22 Sep Karm Yog – Our Duties (Part 2)
Focusing further on the duties we are expected to perform in our social life, let us delve further into the Gita to understand its true meaning.
karma brahmodbhavaṁ viddhi brahmākṣhara-samudbhavam
tasmāt sarva-gataṁ brahma nityaṁ yajñe pratiṣhṭhitam
The duties for human beings are described in the Vedas, and the Vedas are manifested by God himself. Therefore, the all-pervading Lord is eternally present in acts of sacrifice.
The Vedas emanated from the breath of God: asya mahato bhūtasya
niḥśhvasitametadyadṛigvedo yajurvedaḥ sāmavedo ’thavaṅgirasaḥ (Bṛihadāraṇyak Upaniṣhad 4.5.11)
“The four Vedas—Ṛig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sāma Veda, Atharva Veda— all emanated from the breath of the Supreme Divine Personality.”
In these eternal Vedas, the duties of humans have been laid down by God himself. These duties have been planned in such a way that through their performance materially engrossed persons may gradually learn to control their desires and slowly elevate themselves from the mode of ignorance to the mode of passion, and from the mode of passion to the mode of goodness. These duties are enjoined to be dedicated to him as yajña. Hence, duties consecrated as sacrifice to God verily become godly, of the nature of God, and non-different from him.
The Tantra Sār states yajña to be the Supreme Divine Lord himself:
yajño yajña pumāṁśh chaiva yajñaśho yajña yajñabhāvanaḥ
yajñabhuk cheti pañchātmā yajñeṣhvijyo hariḥ svayaṁ
In the Bhāgavatam (11.19.39), Shree Krishna declares to Uddhav,
yajño ’haṁ bhagavattamaḥ
“I, the Son of Vasudev, am Yajña.”
The Vedas state: yajño vai viṣhṇuḥ
“Yajña is indeed Lord Vishnu himself.”
Reiterating this principle, Shree Krishna says in this verse that God is eternally present in the act of sacrifice.
All these verses reinforce the fact that once we offer the fruits of all our actions and tasks to God, we will be free of attachment and the anxiety of attachment to the results or benefits of our hard work.
If the work we performed fetched good results, we should learn to dedicate it to Shree Krishna as his gift. If the results are not in our favour, we must aim hard not get angry or disappointed. Our thinking and attitude must be, “It is the Lord’s wish that the results turned out this way and we did our best.”
Later in verse 16 of chapter 3, Shree Krishna cautions Arjun,
evaṁ pravartitaṁ chakraṁ nānuvartayatīha yaḥ
aghāyur indriyārāmo moghaṁ pārtha sa jīvati
“O Parth, those who do not accept their responsibility in the cycle of sacrifice established by the Vedas are sinful. They live only for the delight of their senses; indeed their lives are in vain.”
Chakra, or cycle, means an ordered series of events. All members of this universal wheel of action perform their duties and contribute to its smooth rotation. Since we also partake of the fruits of this natural cycle, we too must do our bounden duty in the chain. We humans are the only ones in this chain who have been bestowed with the ability to choose our actions by our own free will. We can thus either contribute to the harmony of the cycle or bring about discord in the smooth running of this cosmic mechanism.
When the majority of the people of human society accept their responsibility to live as integral parts of the universal system, material prosperity abounds and spiritual growth is engendered. Such periods become golden eras in the social and cultural history of humankind. Conversely, when a major section of humankind begins to violate the universal system and rejects its responsibility as an integral part of the cosmic system, then material nature begins to punish, and peace and prosperity become scarce.
The wheel of nature has been set up by God for disciplining, training, and elevating all living beings of varying levels of consciousness. Shree Krishna explains to Arjun that those who do not perform the yajña enjoined of them become slaves of their senses and lead a sinful existence. Thus, they live in vain. But persons conforming to the divine law become pure at heart and free from material contamination.
There are a fortunate few who do not have to perform their prescribed duties as mentioned in the Vedas. They are the enlightened, illumined or self-realized. For such highly evolved souls, the karm (duties) prescribed for the materially conditioned souls are no longer applicable because they have already attained the goal of all such karm.
These self-realized personalities are situated on the transcendental platform of the soul. Their every activity is transcendental, in service of God. So the duties prescribed for worldly people at the bodily level, in accordance with the Varṇāśhram Dharma, no longer apply to them.
Here, the distinction needs to be made between karm and bhakti. Previously, Shree Krishna was talking about karm, (or prescribed worldly duties) and saying that they must be done as an offering to God. This was necessary to purify the mind, helping it rise above worldly contamination. But self-realized souls have already reached absorption in God and developed purity of mind. These transcendentalists are directly engaged in bhakti, or pure spiritual activities, such as meditation, worship, kīrtan, service to the Guru, etc. If such souls reject their worldly duties, it is not considered a sin. They may continue to perform worldly duties if they wish, but they are not obliged to do them.
But for a majority of people who have not attained a high state of spiritual awareness, Shree Krishna once again reinforces the importance of one’s duties and performing Karm Yog in verse 17 of chapter 3.
tasmād asaktaḥ satataṁ kāryaṁ karma samāchara
asakto hyācharan karma param āpnoti pūruṣhaḥ
Therefore, giving up attachment, perform actions as a matter of duty, for by working without being attached to the fruits, one attains the Supreme.