Bhagavad Gita - Chapter XVIII Print E-mail

The eighteenth chapter is Krsna’s final message. It begins with Arjuna asking for precise definitions of the two most important concepts in Vedanta – sannyasa renunciation and tyaga resignation. Krsna quotes the wise sages of the past. He clarifies that sannyasa is giving up of desire-driven actions while tyaga is giving up the fruits of action. Contrary to popular perception neither sannyasa nor tyaga implies giving up action. Action continues, giving up the two things that come in the way of excellence in action – desire from the past and anxiety for the fruit which belongs to the future. Desire is necessary to initiate action. Without desire no action will be undertaken. Similarly there is always a fruit in mind before acting. However, while executing action 100% of the mind must be focussed on the action. If at this time the mind meanders into the dead past or unborn future it is not concentrating on the present action. Action becomes faulty and ineffective, leading to failure.

 

Krsna goes on to say that some sages say that all action should be renounced as flawed. While others maintain that acts of sacrifice, charity and penance must never be abandoned. The vast majority of people are laden with desire. They need to perform acts of sacrifice, charity and penance to purify themselves. For them action free from attachment and fruit is the pathway to spiritual evolution. The rare one who is on the verge of Realisation and is totally absorbed in meditation needs to let go of the last thought, the mantra, which is now an impediment. It prevents him from taking off into the exalted state of Enlightenment. He needs to give up all action, vasanas, the last one being the desire for Realisation.

 

Tyaga is of three kinds – sattvika, rajasika and tamasika. Abandoning obligatory action out of delusion is tamasika. It is not tyaga at all. False or rajasika tyaga is giving up action that is troublesome, fearing physical discomfort. True or sattvika tyaga is performance of obligatory action because it ought to be done, giving up attachment and fruit.

 

The chapter then analyses the five distinct aspects of action – the body, the actor, the various instruments – mind, intellect, ego, sense organs and external instruments – their respective functions and the Divine, the fifth. The Divine Self remains inactive but enlivens all the other entities and enables them to function. If you identify with Atman and not the individuality, action takes on a Divine dimension. Work becomes worship. Such action does not bind you, not even the act of killing.

 

The next portion gives a brilliant insight into our personality. The qualities of sattva, rajas and tamas impact on each aspect of our persona. No being is free from the influence of these three gunas, traits. The various facets of our inner working are knowledge, action, actor, intellect, consistency and happiness. We all have one or two faults that pull us down. By understanding the manifestation of the gunas in the different entities, we can identify the weak spots and deal with them. Thus the whole personality gets a lift. For example you may have sattvika knowledge but may be tamasika in consistency. You may have the capacity to see the larger picture and understand the oneness in and through the superficial differences. But you may be indisciplined and inconsistent at work. With a little effort in this area you will be able to knock off tamas and make a huge difference in your performance.

 

Based on this inner composition all human beings were categorised into four varnas or castes. This distinction was not based on heredity but on one’s proportion of sattva, rajas and tamas. Each caste was then given a vocation that best suited their temperament. The purpose was to facilitate the spiritual development of all and help them rise to the highest level of Perfection. The varnas correspond to natural archetypes that exist in all societies and act as a general guide to fulfilment and growth in life. A mismatch of inner composition with external work can be highly frustrating and prevent progress.

 

Brahmanas who were predominantly sattvika and highly refined were role models and led the other castes. They naturally took to academics – study, research and teaching in the fields of science, medicine, engineering etc. They were also stalwarts in soft skills like music, art, literature and philosophy. They were the advisors to the other castes, particularly in the field of ethics and morality. Thus ancient India was led by men and women of wisdom, not of wealth. They guided the wealthy Ksatriyas and protected them from the corruptive influence of wealth and power. The Ksatriyas – ruler and warrior caste with administrative and management skills – were predominantly rajasika. Vaishyas, traders and businessmen, had more tamas. The sudras, labour class, were predominantly tamasika.

 

Krsna encapsulates the entire spiritual path in verses 46 to 57 starting with the three practices of Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Jnana Yoga and ending with meditation. He cautions Arjuna, and all of us, on the consequences of disregarding His advice. If you shift your focus to the Self, Atman, you will overcome all obstacles. If you ignore the Divinity and get lost in the material realms you will perish.

 

Krsna then leaves us to do as we wish. The Bhagavad Gita is not a doctrine of adesa, commandments, that must be accepted without question. It is upadesa, advice based on a logical, scientific treatise on the human personality. You need to reflect deeply on these principles, examine them from different angles, experiment with them and draw your own conclusions. Exactly as you would with Physics or Chemistry. Then you will automatically live them. You will experience the truths laid down in the Gita and find Liberation while living in the world. You will live like a king, think like a sannyasi. Command the resources of the world but not depend on them.

 

 

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