A Study of the Bhagavadgita
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 14: Our Involvement in the Whole Creation

The Eighteenth Chapter commences with a question in regard to the nature of action, which is a theme that predominates throughout the Gita. "Action binds, and action is unpleasant," is the usual notion that people have regarding any kind of action. Nothing that you call an activity is pleasant and happy in its nature. It binds a person in various ways by anxieties of different types. But the Gita also says that action is a must.

What is it that binds, and what is it that is a must? Questions similar to this were raised by Arjuna at the beginning of this chapter, to which brief answers are given in various ways by Bhagavan Sri Krishna. Tyājyaṁ doṣavad ity eke karma prāhur manīṣiṇaḥ, yaj–adānatapaḥkarma na tyājyam iti cāpare (Gita 18.3). There are people who feel that abandonment of action is not permissible, inasmuch as action is a manifestation of the very structure of the human personality.

The insufficiencies involved in the very makeup of individuality are the reason why nobody can get beyond the impulsion to act. You are limited in a hundred ways – perhaps in every way. Action is an attempt to overcome the consequences of the limitations of personality. If you feel no limitation – you are self-contained, self-sufficient, self-existent – then you need nothing at all from outside. If that were the case, you would not lift a finger; you would not budge an inch. But you feel that there is inadequacy from all sides in the total personality of yours – physically, mentally, socially, in every blessed way. So to make good this defect or deficiency that you are experiencing every day, you do a kind of plastering, as it were, as you plaster a wall that is likely to fall down. You take your meal, you drink water, you take rest, you do this, you do that, but however much you may try to maintain this finitude of personality through efforts of different kinds, you find the next day you are in the same condition. It does not mean that today you have fulfilled all the conditions necessary for overcoming the limitations of personality, and tomorrow you are blessed. Tomorrow you shall be as hungry and fatigued as you are today. You are the same person. This shows that while action is a necessary evil, as it were, which you have to resort to for the sake of getting on and surviving in this world, it is not a cure for the malady of personality defects.

The answer is yaj–adānatapaḥkarma na tyājyam: Action is incumbent upon human individuality as long as individuality continues, and its need diminishes gradually as the individuality also diminishes correspondingly. When your self expands, the consciousness increases in its dimension in the direction of universality. The individuality also withers away gradually, proportionately. This verse that I quoted is a pithy admonition on the obligation of every person to engage in certain performances, and they are mentioned as three important items – yaj–adānatapaḥkarma na tyājyam iti cāpare. Wise people tell us that yajna, dana and tapas are not to be given up, inasmuch as we are connected with our involvements in this world. Yajna is sacrifice, dana is charity, tapas is austerity. These are obligatory, and every day you must be engaged in the performance of these three noble acts which correspond to the transcendent divinities that subject us to their operations, to people outside with whom we are concerned, and to our own self, this psychophysical individuality.

Our life is constituted of basically three involvements: involvement in the transcendent divinities that invisibly control us, involvement in human society with whom we have daily contact, and involvement in the vestures of our personality – the five koshas or sheaths of personality called Annamaya, Pranamaya, Manomaya, Vijnanamaya and Anandamaya. You have to take care of your obligation to the gods in heaven, you have to take care of your relation to society, and you have also to take care of yourself.

Or, to put it more plainly, it is a threefold duty involved in your being an adhyatma and adhibhuta and adhidaiva at the same time. You are connected to the adhidaiva principle, and you are connected to the adhyatma and the adhibhuta every minute of your life. Since you are what you are and you cannot be anything other than what you are, you are adhyatma, the individual psychophysical person, to which aspect you owe an obligation. You have to take care of it, protect it, nurture it, educate it, and enable it to move forward in the direction of the enlargement of its dimension.

This is done by austerity, tapas. If you indulge in objects of sense through the organs of external operations, you will be depleting your energy every day. Therefore, self-control is required of every person. You have to eat, you have to keep yourself fit physically, mentally and socially, but you cannot indulge overmuch in any of these acts that are otherwise regarded as necessary. You must eat for the sake of survival, not for the sake of enjoyment of the taste, says the Upanishad. Aushadham: as a medicine you have to take food, because if you do not take a proportion or quantum of diet which is suitable, the body will vanish into thin air. You will not even survive. Eating is for the sake of living, and living is not for the sake of eating. We do not live to eat, but we eat to live. So to the extent that it is necessary for you to live, to that extent you have to give the necessities or requirements to the body, the mind and the emotions. If you give more, you are indulging. That is called enjoyment.

The Smritis, such as the Manusmriti, are very specific in this instruction that we should not live in this world for the sake of enjoyment of objects of the senses. The universe, the field of activity in this world, is also a field of education. When you go to a school or college, you go there for a certain discipline for improvement of personality, and not for eating or enjoyment. Education is not an enjoyment; it is a discipline. Discipline looks like something totally different from enjoyment. You go home after school or college and then entertain yourselves with any kind of delicacy which you cannot get in the educational institution. But you know very well how important education is. Discipline is also a kind of necessity, and necessity cannot be other than what is a joy for you in the long run.

So nobody can escape from the duty of performing tapas or austerity. Every person, especially a spiritual seeker – or anyone, for the matter of that – who wants anything in this world, spiritual or otherwise, should be an austere person. Indulgence is contrary to the welfare of beings – not only your personal being, but also the being of other people around you. You harm yourself by being indulgent and, in a way, you harm other people also by your indulgence in the sense that you deprive other people of their requirements. So there is a double error involved in sense indulgence – harm to one's own self and harm to society outside. Exploitation of people and ruin of one's own personality are involved in every kind of sense enjoyment. Therefore, you have to give the body, the mind, the feelings and emotions only as much as it is necessary for survival.

Now, what kind of survival? It is not somehow or other getting on, just keeping the prana alive. You must be robust in health, very vigorous in your personality, healthy and capable of utilising this body and mind for the purpose for which it has been given to you, which is advancement in the pursuit of the Universal Spirit. So you have to be very cautious in the performance of austerities, tapas. Do not go to extremes. Over-indulgence is as bad as over-austere torture of either the feelings or the body. Neither should you torture the mind and the body, nor should you indulge them. Madhyama marga is the middle path, the path of harmony, samatvam. Samatvaṁ yoga ucyate (Gita 2.48). Yoga is the harmony of attitude in all respects, including your attitude towards the body, mind and spirit. Neither give it too much, nor starve it. This is the austerity that is involved. You have a duty towards it. Every day you have to be engaged in this austerity because every day you have to be with yourself. Tapas is defined in this manner.

Dana is charitable nature, which is your goodwill towards others. Now, "Love thy neighbour as thyself" is an old saying, and it may be regarded as the highest dictum that is available to us for living a good life – the idea behind it being that you have to consider other people as important as you yourself are. We are mostly selfish people; almost everybody has some element of selfishness which somehow or other appears and works out a means of establishing its superiority over others. Logically you don't argue like this – you never say you are superior to other people – but basically there is a survival instinct in every person at the cost of anybody else. While you have to survive, it is good that others should also survive. In what way are you more important than others? All living beings are limbs of the same cosmic personality; therefore, a consideration that you bestow for the welfare of others is supposed to be equivalent to the consideration that you bestow on your own self. Charity is this much: a well-being that you extend to other living beings who are as good and as aspiring, as meaningful, as your own self. This is called charity, dana. Every day this has to be performed. Your goodwill for people is not only for today; it is for all time and every day, as long as you are alive in this world. So, you should adopt austerity for your own benefit so that you may not be overindulgent or over-starving, and also good will, a charitable nature, and a loveable attitude towards society; this is dana.

You have a duty, therefore, to yourself and to society; but there is another duty which you may miss in your overenthusiasm in regard to people outside and your own self – namely, divinities that are superintending over you, the invisible gods, adhidaivas. They control even your breathing process. The very vitals of your personality are operating on account of the working of these divinities. Suryanarayana is the Sun god about whom we complain so much, and whom we do not consider as anything at all in our daily life: "Sunrise and sunset – let him do his work; in what way are we concerned with it? He is drudging through the skies." But we cannot exist for three days if solar energy does not sustain and energise us.

The rise of the Sun in the east is actually the propulsion for activity of the prana. The Upanishad says, look at the rising Sun as the prana of your own being. Throughout the diurnal sojourn of this great master of light and energy in the skies, whom you consider as a distant orb, you are involved vitally. The eyes operate due to the Sun. The ears operate due to the Dig-Devatas; the nose operates due to the Ashwini Kumaras; the skin operates due to the wind or the air principle, and the taste buds operate on account of Varuna-Devata. The mind operates because of the Moon, the intellect because of Brahma, the ego principle is in Rudra, the chitta or the memory is in Vishnu, the hands due to Indra, and the legs due to Vishnu, again. Like that, every part of your body is operated by some divinity, though you are under the wrong notion that you are seeing, you are hearing, you are touching, you are tasting, you are swallowing, and you are grasping. Nothing of the kind! All the ten senses – five senses of knowledge, five organs of action – mind, intellect, ego and the subconscious memory, all these are external manifestations of an internal activity invisibly taking place on account of the working of the divinities above.

Every day you have to offer prayers. There are some who do sandhyavandana, the worship of the gods who are manifest in the forms of this nature. Early morn is a divinity, the rise of the Sun is a divinity, space, time, cause, and all the things that you see, even plants and trees are manifestations of these divinities. The whole world is filled with life; there is nothing called dead matter anywhere, and life emanates from the Universal Prana, Sutra-Atma or Hiranyagarbha, to which you have to offer your prayers. Every early morning when you get up from bed, your prayers should be to these sustaining divinities. From all ten directions they pour grace upon you.

Yajna is sacrifice to the gods. This sacrifice can be performed as an external act of offering into the sacred fire. As symbolic of your feeling you chant some mantras, prayers, etc. But prayer need not be in the form of material offering. Prayer is a surrender of the spirit to the Universal Spirit, to the God of creation, to the spirit manifested as humanity, to nature as a whole. Nothing equals prayer. The greatest sadhana is prayer. While prayer can manifest itself as actual worship in temples or altars in your house or in the form the holy fire of yagna, homa, etc., sacrifice can be in the form of the chanting of the Divine Name – nama japa. Yaj–ānāṁ japayaj–osmi (Gita 10.25), says the Lord: Of all sacrifices, recitation of the Divine Name, called japa, is to be considered as the best of sacrifices because it does not involve harm to any creature, or any expenditure on your side; it is just a mental act, an act of feeling. So while it is not essential and is mostly not necessary to go on performing yajna in the form of material offerings like ghee, charu, etc., it is permitted in the case where you feel it is an essential. Your heart is what is needed.

When you wake up in the morning, sit for a few minutes at least and be conscious of the great divinities that are inundating you, pouring themselves upon you like the sunlight pours on everything without expecting any recompense. Great God is kind enough to give us free sunlight, free air to breathe, free water to drink, and we have to be grateful. Namaste Vayo and all the shanti mantras are procedures adopted for carrying on this prayerful attitude in our daily life. Pray to every god. What is this 'every god'? This is the Universal Spirit operating through every little manifestation, even through a leaf in the tree. You cannot keep your foot on the ground unless you beg pardon from Mother Earth that you are treading upon her. Vishnu patnim namastubhyam, padasparsa ksamasva me. You should chant this prayer. "O Goddess of Divinity, please pardon my keeping my foot on you." The Earth is full of life; it is divinity itself, and you cannot touch anything without actually touching God in some manifestation, in some manner.

Yaj–adānatapaḥkarma na tyājyam iti cāpare: Sacrifice in the form of obligation to the divinities, charitable feeling towards people in society, and austerity on your behalf – these are incumbent on your part. Nobody can be free from this kind of work.

There are verses in the Eighteenth Chapter which go into great details of the distinction made among sattvic feeling, rajasic feeling and tamasic feeling. When you perform yajna, offer your prayers, or do charity or austerity, you may be sattvic, rajastic or tamasic, as the case may be. You can do a good thing in a bad way, in a grudging, reluctant manner, with no mind associated with it. You may do your prayer by chanting like a machine while your feelings are somewhere else, such as in your problems or practical family life. That is rajasic. Or you may be slothful or sleepy and go on imagining that you are doing some prayer. That is tamasic prayer. And you may ruin your personality by not understanding the minimum of the proportions with which you have to do your tapas, etc. We need not go into all these details just now. I am just mentioning even these good things of yajna, dana, tapas are of three categories – sattvic, rajasic and tamasic.

All actions, whatever they be, should not be regarded as performed by you independently. That you are not the sole agent of any action is another thing that is emphasised in some other verse of the Eighteenth Chapter. Adhiṣṭhānaṁ tathā kartā karaṇaṁ ca pṛthagvidham, vividhāś ca pṛthakceṣṭā daivaṁ caivātra pa–camam (Gita 18.14). Five ingredients are involved in the execution of any deed. When you walk, when you eat, when you go to the marketplace, you do not think that five things are involved. You are only the person concerned. "I am going to the marketplace to purchase some vegetables." This is what you feel and say. But that is not true. You cannot take one step in any direction unless five cooperative factors function at the same time. The physical body should be fit, first of all, for the requisite action. If you are a soldier, a clerk, an officer, a labourer, whatever you are may depend much upon the condition of your physical body. So one factor that conditions the nature of your action is the circumstances of the physical body. How is the body? Is it fit for some particular type of work, and not others? Everybody cannot be everything. So one factor that limits the operation of your action is the condition of your body, or the adhiṣṭhāna.

The second factor is karta, or the consciousness of the extent of agency involved in action – to what extent you feel that you are actually doing this work of your own accord, and not under pressure from somebody. You may be driven to do some deed due to circumstances. Then in that case, you are not the sole agent of an action, though you are doing it independently. If you are carrying bricks or stones on your head, or digging, you may be thinking you are doing it independently, but there is a compulsion from social conditions and other factors which makes you undertake that kind of work. So the extent of agency in the performance of a particular action is also to be considered in relation to its involvement, etc. Hence, the body is one thing, and the nature of the feeling of agency is another thing, which is called karta.

Karaṇaṁ ca pṛthagvidham: There are also instruments of action. For instance, you may be digging, but your instruments are blunt, not working properly, or the nib of your fountain pen is broken, so you cannot write well, or the apparatus that you use in a scientific laboratory is defective; these are various ways in which your instrument of action may not be suitable for the purpose, and this conditions the result of your action. So the instruments of action are the third factor.

Vividhāś ca pṛthakceṣṭā: The motive behind action is the fourth factor. The intention with which you are doing a thing is very important, though the intentions are not always very clear to your mind. You have a muddled idea of even the purpose for which you do some work. You drudge in an office, in a bank or a factory. Why are you working? The logical answer cannot come immediately. "I have to work because I have to live," a person will say. "I have to take care of my family." That is all; the matter ends there, and he does not have to pursue this question further. "Why do you want to live and take care of your family?" This question will not arise. You have a minimal understanding connected with the near future, without any thought or foresight, and the motive behind the action itself is not always clear before your mental perception. The way in which you work will also depend upon why you are working. You know very well how they are interconnected.

I have mentioned four things: the body, the agency, the instrument of action, and the motivation behind the action. There is a final thing: daivaṁ caivātra pa–camam, the will of the Supreme God. The Absolute wills that something has to be done in this way, and it will be done only in that way. It cannot be done in any other manner. And its will manifests itself through the divinities. The eyes and ears, etc., will not cooperate if the will is not there. The central will of the cosmos decides even the movement of a sparrow, or the waving of a little leaf on a tree by the wind. Not a leaf will fall on your head unless the Central Will operates.

Now, here is a great question before you: Who is doing anything? Who are the doers of deeds? If these five factors, especially the last one mentioned, are determining all your deeds, it means all action is done by the universe. The whole universe is acting when you seem to be lifting your finger. The cosmos is active. A little movement of a single atom somewhere in the bowels of the earth is known to the distant sky, and the cosmic rays react in other ways. There is no secret action in this world. Every action is public.

The Gita is again specific in this matter to remove from your mind the idea of personality involved in action, as if you are doing things. Why are you going on saying you are doing things and getting bound, when the whole world is acting? Nobody else can act, as the whole body is acting when even the feet are moving. When the food is digested because you are eating, the whole body is active – the entire alimentary canal, the respiratory system, everything is active. So who does the action? The entire creation is acting, and no one has the right to feel that he or she is acting.

Tatraivaṁ sati kartāram ātmānaṁ kevalaṁ tu yaḥ, paśyaty akṛtabuddhitvān na sa paśyati durmatiḥ (Gita 18.16). Idiotic is that person, a fool is that individual who imagines that their individuality is responsible for everything: "I have done everything. I have purchased so much land. I have built this house. This is my family. I have so much money." Why are you boasting? You have nothing with you. Nothing will remain with you, even for a second. Everything will desert you and run away if the will from the Supreme Being does not operate.

Sarvaṁ tam parādād yo'nyatrātmano sarvaṁ veda (Brihad. 2.4.6) is a great proclamation from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. As the great sage Yajnavalkya says, everything will leave you if you consider yourself as an isolated individual. The whole Gita and the Upanishads are busy telling you one thing only: that you are organically, livingly, vitally involved in the whole of creation. Your body is a part of the physical universe. The sense organs are controlled by the divinities. The prana is a part of the cosmic prana; the mind is a part of the cosmic mind; the intellect is a part of the cosmic intellect; Brahma Hiranyagarbha, your causal sheath, is a part of Ishvara; your Atman is Brahman. Therefore, as an individual you do not exist.

You say this is a building. This building is nothing but a conglomeration of various materials – brick, iron, cement, lime, etc. If each item that constitutes this structure is withdrawn, you will find that there is no building at all. "I have a house," you say. You have a house, which is simply a name you have given to a shape taken by various ingredients such as iron, cement, brick, etc. "I am here. I am coming. I am doing this." When you say this, you do not understand what you are actually blabbering. If the materials which constitute your personality are withdrawn, let us see where you stand. Let the gods withdraw themselves. Let the bricks of this physical body go to the physical universe – the mind goes to the original source, etc. You will vanish in one second. The individuality will not be there.

Therefore, what does the Gita tell you? Your knowledge, called sankhya, should be so perfect that you should never for a moment forget your universal fourfold involvement, which is basically involvement in your own five sheaths, involvement in human society and living beings outside, involvement in nature which is manifest as the visible world, and involvement in God Almighty Himself. Keep in mind that you are a bundle of involvements; you are not an indivisible, solid, isolated entity. Do not say, "I am doing, I am doing." Let this egoism go, let the ahamkara be surrendered, and let Reality take possession of you.