“Having created mankind along with sacrifice, Prajapati [The Lord of Creation] anciently said: By this [sacrifice] may you bring forth; may this be the granter of your desires” (3:10).
Whose life is it, anyway?
Life is to be lived according to its purpose: the ultimate evolution/liberation of the individual. When life is lived in this way, every act is an offering to Spirit, both individual and Absolute. To live for the short-term goals of the ego, conditioned completely by our present status in just this one limited incarnation, is folly to the point of insanity. But we do just that, binding ourselves tighter and closer to the wheel of birth and death. Like Scrooge’s partner, Jacob Marley, we forge chains which we bear with us for untold ages.
“It is my life and I will do what I want” is the stupidest thing a human being can say, except, perhaps, for: “I don’t see the need for a God.” Both are expressions of an insular ignorance almost cosmic in scope. Every act must be begun and carried out within the perspective of our personal evolution. For our life is really an extension of the Divine Life–nothing else.
It was only logical, then, for Saint Paul to write: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 11:1, 2). That is, we must not live according to the seeming “reality” of the world, but rather transform ourselves by living in the context of sacrifice. For to do so will accomplish the divine plan (will). As Saint Paul also wrote: “This is the will of God, even your sanctification” (Thessalonians 4:3).
Much earlier Patanjali taught in the Yoga Sutras that Ishwarapranidhana–offering of the life to God–was the path to the superconscious experience of samadhi.
Why, then, did Brahma the Creator (Prajapati is one of his titles) tell the first humans that living in sacrifice (offering) would result in prosperity and fulfill desire? Because when we live in harmony with the divine plan the entire cosmos works in concert to accomplish our perfection–which includes the supplying of all we need to live both the earthly and the spiritual life. Those who live in this manner only desire that which furthers their enlightenment. Krishna also implies this elsewhere in the Bhagavad Gita.
It is noteworthy that this verse implies that we do not gain by grabbing but by giving, not by taking, but by offering–giving and offering to God, that is, and ultimately thereby to our true Self. It is not God that fulfills our desires, but our sacrifice-offering. No wonder Jesus said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). It is really a matter of karma. “Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days” (Ecclesiastes 11:1). “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7).
“By this [sacrifice] may you nourish the gods and may the gods nourish you; by nourishing each other, you shall attain the highest welfare” (3:11).
A more literal version is: “‘May you foster the gods by this, and may the gods then foster you; then, each the others fostering, you shall attain highest welfare.’”
Who are “the gods” (devas)? They are not to be confused with those of lesser (though powerful) evolution that, in the grip of ego, reward and punish those who please or displease them. Such deluded beings have been worshipped in various forms throughout the world.
The devas spoken of by Krishna are highly evolved beings that have control over physical and astral forces, and who supervise the operations of the universe. When human beings live in accordance with material laws they aid in the processes of creation and are blessed by the devas, for they help them in their work. Conversely, they hinder the devas when they break natural laws and despoil the world around them. Krishna is advocating both a material and a spiritual ecology.
But there is another, more personal aspect of the devas. The higher faculties of the human being are also devas, “shining ones,” for they enable the person to understand outer and inner phenomena and give him the capacity to direct or alter such phenomena. When we live in accordance with our true nature and do those things that support and further our evolutionary impulse we are “fostering the gods.” Our material nature becomes an assist to higher consciousness. It is only those who are violating nature, inner and outer, that complain of the human condition and this world as obstacles and even injurious.
Actually, the words “nourish” and “foster” are both very inadequate and unsatisfactory. The word bhavyata really cannot be translated by a single English term. Bhavyata means: “may you cherish,” “may you foster,” “may you produce,” and “may you increase the well-being of.” Literally, it means “may you cause to be.” The implication is that for the unaware and ignorant, neither the devas in the universe nor the inner faculties exist. A long time ago I heard a quotation I have never been able to track down: “If God is God, then let Him BE God!” The idea is that even God is only potentially God in our lives until we actively make Him God, the way a king is not really king until he is officially crowned. So if the gods are to exist outside and inside us in a meaningful way, we have to make them be gods by the practice of yoga. A part of the making is the cultivation of the capacity to perceive them. For this, meditation is essential.
The highest aspect of this is making our own selves into devas, into shining ones, by invoking the light of our eternal Self. Until then we do not exist in the fullest sense. We need to bring ourselves into being.
Fostering the gods
“‘The gods, nourished by the sacrifice, will indeed give you desired enjoyments; he who enjoys these gifts while not offering to them in return, is a thief” (3:12).
This, too, is a matter of cosmic and individual import. Those who live according to the Eternal Dharma find that they receive the fulfillment of all needs. Those who exploit both the world and their own bodies and minds are thieves that shall find themselves imprisoned by this world and by their own corrupted nature.
“The good, who eat the remainder of the sacrifice, are released from all evils; but the wicked, who cook only for their own sake, eat their own impurity” (3:13).
In India there is the concept of prasad (literally: grace), that which has been first offered to God and then partaken of by the devotee. It is believed that the essence of the offering has been received by God and replaced with divine energy which greatly purifies and uplifts whoever partakes of the prasad. Miracles, such as healing, have taken place at the consumption of prasad, and many notice a definite increase in spiritual awareness after eating prasad.
That there is a basis to this was demonstrated in an ashram in the Himalayan foothills. A resident rat, known as “Mother’s Bhakta,” would only eat prasad. This was tested many times by putting identical items where he could find them. Some would be prasad and others would be ordinary food. He never touched the regular items but ate only the prasad. This occurred for many years.
According to Patanjali, the path to higher consciousness, to samadhi-awareness of Eternal Being, is Ishwarapranidhana–the offering of the life to God. Our whole life should be prasad. First it should be offered (sincerely) to God and ordered accordingly. Then what we enjoy as “leftovers” will accrue to our spiritual benefit. Although the cooking of food is the example used in this verse, the principle applies to every aspect of life. Everything we do should have the prime motive of our spiritual perfection, our liberation.
If we can live in the attitude of our life being an offering it will profoundly affect us. For one thing, it will keep us from that which is unfit to offer God: unworthy or selfish deeds or the injury of others. Taking this idea seriously can transform our lives and deliver us from mishaps and follies.
To realize that we are not living “our” life but the Divine Life which has been bestowed on us is a foundation stone of intelligent living.
Food is much more than mere comestibles. The upanishads speak a great deal about food (annam) as a metaphysical concept. The Taittiriya Upanishad says: “From food are born all creatures, which live upon food and after death return to food. Food is the chief of all things. It is therefore said to be medicine for all diseases of the body. Those who worship food as Brahman gain all material objects. From food are born all beings which, being born, grow by food. All beings feed upon food, and, when they die, food feeds upon them” (Taittiriya Upanishad 2:1:3). Here we see that food represents the cosmic life principle: Brahman Itself. This really could not be otherwise, since Brahman is all that exists.
In the Gita, food is the life that is lived as prasad. So Krishna continues:
“Beings exist from food, food is brought into being by rain, rain from sacrifice, and sacrifice is brought into being by action. Know that action originates in Brahman and Brahman arises from the Imperishable; therefore the all-pervading Brahman is eternally established in sacrifice” (3:14, 15).
This second part (verse fifteen) rightly seems a bit confusing. Brahman is the Absolute, the Self-Existent, yet we are told that Brahman arises from the Imperishable. Are not they the same thing? Yes, in the ultimate sense. But Krishna is speaking of the distinction between Divinity that is present (immanent) in creation and guiding creation and our evolution within it, and Divinity that is transcendent, completely “outside” relativity. It is the same Divinity, but two aspects of that One. In the teachings of Jesus these two aspects are called “Father” and “Son.” In the later spiritual writings of India they are called Brahman and the Mahat Tattwa. But when Vyasa wrote the Gita a single word, Brahman, was used for both.
The teaching of this verse is that the consciousness, the seed of divine realization, is inherent in a life lived as an offering to the Supreme.
Before Krishna tells us about the life-path of the wise, he disposes of the foolish in a single short verse:
“He who does not, here on earth, turn the wheel thus set in motion, lives injuriously, delighting in the senses, and in vain” (3:16).
Basically, the idea is that those who live for their personal gratification, with no wider interest or perspective, and who are oriented toward the body and its addictions (falsely called “needs” by the body-involved), injure both themselves and others, and really live to no real purpose, for death in a moment sweeps away everything they value, leaving them only with their addictions to dominate them in future lives. A horrible prospect, indeed. They are truly the living dead.
As Krishna said in the last chapter: “When the mind runs after the wandering senses, then it carries away one’s understanding, as the wind carries away a ship on the waters. Therefore the wisdom of him whose senses are withdrawn from the objects of the senses stands firm. The man of restraint is awake in that which is night for all beings; the time in which all beings are awake is night for the sage who sees” (2:67-69).
“He whose delight is only in the Self, whose satisfaction is in the Self, and who is content only in the Self; for him the need to act does not exist. He has no purpose at all in action or in non-action, and he has no need of any [relative] being for any purpose whatsoever” (3:17, 18).
When our consciousness is centered in the Self we are out of the game and home free. As Sri Ramakrishna frequently said, using the game of hide-and-seek as a metaphor: “If you play hide and seek there is no fear once you touch the ‘granny.’” And: “If you can but touch the ‘granny,’ you can live anywhere after you have turned into gold.”
In atmic consciousness we become free from all compulsion to act–and equally free from any compulsion to inaction. We are truly free, able to act or not act, having transcended that duality by becoming its masters, not by becoming incapacitated in relation to them. Further, we are absolutely free and independent of all others, living in unity with our Self within Brahman.
Lest we fall into inertia, considering it a virtue, Krishna continues:
“Therefore, constantly unattached, perform that action which is your duty. Indeed, by performing action while unattached, man attains the Supreme. Perfection was attained by kings like Janaka through action alone. For the mere maintenance of the world, you should act” (3:19, 20)
Janaka was a royal saint mentioned in the Upanishads. He lived unattached, acting solely for the welfare of others, as must we. This lofty motivation is now expounded by Krishna.
“Whatever the greatest man does, thus do the rest; whatever standard he sets, the world follows that. For Me there is nothing whatever to be done in the three worlds, nor is there anything not attained to be attained. Nevertheless I engage in action. Indeed, if I, unwearied, should not engage in action at all, mankind would follow My path everywhere. If I did not perform action, these worlds would perish and I would be the cause of confusion; I would destroy these creatures. While those who are unwise act from attachment to action, so the wise should act without attachment, intending to maintain the welfare of the world” (3:20-25).
Here Krishna speaks from the perspective of God, not just as an enlightened person, though he was the major leader of society at that time.
What is there really to comment on all this? The meaning is very clear, as is most of the Gita. To be honest, there is virtually no need at all for any commentary on the Gita in the sense of explanation or clarification. What is valuable are practical reflections or meditations on the profound truths to be found in this miraculous book.
Showing the way
Now we come to a supreme counsel:
“One should not unsettle the minds of the ignorant who are attached to action; the wise one should cause them to enjoy all [dharmic] actions, while himself performing actions in a disciplined manner” (3:26).
Movement (action) is life, whereas cessation of all movement is death. So it is natural for human beings to engage in action. The trouble is in the motive. So Krishna tells us that the wise must also work–often even more than others–to show how action should be carried on. Here, too, we see that the inner disposition is the secret. To engage in action intent only on the action itself or on the desired result is ignorance. Action done with the consciousness directed toward God as the ultimate “result” is wisdom. Action is then the path to freedom rather than the way of bondage.
Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: The Real “Doers”
Bhagavad Gita for Awakening links:
- The Battlefield of the Mind
- On the Field of Dharma
- Taking Stock
- The Smile of Krishna
- Birth and Death–The Great Illusions
- Experiencing the Unreal
- The Unreal and the Real
- The Body and the Spirit
- Know the Atman!
- Practical Self-Knowledge
- Perspective on Birth and Death
- The Wonder of the Atman
- The Indestructible Self
- “Happy the Warrior”
- Buddhi Yoga
- Religiosity Versus Religion
- Perspective on Scriptures
- How Not To Act
- How To Act
- Right Perspective
- Wisdom About the Wise
- Wisdom About Both the Foolish and the Wise
- The Way of Peace
- Calming the Storm
- First Steps in Karma Yoga
- From the Beginning to the End
- The Real “Doers”
- Our Spiritual Marching Orders
- Freedom From Karma
- In the Grip of the Monster
- Devotee and Friend
- The Eternal Being
- The Path
- Caste and Karma
- Action–Divine and Human
- The Mystery of Action and Inaction
- The Wise in Action
- Sacrificial Offerings
- The Worship of Brahman
- Action–Renounced and Performed
- Freedom (Moksha)
- The Brahman-Knower
- The Goal of Karma Yoga
- Getting There
- The Yogi’s Retreat
- The Yogi’s Inner and Outer Life
- Union With Brahman
- The Yogi’s Future
- Success in Yoga
- The Net and Its Weaver
- Those Who Seek God
- Those Who Worship God and the Gods
- The Veil in the Mind
- The Big Picture
- The Sure Way To Realize God
- Day, Night, and the Two Paths
- The Supreme Knowledge
- Universal Being
- Maya–Its Dupes and Its Knowers
- Worshipping the One
- Going To God
- Wisdom and Knowing
- Going To The Source
- From Hearing To Seeing
- The Wisdom of Devotion
- Right Conduct
- The Field and Its Knower
- Interaction of Purusha and Prakriti
- Seeing the One Within the All
- The Three Gunas
- The Cosmic Tree
- The All-pervading Reality
- The Divine and the Demonic
- Faith and the Three Gunas
- Food and the Three Gunas
- Religion and the Three Gunas
- Tapasya and the Three Gunas
- Charity and the Three Gunas
- Sannyasa and Tyaga
- Deeper Insights On Action
- Knowledge, Action, Doer, and the Three Gunas
- The Three Gunas: Intellect and Firmness
- The Three Kinds of Happiness
- The Great Devotee
- The Final Words
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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