Bhagavad Gita on Karma Yoga

(Source: A. Shah, Glimpses of World Religions, Jaico Publishing House)

The law of Karma is the conservation of moral energy. According to this law there is nothing indefinite or accidental; we reap what we sow, and every action, every thought produces an effect on character. Unconscious tendencies are the result of past conscious deeds and thoughts. It is impossible to evade the Law of Karma. “Man is a creature of will, according to what he believes in this world so will he be when he is departed.” It is held that we can liberate ourselves from the preceding conditions by performing selfless actions. Man is not a mere products of nature. He has the capacity to transcend his Karma. The essence of spirit is freedom. The spiritual in him is the basis of his initiative and endeavour. There is a Soul in him of which he is the master. Nothing external can compel it. The more we live in the Living Presence of God, the more we assert the rights of the spirit, the more free we are. The more selfish we are, the more is our bondage to Karma.

Karma has two aspects. The cosmic and the psychological. Every deed must produce its natural effects in the world. At the same time it leaves an impression or forms a tendency on the mind of man; it is this tendency or ‘Samaskara’ that inclines us to repeat the deed we have once done. By self-discipline we can strengthen our good impulses. Karma is not a blind unconscious principle governing the whole universe. The moral law of Karma is the expression of the nature of the Absolute. Freedom and Karma are two aspects of the same reality. “Karma implies hope for the future and resignation to the past.”

The Gita says in unequivocal terms that action surpasses renunciation of action. The Gita does not teach that the world is a shadow and an illusion. It exhorts men to live in fullness of active life with the spirit chained to the Supreme. It says that Nature is ever at work in her fullness and *it is impossible for an individual to abstain from action even for a moment.* Freedom from bondage cannot be achieved through inaction. Man is asked *not to renounce action but to perform with the detachment of spirit and without desire for the fruit thereof. The action may be altruistic but whether it binds the soul, or otherwise, depends upon the motive or the desire which impelled one to do it. *If one performs all actions including daily duties dispassionately, without anger, without attachment, in the spirit of selflessness, in dedication to God, without desire for the fruit, such action will free the individual soul and will lead him to perfection.* We must cut the knot of ignorance which impedes progress.

Shankara has said: “*Liberation is accomplished by wisdom, but wisdom does not spring without the purification of the heart. Therefore, for the purification of the heart one should perform all acts of speech, mind and body in a prescribed manner dedicating them to the supreme Lord.*” Action performed in such a manner becomes Yagna or sacrifice. Disinterested action is sacrifice.

The righteous ever works and thinks for the common good. The spring of his delight is his soul, and *with untiring energy he performs all work without attachment, with a desire for the welfare of all creation. He is not deluded by the sense of ‘I’. He feels himself not the doer.*

Sanyasa, according to the Gita, is the renunciation of desire and not the renunciation of action. ‘Tyaga’ is the renunciation of the fruits of all works. “Not by Karma (action), nor by progeny, nor by wealth, but by Tyaga is release obtained.” Action without selfish desire or expectation of gain, performed in the spirit of “I am not the Doer” is the ideal set before us.

The Gita does not teach the complete renunciation of action but the conversion of all work into desireless action. Salvation is not a matter of outward action or inaction. It is the possession of the impersonal outlook and inner renunciation of the ego.

The Gita says that the Self has no connection with activity. The Prakriti (Nature) does the actions, but through delusion the individual takes the credit for the performance. All actions are spoken of as done by the body, speech or mind; the fruit is also enjoyed through them. To those who consider the body as consciousness, it appears that the Self is the agent. They cast a net over themselves and are shut up in the prison of their bodies.

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