Krishna has more to say about materially oriented scriptures and religion (though he just mentions the Vedas):
“The Vedas are such that their scope is confined to the three gunas; be free from those three gunas, indifferent toward the pairs of opposites, permanently fixed in reality, free from thoughts of acquisition and possessiveness, and possessed of the Self. As much value as there is in a well when water is flooding on every side, so much is the value in all the Vedas for a brahmin who knows” (2:45, 46).
Again, by “the Vedas” Krishna means the ritualistic portion of the Vedas, the karma-kanda in contrast to the upanishads, the jnana-kanda, which embody the highest spiritual wisdom and vision ever set down by human beings. They are really two opposing poles, one external and material, the other internal and spiritual. The karma-kanda insists that ritual is the only way to spiritual attainment; the upanishads affirm exactly the opposite.
Krishna, continuing the theme of the previous verses, insists that however sacred the karma-kanda may claim its rituals to be, they really deal with nothing more than Prakriti, material nature, involvement with which produces only ignorance and bondage culminating in rebirth.
According to Sankhya philosophy, material energy behaves in three modes, or gunas (qualities). We will be considering them at length in chapter fourteen, which is entitled “The Yoga of Distinction Between the Three Gunas.” For now we need only think of them as three forms of material consciousness. Whereas the karma-kanda does nothing more than entangle its adherents in the three gunas, Krishna tells Arjuna that he must overcome the three gunas, that materiality must be transcended by entry into consciousness of the Self (Atman). But it is no easy matter, to be free from the bonds of matter. Rather, the gunas must be overcome. This entails a struggle, and not an easy one, either, for Krishna later says to him: “Maya, made up of the three gunas, is difficult to go beyond” (7:14).
The pairs of opposites
The dwandwas, the pairs of opposites, are also material phenomena, such as pleasure and pain, hot and cold, light and darkness, gain and loss, victory and defeat, love and hatred. Usually people think that the ideal is to eliminate one of the pairs and cultivate the other. This is the common attitude of religion throughout the world: seek the “good” and avoid the “bad.” But the sages of India discerned that real wisdom is to be established in the state in which the pairs of opposites cannot affect us. We neither seek one nor shun the other, but see them for the momentary appearances they really are, only mirages cast by our own mind.
The word nirdwandwas means “untouched by–indifferent to–the pairs of opposites,” and also “without the pair of opposites.” At first we are indifferent to them when they insinuate themselves into our experience. But in time we are simply without them–they will have ceased to even exist for us. Then we will not need to endure them: they will have vanished like the dream they are.
“Permanently fixed in reality.” A simple sentence, but a profound concept. Later in this chapter it is elucidated by Krishna saying:
“With the elimination of attraction and aversion, even though moving among the objects of the senses, he who is controlled by the Self, by self-restraint, attains tranquility. In tranquility the cessation of all sorrows is born for him. Indeed, for the tranquil-minded the intellect [buddhi] at once becomes steady” (2:64, 65).
This truth is illustrated by an incident from the life of Yogiraj Shyama Charan Lahiri Mahasaya. He continually expounded the idea that the goal of yoga is to be established in sthirattwa, in perfect tranquility.
“A group of spiritual leaders from Calcutta once conspired against Lahiri Mahasay. They invited him to join in an evening discussion on spiritual matters. Lahiri Mahasay accepted the invitation and accordingly attended the meeting.
“The conspirators had well prepared themselves to trap Lahiri Mahasay. For example, if Lahiri Mahasaya were to express his preference for a particular deity, or ishta devata, then a particular leader would find exception to that choice.
“In fact, each member of the group selected a particular devata (deity) such as Lord Vishnu, Lord Krishna, Lord Siva, the Goddess Kali and prepared to debate and challenge Lahiri Mahasaya choice.
“As soon as Lahiri Mahasay arrived, he was received in the traditional manner and shown proper courtesy. After a while one of the members of the group asked Lahiri Mahasay, ‘Upon which deity do you meditate?’
“Lahiri Mahasay looked at him but did not reply. Then another gentleman asked him, ‘Who is your ishta devata?”’ Lahiri Mahasay turned his head towards him and looked at him in the same way, while keeping his peace.
“Finally, a third gentleman asked him, ‘Can you tell us upon which deity usually you meditate?’
“Lahiri Mahasay faced him and said very gently, ‘I meditate on sthirattva (tranquility).’
“The gentleman replied that he did not understand what was meant by this. Lahiri Mahasay continued to observe silence. After some time, another gentleman asked him, ‘Could you please explain this? I do not understand exactly what you are saying.’
“Lahiri Mahasay, as before, continued to maintain silence. Another gentleman asked, ‘Can you enlighten me as to what you mean by that? I do not understand at all!’ Lahiri Baba told him, ‘You will not be able to understand, and also I will not be able to make you understand (realize) through words.’
“The group was at a loss. All of their preparation and conniving had come to naught. Only silence prevailed. All kept silent.
“After a long time Lahiri Mahasay got up and silently prepared to leave the meeting. All showed him the traditional courtesy as he left.”
Here we see how to fulfill Krishna’s counsel: “Be…permanently fixed in reality.”
Next he uttered another simple phrase: “Free from thoughts of acquisition and possessiveness.” Swami Swarupananda renders it: “[Be] free from [the thought of] getting and keeping.” Frankly, this is such a high ideal it is virtually impossible to comment on, except to say that it refers to intangibles as well as tangibles. To transcend the impulse to acquire or keep is itself liberation, for only a liberated consciousness is capable of such a condition (or non-condition). Practically speaking, the best policy is to immerse ourselves in sadhana that leads to liberation. Then we will attain the state Krishna has set forth to us.
“As much value as there is in a well when water is flooding on every side, so much is the value in all the Vedas for a brahmin who knows [vijanatas can also mean “who is wise”]” (2:46)
As said the Vedas consist of both the karma-kanda, ritualistic expositions, and the jnana-kanda, expositions of the knowledge of the Self ( just as other scriptures contain teachings regarding purely external life and also inner, spiritual wisdom). The enlightened need neither of them, both being irrelevant, but for different reasons.
The karma-kanda has been seen to be a force for bondage and therefore rejected by the liberated. The jnana-kanda, the upanishads, on the other hand, has not been rejected by them. Rather the liberated embody and prove the truth of the upanishads. For them the upanishads are like a user’s manual for a machine. Once the operation and maintenance of the machine is learned, the manual is no longer consulted. As long as they were learning, the upanishads were essential, but once they attained true Knowing, they had no more use.
So the “uselessness” of the karma-kanda and jnana-kanda are of a vastly differing character. I point this out because the two should never be equated. For the jnani the karma-kanda is an obstacle, but the jnana-kanda can become a valued though outgrown teacher, a door that is unnecessary only because it has now been passed through.
Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: How Not To Act
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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