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Deeper Insights On Action

Part 83 of the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

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We are in the final chapter of the Gita, so Vyasa, assuming that we have listened and learned the basic facts regarding action, now goes into the subject on a more detailed level, intending that when we have assimilated these teachings we will be ready to successfully engage in life’s actions like Arjuna.

Five factors of action

Learn from me these five factors for the accomplishment of all actions, declared in the Sankhya (18:13).

This is one of those verses wherein those that adhere to philosophies other than Sankhya put in words more to their liking such as “the scriptures” or “the wise.” But the word is Sankhya. Karana, which can be translated “factor,” also means an instrument or a cause. All three meanings apply in this verse. Now here are the five:

The body, the doer, the functions of various kinds, the various distinct activities, and the divine overseer as the fifth. Whatever action a man performs with his body, speech, or mind–either right or wrong–these are its five factors (18:14-15).

So every single action involves five elements. An analysis of them will reveal the extremely complex nature of any action, and how it can be that the simplest action can bind us with the bonds of karma.

  1. The adhishthanam, the seat or abode–of what? Of all the subtle bodies, including the mind and intellect, and ultimately the abode of the Self. This being so, far more than the physical body is involved here. Five bodies come into the picture, in fact.
  2. Karta, the Doer. Since we are consistently told by the Gita that the Paramatman and the jivatman never engage in action, it is the ego-sense that is the real doer.
  3. Karanam: Bodily “instruments” such as the hands, feet, etc., by which the body itself acts in relation to outside objects or situations.
  4. Vividhashcha prithakcheshta, the many actions or functions of the pranas within the physical and subtle bodies. Also anything that takes place internally.
  5. Daivim: In the Upanishads the devas are said to preside over the senses, even to control them. This idea has doubtless come about through considering the individual body as a reflection or model of the Cosmic Body in which the gods are the controlling powers. However that may be, Krishna (Vyasa) does not say devas, but daivim–that which is of the quality or capacity of the devas. Since “deva” literally means “shining one,” the idea of daivim in this verse is that which illumines the experiences of the body, in other words, the senses–both as instruments and as powers of perception.

No wonder we are bound up in the net of our actions–even the simplest and most innocent ones! There are no small or insignificant acts. Since every single deed involves a tremendous amount of instruments, it also produces effects on those instruments, which include our mind and heart. Is it any wonder, then, that Krishna has already said: “This divine illusion [maya] of mine made of the gunas [gunamayi] is difficult to go beyond” (7:14)?

The dream and the dreamer

This being so, he who sees himself as the actual doer does not really see, because he does not have a perfect (complete) understanding (18:16).

Akritabuddhhitvan means to have an incomplete, imperfect, or unperfected understanding. An important implication here is that the individual is capable of perfecting his understanding, and therefore he must. But until he does so, he will misunderstand himself and the world around him. For him, all his experiences and those involved in them are only a dream.

The dreamlike nature of the world is perceived the world over, though it is a doctrinal principle only in Sanatana Dharma–a revealing fact. Even poets such as Edgar Allan Poe (“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.”) and Shelley (“Lift not the painted veil which those who ‘live’ call ‘Life.’”) wrote about the dream-nature of the world.

As long as we are asleep and dreaming we cannot really see the truth about action. But we can listen to those who are awake and receive their understanding and act accordingly. Even more, the truly awake can show us the way to our own awakening, the way of yoga. It is only through meditation that our understanding can truly be perfected, for in their highest reaches understanding and intellect (buddhi) are purely consciousness. And only yoga works with consciousness. All other things, however beneficial, affect only the lesser parts of our being.

The purified consciousness

He whose state of mind is not egoistic, whose intellect is not tainted, even though he slays all these people, he does not slay, neither is he bound (by karmic consequences) (18:17).

He who transcends the condition of forming karmic bonds is one whose very state of being–bhava, consciousness, outlook, attitude, and interior disposition–is nahamkrito, not partaking of ego (ahankara) in any way. That is, he is established in the Self which is eternally free from ego. It is important to realize that he did not rid himself of ego; rather, he established himself in his true swabhava of the divine Atman that has never even been touched by ego. Having gone beyond the ego, he had no need to do anything in relation to it, for it was always only a shadow, only a false appearance.

The intelligence/intellect (buddhi) of such a person is na lipyate–not tainted. Lipyate means “befouled” or “besmeared.” But he is not even slightly touched by egoism. He no longer dreams that he acts as an entity separate from Brahman or that, separate from Brahman, he reaps the consequences of those acts. After his enlightenment, Buddha was walking down the road and met a Brahmin who asked him: “Who are you?” He simply answered: “I am awake,” and kept on walking. Krishna is speaking of one who, like Buddha, has awakened into the reality of the Self, leaving the mirage of ego far behind.

Having abandoned the realm of ego, or relative existence seemingly separate from Brahman, he neither acts nor is bound by action. He cannot be, any more than Brahman can. It is a matter of true nature.

The three inciters to action

We have been told about the five factors of all action. Now we are going to be told about the three things that move us to action–or to the dream of action–and the three things that carry out the motivation.

Knowledge, the known and the knower are the threefold impulse to action. The instrument, the action and the doer are the threefold constituents of action (18:18).

Perception, perceiving, and the perceiver–these three incite to action. It is all in the realm of objective consciousness. Perception impels us to action mostly from the impulse to avoid unpleasant experience and to gain pleasant experience. Perception is also internal, so there is also the avoidance of unpleasant feelings and the desire for pleasant feelings. It is very much the same with the objects of perception for which we have an attraction (raga) or aversion (dwesha). The perceiver meant here is not the ultimate perceiver, the Self, but the mind/intellect which also acts on the pleasure/pain, like/dislike, good/bad principles, and other dualities.

The three basics of action listed here are karanam, karma, and karta. Karanam is the instrument or means of action. This has been covered in detail in the previous section. Karma is the act itself, used here to mean doing–the expenditure of will and energy to accomplish something. Karta means the agent, or doer–again, in this instance meaning the whole body/mind/ego complex, and not the ultimate Self.

Just see what is involved in understanding karma. What then to say of Karma Yoga? No wonder that Swami Sivananda Hridayananda (“Doctor Mother”) told a group that came to see her at the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center in Chicago: “I have known only one real karma yogi: Swami Sivananda.”

No surprise to us who have come this far in the Gita!

Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: Knowledge, Action, Doer, and the Three Gunas

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Introduction to The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

Preface to The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

Bhagavad Gita for Awakening links:

  1. The Battlefield of the Mind
  2. On the Field of Dharma
  3. Taking Stock
  4. The Smile of Krishna
  5. Birth and Death–The Great Illusions
  6. Experiencing the Unreal
  7. The Unreal and the Real
  8. The Body and the Spirit
  9. Know the Atman!
  10. Practical Self-Knowledge
  11. Perspective on Birth and Death
  12. The Wonder of the Atman
  13. The Indestructible Self
  14. “Happy the Warrior”
  15. Buddhi Yoga
  16. Religiosity Versus Religion
  17. Perspective on Scriptures
  18. How Not To Act
  19. How To Act
  20. Right Perspective
  21. Wisdom About the Wise
  22. Wisdom About Both the Foolish and the Wise
  23. The Way of Peace
  24. Calming the Storm
  25. First Steps in Karma Yoga
  26. From the Beginning to the End
  27. The Real “Doers”
  28. Our Spiritual Marching Orders
  29. Freedom From Karma
  30. “Nature”
  31. Swadharma
  32. In the Grip of the Monster
  33. Devotee and Friend
  34. The Eternal Being
  35. The Path
  36. Caste and Karma
  37. Action–Divine and Human
  38. The Mystery of Action and Inaction
  39. The Wise in Action
  40. Sacrificial Offerings
  41. The Worship of Brahman
  42. Action–Renounced and Performed
  43. Freedom (Moksha)
  44. The Brahman-Knower
  45. The Goal of Karma Yoga
  46. Getting There
  47. The Yogi’s Retreat
  48. The Yogi’s Inner and Outer Life
  49. Union With Brahman
  50. The Yogi’s Future
  51. Success in Yoga
  52. The Net and Its Weaver
  53. Those Who Seek God
  54. Those Who Worship God and the Gods
  55. The Veil in the Mind
  56. The Big Picture
  57. The Sure Way To Realize God
  58. Day, Night, and the Two Paths
  59. The Supreme Knowledge
  60. Universal Being
  61. Maya–Its Dupes and Its Knowers
  62. Worshipping the One
  63. Going To God
  64. Wisdom and Knowing
  65. Going To The Source
  66. From Hearing To Seeing
  67. The Wisdom of Devotion
  68. Right Conduct
  69. The Field and Its Knower
  70. Interaction of Purusha and Prakriti
  71. Seeing the One Within the All
  72. The Three Gunas
  73. The Cosmic Tree
  74. Freedom
  75. The All-pervading Reality
  76. The Divine and the Demonic
  77. Faith and the Three Gunas
  78. Food and the Three Gunas
  79. Religion and the Three Gunas
  80. Tapasya and the Three Gunas
  81. Charity and the Three Gunas
  82. Sannyasa and Tyaga
  83. Deeper Insights On Action
  84. Knowledge, Action, Doer, and the Three Gunas
  85. The Three Gunas: Intellect and Firmness
  86. The Three Kinds of Happiness
  87. Freedom
  88. The Great Devotee
  89. The Final Words
  90. Glossary

Visit our e-library page for Free Downloads of this and other ebooks in various formats.

Read the Maharshi Gita, an arrangement of verses of the Bhagavad Gita made by Sri Ramana Maharshi that gives an overview of the essential message of the Gita.

Read The Bhagavad Gita (arranged in verses for singing) by Abbot George Burke (Swami Nirmalananda Giri).

Read about the meanings of unfamiliar terms in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary

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