If we do something, problems may occur, but there is no choice. It is impossible to live without doing karmas, thus we must learn how to make use of those karmas. If we join yoga with karmas, they cease to be karmas and become karmayoga. To join yoga with karmas means to associate Paramãtmã with one’s karmas. That is why the Gitã says, “योगस्थः कुरु कर्माणि” – “Yogasthaha kuru karmãni” – “O Arjuna! Do karmas remaining steadfast in yoga.” To remain steadfast in yoga means to develop conviction in the form of Paramãtmã. If we connect Paramãtmã with our karmas, then we can be said to have done those karmas with conviction in Paramãtmã. One who does karmas in this way is not merely dutiful but is a karmayogi. The Gitã teaches the technique of becoming such a karmayogi.
Karmas and their fruits; karmas and bondage – fruits and bondage are the two consequences associated with karmas. If we do something, we acquire accordingly; if we do something, we are bound by it. Let us first take a look at the relationship between karmas and their fruits.
कर्मण्येवाघिकारस्ते – You Are Entitled Only to Do Karmas
Shri Krishna says, “कर्मण्येवाघिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन। मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते संगोऽस्त्वकर्मणि॥” – “Karmanyevãdhikãraste mã faleshu kadãchana, mã karmafalaheturbhoormã te sango’stvakarmani.” – “O Arjuna! You are entitled only to do karmas, never to the fruits thereof. Therefore, do not hope for the fruits, yet do not decide to refrain from karmas” (Gitã 2.47).
No karma is without fruits. ‘Fruits’ means its consequences. There is no action without a consequence. If ice is put in water, the water becomes cold, and, at the same time, the ice begins to melt. The consequences of karmas range from the individual to the global. Good actions have good consequences and bad actions have bad consequences. Both the individual that does the bad action and society are subject to the unfavourable consequences. When someone eats, they begin to experience the effects: their hunger is diminished, their body is nourished, blood is made, and flesh increases – these are all the so-called visible effects. There are many other effects that cannot be seen, or are obtained at a later time. All of this is called punya (merits) and pãp (demerits). One thing that should be noted here is that the system of karmas and the fruits thereof have been given by Paramãtmã. The karmas themselves cannot give any results, but it is Paramãtmã who looks at the karmas and decides of his own accord what type of results to give. If he so wishes, he can change the system. Therefore, we cannot claim that a certain karma should give certain results, that is all dependent on Paramãtmã’s will, we are only entitled to do the karma.
By using the word ‘entitled’, Shri Krishna has made an important clarification. ‘Entitled to do karmas’ means we have the freedom to choose what types of karmas we do and we do not do. Paramãtmã gives us a body that enables us to do karmas, he gives us the faculty of conation (the desire or will to do), the faculty of volition (the power of will), the faculty of cognition (the ability to understand), as well as the discretion of which types of karmas to do and not to do. Nevertheless, in the end, he leaves the decision to us. This is the manner in which we are entitled to do karmas. Furthermore, he adds, ‘मा फलेषु कदाचन।’ – ‘Mã faleshu kadãchana’ – we are not entitled to the fruits thereof. Our rights are limited, and whatever rights we have are by Paramãtmã’s grace, and still under his control. Thus, the principle explained here is that we do not have complete independence. The only right we have regarding karmas is that we can decide which types of karmas to do. On the other hand, to hold expectations for certain karmas to produce certain results is said to have demanded rights on the fruits of karmas, which is futile and impossible. Furthermore, someone who holds such expectations could drown in an ocean of depression at any time. To decide which karmas give which results is the right of Paramãtmã alone, no one can take that away from him, and that is why he is called karmafalpradãtã – the giver of the fruits of actions.
Indeed, it is hard to accept when someone says that we should do karmas but not desire any results. If we are not to desire results, then how can we do the karma at all. Also, how can one decide between good and bad karmas, that decision is based on the consequences. Then why does the Gitã give us such advice? Shri Krishna has answered this question using the word ‘entitled’. There is nothing wrong in thinking about the fruits of karmas, indeed, that should be taken into consideration. To think of the fruit is to think of the goal, and it is a fact that one must be clear of the goal. Nevertheless, it is also a fact that we are not entitled to those fruits. To think of the fruits and to expect them as an entitlement are different things. Thinking of the fruit helps us to do the karma, it inspires us to do good karmas and refrain from bad karmas. But if we start to put a claim on the fruits, then, perhaps, our expected outcome and the will of Paramãtmã may coincide on one or two occasions and there will be no issue; but that may not always be Paramãtmã’s wish. Paramãtmã does not make decisions based only on our expectations. Therefore, the truth of the matter is that the outcome may not be as we had expected. Those who cannot accept this reality must be prepared to endure the pain of grief.
This reality is such that it may lead to sinking into an abyss of lethargy. One may think, ‘If I have no claim to the fruits of the karmas, then why should I do them at all’ and become depressed. To rescue us from such a situation, Shri Krishna clarifies, ‘मा ते संगोऽस्त्वकर्मणि॥’ – ‘Mã te sango’stvakarmani.’ – ‘Nevertheless, do not cease to do karmas.’ One who completely ceases to do karmas is harassed by endless hardships.
Do karmas, do them well, think of the fruits too, but do not claim a right to those fruits. Do not forget that Paramãtmã is the giver of the fruits of all karmas. Keeping this in mind, one must continue to do karmas – that is the message of this shloka.
Karmas Combined with Yoga Become Karmayoga
How can karmas that seem ordinary attain the status of karmayoga? How can they result in happiness? How can karmas that seem ordinary lead us to liberation? Shri Krishna says to Arjuna on the battlefield,
“मयि सर्वाणि कर्माणि संन्यस्याऽध्यात्मचेतसा। निराशीíनर्ममो भूत्वा युद्ध्यस्य विगतज्वरः॥” – “Mayi sarvãni karmãni samnyasyã’dhyãtmachetasã, nirãsheernirmamo bhootvã yuddhyasya vigatajvaraha.” – “O Arjuna! Having offered all karmas to me, with a mind that has attained brahmabhav, having become free of desires, having become free of the attachment born from desires, and having become free of sorrow and fight.” (Gitã 3.30).
This verse shows us five things.
First, ‘Mayi sarvãni karmãni samnyasya’ tells us to surrender our karmas. It is common to surrender on occasions; people often give gifts to one another. Here, karmas are to be surrendered in a similar manner. Of course, karmas are not physical objects that can be given to someone by hand. Karmas are surrendered by purity of feelings and intentions. To surrender karmas means to shed the arrogance that ‘I am the doer’ and to do karmas with the thought that ‘the manifest form of Paramãtmã that I have attained is the all-doer. Will he be pleased by this action?’ Thus, actions should be done with the intention to please the manifest Paramãtmã. Daily activities such as sitting, standing, walking and working should all be done whilst remembering Paramãtmã. In this manner, one can be said to have surrendered one’s karmas to Paramãtmã if one remembers that Paramãtmã is the all-doer, one becomes humble, one does all actions to please Paramãtmã and all actions are done whilst worshipping Paramãtmã.
Secondly, it says, ‘adhyãtmachetasã’, which means ‘spiritual thought’. Spiritual thought leads in the direction of introspection. Who am I? What am I to do or become? These are questions that spiritual thought clarifies. Clarifying one’s goal, thinking, ‘I am separate from the body, indriyas and antahkaran. I am the ãtmã. I have to become brahmarup,’ is called spiritual thought. Bhagwan Swaminarayan has called such spiritual thought as the highest level of ãtmã-realization. One who attains this state, sees their ãtmã as brahmarup and constantly experiences that Paramãtmã resides within their ãtmã. If one attains such a brahmic state, they are never bound by karmas.
Thirdly, it says, to become ‘nirãsheehi’, which means to become free of desires. If karmas are done with a desire for fame, recognition or any other outcome, then they become chains that bind. Thus, one who does karmas should be free of worldly desires. So, the Gitã tells us to discipline our expectations.
Fourthly, it says to become ‘nirmamaha’, which means to abandon the feeling of me and mine. The feeling of me and mine is mãyã. This feeling soils karmas and makes them impure. If we claim ownership that ‘this is mine’, it leads to misery, burden and causes attachment.
Fifthly, it says to become ‘vigatajvaraha’, which means to be free of afflictions such as apathy, boredom, dislike and laziness. One who has any of the above four deficiencies is sure to suffer misery. If someone has a fever, they are not able to do anything satisfactorily. They do things, but half-heartedly, and they have to force themselves. Some work may get done, but not with enthusiasm or joy. With the word ‘vigatajvaraha’, the Gitã urges us to increase the quality of the things we do.
If we adorn our karmas with the above five features, our karmas cease to be mundane and become karmayoga. Then, that which was the cause of attachment, becomes the means to liberation. That which was full of misery, becomes full of happiness. Then, we never get fed up of doing karmas, do not fear karmas or get agitated by them. In fact, we feel inspired to please the guru and Paramãtmã. We are ready to do anything. These are the changes that a karmayogi experiences.
One thing that should be remembered here is that our karmas should be according to the commands of the shastras and our guru. They should abide by the limits of do’s and don’ts set by them. Only by imbibing the above five features in such permitted karmas can one attain karmayoga. Therefore, if someone steals, harms others or commits adultery, then, even if they remember Paramãtmã while doing such karmas, they are counted as crimes and they still incur pãp or sins.
Because Arjuna lacks the brahmic state, he is entangled in the web of mãyã. He has become arrogant, he has forgotten the all-doership of Paramãtmã, he has been beaten by ambition and desire, he is troubled by attachment, and finally, anguished by deficiencies such as lack of enthusiasm, weakness and doubt, he is unable to fulfil his duty. This is why, Krishna Bhagwan does not tell him to abandon karmas, but instead teaches him the art of doing karmas. Abiding to karmayoga is the very art of doing karmas. Throughout the entire Gitã, it is this art that Krishna repeatedly presents to and teaches Arjuna.