In this chapter 4, we see that श्लोक-s १८-२४ talk of the nature of knowledge.
This is the reason why the श्रीमद् भगवद्-गीता is called as ब्रह्मविद्या, since these verses talk of the essence of the उपनिषद् i.e. the nature of आत्मा | We previously saw that Chapter 2 also discussed this topic.
So, both ब्रह्मविद्या and योग शास्त्र are the recurrent themes presented across the श्रीमद् भगवद्-गीता |
It is beautiful that both are presented.
If it were only ब्रह्मविद्या, as in the उपनिषद्, then the situation is- I want knowledge, but I am not prepared for it.
Pujya Swamiji gives the example of the bachelor who has just moved to the city, and is trying to make a cup of chai. His apartment is bare, so he asks for some hot coals from his neighbour. But, he has no wares to carry them in. He grabs some newspaper and directs her to place the coals in there, even though this is not the appropriate पात्र | Unfortunately the coals never make it back to his next door apartment, because the newspapers are unable to support the hot coals.
The problem was that he did not have the appropriate पात्रता (capacity to receive something).
If someone is exposed to ब्रह्मविद्या, and is prepared in terms of a spontaneous कर्म योग बुद्धि:, such that one is in harmony with all relations in the world, then smooth understanding ensues.
But most of us do not have enough पात्रता |
We have enough मुमुक्षुत्वम् i.e. a desire for मोक्ष, and a willingness to work towards it in terms of preparing oneself.
Therefore, योग शास्त्र is important in order to prepare oneself in the context of one’s maturity regarding all aspects of life. For instance, I come to understand & accept my relationship with कर्म – the situations that unfold in life and how I respond to them.
And if only योग शास्त्र is presented, then one would have a calm contemplative mind, be more effective in one’s relationships, and have harmony, but sooner or later one will ask the question~ for what? If anyway I am going to die, then what is the point of being effective or productive- I came from dust, and will return to dust, so what is all this for? Then, there may seem to be no purpose…
So, this is the beauty of the श्रीमद् भगवद्-गीता, as both ब्रह्मविद्या and योग शास्त्र go hand in hand. One always has the insight as to why I am preparing myself- so that I qualify for ब्रह्मविद्या |
And, when the goal is clear, one sees that death is just an event, and that any changes that happen are only to the body/mind. I-आत्मा remain ever-untouched. And आत्मा is who I truly am. So, all conflict & suffering fade away.
If I am not ready for ब्रह्मविद्या, it is enough to prepare oneself for a harmonious life.
So, verses १८-२४ relate the nature of आत्मा, and these verses are given from the standpoint of कर्म |
आत्मा is referred to by many words, from different standpoints:-
– In chapter 2, we saw the word स्थितप्रज्ञ(wise person) referring to the one whose प्रज्ञ(wisdom) is well-established.
– पूर्ण: refers to I-आत्मा complete in and of oneself.
– अव्ययम् means no व्यय (decline/decay). So, no facelift nor corrective surgery is required for I-आत्मा |
So, from different standpoints, depending on the conclusions made about oneself, different words are used.
Here, in these current verses, अकर्ता (not-the-doer) and अभोक्ता (not-the-experiencer) are used for आत्मा | Sometimes, भोक्ता is translated to mean enjoyer, but one can be the भोक्ता of both सुखम् & दु:खम् | Therefore, experiencer is a more apt translation.
When one looks at one’s day, there are a set of experiences & a set of कर्म, across many roles. In an experience, I can be both the कर्ता and the भोक्ता | E.g. If I try a new dish- in the preparation I am the कर्ता, and in the enjoyment, I am the भोक्ता | In attending a program- I am कर्ता through my participation, and I am भोक्ता as I listen to what others say.
So, in all our lives, on a daily basis, across all roles and relationships, what gets formed and entrenched is the identity of कर्ता (doer) and भोक्ता (experiencer). This identification is natural since one is doing so much कर्म and also having so many experiences- whether I contribute to the कर्म experienced, or it is someone’s कर्म towards me.
So, all the time one’s identity is कर्ता-भोक्ता, this is the identity of the अहंकार/ego.
And one spends all of one’s life trying to manage this identity. E.g. one uses productivity hacks to increase/decrease कर्म, change one’s experiences, and even spirituality becomes a part of one’s experiences.
And कर्ता-भोक्ता being my identity, I can go from lifetime to lifetime having different kinds of experiences and doing different kinds of कर्म |
But here भगवान् श्री कृष्ण points out that as आत्मा, I was never the doer nor the experiencer.
भगवान् आदि शङ्कराचार्य gives the example that if 2 boats are moving at the same speed, one can feel stationary in relation to the other. So, in action one can experience actionless-ness.
Another example is- if one is on a boat, and looks at a ship in the distance, the ship does not appear to be moving. So, in the seeming actionless-ness, there is movement/action.
So, do these everyday experiences show literal actionless-ness and action? No.
Similarly, one can be doing a lot of कर्म so one seems to have the identity of कर्ता | But if one does enquiry and it is discovered that I am आत्मा who is not the कर्ता,
then, the wise person can say that I-आत्मा was never the doer.
We may see the wise person running around and doing projects, e.g. King Janaka did all kinds of projects, and was involved in all ministries and working for His subjects.
But, even through the performance of different कर्म-s, there is no more अविद्या(ignorance) because the person has discovered that I was ever आत्मा |
So, though appearing to be doing a lot of activity, the body & mind is understood as मिथ्या with a status of dependent reality. And I-आत्मा am not touched by any of this.
Just as I am the person across the different roles that I play- I am the role, the role is not me. Without me, there is no role. That role is not my entire identity.
The role is just a uniform that I wear in this particular context/situation/phase in my life.
भगवान् श्री कृष्ण explains that as आत्मा (pure existence-consciousness, without any limits/boundaries), I was never the कर्ता (doer) nor भोक्ता (experiencer).
As भोक्ता, I have to come to terms with the hurt that I have experienced.
Generally, one is not able to move beyond the identity of the doer/experiencer because one does not feel fulfilled as the doer- there is always scope to do more in any role, and definitely there is scope to experience more e.g. more travel, experiencing family milestones.
So, one looks forward to these experiences and it feels as if life is incomplete without X,Y,Z experiences.
The current experience is that कर्ता & भोक्ता feel अपूर्ण(incomplete).
Will there be a time where I pile on more कर्म and then finally I will be fulfilled?
No matter how exalted the कर्म is, अपूर्णत (the sense of incompleteness) continues as there is identification with the human condition. And so, along with this human identification, existential sorrow is a given.
One can push the limits and enjoy all the glories of one’s शक्ति-s, but remaining as the कर्ता-भोक्ता, one will never be enough.
This is the humbling reality, it is not being pessimistic.
So, one can relax because the human situation is that the body-mind will have a certain lifespan and death will come as an event, sooner or later.
If this is the final conclusion, then one had better reconcile with it. But this is not the Reality.
In reality, I was never born, I will never die; I cannot be negated.
An inability to be negated is the definition of being real.
One may negate oneself on the basis of perception, e.g. the body is born, and dies.
Or one may say~ you say that I am eternal, but I don’t feel like that. So, this too is one’s perception.
So, one should talk from the standpoint of प्रमाण – वेदान्त says that I was never born, that I will never die, that I am always there.
But, the identity that I hold on to is centered around कर्तृत्वम् (doership)- I have not achieved enough, or भोक्तृत्वम् – when will these events happen; this didn’t happen to me.
If doer-ship & experiencer-ship were real, then they would NOT come and go. For instance, in deep sleep, if one is kicking someone, one is not voluntarily doing it. Because, कर्तृत्वम् & भोक्तृत्वम् are not there in deep sleep.
श्रवणम् (systematic listening to a Teacher) is not just audio perception. As I go with the words, I have no choice. I do not know what will be said next. I can close my ears, but once I am listening I cannot control the input. This is how perception works. Similarly there is no कर्तृत्वम् with seeing. One has कर्तृत्वम् up to the point of opening one’s eyes, but then there is no choice in what is seen.
So, listening to वेदान्त is not a कर्म | One can just relax, and the Teacher does the job through the use of words; and I recognize that yes, this is talking about me.
When listening there may be भोक्तृत्वम् with some emotion, or reaction being evoked.
But, when listening one is not the कर्ता |
And in between 2 thoughts, one is not the कर्ता nor the भोक्ता |
So, all of this points to that I was never the कर्ता nor the भोक्ता | And the wise person understands this.
I am the limitless, as though going through human experiences via a human medium.
This theme of कर्तृत्वम् and भोक्तृत्वम् continues in the rest of the verses.
भगवान् continues by discussing aspects on the nature of knowledge, and the wise person’s lifestyle-
* श्लोक १९ *
यस्य सर्वे समारम्भा: कामसङ्कल्पवर्जिता: ।
ज्ञानाग्निदग्धकर्माणं तमाहु: पण्डितं बुधा: ॥ १९॥
For this wise person,
सर्वे समारम्भा: ~ all projects that the person undertakes,
काम सङ्कल्प वर्जिता: ~ are free from काम सङ्कल्प (binding desire i.e. the will that this should/should not be done).
But, if there is no desire/will, then why is one undertaking a project?
For लोकसंग्रह: i.e. for the benefit of everyone.
For instance, our closing prayer is a prayer for everyone, no one is excluded-
ॐ सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः
सर्वे सन्तु निरामयाः ।
सर्वे भद्राणि पश्यन्तु
मा कश्चिद्दुःखभाग्भवेत् ।
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥
So, the wise person sees the need in society and responds to it with a project.
How is this person’s lifestyle?
There is no more अविद्या(ignorance), due to ज्ञानम्(knowledge).
ज्ञानाग्नि i.e. the fire of knowledge has दग्ध (burnt away) the कर्म |
There are 2 understandings of this burning away of कर्म by ज्ञानम् –
(i) ज्ञानम् (knowledge) is opposed to अज्ञानम् (ignorance).
So, when knowledge is there, ignorance is not there. The sense of doer-ship and experiencer-ship is no longer there.
ज्ञानम् is knowledge of oneself, the nature of the world, भगवान् |
(ii) There is a connection between अविद्या, कामा and कर्म | And there is so much कर्म in one’s account.
अविद्या is that I don’t know who I am.
Therefore, there is a sense of अपूर्णता/incompleteness.
And because of incompleteness, I feel pushed/impelled to do कर्म, depending on the nature of कामा |
E.g. I must go to India, and so I cannot sit quietly with this कामा – I have to look at flights etc.
So, अविद्या leads to कामा, and then कर्म | So there is this constant sequence.
For the wise person, there is no more अविद्या |
Then, what about प्रारब्ध कर्म (कर्म that has already begun in this lifetime)?
Does the person with clarity drop dead? No, this does not happen.
Because प्रारब्ध कर्म has begun, so पुण्य & पापा continues in this lifetime, and a series of situations are encountered.
These are experienced by the wise person like a roasted seed i.e. there is experience for this lifetime, but there is no more seedling/sprout for reincarnation/rebirth.
So, in this sense कर्म is burnt away. The sense of doer-ship and experiencer-ship is no longer there.
Even if one enjoys a ripe mango, one sees that the भोक्ता is a dependent identity, and what I really am is आत्मा |
Obviously, this reasoning does not stand in a court of law.
For instance, one cannot kill another and then say that I am not the doer, I am आत्मा |
It is a given that धर्म is the framework of life. And धर्म lived by deliberate practice becomes spontaneous. Wisdom only comes after having धर्म as a solid framework foundation of this life.
काम सङ्कल्प वर्जिता – In this way, the लक्षण of the ज्ञानी becomes the साधन for the मुमुक्षु |
How does one deal with one’s binding desire?
So, first one should align one’s desire with धर्म | Then, one can fulfill the desire with कर्म योग बुद्धि: |
Then, one gains the required maturity for knowledge.
One does not have to give up one’s desires. One can have desires but distill them into priorities.
Just as with respect to exercise, there may be a variety of options- cardio yoga, zumba, running, walking, cycling. But one would not have time to do all of this. So, what is one’s priority? Is it strength, stamina, endurance, flexibility? So, one can identify one or two options, and then stick with this.
So, in all desires, I should question- what is this for? And then, one can be creative and combine things- e.g. working- out and housework.
So, desires can be distilled when one understands what is the larger need that I want to meet.
Then, the clamor of different desires/कर्म does not bother one as much.
And then, the pressure of social media or relatives do not bother one. People can suggest, but if I am clear about my priorities, then I am not bothered/pressured by their suggestions. I just understand their suggestions as an expression of their care for me.
And भगवान् uses the phrase पण्डितम् बुधा: here in this verse. The first time He used the word पण्डिता: was when He began the Teaching of ब्रह्मविद्या in 2.11.
अशोच्यानन्वशोचस्त्वं प्रज्ञावादांश्च भाषसे ।
गतासूनगतासूंश्च नानुशोचन्ति पण्डिता: ॥ ११॥
There, He told Arjuna that- you speak words of wisdom, but there is no reason to grieve.