Do you remember the television ad that asked: “Why trade a headache for an upset stomach?”? Many people trade fear of sin and hell for fear of bad karma and bad karmic consequences. That is a perfect example of Jesus’ statement that “no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved” (Luke 5:37, 38).
It is pointless to adopt new ideas while retaining the old attitudes that were consistent with or shaped by the old rejected ideas. The resulting inconsistency will have a negative, even a disruptive, effect. As Jesus said before the passage just cited: “No man putteth a piece of a new garment upon an old; if otherwise, then both the new maketh a rent, and the piece that was taken out of the new agreeth not with the old” (Luke 5:36). Putting a new top layer over the old leads to the ruin of both.
This is why the majority of Westerners who think they have adopted Hinduism or Buddhism have really only created their personal simulations of those religions. For they have only changed or rearranged their intellectual furniture; everything else remains the same. In fact, under pressure the old ideas emerge as entrenched as ever. For example, those who for years have professed belief in karma immediately wail: “Why did this happen to me?” when something unpleasant occurs. After 9/11 a multitude of American book-Hindus began demanding why it took place, many of them suggesting far-fetched reasons; but not one of them said the k-word.
As Sri Ramakrishna observed, you can teach a parrot to call out: “Radha-Krishna! Radha-Krishna!” but when you pull its tail it only squawks. It is a simple matter to jump from Western religion to Eastern religion, but to really become a Hindu or a Buddhist is a matter of profound transformation, having little to do with mere ideas.
Once in a conversation with Swami Maheshananda Giri, one of the leading sadhus and yogis of Northern India, I asked him: “Have you ever met a Westerner who really understood Sanatana Dharma?” “No,” he answered, “and neither have I met an Indian who understood Western religion and philosophy. For to do so, both would have to completely tear down their present ideas and build anew from the ground up.” Since Swamiji had held the chair of Sanskrit and Indology for many years at Harvard, I knew he had a basis for his opinion. There must be a complete sweeping away before a new structure can be erected in the mind (buddhi) of the prospective seeker. This had been my own experience when like a thunderclap all I thought I “knew” was wiped out in a moment, and real life and understanding began for me.
That is what I have to say: now we should listen to what Krishna tells us about freedom from karma, not forgetting that good karma is as binding as bad karma.
Those who constantly follow this teaching of mine, full of faith, not opposing it, they are released from the bondage of their actions (3:31).
Karma need not be worked out or worked through. As Krishna says later on: “He has consumed his karma in the fire of knowledge” (4:19).
This is one of the most important verses in the Gita, for it tells us how to attain moksha (liberation) in the simplest possible way. (I said, simple; not easy.) There are some words that deserve contemplation. Shraddhavanto means “believing” and “full of faith.” Anasuyantas means quite a few things: “not sneering,” “not spiteful [in the sense of being annoyed at having been told the truth],” “not caviling,” “not grumbling [complaining],” and “not speaking ill of [what has been taught].” In short: “whiners never win.”
If the Gita is diligently studied daily by the serious sadhaka and followed with faith and without any reservation or compromise whatsoever, he will be “released from the bondage of actions.” A knowledge of the Gita and a living out of its precepts are a guarantee of liberation. Nothing more is needed. It may seem too simple, but why not try it out?
On the other hand…
But those opposing and not practicing my teaching, confusing all knowledge, know them to be lost and mindless (3:32).
There is not much need to comment on this verse. Those who in their ignorance disregard or even despise the principles set forth in the Gita are hopeless. Everything they think they know is an illusion. Life itself proves the truth of this. When I hear someone say: “I have never been impressed with or interested in Indian philosophy or religion,” there is no need for me to mentally cross them off the list: they are not even there.
Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: “Nature”