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Acharya Prashant: The ‘Bhagwad Gita’ discourse, the form of a dialog, commences in the theater of Kurukshetra. The first thing to be understood is that when a wise man, a sage, a prophet speaks, he is not really aiming to communicate concepts. It is just the limitation of the listener that he must be spoken to in words. A deep emptiness, a vast field of clarity is sought to be communicated. Words are just a medium. The immediate context is just that, a context, a pretext.
The Krishna-Arjun dialog apparently is about a particular situation, a particular man, his relatives, but really it is something else.
Arjun represents the mind. Krishna represents the center, the “Aatman”. The mind is lost as it always is.
First Adhyay (Chapter) – ‘Arjun is in a miserable position’. On one hand, he is conditioned as a brother, as a husband, as a Kshatriya, as a prince, as a man and there are forces compelling him to fight, forces all within him. On the other hand there are other factors –social, evolutionary, emotional, all within the domain of the mind that are preventing him from fighting. He looks at Bhism, he looks at Drona. He looks at the large assembly of armies. He looks at all his brother and now he is in conflict, he is torn. What to do?
That is not the position of Arjun – the person. That is a situation of entire mankind. That is not conflict that one man faced thousands of year back. That is the conflict that we all faced daily every day. In fact, there is no conflict other than the conflict that Arjun is facing. To be a human being is to live in conflict, is to be divided, fragmented, to not to know what to do, to be pulled apart in different direction.
One aspect of influence dominates one fragment of the mind, another kind of conditioning dominates another part of the mind and there is no integrity, there is no totality. Dedicated complete action then becomes so difficult. One moves one particular way and finds that other ways are beckoning, “If I fight, then all the memories, the emotions related to my childhood, the cozy lap of Pitamah – I breach the sanctity of those moments, I violate the trust of those memories and if I do not fight then what happens to my ‘Kshaatra Dharma’? What happens to all the tears that Draupadi shed in front of me?”
“Doomed if I fight. Doomed if I don’t.” And that is always the situation of the mind.
So first of all it is not about Arjun and Krishna. It is not about two persons. Arjun and Krishna are both within us. We identify ourselves more with Arjun, that is another matter. Arjun is the lost, deluded mind. And just by sheer grace, he enters into a dialog with somebody, something with an entity, with an immensity that is beyond him.
It is just a matter of luck for Arjun that the immensity has taken the form of the person, and hence he is able to hear through the sensory root and see through his eyes. Otherwise, really Krishna is not standing in front of Arjun, Krishna is the heart of the Arjun, the very “Aatman”. And without Krishna being in Arjun, Arjun would not have been able to listen to the Krishna standing in front of Arjun. Unless there is Krishna in your heart, you will not be able to identify or listen to the Krishna, who is speaking in front of you.
It would have been so easy for Arjun for disregard what Krishna was saying. It would have been so easy to him to keep supporting his own waver tendencies.
Of course, there was Krishna but at the same time there was his own elder brother Dharma raj. He could have taken his council or he could have listensd to all the other friends and relatives that were all amassed there. No, but it is only when the grace of Krishna shines within, that you can listen to the Krishna outside.
So, the first chapter is a description of the total confusion and chaos in Arjun. In fact, he is not prepared to trust even Krishna, unconditionally. Thankfully, things have not gone so bad for him that he would decline to listen. He says, “Yes, I am asking you something but at the same time I have made up my mind, my body is trembling. My hands that have fought so many wars right now do not even have power to pick up the Gaandiva (Arjun’s bow). So that is my situation.
Krishna begins by offering the highest advice that one could – Shankya Yoga, Chapter two. But when the mind is deluded often the highest becomes so distinct, so inaccessible that it becomes useless. If you offered Upanishadic advice to the drunkard, it is useless to him, even if it is the most sublime.
Could Arjun really connect with Krishna then the Gita discourse would have ended in chapter two itself. By the end of chapter two, Krishna would have heard same words from Arjun which he hears only in chapter eighteen. It is only by the end of the last chapter that Arjun finally says that now I am settled, now my mind is beyond the confusion and now I will just do what you say.
He does not say this in chapter two. In fact, when we come to the next chapter Arjun begins by saying that if, as you said that the path of realization of Budhhi (wisdom) is the most superior then O! Krishna, why are you pushing me in this ghastly war? That is the first thing he says in chapter three which we are taking up today.
The first verse says,
O Krishna! if just realizing is enough. O Krishna! if just realization is the highest then why are you prompting me to fight? Why must I enter into this consuming action? Don’t want to do that.
Obviously, Arjun has not listened to Krishna. In putting this argument forward he is only furthering the agenda of his own वृत्ति (Instinct), his own emotions, his own conditioning and that is what the student is so incline to do always. He tries to deliberately misinterpret the words of the Guru, that is what the reader is often so fond of doing, pick up the scriptures and interpret the holy words according to your own convenience. Give them a color that suits you and your goals.
So, the entire narrative put forward by Krishna is summed up by Arjun in one sentence. “So ultimately you are saying that knowing realization, understanding is great that is the path of Sankyam”.
So, it is proven that action is inferior and if action is inferior then why must I fight, Krishna? Your own advice to me proves that I can escape from this battle. That is how Arjun begins. Do you see what he is doing? He is not saying that ‘O! Krishna, I am trembling. O! Krishna I am indecisive. O! Krishna I cannot bear going against my past. So I am being impelled not to fight.’ He does not say that. He says, “Krishna, your advice to me means that I should not fight.” Now this is quite amazing. On one hand, he is claiming to abide by what Krishna would say and Krishna instructs him a ‘Shankya Yoga’ and says, “Now ‘Shankya yoga’ is clear to you, go ahead and fight.” And Arjun says, “Since Shankya Yoga is now clear to me so I won’t fight.”
He is claiming to go beyond Krishna. He is saying, “You told me of Shankya Yoga but I know the implication of that yoga better than you. He instructed me Shankya and said that this instruction implies that you must fight. I just heard the instruction from you and now I am saying that because of what I have heard from you I won’t fight.” So, Arjun is quoting Krishna to go against Krishna. And is that not a deep tendency of the mind? We quote the scriptures to do the opposite of what these scriptures really want us to do. Don’t we do that? Don’t the most abominable acts happen in the name of the religion? Have the most irreligious minds often not used religions as their shields?
It is more likely that if someone is quoting the scriptures or if someone is in religious field then all he is doing is to use religion as an instrument of his own ego.
The ego says I am bigger than everything just as Arjun here is saying, “I understand better than Krishna.” The ego says I am bigger than everything. I am bigger than even the Truth so I will take Truth and manipulate it to serve my own purposes. However, Krishna being Krishna he proceeds with chapter three.
What does he say? He says that Arjun, first of all drop this notion that there is any escape from karma possible. It is not at all possible for you to avoid acting. Arjun’s purpose at this point, his whole intention is to somehow escape. There is something within him that is telling him to fight. That which is telling him to fight, when seen within is called Truth or ‘Aatman’, when seen outside is called Krishna or Guru.
So, that voice is coming to him, “Fight!” but he is intent upon suppressing that voice. He says, “No! No! the forces of conditioning are too much upon me. As I am, I know myself to be only as a product of my past, a son of the dynasty, an accumulation of memories. I cannot fight.” Krishna first of all foils his agenda. He says, “Forget that you can run away. With me as the chariot forget that you can run away. That option is closed. Let me look at your argument and Destroy It! (laughingly)”
“So you say that you don’t want to act because it just said that Budhhi (wisdom) or Gyan (knowledge) or realization is superior. But tell me Arjun, ‘Is there any way to avoid acting? Is it possible to avoid action at all? We are bundles of conditioning. We are products of evolution. We are the ones carrying the three Gunas of Prakriti. So we will keep acting. Action cannot stop. Even if you say that you are not acting, this not acting is itself is an action. Even if you say that you are running away from the battlefield, this running away too is an action. So drop this notion that you can get rid of Karma. Karma is happening. Karma is happening all the time.”
First of all, he makes this fact of life clear to Arjun, that avoiding action is not an option because you will have to act anyway. Action, is action and avoidance is just another action. Doing is doing and not doing too is doing because in either case you are deciding, you are moving, you are acting. If your limbs are not moving then at least thought is moving and even the movement of thought is karma.
So this hope is taken away from Arjun. Arjun wanted to rest on this support that now that I have acknowledged Gyan Yoga to be superior so I may as well not act and in acknowledging the superiority of Gyan I can hopefully not do that which Krishna is inviting me to do. This hope is destroyed. Krishna is saying, “This way or that way you would walk still even if you say that you are sitting still on a chair, yet, because your mind is not at rest so karma is getting done”
What is karma?
Essentially the movement of mind. Those who cannot see that they define karma as a gross activity they say when limbs move, when something material moves, that is called karma. But karma is actually very subtle, very very subtle. That is why elsewhere Krishna had to say, “Gahan Karmano Gatih.”
Often it happens that those who appear to be doing a lot, are not doing anything if the mind is still and often it happens that those who say that they have renounced action, are actually busy acting. With this hope gone, Krishna proceeds to say, “Now we are on board that we would be acting anyway. So let us figure out then what is the right action? Given that action is inevitable, let us now find out what is the right action for you, Arjun?”
And that is when those beautiful words which are also the topic of today’s meeting are uttered –
“Niytam Karma Kuru twam.”
“Arjun, one necessarily has to act. To be a man is to act. The only difference between man and man is in the quality of their action.”
“How do I know which action is right?”
And Krishna says, “Niyat karma ’ is the right action for you.”
And these words have been one of the most mysterious words in the Gita. Krishna stops at saying, “Niyat Karma”. He does not explain what ‘Niyat Karma’ is? He just says, “Do that which is your niyati.” And he refuses to explain further. He does not elucidate. He does not tell anything further to Arjun on this. It is now getting subtle, hence it cannot be told directly that is why Krishna does not say. Beyond this he depends on Arjun’s intellect to comprehend. After this, he depends on the Krishna sitting within Arjun, to help Arjun understand.
What is ‘Niyat Karma’?
We are acting all the time. Decision are being made all the time. We feel we have options all the time. One needs a criteria to decide. One needs a benchmark to come to the right action. You see if you look at people around, action are so passionless, so half-hearted. There is hardly a sense of immersion, of total commitment. We do, we act and we are not sure of why we are doing and whether we must act at all.
With the result that our deeds are so dry, there is hardly any fire any energy in them. We live dull and boring lives. In fact, boredom is always writ large on our faces. It is because we are Arjun. It is because, our quandaries the same. We do not know what is the right thing to do? And Krishna says, “Niyatam Kuru Karma Twam.” Do the right action and it hardly make clear what is ‘Niyat Karma’?
What is Niyati?
In the English language we take it as destiny. Niyat Karma – appointed karma. What is the appointed karma for you? What is the decided karma for you? What is the karma that destiny wants you to do?
What is destiny? Destiny is that which is unavoidable. Right! Destiny is that from where we come and into which we will dissolve. Is destiny a matter of our conditioning? O,r is destiny that which is the beginning and the end and also the middle?
You stumble and fall, kindly do not attribute that to destiny. You realize that you have fallen, that is your destiny because ultimately after falling a million times, after living a million births, you will realize that realization is your destiny because destiny denotes the end. Had stumbling being your destiny then you would have kept stumbling. But no, the end of stumbling will always come.
If you have vigilant, if you are lucky, if grace shines on you the end comes sooner than later. But if you are insistent, if you are too terribly conditioned and if you keep assisting your own conditioning then the end will take a really long time to come but the end would nevertheless surely come. This end is destiny. And this end is the great emptiness into which all will ultimately dissolve. This end is Truth itself.
Unfortunately, often this statement of Krishna is misinterpreted to mean that ‘Niyat Karma’ denotes the actions that are suggested by the scriptures or are dictated by the ‘varnashram dharma’.
No! ‘Niyat Karma’ is just the action that arises from the ‘Aatman’ and ‘Aatman’ is nothing but a fearless, clean, pure mind.
On one hand, because Niyati is Krishna himself so Krishna is calling from absolute surrender. Krishna is saying, “Niyat Karma means the karma that Krishna suggests to you. Niyat Karma means the karma that the Guru would recommend.” So, in that sense the Krishna is calling for total surrender. In another sense, because Niyat Karma means ‘Aatman’ and ‘Aatman’ is absolute free. Hence Krishna is telling Arjun, “This person standing n front of you cannot tell you what to do, Arjun. Because even if he tells you would keep resisting like you are resisting right now. So I am giving you the highest mantra –‘Do what your deepest awareness tells you to do.’ That is Niyat Karma because your deepest awareness itself is the ‘Aatman’.”
So Krishna is parallely calling for surrender and also given him the highest freedom in individuality. Both are the same. In fact, Gyan and Bhakti are not separate at all. Devotion and surrender, and realization and intelligence, and freedom they are not distinct at all. These words are a shining beacon. Whenever you feel confused, whenever you do not know what to do, whenever decision making becomes a burden, remember what Krishna told you long back.
Yes, he told you because you are Arjun. He told you, “Do that which is your Niyati.”
What is our niyati? Niyati as we have just said is unavoidable. Niyati is that which you cannot run away from. What is it that you cannot run away from? That which you cannot run away from must be very close to you, very central to you, that must be something which keeps calling you even if you keep running away. What is it that keeps calling you even if you keep running away?
Please pay attention to a few facts of living. Have you ever seen anybody who likes lies – any age, any culture, any gender, any occupation, any religion?
Truth keeps calling. Truth is our central nature –our Swabhav (nature) that is why when we are living in lies, we start disliking ourselves. Have you seen anybody who likes to be caged or jailed or bonded in any way? Pay attention to this fact and you will realize that freedom is your nature, freedom is swabhav (nature), and freedom is ‘niyati’.
Have you ever seen anybody who enjoys being heated? –Never such a powerful call. You move towards love even at the cost all that you have earned, even at great risk to the ego.
So, the love is ‘Niyati’.
So, when you have to decide what to do, when you are in a mess like Arjun, respond to the call of love, respond to the call of freedom. Go in that direction where truth lies even if it costs you a lot, even if it seems unreasonable, even if it scares and terrifies you, even if you cannot explain to others or even yourself, “Why are you moving in such a way or in such a direction? Still move in that way.”
Truth rests within you but to the mind it would always remain unknown, even unknowable. So, you will never be able to logically workout, whether your decision is appropriate, you would never be able to determine in advance whether you decision would benefit you because what the mind calls it benefit is not really benefit; the mind is a fool.
Essentially Krishna is telling Arjun, “Do not listen to the mind.” In matters of utmost important do not listen to the mind, go by the heart; that will decide the right action. That is your Niyat Karma. Do that and do not confuse the voice of the heart. The mind is such a trickster, the ego is so cunning that it tries to duplicate the voice of the heart. Often, you can be cheated. The ego might be talking but it might appear as if it is the voice of the heart.
Is that not what happens when you find people talking of their conscience? Have you not seen people saying that they were according to their conscience and that conscience is nothing but the conditioned mind speaking nothing but the language of conditioning? Krishna is saying no avoid all that. There is no substitute to Krishna. There is no proxy to Krishna.
‘Niyat karm kuru twam’
No scripture will ever tell you, “What is the right action for you.” No commandment will ever tell you the right action for you because life is dynamic, it is constantly moving. How many times will you refer to an instruction manual? Every second, that decision is needed. Every moment is new and fresh and it demands a new response from you. Will you keep referring to a scripture? You must have an awakened intelligence within which will help you decide what to do. In fact, that decision will not be decision at all because all decision involves the use of mind and thought. Krishna is saying, “Can you decide without thinking? Can you let the action happen without putting in planning or thoughts or ideas? Because Arjun you keep thinking, then Arjun will prevail and Arjun will try his best to defeat Krishna.”
Arjun is nothing but a flow of thoughts. Krishna is an inviting stillness. Till the time thoughts keep flowing you will try to be your own master. Till the time you want to live life based on your planning, you will never be able to know the right action for you because the right action cannot come from planning. The right action cannot come from the memories of the past or fear or hope of the future.
“Arjun, if it is right to fight then fight, do not think what would happen after that.” And that is also what is meant by ’nishkam karma’. Niyat Karma is also ‘niskam karma’ because when the heart speaks it does not offer you any promises, it does not tempt you with rewards. So, it is totally nishkam –no promise of the future. And if you are start thinking about what the heart is saying to you, you will never never follow the advice of the heart.
But if you keep resisting Krishna then you will find a thousand ways to resist him. This common interpretation that Niyat Karma means the karma suggested by X, Y or Z is one such ugly tactic of the ego. No! Enter into Niyat Karma does not mean that you have to listen to anybody. Anybody except Krishna and Krishna is not a person. Krishna is Truth himself and the Truth can come to you in the form of the thousand Krishnas. Krishna is not a man who lived and died.
If Krishna is a man then there is no possibility for you to know and be guided by the Krishna, because the Krishna who spoke to Arjun in the bodily form is long dead. So are you so unlucky. Was grace reserve for Arjun? No, if you too are Arjun then there has to be a Krishna for you, as well. You surely are Arjun because Arjun’s dilemma is your dilemma. If you are Arjun, there surely will be Krishna in your life. That will not be evident to you if you in anyway want to appropriate this beautiful words of Krishna, leave them untouched. Do not interpret them using your little intellect. You will only come to wrong conclusion and all conclusion anyway that you have are wrong.
‘Niyat Karma’ means live without concluding. Live a little madly. Live like a realized yogi and live equally like an intoxicated lover. Do not live carefully, watchfully, thoughtfully, afraid for your security, collecting defenses. No! Do not live in that way Arjun.
Arjun, I am not promising you any heaven. Arjun, I do not know whether you would survive the war. Nowhere, in the entire Bhagwad Gita does Krishna promise victory but he keep saying fight. Arjun might as well have been killed. Kindly do not think that if you are with a Krishna then victory, material victory is your destiny. No that is just the hollow temptation offered by the ego to itself. In terms of material loss and gain, you may actually stand to lose a lot.
There have been a thousand battles of Kurukshetra in which Arjuns have been killed. Does that mean that they lost out by listening to a Krishna? No. There are things that are bigger than victory and defeat. There are battles in which is it doesn’t matter whether you live or die. Arjun might have been killed. It is a coincidence that he survived. Krishna himself in the bodily form was killed in a very ordinary way. He was killed by his tray arrow and even that arrows not fired by a warrior. It is hardly a death befitting an avatar. But when you are in bodily form you must not pay attention to material events. They hardly are a proxy for a Truth.
Krishna too killed, Arjun too might have been killed, killed on the first day itself that is the reason why Krishna is not saying anything about victory. The real teacher, the real Guru does not promise you victory. He promises you a real war. He does not promise you a victory. Remember! He promises a real war. We are too busy in fighting fake war. The real Guru says –‘Come! Join the real war’
‘Sawa lakh se ek ladau’ that is the real guru. He is not saying that you will indeed be victorious in a material way. He is saying –‘Fight! even if you are one and they are lakh or in million, still Fight!’ Fight if it is right to fight. Fight for action as a destiny. Fight if that is the command of theTtruth. Fight! If that is what the ‘Aatman’ says. Fight! If that is what the Krishna says. Fight! if that is the command of the guru.
I repeat, the Guru is not a person. Do not be dependent. Do not forget that we had just said that these words are simultaneously a call for surrender and an invitation to the freedom of the open sky. Often, it would happen that there would be no person to council you then you have to let your own meditativeness decides for you, then you have to let your own fearlessness decide for you, then you have to let the call of the unknown decide for you. You would not always be so lucky as to have bodily Krishna in front of you and even if he is there, to listen or not would be your own decision. So, that thing within which decides is of paramount importance.
Do we have a great sutra with us now? This is an entire way of life that Krishna has so pithily expressed. He is saying, “Do what destiny demands you to do.” And destiny is not material, never of this world. The Truth is the destiny. You sublimation, your dissolution, that is the destiny. Right!
-Excerpts from a ‘Shabd-Yoga’ session. Edited for clarity
Watch the session video: Acharya Prashant on Bhagwad Gita: Krishna is the heart of Arjun
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