In the last part of this series, we covered verses 7 to 10 from chapter 3 of the Gita where Sri Krishna explains to Arjuna about the importance of carrying out one’s obligatory actions without ever wishing for or worrying about the outcome of the action. When Brahma, the God of Creation, created human beings in this universe, he also assigned various duties to each of us. Those duties primarily depend on our past karmas, our gunas and the ashramas we are currently in. Those duties are called Niyatam karmas – the obligatory actions.
We must remember that the only thing we have in our control is how much heart, mind and soul we can put into our actions. The result of our actions may or may not be in our individual favour as it is completely out of our control and it depends on numerous factors which are beyond us. However, when we perform our actions as a Yajna – a sacrifice and as an offering to the God himself – the Gods are pleased and in return, we are blessed with all that we need in this material world.
Play to Play. Don’t Play to Win.
If you think about it, is there any other better way to be content and happy in life than being a Karma Yogi? We know for a fact that the only thing in our control is HOW we act in various situations. We have no idea what results our actions would produce. We can spend our whole life trying to do something and expect a certain outcome, only to be disappointed at the end! What IF we do what we need to do with our whole heart and leave the rest to something beyond us, call it God or nature or whatever you like to? Life would have been a lot less stressful and enjoyable, wouldn’t it be? That is exactly the essense of Karma Yoga: Play to Play. Don’t Play to Win. Former will make you happy while the latter will perpetually make you disappointed and unhappy!
Let’s now continue from verse 11.
Chapter 3, Verse 11
देवान्भावयतानेन ते देवा भावयन्तु वः।
परस्परं भावयन्तः श्रेयः परमवाप्स्यथ।।
devān bhāvayatānena te devā bhāvayantu vah
parasparam bhāvayantah śhreyah param avāpsyatha
By your sacrifices, the celestial gods will be pleased, and by them being propitiated, thus being nourished one another, prosperity will reign for all.
Commentary for Chapter 3, Verse 11
In this verse, Sri Krishna explains how actions performed as a yajna/yagna benefits the doer. As explained before, yajna/yagna is the age-old vedic ritual which is performed to propitiate the Gods. Through Gita, Sri Krishna is asking us to internalize this ritual and offer all our actions as an offering into the fire set in the yajna kunda. As we pour all our actions into that fire as ahuti – an offering / a sacrifice – to the Supreme Lord, we are released from all our karmic duties created by those actions and at the same time, we also propitiate various celestial Gods and Goddesses.
Sanatana Dharma is like a fully functional democracy. There are celestial gods called Devatas who administer their own designated roles in this universe, however, everything is ultimately overseen by the Parabrahma – the Supreme Lord. For example, we have Saraswati Devi who is the Goddess of Knowledge, Music, Art, wisdom and learning. We have Sri Lakshmi as the Goddess of Wealth. We have Agni Deva as the God of Fire, we have Varuna as the God of Ocean, Yamaraj as the God of Death, and so on.
When we perform our actions as a yajna simply because it is our duty to perform our niyatam karmas – obligatory actions – all these Gods and Goddesses are pleased. As a result, the Gods bless us with wisdom, knowledge, wealth, prosperity and all other favorable material conditions we need in this world.
By asking us to internalize the whole concept of yajna, Sri Krishna is teaching us how performing each action as a yajna would be beautiful, beneficial and far greater than the occasional rituals and ceremonies. Anyone who offers all their actions as a yajna, without ever wishing for the results of their actions, is a Karma Yogi and such a person indeed develops control over their mind and senses for higher spiritual knowledge and eventually attains moksha.
Chapter 3, Verse 12
इष्टान्भोगान्हि वो देवा दास्यन्ते यज्ञभाविताः।
तैर्दत्तानप्रदायैभ्यो यो भुङ्क्ते स्तेन एव सः।।
iṣhtān bhogān hi vo devā dāsyante yajña-bhāvitāh
tair dattān apradāyaibhyo yo bhuṅkte stena eva sah
The celestial gods, being satisfied by the performance of sacrifice, will grant you all the desired necessities of life. But those who enjoy what is given to them without making offerings in return to the Supreme God, that person is certainly a thief.
Commentary for Chapter 3, Verse 12
When we perform our actions as a yajna, the celestial gods are pleased and bless us with all the favorable conditions such as rain, wind, crops, vegetation, fertile soil, minerals, wealth, knowledge and every other necessities to sustain and thrive in this material world.
However, if we start using these blessings as a means to feed our own selfish motives, instead of using it to propitiate the Supreme Lord, then we are no different than a thief. Only if we recognise the fact that everything we receive for our survival in this material world is to be used for the purpose of worshipping the Lord, shall we keep being blessed and develop the purity of mind which is required to discover the knowledge of the Self. According to Sanatana Dharma, the whole purpose of life itself is to attain the knowledge of the Self which is the ultimate knowledge through which we find the God within and eventually unite with Ultimate Consciousness – the Parabrahma!
As we saw earlier in this chapter, there is no way one can remain inactive even for a second. We are constantly engaged in various activities one way or the other as long as we have a wandering mind that has complete control over us rather than us having control over the mind. In fact, as Sri Krishna says in verse 5, we are compelled to act according to our gunas. Some are in constant lethargy due to their tamasic nature while others are in constant activities due to their desire for more wealth or fame, etc. due to their rajasic nature. People with more sattvic gunas act with awareness and consciousness. Whichever be the case, we are in constant activity – through our thoughts or body – and the activities just vary depending on our gunas.
Imagine if we could turn all of those activities as yajna to the Supreme Lord?! Then those same actions which would result in creating bondage in this material would be the very cause for our liberation, lasting peace and happiness. Eventually, we transcend all those three gunas and attain higher spiritual planes and unite with our source – the Parabrahman!
Chapter 3, Verse 13
यज्ञशिष्टाशिनः सन्तो मुच्यन्ते सर्वकिल्बिषैः।
भुञ्जते ते त्वघं पापा ये पचन्त्यात्मकारणात्।।
yajna-shishtāshinah santo muchyante sarva-kilbishaih
bhunjate te tvagham pāpā ye pachantyātma-kāranāt
The spiritually-minded, who eat food that is first offered in sacrifice, are released from all kinds of sin. Others, who cook food for their own enjoyment, those sinners eat only sin.
Commentary for Chapter 3, Verse 13
To avoid being a thief and to stop accumulating sins, Sri Krishna is asking us to offer everything to God as a yajna, including our food and all our actions. Those who are of sattvik nature, offer their food to God before they eat, because they recognise a simple fact that everything is a gift from God, thus, whatever we receive has to be offered back to the same God. However, those with rajasik and tamasik qualities, are less conscious of these subtle gestures because of their greed and selfishness. Such people cook their food only for their own enjoyment, without ever being grateful to the gifts they receive. Sri Krishna calls such people as sinners in the harshest way possible! Thus, as to stress the importance of sacrifice and selfless actions, Sri Krishna keeps reminding us of “yajna” from verses 9 onwards.
According to Manu Samhita, there are five sins committed in every household which are called the “five slaughter houses”. These are, the mortar and pestle where small bugs are accidentally killed, the grindstone where microscopic amoebas and bacterias are ground to death, the fire where crawling insects can get burnt, the waterpot where some flies may drown and die, and the broom which sweeps away ants and other insects causing them to die as well. While cooking our food, we commit all these sins, but these days to eat, we commit even more sins!
As the followers of Sanatana Dharma, we are required to prepare our food consciously. Before we start eating that food, we are required to offer a small portion to the Gods and our ancestors, chanting certain mantras or simply thanking Gods for everything that is provided for our sustenance. That food which is offered to God becomes Prasad – the holy food. When we eat that prasad along with our food, we are released from all those sins that are committed in the process of cooking that food.
In addition to this, there is a custom known as the Bhuta Yajna. It is one of the practices which falls under the Pancha Maha Yajnas – the five great sacrifices. According to Bhuta Yajna, a householder is required to offer food to all other beings such as birds, animals, trees, beggars (the less fortunate ones), etc. The idea is to remind oneself of his privileges while thinking and taking care of the less privileged ones. Thus, a householder is required to feed the less fortunate ones, animals, birds and the brahmins, etc. (Brahmins are the learned ones, the highly sattvic human beings, the one who is the custodian of knowledge and spiritual wealth, regardless of which family they are born into – read this to learn more about Varna System.
Sri Krishna says in this verse, “pachantyātma-kāranāt”, meaning, those who “cook for their own sake” end up eating “sins” as a result of their selfishness and they themselves are sinners! The word “sin” here could mean “restlessness”, “agitation”, “unhappiness”, ‘frustration”, “lack of spiritual growth”, etc. Thus, people who are selfish in their activities end up in perpetual unhappiness and agitation. However, on the other hand, those who recognise that everything is god’s gift and eat “yajna-shishtāshinah” – the remainder of their sacrifice – wholeheartedly enjoy their food, remain happy and at peace and elevate themselves spiritually, and are eternally seated in that higher spiritual realm.
Chapter 3, Verse 14 & 15
अन्नाद्भवन्ति भूतानि पर्जन्यादन्नसम्भवः।
यज्ञाद्भवति पर्जन्यो यज्ञः कर्मसमुद्भवः।।
annād bhavanti bhūtāni parjanyād anna-sambhavah
yajnād bhavati parjanyo yajnah karma-samudbhavah
All living beings come into being from food, food is produced from rainfall, rainfall occurs from the performance of sacrifice, and sacrifice is produced by the performance of prescribed duties.
कर्म ब्रह्मोद्भवं विद्धि ब्रह्माक्षरसमुद्भवम्।
तस्मात्सर्वगतं ब्रह्म नित्यं यज्ञे प्रतिष्ठितम्।।
karma brahmodbhavaṁ viddhi brahmākṣhara-samudbhavam
tasmāt sarva-gataṁ brahma nityaṁ yajñe pratiṣhṭhitam
Know that all duties for human beings are described in the Vedas and that Vedas are manifestations of the Supreme Lord, the Brahman, himself. Therefore, the all-pervading Brahman is eternally present in the acts of sacrifice.
Commentary for Chapter 3, verses 14 & 15
Using a beautiful agricultural metaphor, Sri Krishna continues to emphasize on the importance of yajna. Sri Krishna says, all living beings in this world come into being from food. That food comes from the rainfall and the rainfall from the performance of yajna! That very yajna which is the source of sustenance for all living beings is the result of each of us performing our obligatory duties – our niyatam karmas!
The same is said in the Manu Samhita, chapter 3, verse 76, “An oblation (ghee – clarified butter – which is the ahuti) duly thrown into the fire (yajna kund), reaches the sun; from the sun comes rain, from rain comes food, therefrom the living creatures (derive their subsistence) as a result of semen of the males fertilizing with the eggs of females.”
Through these verses, Sri Krishna explains the cycle of nature. Rain begets Grains. These grains are eaten and are transformed into blood and from blood the very seeds of human beings – the semen and egg – are created and a new life is born. Human beings perform yajna so that the celestial gods are pleased, and as a result, it causes rain on earth and the cycle continues.
As stated in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, “The four Vedas – Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sāma Veda and Atharva Veda – are all emanated from the breath of the Supreme Brahman”. Vedas are called “brahmakshara” because the knowledge of the ultimate reality is revealed through the Vedas which are immutable and lead you to the absolute truth. Just as the Supreme Brahman is eternal, Vedas are eternal too, since the knowledge of the Vedas already existed in the same Supreme Brahman. The material manifestation of Vedas came through Supreme Brahman’s breath, inferring that it was manifested from the spiritual world that existed within Supreme Brahman without much of a conscious effort. Thus Vedas are created for the material world to be able to conceive that Supreme Brahman which is inconceivable, formless, without beginning or end and is complete within Himself!!
The obligatory duties for all human beings are laid down in the eternal Vedas. Performing these duties help those who are materially engrossed in this world, i.e. all of us, to develop control over our mind and gradually elevate ourselves from a state of ignorance to a state of passion and from a state of passion to a state of god like nature. Thus Sri Krishna is asking Arjuna, and all of us, to perform our duties as a yajna, a sacrifice, so that we can elevate ourselves to higher spiritual planes and attain the eternal bliss.
Chapter 3, Verse 16
एवं प्रवर्तितं चक्रं नानुवर्तयतीह यः।
अघायुरिन्द्रियारामो मोघं पार्थ स जीवति।।
evam pravartitam chakram nānuvartayatīha yah
aghāyur indriyārāmo mogham pārtha sa jīvati
O Partha, those who do not follow the wheel thus set in motion [by the Vedas], who is of sinful life, indulging in senses, indeed lives their life in vain.
Commentary for Chapter 3, verse 16
Sri Krishna explained the cycle of life in verses 14 & 15, describing how rain begets grains and that grain is eaten and are transformed into blood and from blood to semen and egg and then a new life is born. Rain, inferred here to be the most important element in this chain, is a result of yajna performed by us human beings. Those of us who do not respect and follow this cosmic cycle of motion set by the eternal Vedas, which is the Parabrahman himself, are creating discord in the harmony existing in this whole universe, and are indeed wasting our life in vain.
Sri Krishna says, “evam pravartitam chakram” – thus the cycle is set in motion. All living beings are part of this “chakram” which means a series of events set in a particular order. This cycle is never ending and is designed to exist perpetually, providing all necessities and nourishments to every living being in this universe. However, only human beings are capable of making choices as to what actions to perform with our own free will. We can choose to partake in sustaining the harmony of this cycle or break away from it and create discord in this cosmic mechanism.
Only when we accept the reality that we are all part and parcel of this entire universe and that we are all connected to one another this way or that, shall we start to recognize the importance of performing our obligatory duties as yajna, without ever wishing for the results of our actions, because we are duty bound to perform our designated actions wholeheartedly.
When we look back into history, whenever human beings had lived respecting this universal truth that we are all connected and that we are meant to help one another, and the world around us, living ethically and honestly, the world remained prosperous and peaceful. Whenever we move away from that eternal truth and violate that cosmic mechanism and instead act out of our selfish motives, nature starts to react, punishing us, and the peace and tranquility in this universe starts to diminish.
Thus Sri Krishna says, those who do not respect that eternal cycle of motion set to bring about harmony in this whole universe are living their life described as, “ agha-āyuh” and “indriya-ārāmah”, meaning,living sinfully only for the delight of their senses. The only way to ensure that we function as a meaningful element, contributing in a positive way as required by each of us in that entire cosmic cycle is to perform our obligatory actions as prescribed by the Vedas.
We are blessed to be born as human beings. Only in our human form shall we have the ability to perform our actions with discrimination and develop the qualities required for higher knowledge. That is the whole purpose of life.
As we saw earlier, each of us are required to perform our duties according to our varnas and ashramas that we currently belong to. Only those who have realised the eternal truth through moksha, and have attained the power of discrimination and control over their senses are free from all actions, as they have already realised their atma-tattva which is the knowledge of the self as “aham brahmasmi”, that “I am brahman” and that “I” is the “atma” which is infinite and indestructible.
So long as we have not attained the knowledge of the self, we are required to perform our actions as a yajna so that it helps us to elevate ourselves to higher spiritual planes, and motivate us in attaining the ultimate knowledge – the knowledge of the self.
We are blessed to be born as human beings. Only in our human form shall we have the ability to perform our actions with discrimination and develop the qualities required for higher knowledge. That is the whole purpose of life. The whole universe is designed in such a way that it pushes us towards attaining that ultimate goal of life, however, with our constant greed for materialistic pursuit of life, we have deviated far away from our truth and our whole purpose, creating chaos not only in our life but in the life of everyone and everythings around us, creating complete disharmony in the society and the world.
The whole idea of Karma Yoga is to help us develop the power of concentration and selflessness in our actions. These are basic qualities required for higher knowledge. When we abide by those eternal truths and the very nature of the universe, acting responsibly as to keep the harmonious functioning of the chakra of cosmos, shall we attain peace and everlasting happiness.
We will continue from verse 17 in the next part.
ॐ पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदं पूर्णात्पुर्णमुदच्यते
पूर्णस्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते ॥
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥
Om Puurnnam-Adah Puurnnam-Idam Puurnnaat-Purnnam-Udacyate
Puurnnasya Puurnnam-Aadaaya Puurnnam-Eva-Avashissyate ||
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||
My Pranams to you!