Shri Datta Swami

Posted on: 04 Jan 2003

     

THE PATH OF SELFLESS SERVICE

Karma and Karma Yoga

Nishkama karma yoga is a word that often comes in the Bhagavad Gita. Karma, akarma and vikarma are also mentioned in the Gita (Karmanohyapi…). Karma means the work done with a selfish desire for the limited circle of one’s family. Karma yoga means the work done for the sake of Lord. Akarma means inaction; not doing either karma or karma yoga. Vikarma means action, which disturbs the peace of the world by harming good devotees.

For Arjuna, participating in the Mahabharata war was both karma and karma yoga. It was karma because Arjuna could get back his rightful kingdom, which represents money or wealth. It was karma yoga, because the war was the mission of God. The Lord was destroying injustice by fighting the war against evil people. Participation in such a war is karma yoga. Therefore, it was absolutely necessary for Arjuna to participate in this war and destroy the Kauravas, who stood as his enemy. The war happened to be the personal work (svakaryam—self-serving or self-centered work) and also the work of the Lord (Swami karyam). Svakaryam is another word for karma and Swami karyam is another word for karma yoga.

‘Karma’ is common to both terms: karma and karma yoga. This means that a person always has to work. The soul is born in this world only for doing work; therefore, one cannot remain idle or avoid work. The Gita says the same thing as “Nahi Kashchit....” Now in order to do any work or karma, an aim (sankalpa) is essential. Without an aim, no work (karma) can be done. In your body the blood circulatory system, the digestive system etc., are all working with the aim of keeping your body fit to do some work in this world. You are born in this world with a purpose. The purpose is that you should do minimum karma and maximum karma yoga. Unfortunately, you are doing maximum karma without doing even a minimum of karma yoga. That is, most of the work that you do is self-centered; you do it for yourself or for your limited family.

Work of the Lord

While you work for your limited family, the Lord works for the whole world, which is His family. Helping Him in His work is karma yoga. He comes down in human form as a Human Incarnation or Avatara, very frequently. He even comes down in different human forms at the same time for the upliftment of the entire human race. His work involves uplifting people present at various levels to higher and higher levels.

One Incarnation may concentrate on converting atheists into believers of God by showing miracles, which are beyond scientific logic. That is the main work for that Incarnation. Another Incarnation may promote worship of God. He may introduce worship of God through names and forms. He may encourage traditional worship, prayers and worship in temples. The believers in God (aastikas) can climb only this step in the beginning. Another Incarnation reveals the Absolute Truth, which is Brahma Jnana (Real Knowledge of God). That is His chief purpose.

Human Incarnations—A Spiritual Educational Complex

Human Incarnations of various types, such as described above, form a complex of various educational institutions. In this complex, there are different levels of institutions such as school, college and university. At each level the Human Incarnation represents the head of that institution. There is the headmaster for the school, a principal for the college and a chancellor for the university. Various types of assisting staff to assist all the three are also present. The three levels of institutions perform their duties within their limited circles.

School level: Atheist becomes a believer

An uneducated person is first admitted into a school. He then goes to a college and finally to a university. The uneducated person cannot enter the university directly. Similarly, an atheist should first become a believer of God by seeing divine miracles. Converting atheists into believers is the main purpose of the first type of Human Incarnation.

College level: Believer becomes a devotee

After becoming a believer in God (theist), a person should become a devotee through different types of worship and devotional songs. The second type of Human Incarnation works for this. The above two types (school and college) of Incarnations, work for the purification of the mind of the person. Only when the mind is completely freed from jealousy and ego, is it said to be completely purified. Prayers, worship and traditional practices, promoted by the second type of Human Incarnation, purify the mind. Thus, the person becomes eligible for jnana yoga or the knowledge of God. Lord Shankara has said that the traditional practices bring about the purification of mind, which makes one eligible for receiving jnana yoga.

University level: Devotee becomes a Jnani

At the university level, the devotee becomes a Jnani (possessor of knowledge). Having gained the eligibility to acquire this knowledge, he works to get established in this knowledge, in this step. This third level is the most important level. However, if the mind is not completely purified, jnana yoga cannot be achieved. Once the person is established in jnana yoga, he is liberated. When you have this jnana yoga, you will be astonished as said in the Gita (Ashcharyavat pashyati…). The third Incarnation reveals the whole true knowledge in order to convert the devotee to a Jnani.

This third Incarnation is called the Pari Poorna Tamavataram. The words ‘Pari’ and ‘Tama’ both indicate the superlative degree. The use of a double superlative degree is to emphasize that there can be no greater Avatara or Human Incarnation than this. He is God who is fully revealed. He says vehemently that He is God. Lord Krishna is the highest and fullest Incarnation (Pari Poorna Tamavataram). Only He can reveal the true knowledge, which can open all the knots of your heart. All your doubts are cleared with this knowledge. Your heart is immersed in the ocean of Bliss. This Avatara reveals jnana yoga.

Serving the Lord

Nirvikalpa samadhi

Lord Datta, who is the Human Incarnation of God, reveals Himself fully to deserving devotees and declares that He exists in that human form. If you recognize His human form and fix Him in your mind forever, such a state is called nirvikalpa samadhi. Nirvikalpa means not getting doubts after the decision. Samadhi is the unshakeable decision. Hanuman and Radha are the best examples for nirvikalpa samadhi. Both of them recognized the Human Incarnations of their time, Lord Rama and Lord Krishna respectively, and worshipped them with total faith. Both Hanuman and Radha did only Swami karyam and gave up their svakaryam.

Radha and Hanuman—Ideal servants of God

Radha preached firm devotion to the world. Hanuman proved his firm devotion by always doing selfless service to the Lord. Radha lived with the Lord when the Lord had not commenced His work. Therefore, Radha did not get the opportunity to participate in the work of the Lord. Hence, she did personal service to the Lord. Swami (the Lord) started His work only after leaving Radha. Radha was a simple milkmaid and could not participate in war and the destruction of evil. So she could not assist Lord Krishna in His mission on earth, which was to destroy injustice. Satyabhama, Lord Krishna’s wife, on the other hand, who was well versed in the art of warfare, helped Lord Krishna during the war with the demon, Narakasura.

Hanuman was far from Lord Rama before the work of the Lord began. The reason for this was that Hanuman was a warrior and could help Lord Rama in His mission to destroy evil. Therefore, he got associated with the Lord in the latter part of the life of Lord Rama, when He needed Hanuman. Radha was associated with Swami (Lord) in the earlier part of the Lord’s life. Hanuman was associated in the latter part of the Lord’s life. When Lord Krishna left Vrindavanam, Radha did not go home. She wandered on the banks of river Yamuna till she died. Thus, Radha outwardly exhibited love for the Lord. Hanuman too had the same extent of love for the Lord in his heart. However, Hanuman did not exhibit it. He proved it in the performance of service. For all ordinary individuals, both exhibition of the love for God and proof of love through service are necessary.

Arjuna, the ordinary

What happened in the case of Arjuna? Arjuna refused to fight and get back his kingdom. What is the meaning of this? Arjuna did not want to perform svakaryam (self-centered work). Lord Krishna advised Arjuna to fight the war not for the sake of Svakarma but for the sake of participating in the Lord’s work, which was the destruction of injustice. So Arjuna did not participate in the war as svakaryam (karma), but fully participated in the war as Swami karyam (karma yoga). So far it was good.

But there is one important point here. Arjuna had not refused to do his karma (fight the war for selfish desire) due to his devotion for the Lord. Had he left the war due to pure and extreme devotion for the Lord, it would have been good. Had Arjuna left the war due to true detachment from his kingdom (wealth), it would also have been good. But Arjuna refused to fight because of his blind attraction to family bonds. That is why the Lord advised Arjuna to first look upon the war as karma itself. The Lord wanted Arjuna to realize that the war was his duty as a warrior and was in fact beneficial for him even from the selfish point of view. Refusing to fight this war would not only mean a personal loss of kingdom, wealth and power for Arjuna and his family, but would also bring eternal ill fame to him.

Arjuna did not have as much love for the Lord as Radha had for the Lord. Hanuman, who was also a warrior, had that much love. Therefore, Hanuman never had such doubts. Arjuna did not consider the war as karma yoga (the work of the Lord); in fact, this thought never even entered his mind. Therefore, the Lord first taught him karma, then taught Bhakti (devotion) through Jnana (knowledge), and then taught jnana yoga (knowledge of God) after the purification of mind through Bhakti. Lord Krishna revealed Himself as God in jnana yoga and finally advised him to participate in the war as the work of God—karma yoga.

The essence of the Bhagavad Gita can be told in one sentence: Kill Duryodhana not for the sake of your kingdom, but as a servant participating in God’s mission to destroy injustice.

Desireless service

Hanuman’s case was different. He participated in the war as a servant of the Lord (Lord Rama) and not for any personal benefit. Therefore, nishkama karma yoga means the participation in the work of the Lord in human form, without any selfish aim. The work of the Lord is only to uplift humanity. Such participation results only through Jnana (knowledge) and Bhakti (devotion). In case of Lord Rama, the fruit of the war (freeing His wife Sita and the killing of the evil Ravana), went to Lord Rama alone. Hanuman did not get any benefit even though he fought the war by risking his life. Thus, you must give the fruit of your work to the Lord. To do so, you must get rid of selfishness. Then even in performing karma, you will not have any selfish aim. This lack of selfish aim is called nishkama. If you do not have any selfish aim, you will not be attached to the fruit of karma. Only then can you give the fruit to the Lord.

Types of Devotees

Highest devotees—Divine beings

If one leads a life like Hanuman, who completely concentrated on the work of God, such a person can go from Brahmacharya (celibate-student stage in life) directly to samnyasa (stage of a renounced monk). A renounced monk is called a sanyasi and he too does work. But he surrenders the fruit of his entire work to the Lord. Hanuman was a brahmacharya sanyasi (one who directly took up the life of a renunciant after student life). That means that he did not marry and surrendered his whole life and work to the Lord. He did complete Swami karyam without doing any svakaryam. Adi Shankara, Swami Vivekananda, Ramana Maharshi etc., are others of this highest category of people.

Mediocre devotees—Human beings

People of the second category are called madhyamas (mediocre). These are people who take up family life after student life. They remain with their family for most of their life and do both svakaryam and Swami karyam. Among such people, the amount of Swami karyam that they do, is in proportion to the devotion (bhakti) they have and the amount of Svakaryam that they do is in proportion to their selfishness. In the case of Arjuna, by fighting the war, he got back his kingdom and also participated in the work of the Lord, which was the establishment of justice. Thus, he achieved both Svakaryam and Swami karyam with this one action of fighting the war. Arjuna is called Nara. Nara means a human birth. Hanuman was granted the post of the future Creator (Brahma) of the universe, in the next cycle of creation. Therefore, those of the first category become divine forms. People of the second category get human rebirths.

Selfish non-devotees—Animals and demons

There is a third category of people. Such people remain in Svakaryam during their entire life. That means, their time, work, energy and money are completely devoted for themselves, for their family members and for their blood relations alone. These are utterly selfish beings. They cannot recognize God in human form. They go on worshipping pictures and statues alone for their selfish ends. Duryodhana belonged to this type. He was always interested in having even his cousins’ kingdom for himself and for his blood-related family. He did not recognize Lord Krishna as God in human form. He did not participate or help in the Lord’s mission. Instead, he went to Lord Krishna to ask for His help even though Duryodhana’s cause was selfish and unjust. Even there Duryodhana was not interested in Lord Krishna but wanted Lord Krishna to give the vast and invincible Yadava army to Duryodhana.

Such people are not devoted and even the worship that they perform is only to achieve their selfish ends. They will never help the Lord in His work but go on worshipping Him for their selfish ends. Duryodhana went to a terrible hell (Patala) forever. Such people are reborn as worms in pits of mud and excretory matter. They are caught in the cycle of such births forever. The Gita says that this is indeed the lowest category of people (Samsareshu Naradhaman).

Your choice

Therefore, you should make sure that you do not fall under the third category under any circumstances. The first category is like the sky, which you cannot reach. At least remain in the second category and attain human rebirth (Nara). That is why Lord Krishna preached the Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna who was called Partha [1], the Nara. Ninety nine percent of people can reach the level of Nara by their sadhana (spiritual effort). It is better to remain on earth rather than falling to the lowest hell called Patala. The upper world (heaven) contains divine forms like angels, the earth, which is the middle world, contains human beings and lower world contains demons. This statement can be understood in the above sense.


[1] Partha literally means the son of Pritha (Earth). Thus, in general, it means a human being (nara), who is a resident of Earth. More specifically, one of the main characters in the epic Mahabharata, Arjuna, was commonly referred to as Partha. He was the son of Kunti (also known as Pritha). Arjuna was an incarnation of sage Nara and Kunti was the incarnation of the Earth Goddess, Bhu Devi.