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Right Perspective

Part 20 of the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

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Action is inferior by far to buddhi yoga. Seek refuge in enlightenment; pitiable are those who are motivated by action’s fruit (2:49).

It is a fact that many aspiring yogis of East and West believe that mere good or right action is karma yoga. This is not so, as our study of the Gita will reveal later on. Karma yoga is acting with the mind fixed on God–not on the action. This is the real purpose of all action: the perfection of awareness. That is, by outer action we affect our internal state of consciousness. When we understand this and live out our life with this perspective, contentment is assured. Activity with desire is egocentric, whereas desireless action is spirit-oriented and results in freedom. An advanced disciple of Swami Sivananda once told a gathering of American yogis that Swami Sivananda was the only true karma yogi she had met in her life.

Action is inferior by far to buddhi yoga

Karma yoga is done by yoking our consciousness with the buddhi, the principle of enlightenment, our highest “mind” in the form of enlightened intuition. When the awareness is centered in–not just pointed toward–the divine consciousness that is common to both the individual Self (jivatman) and the Supreme Self (Paramatman), then we have peace, both because the Self is transcendental and beyond all possibility of agitation and because in the enlightened state we understand all that is going on as well as the roots of what is taking place. Having perfect peace and perfect understanding, we abide in perfect tranquility. In just a few verses from now Krishna will begin describing exactly what that state is and how it manifests in the illumined individual.

Buddhi Yoga is the Yoga of Intelligence which later came to be called Jnana Yoga, the Yoga of Knowledge.

Seek refuge in buddhi!

Krishna does not bother with short-sighted strategies, but tells us to literally shoot for the top, saying: “Seek refuge in enlightenment [buddhau]!” Buddhau means the state of consciousness that is attained through–and is–the buddhi. The buddhi is the source of both thought and intuition. If we center our awareness in that we will become ready for the ultimate intuition that is Brahmajnana, the knowledge of Brahman.

What other refuge can there be? Any conditioned state of mind must by its very nature be temporary. However beneficial any external condition, place, or object may be, still it, too, cannot last forever. But Brahman does. Most importantly, the Upanishads tell us the paramount truth: “He who knows Brahman becomes Brahman. He passes beyond all sorrow. He overcomes evil. Freed from the fetters of ignorance he becomes immortal” (Mundaka Upanishad 3.2.9). “He who knows Brahman attains the supreme goal. Brahman is the abiding reality, he is pure knowledge, and he is infinity. He who knows that Brahman dwells within the lotus of the heart becomes one with him and enjoys all blessings” (Taittiriya Upanishad 2:1:3).

It is true: “Pitiable are those who are motivated by action’s fruit.”

How to be free

He who abides in the buddhi casts off here in this world both good and evil deeds. Therefore, yoke yourself to yoga. [This is a play on words since “yoke” and “yoga” have the same root: yuj.] Yoga is skill in action (2:50). The buddhi yogi “casts off, here in the world, both good and evil actions.” It is not a matter of “pie in the sky” after death. The buddhi yogi attains right here in this world.

The concept of casting off both good and evil actions is often misunderstood, so we should give it a careful scrutiny. Right away we must comprehend that Krishna does not mean that enlightened people are beyond the rules and can do any stupid or evil thing that crosses their minds, that somehow it is all right for them but not for us. This idiocy has produced the contemporary situation in both the West and the East in which we do not expect from the abounding gurus, masters and avatars the basic decency and good sense that we demand from ourselves and everyone else. Simple civility is not even expected of these miscreants, much less the conduct that Krishna will be telling us is the infallible mark of the illumined individual. There is no need for me to outline their iniquitous and preposterous minds and conduct. Krishna will unmask them by informing us as how the really enlightened act. Then if we do not get the idea it is because we do not want to.

But now let us return to the concept of freedom from virtue and vice. Liberation (moksha) includes freedom from all conditioning. Unhappily, most religion is nothing but conditioning, based on fear and greed: do what is wrong and you will be punished, and do what is right and you will be rewarded. Since fear and greed are instincts formed and rooted in our past incarnations in the subhuman levels, they are unworthy of human beings, much less those that aspire to divinity. Right conduct must be a free choice. A compulsion to do good and a compulsion to avoid evil is instinctual, not intelligent, and therefore not a matter of buddhi yoga. No matter how well-intentioned the formation of such compulsion might be, the aspiring yogi must eliminate all such instinctual reactions. Buddhi yoga arises from deep within the individual. Any external influence or coercion militates again this.

A few verses previously we were told: “Be indifferent to the pairs of opposites.” Why? Because they are inherent in one another, they are inseparable. Anyone with experience or observation knows that love and hate easily morph back and forth, for they possess the same root–the ego. The same, then, is true of virtue and vice, good and evil, when based on the ego-personality of the conditioned individual. We often accuse people of being hypocrites, when actually they are under the sway of the dualities. We cannot cling to one and hope to be free of the other, for they are one and the same–only the polarity is different. True goodness, true virtue, has no opposite. Krishna is not speaking of this higher level, but rather of that on which Arjuna, in the grip of egoic emotion, is functioning.

Unity on all levels is the goal of the yogi, and that transcends the classifications of good or evil. The “good” of the enlightened, on the other hand, is not just relative good–it is the embodiment of divine good.

Back to the heart of things

Krishna, like any worthy teacher, again points us to the very core of the matter, saying: “Therefore, yoke yourself to yoga.” There is really no other way to achieve anything true or real in spiritual life. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33), said Jesus. We need not concern ourselves with a multitude of spiritual goals, but fix our intention on the single purpose of all relative existence: union with Brahman. This is why Jesus also said: “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41, 42).

Skill in action

Krishna is not speaking of efficient work when he says: “Yoga is skill in action.” The skill in action which Krishna declares to be yoga is action performed with ourselves yoked to yoga, united with Unity. It is work in which remembrance of God and centering in the Self goes on uninterruptedly. If we are distracted by our work and forget to maintain our sadhana throughout, then it is not skill in action. Only an adept yogi can engage in real karma yoga, for only those skilled in meditation are capable of karma yoga.

The way of the sages

Those who are truly established in the buddhi, the wise ones, having abandoned the fruits of action, freed from the bondage of rebirth, go to the place that is free from pain (2:51).

That place or abode is our very Self, for That alone is free from pain or the possibility of pain.

Now Krishna sums it all up for us:

When your buddhi crosses beyond the mire of delusion, then you shall be disgusted with the to-be-heard and what has been heard. When your buddhi stands, fixed in deep meditation, unmoving, disregarding the Vedic ritual-centered perspective, then you will attain yoga (union) (2:52-53).

Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: Wisdom About the Wise

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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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