.
-Gita Ch.9,Verse 22

[Note:They entertain no other thoughts than those of the Lord. Consequently, the Lord Himself looks after their bodily wants, such as food and clothing, (this is known as Yoga) and preserves what they already possess (this is known as kshema). Just as the father and mother attend to the bodily needs of their children, so also the Lord attends to the needs of His devotees.

They direct their whole mind with full faith towards the Lord. They make the Lord alone the sole object of their thought. For them nothing is dearer in this world than the lord. They live for the Lord alone. They think of Him only with singleness of purpose and one-pointed devotion. They behold nothing but the Lord. They love him in all creatures. When they lead such a life, the Lord takes the whole burden of securing gain (yoga) and safety (kshema) for them upon Himself.]

Even those devotees who, endowed with faith, worship other gods, worship Me alone, O Arjuna, by the wrong methods.
-Gita, Ch.9, Verse 23

[Note: They worship Me in ignorance. Their mode of worship is contrary to the ancient rule. Hence they return to this world.

People worship Agni, Indra, Surya, Varuna, the Vasus etc. Even they attain Me, because I am everywhere. But their devotion is not pure. It is vicarious. Water should be given to the root and not to the branches. If the root is satisfied, the whole tree must be and is satisfied. Even so, if I (the root of this world and all the gods) am satisfied, all the gods must be and are satisfied. Though the messages from the five organs of knowledge reach the one consciousness, will it be right and useful to place a sweetmeat in the ear and a flower in the eyes?

The function of eating must be done by the mouth alone, and the function of smelling by the nose alone. Therefore I should be worshipped in My own name. They should know Me as the Self in all beings. They should recognise Me in other worship. I am the root. I am the source of all the gods and this whole world]

(For) I alone am the enjoyer and also the Lord of all sacrifices; but they do not know Me in essence (in reality), and hence they fall (return to this mortal world.
-Gita, Ch.9, Verse 24

[Note; As I am the inner Ruler of this world I am the Lord of all sacrifices. I am the presiding deity of the sacrifice. I am at the beginning and at the end of every sacrifice and yet these people worship other gods. Therefore they worship in ignorance. As they worship other gods without recognising Me, as they have not consecrated their actions to Me, they return to this mortal world after their merits are exhausted from the plane to which they had attained as the result of their sacrifices.

Those who are devoted to other gods and who worship Me in ignorance also get the fruit of sacrifice.]

The worshippers of the gods go to them; to the manes go the ancestor- worshippers; to the deities who preside over the elements go their worshippers; but My devotees come to Me.
-Gita, Ch.9, Verse 25

[Note: The worshippers of the manes such as the agnisvattas who perform Shraddhas and other rites in devotion to their ancestors go to manes. Those who worship the gods with devotion and vows go to them.]

In whatever way men approach Me even so do I reward them; My path do men tread in all ways, O Arjuna.
-Gita,Ch.4,Verse 11.

[Note: I reward men by bestowing on them the objects they desire in accordance with their ways and the motives with which they seek Me. If anyone worships Me with selfish motives I grant him the objects he desires. If he worships me unselfishly for attaining knowledge of the Self, I grant him Moksha or final liberation. I am not at all partial to anyone.]

Those who long for success in action in this world sacrifice to the gods; because success is quickly attained by men through action.
-Gita Ch.4, Verse 12

[Note: It is difficult to attain to the knowledge of the Self or Self-realisation. It demands perfect renunciation. But worldly success can be attained quickly and easily.]

Whoever offers Me with devotion and a pure mind (heart), a leaf,
a flower, a fruit or a little water –I accept this offering.

- Gita Ch. 9, Verse 26

[Note: A leaf, a flower or a fruit are merely symbols. The true
means of attaining the Lord is pure unflinching devotion.]

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Karma Yoga (Yoga of Action)

Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer
in sacrifice, whatever you give, whatever you practise as
austerity, O Arjuna, do it as an offering unto Me.

- Gita, Ch.9, Verse 27

[Note: Consecrate all acts to the Lord. Then you will be freed from the bondage of Karma. You will have freedom in action. He who tries to live in the spirit of this verse will be able to do self-surrender unto the Lord. Gradually he ascends the spiritual path step by step. His greedy nature is slowly dissolved now. He always gives. He is not eager to take. His whole life with all its actions, thoughts and feelings, is dedicated to the service of the Lord eventually. He lives for the Lord only. He works for the Lord only. There is not a bit of egoism now. His whole nature is transformed into divinity. When actions are dedicated to the lord, there is no rebirth for you. This is the simplest method of Yoga. ]

The world is bound by actions other than those performed for the sake of sacrifice; do thou, therefore, O son of Kunti (Arjuna), perform action for that sake (for sacrifice alone), free from attachment.
-Gita, Ch.3, Verse 9

[Note: Yajna means sacrifice or religious rite or any unselfish action done with a pure motive. It means also Ishwara (God). The taittiriya Samhita (of the Veda) says "yajna verily is Vishnu" (1-7-4). If anyone does actions for the sake of the Lord, he is not bound. His heart is purified by performing actions for the sake of the Lord. Where this spirit of unselfishness does not govern the action, it will bind one to samsara however good or glorious it may be.]

Thy right is to work only, but never with its fruits; let not the fruits of action be thy motive, nor let thy attachment be to inaction. –Gita, Ch.2, Verse 47

[Note: When you perform actions have no desire for the fruits thereof under any circumstances. If you thirst for fruits of your actions, you will have to take birth again and again to enjoy them. Actions done with expectations of fruits (rewards) brings bondage. If you do not thirst for them, you get purification of heart and you will get knowledge of the Self through purity of heart and through the knowledge of the Self you will be freed from the rounds of births and deaths.

Neither let thy attachment be towards inaction thinking "What is the use of doing actions when I cannot get any reward for them?"]

Thus shalt thou be freed from the bonds of actions yielding good and evil fruits; with the mind steadfast in the yoga of renunciation, and liberated thou shalt come unto Me.
-Gita, Ch.9, Verse 28

[Note: The act of offering everything unto the Lord constitutes the Yoga of renunciation. It is also Yoga as it is an action. With the mind endowed with renunciation and Yoga thou shalt be freed from good and evil results while yet living and thou shalt come unto Me when this body falls.]

The same am I to all beings; to Me there is none hateful or dear; but those who worship Me with devotion are in Me and I also in them.
-Gita,Ch.9, Verse 29

[Note: The egoistic man only has created a wide gulf between himself and the supreme Being by his wrong attitude. The Lord is closer to him than his own breath, nearer than his hands and feet.

I am like fire. Just as fire removes cold from those who draw near it but does not remove the cold from those who keep away from it, even so I bestow My grace on My devotees, but not owing to any sort of attachment on my part.

Just as the light of the sun, though pervading everywhere, is reflected only in a clean mirror, so also I, the supreme Lord, present everywhere, manifest myself only in those persons from whose minds all kinds of impurities (which have accumulated there on account of ignorance) have been removed by their devotion.]

He who does all actions for Me, who looks upon Me as the Supreme, who is devoted to Me, who is free from attachment, who bears enmity towards no creature, he comes to Me, O Arjuna.
-Gita, Ch.11, Verse 55

[Note: This is the essence of the whole teaching of the Gita. He who practises this teaching will attain Supreme Bliss and Immortality. This verse contains the summary of the entire philosophy of the Gita.

He who performs actions (duties)for the sake of the Lord, consecrates all his actions to Him, serves the Lord with his heart and soul, who regards the Lord as his supreme goal, who lives for Him alone, who works for Him alone, who sees the Lord in everything, who sees the whole world as the Cosmic Form of the Lord and therefore, cherishes no feeling of hatred or enmity towards any creature even when great injury has been done by others to him, who has no attachment or love to wealth, children, wife, friends and relatives, and who seeks nothing else but the Lord realises Him and enters into His Being. He becomes one with Him.]

From The Tiru-k-Kural of Tiru-valluvar
Translated by Sri C.Rajagopalachari

Desire is the seed out of which is born the
unending cycle of birth and death.

There is no worthier object to be desired than deliverance
from births, and this worthy desire can be fulfilled if we renounce desires.

There is no possession so great as Non-desire either in
this world or in the world beyond.

Purity is attained by freedom from Desire And this freedom from Desire can be attained if one sincerely desires to attain the Real.

If the desire to attain the Real is truly strong, the dropping
of any form of worldly desire becomes easy.
Related articles:
Sattwa, Rajas & Tamas
Karma Yoga

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