Human Effort and Divine Grace
by Swami Krishnananda


(Spoken on February 25th, 1973)

Last time we saw that there are three types of knowledge corresponding almost to the animal, the human and the divine levels. Likewise, there are three kinds of action which bear out some sort of a relation to these kinds of knowledge. All these, again, are beautifully described in the Bhagavadgita. Knowledge breeds action. Activity is a manifestation of the content of knowledge. Thus, our behaviour, conduct and activity in our life is directly concerned with the kind of knowledge with which we are endowed. Do we think like animals? Then we shall act like animals. If we think like humans, we shall act like humans, but if we think divinely, we shall act divinely. This is, in a context, mentioned in the Bhagavadgita when it describes the types of action that proceed from the kinds and intensities of knowledge within us.

The lowest kind of knowledge, as we saw yesterday, is that which restricts itself to our body. It does not regard the existence of other persons and things. There is a tremendous attachment to one’s own body and a concern for the preservation of it at all costs. Activity which is based on this sort of knowledge is delusive action. An activity that is directed to the preservation of one’s own body irrespective of what happens to others as a consequence of this action – an action which is born purely out of bodily instinct and a reaction that is set up by bodily constitutions – that action is described in a verse of the Bhagavadgita. Anubandhaṁ kṣayaṁ hiṁsām anapekṣya ca pauruṣam, mohād ārabhyate karma yat tat tāmasam ucyate (Gita 18.25): When there is tamasic knowledge, the action that is engendered by it can also be tamasic. Tamasic action proceeds from tamasic knowledge; it is the consciousness that is limited to the body, that thinks only of the body, that is instinctively driven, propelled by longings that are purely sensory. This sort of consciousness gives rise to certain actions which take no notice of the consequences.

Anubandha is consequence. When we are in a mood of rage, wrath or irritation, we act and conduct ourselves in a manner which does not pay heed to any consequences. We commit blunders in a mood of tamas, which has no intelligent connection with the consequences that follow. It also does not consider the loss, kshara, that comes upon oneself as a result of that action. We may lose something due to this activity of ours, but we will not take any notice of even this loss that is a necessary consequence of the false intention to bring a good consequence to oneself. It also does not consider the pain that is inflicted upon others as a consequence of this action – himsa; and thirdly, it also does not consider one’s capacity to act.

When we are in a mood of anger, we do not know our own strength. We can even fight with an elephant. In a mood of anger we think we are equal to even a tiger. We may break a chain and break a door; that is anger. Due to delusion, people enter into such action which does harm to themselves and to others also, which has no purpose whatsoever. It is a purposeless blind activity like a raging wind or a flaming fire, and has no consciousness within it. It will burn anything without any intention, without any purpose, and so on. Thus, the lowest kind of knowledge also is the source of the lowest kind of action. Animals attack each other due to bodily urges. We know the anger of an animal. It is bodily driven, sensorily conducted and purposeless, except that it is based on the preservation instinct of the body.

So the limitation of consciousness to merely the body in the animal level of evolution causes actions which are called the law of the jungle. It is a law unto itself and, specifically, it is a psychological character of this condition of consciousness. Animals can be roused to anger at any time. So is man, so is the human element which is smothered and stifled by the animal instincts. There is dependence entirely on one’s own strength, power and body in animal instinct. Very rarely is there a thought of cooperation to be taken from other sources. An animal attacks with its own strength; so does the human personality when it is animal-driven.

People speak as if they are the body itself. Animal instinct, when it manifests itself in a human personality, makes one utter such meaningless gibberish such as, “Do you know who I am?” This ‘I’ refers to the body: “I shall see to it.” The bodily I is affirmed to such an extent that it is oblivious of the existence of other facts and realities. This is the animal-level bodily limitation of consciousness and actions committed by error, by confusion, by delusive notions, with a faulty idea of bodily satisfaction or comfort, whether or not this action is going to bring the comfort that is intended and hoped for, so that the animal understanding and action is wholly delusive, confusing, and leading to self-destruction.

But the human level of action is cooperative, like the cooperative type of understanding wherein due attention is paid to the existence of other personalities, other persons and things. Due to this notice being taken of the existence of equally powerful entities like oneself outside, there is desire. Yat tu kāmepsunā karma sāhaṁkāreṇa vā punaḥ, kriyate bahulāyāsaṁ tad rājasam udāhṛtam (Gita 18.24): While the animal action is tamasic action, human action is rajasic action. It longs for consequences. While the animal action does not think of the consequences at all, human action pays due heed to consequences. It asks for results. It expects certain specific results to follow out of a particular action. This is called desire.

In animals desire is restricted to their body, while with humans it is expressed to objects of sense outside. That is, in the rajasic content of the human knowledge there is a longing to take the help of other entities in the world to fulfil one’s own end. There is ahamkara, the ego, which is tamasically driven in animals, and rajasically driven in human beings. Yat tu kāmepsunā karma sāhaṁkāreṇa vā punaḥ, kriyate bahulāyāsaṁ: full of fatigue, and involving lot of sweaty labour, this is desireful action. This is not properly conceived because it is not true that the intended result will always follow from a particular action.

While there was one kind of defect in animal activity, there is another kind of defect in human activity. The desire is unfortunate, mostly. If we were to be wholly conscious of the nature of the consequences of our actions, then there would be no failure in any of our actions. It is something like sowing a seed and expecting another kind of fruit, not knowing what sort of seed it is. Human knowledge is limited to the relativity of things, just as animal knowledge is limited to mere bodily existence. Both are defective in two different ways. The notion that all reality is limited to one’s own body is so foolish that one cannot expect any kind of truthful result from actions proceeding from that type of knowledge.

But what about human knowledge, which is relatively driven? There is dependence of consciousness; the subject and the object mutually determine each other in the human level. We take into consideration the inward and outward facts of life, and weigh them properly as far as it is possible within the limit of our understanding. This is scientific knowledge, but scientific knowledge is not all knowledge. It is not omniscience because factors that are relatively connected are dependent on one another. In the human level of scientific understanding, one cannot know what cause will bring what kind of effect.

In a relative universe, we cannot find out which is the cause and which is the effect. That is the very meaning of relativity – one thing depending on another thing equally. There is a game in which people stand in a circle, and one person suddenly pinches the one near him, and he pinches the next one, so that the pinch goes on in a circle several times. Ultimately, no one will know who started the pinch.

In a similar manner, in a relative world of dependent things there is a mutual determination of substance and character, so that anything can be called a cause and anything an effect. But the ego of man will not bear this. It connects the relativity of knowledge with the personality of the body: “The cause is I.” Kartāram ātmānaṁ kevalaṁ tu yaḥ, paśyaty akṛtabuddhitvān na sa paśyati durmatiḥ (Gita 18.16): Such a person has feeble understanding who considers himself alone as the entire determinant factor of an action. “I am the doer. Nobody else is concerned with this. I have done this in a particular way, and therefore, such a result should follow out of it.” This is ahamkara, or egoism, which is predominant in the human personality.

On account of the interference of the egoism of the human personality in the understanding of this relative universe, there is failure of action. Human action is not always successful, merely because of the interference of the ego. Selfishness is the name we give to all kinds of ego-driven action. While we may call the animally driven actions as purely delusive, confusing and stupid, the ego-driven actions are rajasic and cannot bring the kind of result which is intended by the mind.

In this manner we are superior to animals, but in consequence, we are like animals. Our unhappiness is like that of an animal. We are unsuccessful in our life for a different reason altogether. The animal is unsuccessful for one reason, and we are unsuccessful for another reason. Anyhow, both are unhappy.

The human attitude to understanding, therefore, being confused with the longings of the ego, does not really bring the fruit it expects. If this relativistic knowledge were to be the object of one’s contemplation without the selfishness of the ego, that would certainly lead us to sattvic knowledge and the sattvic type of action that follows out of it. Scientific knowledge can take us to philosophical wisdom provided it is not connected with the selfishness of the human mind. When the ego interferes with scientific knowledge, then it produces an atom bomb for destruction of people. But when scientific knowledge is taken in its pure scientific sense as an academic observation of facts for the sake of knowledge alone, then it can take us to philosophy and a spiritual realisation of values.

Some of the greatest scientists of the world were also great philosophers who almost bordered on mysticism because the pioneers of science in its ultimate reaches had no selfishness. They were seekers only of knowledge. And when the knowledge of relativity came, it took man beyond the limitations of his senses because the relativistic concept of the universe is not a content of the senses. The senses cannot perceive the universe as a whole in its relativity. It is an object of the human understanding in its purified form.

How does science take us to philosophy? When the world is realised as a relative object of human understanding where each content is determined by every other content, knowledge exceeds its bodily limitation because a knowledge of the relativity of two objects at once transcends the limitations of the objects, while ordinary sense objects is limited to objects. Philosophy rises from science in the sense that a scientific concept of the universe brings out the limitations of human understanding, and when reason knows its own limitations, it overcomes itself. When we know our own faults and limitations, we become wise.

That we do not know our own limitations is unfortunate. The one who suffers is that person who has tremendous limitations and yet is not conscious of the limitations. But when we are conscious of our limitations, we have exceeded the limit of these barriers and gone above, and become wise. Then it is that our actions are not driven by desire, but they become unselfish. Niyataṁ saṅgarahitam arāgadveṣataḥ kṛtam, aphalaprepsunā karma yat tat sāttvikam ucyate (Gita 18.23). Then it is law driven, not instinct driven or ego driven. Action which is based on justice and the law of the universe has naturally to be unselfish.

Unselfish action is that type of action which is not determined by the personal ego of the individual. It is driven by knowledge, and not by the ego. And what is the characteristic of knowledge of a sattvic nature? We have seen it yesterday, so I need not repeat it today. It has its basis in the universality of things. That is sattvic knowledge, and it is not based on the ego at all. It is not the outcome of a particular agent or an individual, karta, karma, karana, etc.

In sattvic knowledge, which is the source of sattvic action of an unselfish nature, there is the consideration of all the factors involved in an action. That is why there is no egoism. Here it is that one knows one’s limitations. In a cooperative society where people are equal shareholders, we cannot say that any one is the proprietor. No one can say, “I am the sole owner of the entire property,” because it is a cooperative society.

In a similar manner, in this universe of mutual cooperative action of various forces, which the Bhagavadgita mentions, who can be a proprietor of the action? Who can say, “I am the doer of it”?

There are various factors determining even the smallest of actions, let alone large ones, so that the Bhagavadgita deprecates that person who falsely imagines himself to be the sole doer of actions, while even the least of his actions is determined by various factors of which he is unconscious. Adhiṣṭhānaṁ tathā kartā karaṇaṁ ca pṛthagvidham, vividhāś ca pṛthakceṣṭā daivaṁ caivātra pañcamam (Gita 18.14): An action is determined by five factors, but we think that there is only one factor, namely, our wish. “If I wish, it shall be done in this manner. I can do and undo things.” This is the ego speaking, but it is the notion of a faulty ego.

The sattvic knowledge gives rise to a sattvic action which takes into consideration the various factors involved in this action. What are these factors? One is the constitution of the body – adhisthana. The constitution, the structure, the pattern, the level of the evolution of the body determines, to a large extent, the nature of the action that is performed through it. The strength that is necessary to perform an action is also, to a large extent, dependent upon the nature of the body. We know it very well. So the condition of the body is one factor involved in the performance of an action.

The second factor is the nature of the personality, which is not merely the body. The psychological personality is an equally determining factor of the action. What kind of mind do you have? How do you think, and what sort of personality do you have? We know the personality of a saint is different from the personality of a brute. They both have bodies. The body of a brute may be stronger than the body of a saint, physically speaking, but the psychological unit inside the body makes all the difference. The saint’s psychological content has a greater strength than the psychological content of a brute. That is a very powerful determining factor in action.

The bodily structure is one factor; the psychological structure within is another. That is kartaadhiṣṭhānaṁ tathā kartā. Karaṇaṁ ca pṛthagvidham. Then the third factor is the capacity of the senses to act. We know that the sense organs of all people do not work in the same way. The energies also vary in their expression. Some have an eagle’s eye, and some cannot see beyond three feet. Some can hear as well as a dog, and others cannot hear at all.

The ten organs, or at least the five organs of perception, determine to a large extent the nature of one’s action. Feeble senses will adversely affect the manifestation of a particular action, whereas strong senses will contribute larger strength to that action. That is karana. In this karana, we may also include the mind, the thinking faculty. Sometimes the mind is called the internal sense – antakarana. The Bhagavadgita uses the word karana. It does not say whether it is vaiyakarana or antakarana, so we may take it as both vaiyakarana and antakarana – external senses as well as the internal sense which is the mind – mutually, jointly, affect the nature of the action. Vividhāś ca pṛthakceṣṭā: The various intentions behind it and the purposes that drive a person to action also have a say in the matter. If the purpose is shallow, the action will be mild, but if the purpose is intense and immediately necessary, then it will be forcibly driven.

But all these will not work if a fifth factor is absent. Duryodhana had all these factors – he had a very strong mind, strong body, strong senses, and strong intention – but he was a failure because a fifth factor was missing, which is mentioned in this Bhagavadgita verse: daivaṁ caivātra pañcamam. There is an element of divinity presiding over all things. “There is a divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew them how you will,” says Shakespeare. Our ends are shaped by a divinity. However much we may struggle against odds, however much we may work hard against this providential decree, we will not succeed. There is a divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew them how you will.

Daivaṁ caivātra pañcamam. So a wise action takes into consideration all these five factors. A wise man does not say, “I shall do it.” Sometimes we politely write, “God willing, let us see it tomorrow. If God does not will, it may not take place.” It does not mean that we are always conscious of the five factors, but at least for the sake of etiquette we say this, which means to say there is a universal element determining individual actions. Divinity, or daiva mentioned in the verse of the Bhagavadgita, is nothing but the universal principle determining every individual. It has a say in every matter. We cannot discard it. Whatever be our body, mind, intention, purpose and strength of senses, all these will serve no purpose if they go contrary to the law of the universal. That is called daiva.

Daiva is not some person sitting in the heavens and controlling us by his ordainments. It is an unavoidable and invariable element present in every little thing in the world. As logicians generally tell us, the whole is present in every one of its parts because the universal called the whole, though invisible to the senses determining the part, is yet present as the final word in every matter. Thus, it is only sattvic knowledge of this kind that can perform sattvic action. What is sattvic action? Desireless action. Niyataṁ saṅgarahitam arāgadveṣataḥ kṛtam: That is sattvic action, action that is performed without a like or a dislike for anything, merely as a duty, as a necessity, as an obligation, because of the very character and nature of knowledge; that action performed in such a way impersonally is unselfish action, and it shall be successful because it is driven by the knowledge of the unity of things – a sattvic type of knowledge.

Śarīravāṅmanobhir yat karma prārabhate naraḥ, nyāyyaṁ vā viparītaṁ vā pañcaite tasya hetavaḥ (Gita 18.15): Whatever action we perform, whether it is bodily action or mental action or verbal action, is all determined by these five factors. A word that we speak, a movement of our body, a thought of our mind is determined by the universal. That is the meaning of this verse śarīravāṅmanobhir yat karma prārabhate naraḥ. Nyāyyaṁ vā viparītaṁ vā: Whether it is good action or bad action, everything has a connection with the universal. Pañcaite tasya hetavaḥ: These five factors play a role in every action whether it is a personal, individual, human action or a mere movement of material forces.

What the Bhagavadgita aims at is that we should never forget the universal element in knowledge and action. Both in knowledge and action, this wholeness of character is present. Even while we are conscious of merely a single object, and not the other rated factors in that perception, the universal element is present.

The fact that we are not conscious of the presence of this universal element even in ordinary perception of an object answers the question why we are failures in life. Because of the limitation of our knowledge to particular objects, our actions also are driven in respect of those objects alone, irrespective of the contribution that is made by the universal factors. So we are unhappy. We say, “Man proposes, God disposes.” Why should God dispose what man proposes? Is He so angry with man? Not so. God disposes only those actions of man which are contrary to His law, not every action. It does not mean that God will dispose every one of our actions. Wherever we succeed in our action, know for certain that it is in agreement with the law, and where it is in disagreement with the law, we will be a failure. There is no use cursing God and creation.

Why do we fail in our actions when we go contrary to law? Because this very law also determines our nature. We are acting against our own self. To act against law is to act against the good of one’s own self because one’s own existence is a part of the operation of the universal law.

Thus, while law works from outside as a mandate in the lower states of human living, it works as a spontaneous will from within in higher levels of being. While an ordinary person needs a command of law from outside to drive him along the proper direction, a sage’s mind does not need this order because his will itself is law. He thinks according to law, and nobody need command him to do the right thing. His will is universally determined, and it takes into consideration the universal factors of action; therefore, a sage’s mind is a universal mind. His morality is inward morality, whereas our morality is outward morality in the sense that we are afraid of society and the laws operating outside. We act ethically and morally due to fear, not necessarily because we are desirous of being ethical and moral. But in the case of a sage’s mind, it is not fear that makes him moral but rather knowledge, enlightenment, and understanding of universal determining factors.

From outward morality and ethics we have to go to the inward one which is universally driven. Then only will we be successful. We must be good inherently, not compulsorily. Compulsory goodness is no good. It will not work. Inward goodness is spontaneous goodness which is the outcome of our nature, our character, like the resplendence of the sun. It is spontaneous and inherent in the very substance.

Thus, knowledge, action and morality constitute life as a whole. All life is knowledge, action and conduct. These are mutually related to one another. The Bhagavadgita warns us that we shall be utter failures if we limit our knowledge to our body like the animals, or even confine it to the relativity of perception interfered with by the human ego. Both tamas and rajas are not good. We have to overcome the tamasic and the rajasic element in us in knowledge, in action and in conduct, and come to the sattvic level.

The nature of sattva is spontaneity. It acts of its own accord without being told to do anything. That is why it is said in Satya Yuga there was no government. Bhishma spoke to Yudhisthira about this in the Santiparva of the Mahabharata, as it is recorded. There was no government in the golden age of the world because moral consciousness was inherent in people; it was not externally driven. We require a government because people live like animals. There is fear from every side. Everyone fears everyone else, and therefore, there is a necessity for outward law of government where everyone knows one’s own duty and we perform only right action born of right knowledge. Due to an inward morality, inwardly determined knowledge, external control is not necessary. That is called the golden age where everyone is spontaneous, absolutely free, and therefore, absolutely happy.

When we become oblivious of some of the factors involved in action, pain attends upon us. We can immediately judge whether an action was selfish or not by the consequences that follow. Pain, fear, anxiety, frustration, restlessness and agitation follow every kind of selfish action. We are restless, agitated, and anxious when we are selfish, and we do not know what will happen to us when we are selfish. But in unselfish, sattvic nature there is no fear because this conduct is based on knowledge, and there is no insecurity because there is no desire. All insecurity is due to desire. We expect something, and we do not know whether it will come or not; therefore, we are helpless and very unhappy. But if there is no desire at all, naturally there need be no fear. Whom are we going to fear when we want nothing?

Thus, these aspects of knowledge and action and conduct are to be related to one another in spiritual life, in the yoga way of life. The practice of yoga is a universal science in this way. It is not concocted or invented human knowledge, limited only to a section of mankind. It is a science applicable to all. It is impersonality manifest. Thus, a life of yoga is a life which gradually gravitates towards higher and higher kinds of universals. The universals have gradations. There is a series of the degrees of the manifestation of the universal. We cannot know what type of universality ranges beyond us, but we can have a faint notion of that which is immediately above us.

The universal is difficult to understand, and we cannot easily explain what the universal is. If we try to put it plainly, in simple language, the universal can be defined as that wholeness immanent in a group of factors which control a particular element. The family is a universal. The member of the family is a particular. Now, you may wonder whether the family is a group of individuals. The family is not merely the number of persons and is, therefore, not the totality of the particulars. If there are four persons in a family and I say that the family is the universal behind the individual members, I do not mean that four is the universal and one is the individual. Not so. Behind this fourfold number of the members of the family there is a power which is invisible. That power is the universal.

There is a significance of what we call the family. The significance is different from the number of the members. Higher than the family is the community. The community is the universal, the family is the individual. And the community becomes the individual when we consider the nation to which it belongs. The nation is the universal which determines the community. Likewise, we can go on from lesser universals to the higher universal, bearing in mind that the universal is not a quantity of individualities involved in the circumference of the group, but a significance, a meaning, a state of mind that is involved.

The universal, thus, is a tremendous quality, and it is not merely a quantity of particulars. From lesser universals we rise to the higher universals. This is yoga. By the power of concentration of mind we bring the operation of the higher universal into the particular. We work for the higher, though we are in the lower level. This is the unselfish intent behind spiritual modes of living. The universal is, therefore, not the totality of the particulars.

So to sum up, to mention in outline what we understand from these instructions of the Bhagavadgita, it may be said that the life spiritual is the highest of universals. Acharya Sankara says in his commentary on the Brahmasutra that there are infinite levels of universals. He calls them samanya. One samanya is above another samanya, so that the highest satta-samanya is to be reached, which is Brahman, the Absolute. The word satta-samanya also occurs in the Yoga Vasishtha. Our goal is to attain satta-samanya, the universality of existence, and not merely the limited universals which have a lesser field of operation. But we have to rise to the higher universals gradually by the fulfilment of the laws that operate in a particular field in which we find ourselves. This is called moderation, not going to excess. Trying to follow the law of a universal which is far above us, ignoring the laws of the lesser universals though they are above us, would be to court failure.

Moderation in understanding, moderation in conduct, moderation in activity means appreciation of the power of the universal that is immediately above us. It is, therefore, a character of humility. One should not be too anxious even in yoga because wisdom should go together with effort. Effort driven merely by enthusiasm does not always succeed. Many of the spiritual aspirants bubble with enthusiasm in the beginning, in their younger ages. They think that they can realise God in three days, but later on they find that even in three lives also it may be difficult. That knowledge comes much later when they realise the hardships involved and the various difficulties that come upon them or confront them because they lack knowledge. While enthusiasm and desire is there, knowledge is lacking. So emotion should go with understanding. Mere emotional drive, which is essential, no doubt, is not enough.

The yoga of perfection is the rousing of a consciousness within us which obeys the law of the universal immediately above. In the Mahabharata also, we have a verse to this effect. For the sake of the good of a family, an individual may have to be sacrificed. For the good of a community, a family may have to be sacrificed. For the good of a village, the whole community may have to be sacrificed. For the good of the whole world, the whole village, the whole country may have to be sacrificed. And for the sake of the Atman, the whole universe has to be sacrificed. This means to say, when we go to the higher universal, the lesser is to be abandoned. It goes automatically. When day dawns, night goes. We need not ask the night to go. It need not be pushed.

Humility born of a consciousness of one’s own limitations prevents the manifestation of selfishness in the individual. When combined with understanding, it takes us to the sattvic condition of pure unselfishness. Effort and grace go together. The work of the universal and the effort of the individual cannot be separated. They act like the obverse and the reverse of the same coin, sticking to each other inseparably. Human effort and divine intervention are two different names that we give to the two different ways in which one single force works. There is only one force that works everywhere. We call it grace when we look at it from one angle of vision; we call it effort when we see it from another standpoint. They are only differences in standpoint, not two different aspects of work. There is only one work, universally working.

Īśvaraḥ sarvabhūtānāṁ hṛddeśe’rjuna tiṣṭhati, bhrāmayan sarvabhūtāni yantrārūḍhāni māyayā (Gita 18.61). That also the Bhagavadgita says: God does everything. And at the same time it says, “Act. Don’t be inactive. Act rightly.” That is one instruction of the Gita. And it also says that God does everything. Mattaḥ parataraṁ nānyat kiñcid asti (Gita 7.7): Nothing outside Me exists, not even your effort.

So divine intervention and divine grace go together with human effort. They are only two names for one single activity; they are not two different activities. Yatra yogeśvaraḥ kṛṣṇo yatra pārtho dhanurdharaḥ, tatra śrīr vijayo bhūtir dhruvā nītir matir mama (Gita 18.78): “Where Krishna and Arjuna work together, God and man combine in a single unison of force. There  knowledge and action merge into a focus of spiritual effort, and success is certain,” said Sanjaya to Dhritarashtra.