Shri Datta Swami

Posted on: 13 Mar 2023


English »   Malayalam »  

Does karma yoga only prepare one for jnana yoga, which in turn leads to liberation?

[Dr. Nikhil asked: Padanamaskarams Swamiji, an eminent preacher belonging to the Advaita tradition claims that as per the Gītā, the step of karma precedes jñāna. I have formulated a question based on that claim and request Your kind clarification. Regards, Nikhil

Question: An Advaita preacher said: We agree that the paths of karma yoga (action of sacrifice & service) and jñāna yoga (spiritual knowledge) are not two parallel paths leading to the same goal, but sequential steps that lead to the same goal of mokṣa (liberation). So, in the spiritual path, one step leads to the other, which in turn leads to the final goal of liberation. This was explained by Lord Kṛṣṇa in the Gītā, as “Sāṅkhya-yogau pṛthak bālāḥ…—Gītā 5.4” and “Yat sāṅkhyaiḥ prāpyate sthānaṃ tadyogairapi gamyate ekaṃ sāṅkhyaṃ ca yogaṃ ca…—Gītā 5.5”. Bhakti (devotion) is not mentioned separately in this two-step division of the spiritual path, because, according to us, bhakti is included in both the steps of karma and jñānam. Our main disagreement with You is that we believe that the step of karma precedes the step of jñānam. We say that the step of karma yoga is only preparatory as it leads to the purification of the mind (Yogayukto viśuddhātmā— Gītā 5.7; Yoginaḥ karma kurvanti saṅgaṃ tyaktvātma śuddhaye— Gītā 5.11). These two sequential steps of karma followed by jñānam also correspond to the Karma Kāṇḍa and the Jñāna Kāṇḍa portions of the Veda. Lord Kṛṣṇa was referring to these two portions of the Veda when He said that He had revealed these two paths in the ancient past (Loke’smin dvividhā niṣṭhā purā proktā mayānagha— Gītā 3.3). As stated above, the Upāsanā Kāṇḍa of the Veda, which corresponds to bhakti (devotion) is already included in the Karma Kāṇḍa and the Jñāna Kāṇḍa and hence is not mentioned separately. It is well-established by Śrī Ṣaṅkara that the Karma Kāṇḍa is only a preparatory step to purify the mind before a person can study the Jñāna Kāṇḍa.]

Swami replied: If Krishna referred the Veda that contains Karma Kaanda (action) in the beginning and Jnaana Kaanda (Knowledge) later on with the Upasana Kaanda (Devotion) in between, why Krishna Himself mentioned jnaana yoga in the beginning and Karma yoga in the second step of the verse? (jñāna yogena sāṅkhyānām, Karma yogena yoginām). This sequence is maintained by Him in other places also (Ekaṃ sāṅkhyaṃ ca yogaṃ ca…, Yat Saāṅkhyaiaḥ… tat yogairapi… etc,). Even the Brahmasuutras mentioned jnaana yoga as the first step (Athāto Brahma Jijñāsā). In the Upanishads also, the Father-preacher advises his son to enquire about Brahman in the beginning (tat vijijñāsasva). In the Veda, the details about Karma Yoga consisting of Karma Samnyaasa (cooking the food for the participants of spiritual seminar) and karma phala tyaaga (spending for the materials required for the preparation of food) was elaborately dealt due to which the first place was given. The importance of the first place is to tell that karma yoga or practical devotion is more important than theoretical jnaana yoga and bhakti yoga. Hence, karma yoga is the final step that yields the final fruit. Let us analyze logically also. Karma yoga means service and sacrifice to the divine preacher. Suppose we do both these to a preacher and suppose his preaching gives wrong knowledge, are we not put to loss on both sides? Shall we ask the preacher to return the cost of service and the money sacrificed as Guru Dakshina since his knowledge is not satisfying to us?

First, we must hear the spiritual knowledge from the preacher and then decide whether the knowledge preached by the preacher is excellent true knowledge (Prajñānam) or not. If His spiritual knowledge is excellent and mind-blowing, then, we shall continue to serve Him to get further knowledge.  Then, we can also sacrifice Guru Dakshina, which is not a pre-requisite like the tuition fees paid in schools or colleges. You may argue that we are paying the tuition fees in school or college during the time of admission itself.  Here, you must know the difference between a Sadguru preaching true spiritual knowledge and the school teaching some materialistic knowledge. In the materialistic knowledge, syllabus exists with standard concepts present in the prescribed text books. There are authorities to check whether the teacher is teaching well and completing all the syllabus or not. The teacher will be warned or removed if found defective. Such system is not present in the program of preaching the spiritual knowledge by the Sadguru.

Pre-payment of fees does not involve much risk in a school or college. It is not so in the preaching of the Sadguru. Moreover, prescribed fees exist in materialistic education whereas Guru Dakshina to Sadguru is not prescribed but depends on our capacity and devotion to the Sadguru. Even if you want to serve the incarnation of God, you must identify and know the incarnation so that you can serve Him and this indicates jnaana yoga (knowing the incarnation) first and Karma yoga (serving the incarnation) in the subsequent stage.  In the Gita, some say that first 6 chapters are Karma yoga, the next 6 chapters are Bhakti yoga and the last 6 chapters are Jnaana yoga. This is the funniest joke. Everywhere in the Gita, these three yogas were discussed at random wherever necessary. If you go very deep into the meaning of any verse in the Gita, it contains all the 3 yogas and thus, every verse itself is a mini Bhagavad Gita. Enquiry about anything is Jnaana yoga, which develops interest in it (Bhakti yoga) and finally serving it practically is Karma yoga. This is the sequence for any human being having a little common sense.