It is true that jivas have been bound by their karmas since time immemorial. However, it is also true that those ties can be eradicated, liberation can be attained and a lifestyle can be adopted in which karmas can be performed without them causing bondage. This principle has been clearly described in our shastras. The Gitã is an example of this.
Many believe that life and liberation cannot coexist. They believe that ultimate liberation cannot be attained whilst alive because life is full of karmas and karmas bind, and thus life is also a form of bondage. As a result, some believe that one should do as few karmas as possible and then await death to attain liberation. However, the Gitã’s stance on this is very clear: It is true that liberation is the purpose of life, and it is also just as true that liberation can be experienced whilst alive. There is no need to forsake karmas, but one needs to learn the art of doing karmas. The Gitã has emphasized this repeatedly. Krishna wishes that Arjuna understands the importance of this art and imbibes it in his life. Therefore, in the fifth adhyay of the Gitã, Krishna clearly, and in detail, explains the technique of doing karmas without being bound by them.
DOING KARMAS WITHOUT BEING BOUND
Shri Krishna says, ‘योगयुक्तो विशुद्धात्मा विजितात्मा जितेन्द्रियः। सर्वभूतात्मभूतात्मा कुर्वन्नपि न लिप्यते॥’ – ‘Yogayukto vishuddhãtmã vijitãtmã jitendriyaha; Sarvabhootãtmabhootãtmã kurvannapi na lipyate.’ – Meaning: ‘A brahmarup devotee who has control over his body and mind, has a pure atman and is endowed with yoga does karmas without being smeared/stained by them’ (Gitã 5.4).
These are the qualities of those who are liberated whilst alive. The shloka says that if karmas are performed with certain principles imbibed in one’s life, then karmas do not cause attachment. ‘Yogayukto’ means one who has attained the manifest form of Paramatma and has complete conviction in him. ‘Vishuddhãtmã’ refers to a pure atman. ‘Vijitãtmã’ describes one who has won over his mind. ‘Jitendriyaha’ denotes one who has control of his sense organs – such as the eyes, ears and nose, as well as the organs of action – such as his hands and feet. ‘Sarvabhootãtmabhootãtmã’ implies becoming brahmarup. This is because Aksharbrahman is the atman of all beings (sarva-bhoot-ãtmã), so ‘sarvabhootãtmabhootãtmã’ literally means to be aksharrup. ‘Kurvannapi’ refers to the karmas done during life. ‘Na lipyate’ shows the result.
Here, the Gitã tells us to incorporate yoga – that is, attainment and knowledge of the importance of the form of Paramatma, self-control of the mind and senses, and brahmabhav – into our karmas. As long as the atman is engulfed by the swamp of maya, it cannot attain complete conviction in the form of Paramatma. Therefore, the Gitã tells us to make the atman clean and pure. That cleansing requires self-control of the mind and senses. All of this is obtained by becoming brahmarup. Thus, the Gitã teaches us to become brahmarup.
One who has the above virtues is not bound by karmas. ‘Kurvannapi’ means ‘even though doing karmas’, hence we can understand that the precept is how to remain aloof from the ties of karmas whilst still continuing to do them.
The next three shlokas explain the understanding necessary to remain aloof from the binds of karmas, even whilst doing them. Shri Krishna says,
‘नैव किञ्चित्करोमीति युक्तो मन्येत तत्त्ववित्। पश्यन्शृण्वन्स्पृशन्जिघýन्नश्नन्गत्व्छन्स्वपन्श्वसन्॥
प्रलपन् विसृजन् गृह्णन्नुन्मिषन् निमिषन्नपि। इन्द्रियाणीन्द्रियार्थेषु वर्तन्त इति घारयन्॥
ब्रह्मण्याघाय कर्माणि सङ्गं त्यक्त्वा करोति यः। लिप्यते न स पापेन पद्मपत्रमिवा भसा॥’
‘Naiva kinchitkaromeeti yukto manyeta tattvavit;
Pralapan visrujan gruhnannunimishan nimishannapi;
Indriyãneendriyãrtheshu vartanta iti dhãrayan.
Brahmanyãdhãya karmãni sangam tyaktvã karoti yaha;
Lipyate na sa pãpena padmapatramivãmbhasã.’
Meaning: ‘Even though a knowledgeable yogi looks, hears, touches, does, smells, eats, walks, sleeps, breathes, speaks, forsakes, partakes, and opens and closes his eyes, he believes that it is merely the senses doing their tasks, and that he himself is doing absolutely nothing at all. With this in mind, he offers his karmas to Aksharbrahman and does karmas without any attachment to them. Like a lotus in water, he is not smeared by the sins of karmas’ (Gitã 5.8-10).
Here, the words, ‘Naiva kinchitkaromeeti’ – ‘I do absolutely nothing at all’, speak of shedding one’s ego. The words, ‘indriyãneendriyãrtheshu vartanta’ – ‘the senses do their tasks’, reveal to one to realize that the atman is distinct from the body, the senses and their objects. The words, ‘sangam tyaktvã’ indicate that attachment should be shed. The words, ‘brahmanyãdhãya karmãni’ speak of dedicating all karmas to Aksharbrahman.
This message of dedicating all karmas to Aksharbrahman comprises a special principle. In order to ensure that karmas do not cause bondage and to make karmas a form of devotion, sentences like, ‘मयि सर्वाणि कर्माणि संन्यस्य’ – ‘mayi sarvãni karmãni samnyasya’ (Gitã 3.30) – in the third adhyay of the Gitã speak of dedicating karmas to Paramatma; whereas here it mentions, ‘brahmanyãdhãya karmãni’ – ‘dedicating karmas to Aksharbrahman’ (Gitã 5.10). Thus, the Gitã speaks of dedicating karmas to either Akshar or Purushottam. The word ‘brahman’ in the phrase ‘brahmanyãdhãya karmãni’, indeed refers to Aksharbrahman. The Gitã itself reveals this to us through Krishna’s words in the eighth adhyay. At the onset of the eighth adhyay, Arjuna asks, ‘किं तद्ब्रह्म’ – ‘Kim tad brahma’ – ‘What is that Brahman?’ (Gitã 8.1). To this, Shri Krishna replies, ‘अक्षरं ब्रह्म’ – ‘Aksharam brahma’ – ‘Akshar is [that] Brahman’ (Gitã 8.3).
Thus, the Gita describes how to elevate ordinary karmas to karma-yoga by associating them with the divine Akshar-Purushottam.
If one does not do karmas in the above-mentioned manner, then those karmas result in bondage. Even if those karmas are done with due care – that is to say, are done well, at the right time, in the right manner and without apathy – and even if people may think the job to have been done well and may even like it, and one may even be satisfied and happy with one’s work, but, such karmas still bind. A deed well done with worldly talent still binds, if it is not associated with the spiritual. Association with the spiritual means association with Akshar-Purushottam.
In this manner, Shri Krishna informs Arjuna how one can do karmas and not be bound by them.
In the next few shlokas, Shri Krishna explains how one who does karmas in the above mentioned manner experiences liberation whilst alive and, upon death, attains Akshardham. Before we look at that, let us take a look at some facts about liberation.