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