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VEDANTA KESARIWhen Delhi is the Destination | Editorial  







               When Delhi Is The Destination




     There is a sincere question from people who are heavily caught in the turmoil of work: How should we join the pieces of our life, secular and sacred, to make it a meaningful whole? This is not only a sincere question, but a burning question also. But, to be sure, a question can never be younger than its answer. So, this is a very old question and the only saving answer available to mankind is also equally old. The answer came from all those who succeeded in their endeavour to make the whole life meaningful, and also from the great teachers of humanity. It has passed through the strictest quality control tests - at the levels of theory and its application. Let us keep it in mind that a meaningful whole should have all its components oriented to the goal set for it.


     Without arguing further, we shall try to discover a meaning in the secular part of our life with an end in view, which is congruous with the goal. This has been done by no less a man than Acharya Shankara in a very rational manner. He took up the issue of Karma-Jnana controversy in the ll-th verse of the Viveka-chudamani. Some more verses follow to clarify the position favoured by Shankara. The verse goes:



     Chittasya shuddhaye karma,
          rut tu vastu-upalabdhaye.
     Vastu-siddhih vicharena
          na kinchit karma-kotibhih.


     The meaning of the verse is: Karma (desire-prompted, ritualistic action) may be required to purify the mind, but it is not meant for realization of the Truth (or Moksha, the fourth Purushartha or value in the Hindu tradition). Realization of the Truth is achieved by Vichara, discrimination (between the Real and the unreal); and not by millions of karma.


     The verse reveals a precedence or perspective against which it is introduced. Let us take a concrete example to have a graphic picture about the whole statement under the present verse: There is a train called Charminar Express, which, we know, runs between Chennai and Hyderabad. There is another train called Rajdhani Express, which runs between Hyderabad and Delhi. Again there is another train called G.T. Express, which runs between Chennai and Delhi. Some people, willing to go to Delhi, collected information about the route that they should take to go to Delhi. They say that it is the Charminar Express that goes to Delhi. Well, nobody should have any objection to such a wrong assertion or misinformation of these people. But as soon as they start giving publicity to this information, they are to be contradicted; because it would affect others.


     Now, let us read the verse against this milieu. Shankara says: Chittasya shuddhaye karma, karma is required to purify the mind, i.e., Charminar Express is required to go up to Hyderabad. [Why? Because it terminates there.] Na tu vastu-upalabdhaye, it is not meant for the realization of the Truth, i.e., it does not go to Delhi. [Because it comes back from Hyderabad itself.... Then, how should one go to Delhi?] Vastu-siddhih vicharena, realization of the Truth is achieved by Vichara, or discrimination, i.e., one should go to Delhi by the Rajdhani Express from Hyderabad. Na kinchit karma-kotibhih, and not by millions of karma, i.e., Delhi cannot be reached by travelling by the Charminar Express millions of times.


     By this clarification we come to know that those people have somehow decided to go to Hyderabad by any means. Otherwise, they could have taken the direct train called the G.T. Express to Delhi. It also transpires that Shankara wants to say the following: (a) Karma does not give liberation; because up to (etavata) the purification of mind is the highest reach (gatih) of karma anyhow. [Charminar Express does not go to Delhi; because it terminates at Hyderabad.] (b) Karma cannot give liberation; because one has to come back from heavens etc that are the fruits of ritualistic karma. [Charminar Express cannot go to Delhi; because it comes back from Hyderabad.] (c) Karma need not give liberation; because it is by jnana that one gets liberation. [Charminar Express need not go to Delhi; because there is a connecting train called Rajdhani Express to serve the purpose.] (d) Chitta-shuddhi (purification of mind) is an unavoidable necessity in the scheme of realization through the path of Jnana.



     A Recap of the Idea of such Karma



     The Vedantins understand karma in the following manner. Of course, there are other karmas that Shankara does not consider in this context, (i) There are some actions that lead to repeated birth and death (jayasva mriyasva). They are called mere actions (kevalam karma), (ii) There are some other actions, a little higher in the scheme so far as the outcome of those is concerned. People follow the scriptural injunctions about values in life for a peaceful existence (jijivishet shatam samah) and performance of one's duties. This can be done with the help of the ritualistic Yajnas also. Such people reach Pitriloka after death. It is like finishing a time-bound work before the time limit, and then earning a few days' leave. After enjoying the holidays and refreshing oneself one joins the same duties at the same place (punah avartinah). (iii) There are some actions, called Upasana (or mental actions in the form of meditation on God etc), by doing which people go to the heavens. It is like finishing a big project well ahead of the time limit with the help of big people and earning a long leave. But one has to join one's duties again after the leave. Roughly speaking, this can be achieved with the help of the ritualistic Yajnas also. (iv) Sri Krishna brings out two aspects of karma yoga, before and after realization: (a) As a means to realization: By doing karma the greats like Janaka reached the goal. This has a concrete example in the story of Satyakama who attained realization through work - by tending the cattle. (b) As an illustration, after realization: Again in the same verse (the Gita 3.20) Sri Krishna says that even realized souls do karma for the welfare of the many. Speaking about the rationale of selfless service, he gives the example of Ishvara performing work in His Avatara (varte eva cha karmani).


     Shankara is uncompromising about contradicting karma as understood by the Mimamsakas, not to show that karma has no meaning, but to say that jnana is the ultimate necessity. The competence of an aspirant for non-dual realization has been told in a very lengthy list in the Vedantasara. It seems, one will fail to count the certificates; so one has to weigh them. All the karmas, like nitya (daily duties), naimittika (occasional - social and other functions), upasana (meditation), and prayash-chitta (expiatory deeds) have been included in the plan. They are required to bring about discrimination (viveka, to choose the better of the two - pleasurable and preferable), dispassion (indifference, but not hatred) and renunciation (vairagya, attachment to the goal, but not only detachment to the world), and then mumukshutva, 'desire for liberation' (from all attachments, sacred or secular). In this way it has been established that karma, as a means, will help one to acquire the competence for jnana. And there are some persons who have already acquired this competence; the path of karma is not meant for them. They can directly start with the path of knowledge; they will board the Rajdhani Express from Hyderabad to reach Delhi. Then, what is the bone of contention? Where does the shoe pinch?



     The Arguments



     The arguments are set in the context of a wrong propaganda, by flouting the higher truth in the Shruti in favour of a lower truth; in asserting that Charminar Express goes to Delhi. Let us take a look into the arguments of the pro-karma theorists. They say that the vakyas (statements) in the Vedas should be divided into two categories: those that speak about facts (siddha-vastu-bodhaka), and those that speak about actions (karya-bodhaka). The statements of facts are redundant because they do not inform about something new, unknown to us, or something that is to be acquired. It does not serve a purpose to say 'I am Brahman'. It is a descriptive statement about a known thing. So mere information is not of any validity (apramana) unless it helps one to achieve one's purpose. On the other hand, statements that goad one to action are valid (pramana), for they help one achieve a purpose. But this leads to the objection that if the Vedas can contain both valid and invalid statements then they are spurious. Therefore, a compromise has to be struck. The pro-karma theorists say that the statements of facts are not invalid, but have secondary validity. They inspire the agents (doers of ritualistic works) by glorifying them as Atman or Brahman, to take up actions with confidence. Hence 'statements of facts' should be combined with 'statements of actions' to make the former valid, which, in other words, means, jnana should be combined with karma and also upasana.


     Shankara's rejoinder is that the fear of losing ourselves after death and also the sufferings of the self, which are caused by the ignorance about our real nature, cannot be overcome by action ultimately. The fear and the attendant palpitation caused by mistaking a rope for a snake (i.e., ignorance about the rope,) cannot be eliminated by the performance of any Yajna (sarva-nidhana-yajna or any yajna for that matter), but by the knowledge of the rope (a siddha vastu) alone. Further, jnana cannot be combined with action, because jnana destroys that duality which is the very basis for and goal of action. Moreover, by their above views the pro-karma theorists run the contingency of invalidating 'prohibitory injunctions' that do not goad people to do any action (nishedha vakyas, that are accepted by them as pramana).Therefore, karma is secondary in the scheme of liberation (Moksha) from the fear generated by duality (dvitiydt). It helps one to understand the futility of doing karma (parikshya lokun karmachitdn), and the limits and limitations of karma, and then to take up the path otjnana. This is what Shankara means when he says: karma brings about the purification of the mind, but does not help one to realize the goal, which is non-dual.




     Realization of the Goal



     There is a misunderstanding about this message even by the so-called Shankarite scholars. Once they are able to appreciate this stand of Shankara intellectually, they think they have acquired competence to follow the path of jnana. They miss the very important point of sadhana-chatushtaya-sampatti, i.e., acquisition of the four-fold capital mandatory for the path of knowledge. The Kathopanishad (1.2.23) would say: "One who has desisted from bad conduct, whose senses are under control, whose mind is concentrated, whose mind is free from anxiety (about the result of concentration), can attain this Self through knowledge." If we have done this, then by mere Shravana (hearing) of the Mahavakyas we will be liberated. But, to say the least, an aspirant of this calibre is a rarity. For that reason, even when a renunciation of the orthodox path of karma has been done without this capital, one has to undertake a path of sadhana conducive to the path of jnana. This is like choosing the direct train, the G.T. Express, from Chennai to Delhi, and not going by the Hyderabad route. The notable thing about this is that the G.T. Express starts from Chennai only, and not from a little advanced position called Hyderabad. It won't help us if we travel by Charminar Express millions of times, when Delhi is the destination. So it has been said: na kinchit karma kotibhih, not by millions of karma.


     Let us look at the calibration of the scale on the total road map of Jnana leading to the freedom from bondage (Moksha). What are the pre-requisites for people to fulfil to gain competence for this path? The authentic books of Vedanta say: Those are the competent persons who have acquired a workable knowledge of the Vedas and the Vedangas through proper study of them in this life or earlier, who have abandoned all selfish pursuits and prohibited actions, whose minds have become extremely pure through the performance of physical actions enjoined by the scriptures and mental actions like meditation on divinities, who have forsaken in favour of the permanent goal all the impermanent goals and the desire for their use, who have become devoted to the permanent goal (i.e., Brahman), and who have developed a sincere query for liberation from all conditionings. Succinctly, the road map has been envisaged as "karma (physical actions) - upasana (mental actions) - jnana (knowledge)". By default, therefore, karma has been set as one of the accepted ingredients in the scheme of Jnana.


     Hence, we can safely conclude that until karma is thus given a proper and higher direction, it would continue to confuse all. That karma (both physical and mental) by itself cannot bring about peace has been the experience of all workers down the ages. It is only when our lives in work-places and in all works are anointed with an ultimate goal that we are able to establish the missing link between the sacred and the secular for leading a meaningful life. And we are sure to get that satisfaction which our soul pines for.



     Prabuddha Bharata

     Vedanta Kesari

     Vedanta Mass Media


International Yoga Day 21 June 2015
International Yoga Day 21 June 2015








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