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Commentary on the Bhagavadgita

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Discourse 46: The Seventeenth Chapter Continues – Three Types of Austerity, Worship and Charity

Faith is of the nature of the quality that is predominant in a person – namely, sattva, rajas and tamas. While going to greater detail of this subject, various other things were mentioned about the three kinds of food, the three kinds of tapas, the three kinds of worship, etc.

Aphalakankshibhir yajnno vidhi-drshto ya ijyate, yashtavyam eveti manah samadhaya sa sattvikah (17.11): That sacrifice can be called sattvic sacrifice which is performed by those who expect no particular fruit to follow from that performance, do this sacrifice according to rule laid down in the Vedas and the Brahmana scriptures, and perform these sacrifices merely because it is obligatory on their part to do these sacrifices. These obligatory sacrifices have been described in the Fourth Chapter – daivam evapare yajnam yoginah paryupasate (4.25), etc. – which we have already studied. Because it is obligatory, it must be done. It is a duty to do this kind of sacrifice.

There are varieties of sacrifice. We may bring back to our memory those details given in the Fourth Chapter. In this chapter and also in the following chapter, a brief statement is made as to what actually is obligatory sacrifice. Obligatory sacrifice is mentioned as threefold: yajna, dana and tapas.

“It has to be done, and therefore I shall do it.” Mostly, we do sacrifice because we are forced to do it due to certain circumstantial pressure. Voluntary sacrifice is what is intended here; we do not do it reluctantly or would avoid it if we could.

The sacrifices mentioned here are external as well as internal. External sacrifices are those which are enjoined upon a good householder, which he continues to perform right from the time of his marriage until his death. He maintains three fires, called dakshinagni, ahavaniya and garhapatya. Garhapatya, dakshinagni, ahavaniya are the three forms of holy fire which are lit at the time of marriage, and they always are kept burning. It is with that fire that the person's cremation is supposed to be performed because the belief, as ordained in the scriptures, is that that fire will take him up to the higher realms. So we have to do it.

Another obligatory sacrifice is sandhya vandana, early morning prayers – Gayatri japa and prayer to the sun – which have to be done three times, or two times, or at least once. Sandhya vandana is an obligatory sacrifice, we may say, because it is a spiritual dedication before the great Lord of the universe, Suryanarayana Bhagavan, who is indwelt by Narayana, the spiritual Supreme Reality itself. Examples of obligatory sacrifices for householders are sandhya vandana or pancha devata puja.

The pancha devatas are: adityam ambikam vishnum gananatham mahesvaram.  Aditya is Surya; Ambika is Devi; Vishnu is Narayana; Ganatham is Ganesh, Mahesvara is Siva. These five are supposed to be the great gods whom every householder worships as pancha devata puja. It is from among these great gods that the person chooses one as his ishta devata; and the image or the idol of that particular devata is kept in the centre, surrounded by the other gods. If he is a devotee of Vishnu, he places the idol of Vishnu in the centre with the other idols surrounding it. If he is a devotee of Lord Siva, a lingam is placed in the middle with the other images around it. If he is a devotee of Suryanarayana, he has a sphatika lingam as the central object of worship. If he is a Devi bhakta, he has a yantra which will be worshipped in the middle, and other the gods will be outside, etc. Hence, there are performances which are obligatory and have to be done every day – such as sandhya vandana, Gayatri japa, pancha devata puja, and worship of the three fires. They are imperative, they have to be done, and one does them because they must be done.

Yashtavyam eveti manah samadhaya sa sattvikah: We do it because it has to be done; it is our obligatory duty to do it, and we cannot desist from doing it. But if that yajna, that sacrifice, is voluntarily and not compulsorily done for our own benefit and everybody’s benefit, then it becomes sattvica. But it should be done without expecting any result. We should not ask God to give us a long life and so on. We should ask God to grace us and bless us. When the great Narasimha manifested himself and told the devotee Prahlada to ask for a boon, the little boy said, “Bless me with that which is best for me.” Then naturally the ball is in the court of God Himself. He cannot give us anything but the best. The Lord said, “I give you devotion to Me. I consider that as the best.”

Aphalakankshibhir yajno vidhi-drshtah. Here, so many conditions are given for the performance of obligatory duty. One thing is that we should not expect any ulterior fruit to follow from the performance of our duty. Then it ceases to be a sacrifice. It becomes a mercenary action, a job for salary. That cannot be regarded as sattvika yajna. It should be performed for the pleasure of God, the satisfaction of the deity which we are worshipping. Also, it should be done according to the rules and regulations laid down in the scriptures. It should not be done in a slipshod manner or in any manner we like, without any system and without knowing what mantra is to be chanted, at what time, for which deity. If the performance is done properly, it is wonderful, highly beneficial, and it is considered as sattvic.

Abhisandhaya tu phalam dambhartham api chaiva yat, ijyate bharata-shreshtha tam yajnam viddhi rajasam (17.12): That performance is called rajasic which is undertaken merely for the fruit that follows, the result that comes out of it. “Something very advantageous will accrue if I do this.” The eye is only on the advantage that will accrue and not on the means, which is the worship or the sacrifice. The puja is done by hurriedly mumbling something, because some great blessing will come from that deity. The blessing is the important thing, and the manner of worship is not important. The mind is concentrated only on the result that follows, and is filled with vanity – that kind of sacrifice is rajasic. Puja that is selfishness oriented, fruit oriented, and not done according to the ordinance of scriptures is rajasic because it is motivated by a distraction of the mind. It is especially defective on account of there being no devotion to the means of worship; the devotion is only to that which will follow from the worship.

Vidhi-hinam asrshtannam mantra-hinam adakshinam, sraddha-virahitam yajnam tamasam parichakshate (17.13): Tamasic sacrifice, tamasic worship, tamasic yajna is that which is done contrary to prescribed rules and is totally oblivious to the regulations laid down in the Vedas, Brahmanas and the Smritis, or even by tradition, and is bereft of charity. No offering is made to the deity, and no proper mantra is chanted, and no fee is given to the performer of the sacrifice. It is an unthinkably defective way of approaching things. The desired result will not follow. An example is a person who employs a pandit  – a yajamana who engages a saint or a purohita for the performance of a worship – and does not properly respect him, does not give him his due, and he concentrates only on what he will get out of it and not the pleasure of the gods or the satisfaction of the deity whom he is invoking through the sacrifice. And he is faithless; inwardly he has no faith in the very performance itself. “If something comes, well and good; and if nothing comes, that is also all right. I will pray to God, if God is there. If He doesn’t exist, that’s not a loss to me. O God If there is a God, come and help me.” O God, if there is a God. If God is not there, we don’t lose anything by the utterance of few words.

Faithless performance is tamasic performance. When our heart is not in a thing, we are also not in that thing. Where our heart is, there we are; and if we ourselves are not there, what is the good of doing anything? We have to be present in the deeds that we perform, we have to ‘be’ in the worship that we offer, and we have to ‘be’ in the meditation that we undertake every day. Whatever is manifesting itself from us is ensouled by us. That is, if we stand outside the performance, the performance becomes a corpse, a skeleton. It is without life because we have stood outside it. But if we have entered into it, the action itself is enlivened by our soul. We are entirely in it – then it is that the action becomes a real sacrifice. Where we are not in the work, it ceases to be a sacrifice. To the extent we are involved in the work, to that extent it is a sacrifice. If we are wholly involved in it, and we are not separable from the work that we are doing – we ourselves are the work, as it were – then it is the highest sacrifice, and it will bring us the best of benefits. Else, it is tamasic.

Deva-dvija-guru-prajna-pujanam saucham-arjavam, brahma-charyam ahimsa cha sariram tapa uchyate (17.14). Yajna is of three kinds, which have been mentioned. Now we are being told that tapas also is of three kinds. Physical tapas, verbal tapas, and mental tapas are distinguished here by their own peculiar qualities. Worship of gods, worship of learned Brahmins – knowers of Brahman – worship of the Guru, worship of wise persons, purity inside and outside, straightforwardness of behaviour, self-restraint, ahimsa or non-injury to living beings – these are austerities of the body. We physically prostrate ourselves before the divinity whom we are adoring every day in worship, we prostrate ourselves before great men, divine people, preceptors, together with an internal self-restraint that we exercise on our own self, maintaining a purity of conduct and motive inwardly and outwardly – if this could be done, the body is performing a tapas. Physical discipline is described here as adoration of divinities, adoration of gods, adoration of learned, wise, spiritual preceptors, self-restraint, control of the sense organs ten in number, and purity, straightforwardness. If this can be maintained, we are physically restraining ourselves entirely.

Our speech also has to be restrained. In the same way as there is a restraint of the body by discipline of this kind, there has to be a discipline of the speech. Anudvega-karam vakyam satyam priya-hitam cha yat, svadhyayabhyasanam chaiva vangmayam tapa uchyate (17.15): The discipline of the speech is considered to be that which is pleasing, which does not agitate the mind of the person who hears it, which is very beneficial, kind and sweet, and is also is truthful and not camouflaged with any kind of untruth – purely factual, verbal expression, which is very dear and happy to hear, and good for the people who hear it, and also daily study of the holy scriptures, svadhyaya. As we have discipline of the body, there is discipline of speech. What are these? Sweet speech, not speaking like a thorn pricking people – and truthful speech, kind speech, beneficial speech, and daily study of holy scriptures for our own inner illumination. The svadhyaya of the Veda Samhitas, patha of Ramayana, Bhagavata, Bhagavadgita, etc., all come under svadhyaya-yajna, by which we purify and discipline our speech.

Manah-prasadah saumyatvam maunam atma-vinigrahah, bhava-samsuddhir ity etat tapo manasam uchyate (17.16): There is also mental tapas. The discipline of the mind is mental tapas – calmness, composure, satisfaction, happiness, contentment inside. Such a person is always happy, contented, and asks for nothing. "Everything is well with me. I want nothing. I am always very happy. I need nothing." This kind of inner satisfaction is called manah prasada. Saumyatvam – we must be very composed in our behaviour, delightful for people to see, not putting on an agitated look. If we are very graceful in our behaviour, it is saumyatvam.

We should not speak unless it is necessary to speak. Where it is necessary to speak, we speak. Where it is not called for on our behalf to speak, we do not speak. There are people who butt in. If two people are speaking, a third man comes and butts in, and says something else and spoils the entire talk. "What are you saying? What are you saying? Hmm," he will butt in. We should not interferet. We should not speak at all unless it is obligatory on our part to speak at a given moment. "It is necessary for me to speak at this moment. Therefore, I speak." When speaking is unwarranted and we can keep quiet – maunam santih, Om Om Om Om – we should hold our tongue, and maintain peace in our mind. That is maunam.

Atma-vinigrahah is self-control – the restraint of the lower self by the higher self. Concentrating on the universality of our selfhood puts a restraint or check on our lower, instinctive self. That is atma-vinigrahah.

Bhavasam-suddhih: Our motive should always be pure. When we do an action, we must have a pure motive for the benefit of somebody. It does good to some person; it is doing good to at least one person, if not more. And if it does good to the whole of humanity, the entire kingdom of mankind, very good. It does good to the family, to the community, to the nation, or at least it does good to one person – that much is indicative of a pure motive. But if it is a concentration of the mind on our own personal, selfish welfare – let anything happen to others, and we are not at all concerned with what is happening in the atmosphere around, but we very much are concerned with our own personal welfare, physical in its nature – if we are so selfish, then there is impurity in the mind. The unselfishness that characterises our motive is bhavasam-suddhih. This is mental tapas. Thus, we have here a description of three kinds of austerities – physical, verbal and mental.    

Sraddhaya paraya taptam tapas tat tri-vidham naraih, aphalakankshibhir yuktaih sattvikam parichakshate (17.17): Sattvic tapas is attended with intense faith that it will bring the noble fruit of inner spiritual illumination, and not because it will bring some material benefit. Spiritual aspiration is always a movement of our consciousness towards the higher values of life which are God-oriented in every way and, therefore, the question of expecting some material benefit out of our performance is totally out of point. If this tapas or worship is done with no such eye on fruit that is material in its nature, and is undertaken for the salvation of our soul finally, then worship or tapas is considered to be sattvic.

Satkara-mana-pujartham tapo dambhena chaiva yat, kriyate tad iha proktam rajasam chalam adhruvam (17.18): Fickle-minded people with no concentration whatsoever, with no understanding, with no knowledge of what they are doing at all, who are idiotic in their attitude and cause suffering to themselves as well as to others, and perhaps even harm other people – if that kind of undertaking is our desire, we should be considered as tamasic. Satkara-mana-pujartham tapo dambhena chaiva yat, kriyate tad iha proktam rajasam chalam adhruvam: If we do sacrifice for respect, for gaining recognition from people, and for ostentation, it is rajasic; but if we do it for harming people, if our sacrifice is not motivated with pious intentions, then it is tamasic.

Datavyam – now comes charity. There are three kinds of charities – sattvica, rajasica and tamasica. Datavyam iti yad danam diyate'nupakarine, dese kale cha patre cha tad danam sattvikam smrtam (17.20): When we do charity, we should give to that person from whom we expect nothing, or rather from whom we cannot expect anything. If we help a person from whom we cannot expect any kind of recompense – we may not get even a word of thanks from that person, yet we help that person – that is pratyupakarartha rahitam, expecting no recompense to follow from the good deed that we perform. We should not expect our charity to bring us something visible. We will be blessed by the divinities that rule the world. That will be enough for us. Unless we do that, it will not be real charity. We must give in charity because it is necessary under that condition. We feel for the suffering of another because that person is deprived of physical, mental or social needs. If a person is deprived of even minimum needs and does have access to even the minimum needs of life, and we are in a position to help that person merely because it is good to be of assistance to people of that kind, that would be sattvic charity; and again anupakarine – we should not expect anything from that person. It has to be given in the proper place, proper time, and to the proper person. Three conditions are there in order that charity may be sattvic. We should not give charity at a wrong place where it will be disturbing either to ourselves or to others; it has to be given at the proper time, and not when the person is not in the proper mood to receive it; and he must be a really deserving person, and not a person who does not need our gesture of goodwill. So dese kale cha patre cha – if all these conditions are fulfilled, we give a charity or express a gesture of goodwill because it is to be done in the case of a person who needs it, in the proper place, proper time, and to proper person – that charity, that gesture of goodwill of ours, that kindness, mercy that we show is sattvic in its nature.

Yat tu pratyupakarartham (17.21): If we give in charity because something will come out of it, because if we give something a double benefit will follow – that cannot be regarded as real charity, because we expect something from the good that we do. It cannot be called really a good deed. Phalam uddisya va punah: Because we always concentrate on what follows from this little sacrifice that we have performed, it is not real sacrifice. Diyate cha pariklishtam: If we give charity with great difficulty, reluctantly, niggardly, throw it as the face of a man and say "Go! Don't come again!", it is not charity. Diyate cha pariklishtam is when we give charity with great reluctance and sorrow inside. "Hey, the wretchedest thing has come. Here. Go!" We must offer help with delight in our heart, with satisfaction in our mind, seeing divinity in things, as God manifests in that person who is requiring assistance from us. The kind of charity that is done with an eye on fruit or what we expect from somebody else, and we do it with reluctance, is rajasic charity.

Adesa-kale yad danam apatrebhyas cha diyate, asatkrtam avajnatam tat tamasam udahrtam (17.22): If we offer something in a wrong place, at a wrong time and to a wrong person, without understanding the pros and cons of it, if it is totally out of place and unwarranted – that kind of gesture on our part, the work that we do, the charity, whatever we do which is blunderous in its effect, should be considered as tamasic. That is the worst kind of charity.

In the verses that follow, we shall be taken to a very lofty thought of the highest kind of contemplation on the Supreme Being. Om tat sat will be described – what it means, and how we have to meditate upon that. We shall discuss its meaning, etc., next time.