annad bhavanti bhutani
yajnad bhavati parjanyo
(Chapter 3: Karma-yoga TEXT 14)
All living bodies thrive on food. Food is produced by rains. Rains are formed by the performance of sacrifice (Yagna). The performance of sacrifice in turn depends on the duties (karma). Though this is the peripheral meaning of the above sloka, if one dwells deep into it we get the essence of the sloka, which is applicable universally and at all points of time.
Rains are formed by the performance of sacrifice (Yagna). There are four important things to be noted in this performance of sacrifice. One is the act of performance of sacrifice i.e., giving something (deed or action). The second one is the person/ living being who performs the act of sacrifice (doer). The third point is the material offering that is given in the performance of sacrifice (articles or objects). The fourth point is the receiver of this act or deed. In nutshell we can say the four important things are:
- deed or action,
Let us first try to ascertain who the doer is and who the receiver is in the above sloka. All living beings are the doers (i.e., humans and all other living beings). All living beings have 11 sense organs (5 karmendriyas, 5 jnanendriyas and mind) in addition to soul and spirit. The receiver is the nature broadly represented by the five elements (pancha bhutas – Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Ether).
But if one looks into this critically one can observe that the receiver is the doer himself because whatever we give to the nature it again comes back to us in different form. The act of performance of sacrifice depends on the duties (karma) one performs. The duties one performs in turn depend on:
(A) The position/ responsibility or role one is holding and
(B) The nature of situation
To cite an example – say there is an attempted robbery in a house that is locked and the neighbors notice it. It is the duty of the neighbors to either catch the robber or at least inform the police. Then it becomes the duty of the police to trace the robber and book him for the attempt of robbery and take him to the court. It then becomes the duty of the court to award punishment to the robber.
Thus, the duty of each person/ institution is defined based on the position or responsibility held by him as well as the nature of situation. The material thing in this episode of robbery is awarding punishment. Every action will lead to an outcome and if the action is good the outcome would be beneficial and when the action is bad the outcome would be adverse or harmful.
Beneficial outcomes will preserve the nature whereas the adverse or bad outcomes will destroy the nature. Formation of rains by the performance of sacrifice (Yagna) is like beneficial outcome of good deeds. Beneficial outcome will bear good fruits. Therefore, rains will lead to production of food on which all living beings thrive. Food is essential for one’s survival and one has to earn his food by working hard (Yagna).
There is no free lunch for any body and everyone has to earn his food. The beauty is that though the nature has the ability to produce food, it is possible only by cultivation and it is in turn possible only by timely rains. Only eco friendly actions or deeds of the living beings (Yagna) generate timely rains. All living beings have to live in harmony with the nature and adhere to the law of nature while performing their roles with a sense of responsibility.
Performing one’s role with a sense of responsibility is Karma or duty. When one performs his karma in conformity with the laws of nature it will yield good results. The karta who performs such good karma will enjoy its good results. The important thing to be noted here is that the nature only gives fruits or results and whether those fruits or results are good or bad depends on the good or bad karma performed by the karta. The karta (doer) is the one who consumes food and is the one who also produces the food. Food is essential for any living being and all the actions of living being are centered on food production and its consumption.
It is said that” buddhi karmanu sarini”. Our attitude or fate will be influenced by the actions that we perform. It is also said that” karma buddhyanu sarini”. Our attitude will decide our actions. Therefore, it can then be said that good actions create good attitude and it can also be said that good attitude will lead to good actions. Is it possible to break this cycle? Let us discuss this analytically. The goals of human life are – dharma (righteousness/ duty), Artha (material wealth/ prosperity), Kama (worldly desires) and Moksha (liberation). All human actions/deeds are to be performed in a righteous manner (i.e., dharmic way) in pursuit of wealth/ prosperity (Artha) for fulfillment of worldly desires (Kama).
Righteous manner is one which is socially and morally acceptable and more importantly it is in harmony with the nature. This is the essence of yagna (performance of sacrifice) mentioned in the sloka above. Like the yagna performed by the karta (doer) results in rains which in turn leads to food production that is finally consumed by the karta (doer) to satisfy his hunger ; actions/ deeds performed in a righteous manner by the doer will give him prosperity / wealth which will fulfill his worldly desires.
When a person performs yagna which leads to rains and in turn good harvest, not only the person who performs the yagna but his nearby by surroundings will also receive rains and good harvest. Since this yagna benefits a larger section of the people in the society apart from fulfilling the personal/ selfish needs of the karta (doer) it, this act of performing yagna is described as sacrifice.
In the same way when a person performs an act in a dharmic (righteous) manner it benefits not only him but the society at large. Thereof, the act performed in righteous manner will not only yield the desired prosperity/ wealth to the doer of the act but also to the society at large. When a person puts the larger interests of the society before his personal interests all his acts will not only benefit the society but will benefit him as well incidentally. As said in Mahopanishad,
“ayaṁ bandhurayaṁ nēti gaṇanā laghucētasām |
udāracaritānāṁ tu vasudhaiva kuṭumbakam || “
Narrow minded people try to discriminate people saying this man is my relative and that man is a stranger. Broad minded people consider the entire universe as one family and therefore their actions benefit the society at large.
As long as one lives, one has to perform his duties. Duties are nothing but actions/ deeds performed in a righteous manner in harmony with the nature that benefits the society at large and incidentally the doer as well. Therefore performance of one’s duties comprises two important elements:
- In harmony with the nature and
- For the benefit of the society
In the process the doer also fulfills his personal desires/ needs.
As mentioned earlier, when one performs good deeds he gets good results and when he performs bad deeds he gets bad results. Deeds performed with desires (kama) will make the person to bear its results whether good or bad. This is a vicious cycle and as the person is caught in this web he will have to take birth again to fulfill his desires and also to bear the results of his earlier deeds and therefore this cycle continues forever.
How to break this cycle?
There are two ways to break this cycle:
- Giving up the desires
- Stop performing action
One cannot stop performing action because this will lead to inertia and virtual death. As long as one lives in this material world one has to survive and for the survival one has to perform certain actions. Therefore, the only alternative option is to give up the desires yet continue to perform action. This is the detached approach described in Bhagavad Geeta. A detached approach enables a person to perform actions yet unconcerned about the outcome of such actions. It does not mean an indifferent approach because what Geeta says by detached approach is performing one’s actions with righteousness but unmindful of its results.
As discussed earlier, righteousness approach is one that takes into account the larger interests of the society where one’s personal interests take the back seat. Practice of this righteousness will make one to shed one’s ahamkara (ego) and mamakara (possessiveness) eventually leading to nishkaama karma. Ahamkara (ego) leads to darkness and destruction. Mamakara (possessiveness) leads to passion selfishness. When one sheds ahamkara and mamakara he will gain sattva guna which leads to compassion and harmony. Only a person with sattva guna can practice nishkaama karma.
A person who practices this nishkaama karma is not affected by the outcomes of his actions whether they are good or bad because his actions are performed in a righteous manner and for the welfare of the society. Such a person is able to conquer the arishad vargas – Kama ( desires) Krodha (anger) Lobha (greed) Moha (passion or attachment) Mada (pride) and Matsarya (jealousy) leading to detached approach. This detached approach will liberate the person since he performs his dharma (duties/ actions) which may benefit the society at large (artha). In other words when one performs his dharma ( actions) the fruits (artha or material wealth) of which will go to the society at large since he is giving up his kama (desires), he is doing karma phala tyaga (i.e., sacrificing the fruits of his work or deeds).
This is the essence of performance of sacrifice in yagna. A detached soul is fully liberated from the material aspects of the world even though he continues to perform his karma or duties. The ultimate form of liberation is janma rahitya (freedom from the vicious cycle of birth and death) or eternal bliss. Moving is a symbol of action and detachment.
Therefore, let us keep moving in life in pursuit of liberation.
Ex-Vice President and Branch Head,
Bank of Bahrain and Kuwait, Hyderabad