kim karma kim akarme’ti
kavayo’py atra mohitāh,
tat te karma pravakṣyāmi
yaj jñātvā mokṣyase’śubhāt (4.16)
[4.16]:”Even wise men are confused about the nature of action and actionlessness, and so I shall explain the meaning of action to you well, so that knowing it you may be emancipated from evil.”
What are action and the state in which there is no action? Even men of learning are confounded by these questions. So Sri Krishn tells Arjun that he is going to expound well the meaning of action to him, so that he can be freed from worldly bondage. He has already said that action is something that liberates from the fetters of temporal life. Now, again, he stresses the importance of knowing what it is?
karmaṇo hy api boddnavyam
boddhavyam ca vikarmaṇah,
akarmaṇasA ca boddhavyam
gahanā karmaṇo gatiḥ (4.17)
[4.17]:”It is essential to know the nature of action as well as of actionlessness, and also that of meritorious action, for the ways of action are (So) inscrutable.”
It is of the utmost importance to know what action is and what actionlessness is, as also the action which is free from all doubt and ignorance and which is undertaken by men of wisdom who have renounced all worldly desire and attachment. This is imperative because the problem of action is a great riddle.
Some commentators have interpreted the word ‘‘vikarm’’ in the text (which has been translated here as “meritorious action”) as “forbidden or prohibited action” and “diligent action,” etc. But the preposition vi prefixed to the root karm here denotes merit or excellence.
The action of men who have attained to the ultimate bliss is free from all uncertainty and error. For sages who dwell and find contentment in the Self, and love him and the Supreme Spirit, there is neither any profit in accomplishing action nor any loss in forsaking it. But they yet act for the good of those who are behind them. Such action is pure and it is free from all doubt and ignorance.
We have just seen “meritorious action.” So we are now left with action and actionlessness. They are explained in the next verse, and if we do not understand the distinction between the two here, we will perhaps never understand it.
karmaṇy akarma yaḥ paśyed
akarmaṇi ca karma yaḥ,
sa buddhimān manuṣyeṣu
sa yuktaḥ kṛtsnakarmakṛt (4.18)
[4.18]:”One who can perceive non-action in action and action in non-action is a wise man and an accomplished doer of perfect action.”
Action means worship; and the accomplished doer is one who sees non-action in action, that is, who contemplates God and yet believes simultaneously that rather than being the doer, he has only been prompted to action by his inherent properties. Only when this ability to see non-action has been mastered and the continuity of action is unbroken, should one believe that action is proceeding in the right direction. The man with this insight is a wise man. verily a yogi, endowed with the means by which the individual Soul is united with the Supreme Spirit, and a doer of perfect action. There is not even the slightest error in his performance of action.
Briefly, then, worship is action. A man should practise it and yet see non-action in it, that is, realize that he is just an instrument while the real doer is the underlying property. When we know that we are non-doers and there is yet constant and unimpeded action, only then is made possible the performance of that action which results in the ultimate good.
My noble teacher, the revered Maharaj Ji, uses to say to us, “Until God turns into a charioteer to restrain and guide, real worship does not begin.” Whatever is done before this stage is no more than a preliminary attempt to be admitted to the way of action. The whole weight of the yoke rests on the oxen and yet the ploughman is the one who drives them, and the ploughing of the field is said to be his accomplishment.
Even so although all the burden of worship is borne by the worshipper, the real worshipper is God because he is always by the devote, urging and guiding him.Until God delivers his judgement, we cannot even know what has been done through us. Are we yet settled in the Supreme Spirit or are we just roaming about in the wilderness of nature?
The worshipper who thus goes ahead on the spiritual path under God’s guidance, and who acts with constant belief that he is a non-doer, is truly wise; he knows the reality and he is indeed a yogi. However, is the worshipper to go on acting for ever or will there ever be a point of respite? Yogeshwar Krishn speaks about this next.
But, before we come to the next verse, let us recall briefly, for the sake of better understanding, what Sri Krishn has said about action and yagya, so far. What is usually done in the name of action, he has said, is not action. Action is a prescribed undertaking-the performance of yagya. Whatever else besides it is done is not action. According to Sri Krishn anything apart from this that is done is worldly bondage rather than action. From what Sri Krishn has spoken about the nature of yagya, it is evident that it is a particular mode of worship which guides the devotee to the adored God and effects his dissolution in Him.
For the performance of this yagya one has to subdue the senses, control the mind, and augment pious impulses. Concluding this part of the argument, Sri Krishn said that many yogis depend upon serenity of breath during silent recitation of the deity’s name by restraining the life-winds, in which state there is neither internal volition nor coming into the mind of any desire from the external environment.
In such a state of total restraint of the mind, when even restrained mind is dissolved, the worshipper merges into the changeless, eternal God. This is yagya, the performance of which is action. Therefore, the true meaning of action is “worship;” it means divine adoration and practice of yog. This is what is treated at length later in the chapter under review. So far only a distinction has been made between action and non-action, awareness of which will guide the worshipper on to the right path and enable him to trend effectively on it.
yasya sarve samārambhāḥ
tam āhuḥ paṇcitam budhāḥ (4.19)
[4.19]:”Even the learned call that man a sage all of whose actions are free from desire and will, (both) burnt to ashes by the fire of knowledge.”
It was said in the last verse that with the acquisition of the capacity of perceiving non-action in action, the man who is engaged in action grows into a doer of perfect action in which there is not even the slightest flaw.
Now it is added that restraint of desire and will is a victory of the mind. So action is something that elevates the mind above desire and will.Sri Krishn tells Arjun that a well-commenced action gradually becomes so refined and sublimated that it takes the mind above will as well as irresolution and then, with the burning out of even the last desire which he does not know but which he was previously eager to know, the worshipper is blessed with direct perception of God.
Direct knowledge of God by following the path of action is called knowledge (gyan): the sacred knowledge that enables the Soul to be united with the Supreme Spirit. The fire of this direct perception of God annihilates action for ever. What was sought has been achieved. There is nothing beyond it to quest for. Who is there beyond God to search for with further endeavour?
So with the attainment of this wisdom, the need for action comes to an end. Rightly have sages called men with such wisdom pandit, men of profound erudition. Their learning is perfect. But what does such a saint do? How does he live?Sri Krishn now illumines his way of life.
nai’va kimcit karoti saḥ (4.20)
[4.20]:”Independent of the world, ever contented, and renouncing all attachment to action as well as its fruits, such a man is free from action even while he is engaged in it.”
Declining to rest upon objects of the world, utterly contented with dwelling in the eternal God, and discarding not only desire for the fruits of action but even attachment to God because now he is not removed from Him, this sage is a non-doer even while he is diligently employed in the performance of action.
[As expounded by most revered Gurudev Swami Adgadanand Jee Paramhans]
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