July 08, 2009

Karma Yoga -The art of doing action

I attended Swami Parthasarthy’s lecture on chapter V of the Bagavad Gita on Karma yoga and Gnyana Yoga -“The yoga of action and renunciation”. I feel it is my duty to write a summary of the four days of lecture for the benefit of all.

Kindly read my previous post on the Significance of idol worship before you read this one.

Atma- Body difference

As I mentioned in my previous post, most people do not understand the difference between Atma and body. Atma is permanent while the body is perishable. Atma is what enables the eye to see but it cannot be seen, it enables the ear to hear but it cannot be heard, it enables the mind to conceive but it cannot be conceived. Atma is a dispassionate witness to all our actions. It is the cause and not the effect. It is like the petrol in a car- the petrol causes the car to move, but it can neither be blamed for the accident nor praised for the safe arrival of the car.

Bagavad gita says the entire purpose of one’s life is to understand the atma and concentrate on it always. One must derive all happiness from inside (from the atma), than from the outside (the external environment). Bagavad gita goes on to say that the happiness one derives from touch, smell, sight, and through other sensory perceptions are nothing but wombs of sorrow.

The reason is not hard to see, for the happiness one derives from the outside is not permanent. As an example, let’s say someone starts smoking a cigarette for happiness. The first cigarette one smokes no doubt gives him happiness, yet the next day in order to get the same level of happiness he may have to smoke two cigarettes instead of one. This slowly increases in number and finally the person finds himself smoking one whole packet. After reaching this stage, the person smokes not because it gives him happiness, but because he feels miserable if he does not smoke. At this point the person is said to have become neutralised to smoking. This is the characteristic of all things that cause addiction. Consuming an addictive substance does not give happiness, but abstaining from it results in sorrow.

If I ask someone whether he enjoys breathing oxygen he would think I’m being stupid, but if I forcibly close the nostrils and suffocate him, he wouldn’t mind giving me his entire wealth just for drawing some air. Similarly we do not enjoy seeing normal things, but we would feel miserable when our eyes are tied even for a minute. You can see for yourself that our senses have the same characteristic of an addictive substance. Any enjoyment derived out of these senses, cannot be permanent and soon you’d get neutralised to that object that is causing you happiness. This is why you must derive your happiness from within and not from outside.

How do we attain the knowledge of the atma ?

Bagavad Gita prescribes two ways of realising the atma –Karma yoga (through action) and Gnyana yoga (through renunciation). Among the two the first one, Karma yoga is simple and can be followed by everyone. Gnyana yoga requires one to control the senses before attempting to realise the atma. In fact, Lord Krishna himself prescribes Karma yoga to Arjuna, to realise his atma.

Karma Yoga – The art of doing action

The nature has given the animals a blue print which they follow without fail. You do not find one tiger in nature that eats grass, nor do you find a cow that eats meat. Animals in the forest are neither overweight nor underweight. Human beings on the contrary have the power to make choices. But on what basis do we make those choices? Karma yoga clarifies this doubt.

All actions can be classified into three categories –Selfish, unselfish, and selfless. Those actions which are done for our selves are called selfish actions, while those that are done for others are called unselfish actions. Bagavad gita says that the best form of action is neither of these two - It prescribes Selfless action. Selfless actions are those that are performed neither for us nor for others. Selfless action is performed when we don’t think of the benefactor. Can any action be performed that way? You’d be surprised to know that all actions in nature are selfless actions. The Nightingale sings neither for itself nor for you. Similarly the sun shines neither for itself nor for you.

You can be a plumber, carpenter, Engineer, or a Doctor, whoever you are, if you can do your action without thinking of who is going to benefit from it, you’re a Karma Yogi. Doing action for the sake of action is the message of Karma yoga. If action is performed in this way, it results in excellence and more importantly it relives the Karma yogi from the bondages of this world. This type of action enables him to realise his atma and attain eternal happiness.

Most of the problems in this world are caused because of searching for happiness from outside. Instead of thinking of the evenness in objects, we’re worrying more on the differences between objects. A small car may seem incomparable to the grandeur of a sedan, but if one realises it is the same fuel that drives both, then it would be easy to see the evenness in both. Likewise, if one understands that all living beings are made of atma, it would be far easier to see through the perishable body and appreciate the evenness. One who sees the evenness in all objects and sees success and failure pass by without being bothered by them, the Gita says, stops going through the cycle of birth and death. He is the one who has realised his atma.

July 05, 2009

Significance of Idol Worship - from Bagavad Gita

I’m listening to Shri Velukudi Krishnan’s upanyasam (commentary) on Bagavad Gita. I am thoroughly enjoying the experience. I started listening to Bagavad gita to find out for myself whether our Hindu culture is really as backward in thinking as the present generation makes it out to be. For instance, I believe that life is short and each minute is precious, that’s why this moment is called “present”. Is it correct to brand certain times as “good” and certain others as “bad”? Bagavad Gita has answered most of my doubts and now I know that these irrational things being said in the name of culture or religion have no sanction of the ‘Gita’. In fact I feel Bagavad Gita is a practical cook book for youngsters like us. It is a philosophy for the strong, not for the weak.

On Idol worship

Right from the time a man wakes up in the morning till the time he retires to sleep, he performs such acts that satisfy his senses – Eating, working for money in order to buy things, studying for sharpening his mind etc. However the senses which are part of the human body are bound to die one day or the other. A life which is entirely devoted to satisfying senses, which will perish someday, cannot be meaningful.

Such a person slowly forgets that ‘atma’ and body are different. The Gita says that atma has no death. Atma takes a body and when the body dies, the atma takes another one- Atma is eternal while the body is ephemeral.

In order to understand the atma-body distinction, one has to reduce the addiction to senses. If the senses are muted, then one would be able to give ample time to contemplate on the atma.

Senses can be controlled if they are focused on an object. If you can keep all your senses on an object and enjoy the object and nothing else in this world, your senses will automatically be controlled. Bagavad Gita says that such an object which has the power to control your senses in the lords ‘deham’ (idol).

Why can’t other objects serve the same purpose?

Bagavad Gita says that all men and objects in this world have 3 qualities attached with them – Satva, Rajas, Tamas. The satva quality is the best of all. This quality enables a man to work with the highest order of intellect without wanting anything for himself. The selfless action is the hall mark of the satva quality. The Rajas quality signifies intelligence but with some degree of selfishness. People with Rajas quality don’t involve themselves in any action, if there is nothing in it for them. The Tamas quality signifies low intellect, people with this quality can’t think and act on their own and need to be told what to do. Among the above three qualities Satva is the most desirable.

However, all objects in this world have all of the above qualities in varying amounts. This is why when you keep your senses on these worldly objects, your senses don’t get controlled for although they have a percentage of the Satva quality, the Rajas and Tamas qualities associated with them prevent your senses from being controlled. Only the God’s deham (idol) is entirely made of satva quality, and it is the only one which has the power to control your senses and make you understand the distinction between atma and body.

Once a man understands the distinction between atma and body, he becomes fearless for he does not care for his body anymore. Neither does he care for the results of his action for he knows that the atma does not care whether you succeed or fail in your action. For example, for an atma that would occupy the body of a cow later, it does not matter whether the body that it occupies now passes or fails an examination. The person who has understood the distinction between body and atma lives like a lotus in a pond. The lotus is born in the pond, it lives in the pond and dies in the pond, but it does not get attached with even a drop of water. Likewise, a man may be born in this world, live in this world, and die in this world, yet if he understands the distinction between atma and body, he can live without being bonded with it. Their in lies eternal happiness –Bliss.

Once it is understood that one’s action should not be directed at satisfying the body and that the atma is not affected by the results of one’s action, it is logical to study how to act in the first place. In my next post, I will discuss Karma yoga – The art of doing action.

July 04, 2009

Candle light vigil for our heores, at chennai -video

check out the video we shot at Marina Beach on December 7,2008.