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The Real “Doers”

Part 27 of the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

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Every action is really performed by the gunas

In all situations actions are performed by the gunas of Prakriti. Those with ego-deluded mind think: “I am the doer” (3:27).

The Atman, the Spirit-self, is pure consciousness, and as such has only one function: witnessing the movements of prakriti, the creative life energies. The mechanics of this situation are virtually as incomprehensible as the Atman itself. In the Bhagavad Gita the energies are spoken of as surrounding or encompassing the Atman which experiences being at the center of them. But they are also declared to be utterly apart from the Atman, which witnesses them as totally outside it.

However that may be, Krishna is saying that all action is merely the movement–the combining, separation, and recombining in ever-changing patterns–of the three modes of energy behavior, the three gunas. Just as there are three primary colors from which all colors originate, in the same way the three gunas are the origin of all activity.

Man, deluded by his egoism, thinks: “I am the doer”

The witnesses of a motion picture, knowing full well that it is only a play of light on the screen, yet respond to it as being real. Each of us is even more enthralled within the motion picture of our daily experience, actually believing that we are acting and producing its changing movements.

Sankhya philosophy, the philosophy expounded by Krishna in the Gita, tells us that although we do not literally act within prakriti, the appearance of action caused by the movements of the gunas is produced by us–by our mere proximity to prakriti. We can understand this by the simile of modern gadgetry. There are devices which are activated just by someone approaching them–all the way from talking and moving figures to doors that open at our approach. In the same way prakriti is stimulated into motion by our approaching it in our awareness. It literally is the way we look at it that matters. Those who can look upon prakriti as detached witnesses will find themselves no longer part of the whirling movement that comprises the drama of life. This is really beyond the comprehension of the ordinary intellect, but the yogi who has clarified and stabilized his mind will understand to a great degree, for his outer life is seen to be an extension of his inner life. Meditation is the most viable School of Life.

Understanding the gunas

The gunas are not only three modes of material energy behavior, they are also three forms of material (matter-oriented) consciousness. So Krishna continues:

But he who knows the truth about the gunas and action thinks: “The gunas act in the gunas.” Thinking thus, he is not attached (3:28).

Krishna is not just giving us interesting facts about phenomenal existence; his intention is to bring us to detachment from that to which we never have been nor ever can be really attached. All attachment is only an illusion of the ignorant heart. He calls us to simple reality, not to some high-flown mystical state.

Guna guneshu vartanta means: “The gunas act in the gunas.” Swami Prabhavananda renders it: “Gunas are merely attaching themselves to gunas.” Swami Swarupananda: “Gunas as senses merely rest on gunas as objects.” Swami Sivananda: “The Gunas as senses move amidst the gunas as the sense-objects.”

A serious responsibility

Those deluded by the gunas of prakriti are attached to the actions of the gunas. The knower of the whole truth should not disturb the foolish of partial knowledge (3:29).

This is almost universally disregarded in India, where the monastics have glorified inaction as wisdom (jnana) and action as ignorance. The result has been a shameful stagnation and idle-mindedness in themselves and those they influence. No one can count the number of wandering idlers falsely called sannyasis. The only thing they have renounced is responsibility.

“Those deluded by the gunas of prakriti are attached to the actions of the gunas.” Why, then, would you not wean them from external involvements, from constant action? Because it is a matter of maturity. Just as the fruit should ripen before being taken from the tree, in the same way each individual must evolve to the point where he sees for himself the truth of things–not blindly believing in what others tell him about reality. Until then, just as with a child or mentally impaired adult, we have to speak to him on his level in his terms.

The wise must engage in right action so as to teach by example and incite even the ignorant to emulation. At such a stage actions certainly do speak louder than words. The infant must grow and learn to walk, talk, feed himself, and think objectively before we educate him and speak philosophically to him. It is the same way in practical life. Only those who learn the right way to act can learn the right way to withdraw from action.

Read the first article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: Our Spiritual Marching Orders

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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

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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

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