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Acts versus Knowledge
From The Mahabharata
Santi Parva, Section CCXLI
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Suka said: The declarations of the Vedas are twofold. They once lay down the command: ‘Do all acts.’ They also indicate (the reverse, saying), ‘Give up acts.’ Whither do persons go by the aid of Knowledge and whither by the aid of acts? I desire to hear this. Do tell me this. Indeed, these declarations about knowledge and acts are dissimilar and even contradictory.

[Note: The Vedas proclaim the efficacy of both acts and knowledge. Acts are not laid down for those that have Knowledge.]

Bhishma said: Thus addressed, the son of Parsara said these words unto his son: I shall expound to thee the two paths, viz., the destructible and the indestructible, depending respectively upon acts and knowledge. Listen with concentrated attention, O child, to me, as I tell thee the place that is reached by one with the aid of Knowledge, and that other place which is reached with the aid of acts. The difference between these two places is as great as the limitless sky. The question that thou hast asked me has given me such pain as an atheistic discourse gives to a man of faith. These are the two paths upon which the Vedas are established; the duties (acts) indicated by Pravritti, and those based on Nivritti that have treated of so excellently.

By acts, a living creature is destroyed. By knowledge, however, he becomes emancipated. For this reason, Yogis who behold the other side of the ocean of life never betake themselves to acts. Through acts one is forced to take rebirth, after death, with a body composed of the six and ten ingredients. Through knowledge, however, one becomes transformed into that which is Eternal, Unmanifest and immutable. One class of persons that are however of little intelligence, applaud acts. In consequence of this they have to assume bodies (one after another) ceaselessly.

Those men whose perceptions are keen in respect of duties and who have attained to that high understanding (which leads to knowledge), never applaud acts even as persons that depend for their drinking water upon the supply of streams never applaud wells and tanks. The fruit that one obtains of acts consists of pleasure and pain, of existence and non-existence. By knowledge, one attains to that where there is no occasion for grief; where one becomes freed from both birth and death; where one is not subject to decrepitude; where one transcends the state of conscious existence. Where there is Brahman, which is Supreme, Unmanifest, immutable, ever-existent, imperceptible, above the reach of pain, immortal, and transcending destruction; where all become freed from the influence of all pairs of opposites (like pleasure and pain, etc.,), as also of wish and purpose.

[Note Manasena Karmana is explained by the commentator as Sankalpena.]

Reaching that stage, they cast equal eyes on everything, become universal friends and devoted to the good of all creatures. There is a wide gulf, O son, between one devoted to knowledge and one devoted to acts. Know that the man of knowledge, without undergoing destruction, remains existent forever like the moon on the last day of the dark fortnight existing in a subtle (but undestroyed) form. The great Rishis (Yajnavalkya in Brihadaranyaka) has said this more elaborately. As regards the man devoted to acts, his nature may be inferred from beholding the newborn moon, which appears like a bent thread in the firmament.

[Note: The meaning is this: the man of acts is like the newborn moon, i.e., subject to growth and decay.]

Know, O son, that the person of acts takes rebirth with a body with eleven entities, for its ingredients, that are the results of modification, and with a subtle form that represents a total of six and ten. The deity who takes refuge in that (material) form, like a drop of water on a lotus leaf, should be known as Kshetrajna (Soul), which is Eternal, and which succeeds by Yoga in transcending both the mind and the knowledge.

[Note: The soul resides in the body without partaking of any of the attributes of the body. It is, therefore, likened to a drop of water on the lotus leaf, which, though on the leaf, is not yet attached to it, in so much that it may go off without at all soaking or drenching any part of the leaf.]

Tamas, Rajas and Sattwa are the attributes of the knowledge. The knowledge is the attribute of the individual soul residing within the body. The individual soul, in its turn, comes from the Supreme Soul.

[Note: Literally, ‘Tamas, Rajas and Sattwa have the attributes of Jiva (individual soul) for their essence.’ The particular attribute of the jiva here referred to is the Jnanamaya Kosha. Jiva, again, is an accident of the Soul. The soul comes from the Supreme Soul. Thus the chain of existence is traced to the Supreme Soul. In verse 20 again it is said that the body, which by itself is inanimate, when it exists with the Soul, is an accident of Jiva with attributes.]

The body with the soul is said to be the attribute of Jiva. It is Jiva that acts and cause all bodies to live. He who has created the seven worlds is said by those that are acquainted with what is Kshetra (and what is Kshetrajna) to be above Jiva.

Related articles 
Pravritti- Nivritti

Preyas & Sreyas                 
Virtue,Wealth & Pleasure
Mantras- Sacred Fire             
The soul and its destiny        

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