[Editor’s note: This is the fifth of a series of eighteen essays on the chapters of Bhagavad-gita.]
As the Fifth Chapter of Bhagavad-gita opens, Arjuna is asking Krsna practically the same question he asked at the beginning of the Third Chapter, namely whether there is a difference between renounced action and inaction or between knowledge and devotional service, and if so, which is better. He says that he is confused: “Now will You kindly tell me definitely which of the two is more beneficial.” One may wonder why such a great devotee of Krsna should be confused after so much instruction from the Supreme Person, how after listening to the close reasoning of the Third and Fourth Chapters Arjuna still has question in his mind. But we must keep in mind that Arjuna is not simply asking questions for his own sake; actually, Arjuna is an eternally liberated associate of Krsna’s. As such, there is no question in his mind, but because Arjuna has been placed in the position of ignorance by Krsna’s yogamaya for the benefit of the conditioned soul, he is, therefore, asking the questions on the part of the conditioned soul. Therefore he is repeating them in so many ways so that Krsna can have a chance to explain still more elaborately, just to erase every possibility of doubt. Repetition of a thing is necessary to understand it perfectly.
Work In Devotion
In the Second Chapter preliminary knowledge of the soul and its entanglement in the body were explained; how to get out of this entanglement by the method of buddhi-yoga was also explained therein. In the Third Chapter it was explained that a person who is on the platform of knowledge no longer has any duty to perform; and in the Fourth Chapter the Lord told Arjuna that all kinds of sacrificial work culminate in knowledge. However, at the end of the Fourth Chapter the Lord advised Arjuna to wake up and fight, being situated in perfect knowledge. Therefore by simultaneously stressing the importance of work in devotion and inaction through knowledge, Krsna has perplexed Arjuna and confused his determination. Arjuna understands that renunciation in knowledge involves cessation of all kinds of work involving sense gratificatory activities, but if one performs work in devotional service, how is work stopped? In other words, Arjuna has not quite understood that work in knowledge is as good as renunciation or inactive knowledge, that work in devotional service, because it is nonreactive, is transcendentally the same in result as inaction in knowledge. So Krsna will more elaborately explain that these two are actually one.
In the second verse Krsna says: “The renunciation of work and work in devotion are both good for liberation. But, of the two, work in devotional service is better than renunciation of work.” Fruitive activities are the cause of material bondage, and action performed for Krsna is the cause of liberation. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam this is confirmed as follows: “People are mad after sense gratification, and they do not know that this present body, which is full of miseries, is a result of one’s fruitive activities in the past. Although this body is temporary, it is always giving one trouble in many ways, and therefore to act for sense gratification is not good. One is considered to be a failure in life as long as he makes no inquiry about the nature of fruitive results, for as long as one is engrossed in the consciousness of sense gratification, one has to transmigrate from one body to another. Although the mind may be engrossed in fruitive activities and influenced by ignorance, one must develop a love for devotional service to Vasudeva. Only then can one have the opportunity to get out of the bondage of material existence.” (Bhag., 5.5.4-6)
The Purifying Process
Therefore simply to have theoretical knowledge that “I am not this body” is not sufficient for liberation. Factual liberation means to know that the spirit soul is different from the body and then to act on that knowledge. Simply knowing theoretically that “I am not this body” is theoretical liberation, but real liberation means acting as if I am not this body. Aham brahmasmi: “I am Brahman.” Liberation is a matter of activity, because constitutionally the spirit soul is always active. The spirit soul is never inactive at any point, either before or after liberation Therefore one who only knows theoretically that “I am not this body” and never acts on that platform, is not factually liberated. But one who acts in Krsna consciousness, or acts in knowledge that aham brahmasmi is of course liberated from the very beginning; and the action itself, which is performed as a sacrifice for Krsna or Visnu, is itself the purifying process, purifying the consciousness of all the dirty things accumulated for millions and millions of births.
As Krsna will tell Arjuna at the beginning of the next chapter, the real sannyasi, or person truly situated in renunciation, is not he who lights no sacrificial fire, or does no work, but he who is unattached to the fruits of his action; that is, he who does everything as an offering to the Lord. Renunciation becomes complete when it is in the knowledge that everything belongs to Krsna and that therefore I must use everything as if it is Krsna’s. This is action based on knowledge. Similarly, it is the conclusion of Srila Rupa Gosvami’s Bhakti-rasamrta-sindu that renunciation of things related to the Supreme, simply for the cause of liberation, even though those things appear material, is incomplete renunciation. Real renunciation means to renounce this idea of “I” and “mine.” This is called false ego. Real ego is all right—the sense of identity with Krsna: “I am Krsna’s”—but false ego means to claim Krsna’s property as our own. Actually everything belongs to Krsna, but I am making a false claim: therefore the only thing I can possibly renounce is this false claim—everything else is Krsna’s.
The Soul Of Existence
The conclusion of knowledge is service. This perfect form of action in Krsna consciousness is far better than any amount of artificial renunciation by a sannyasi or renounced person of the impersonalist school. So as long as one has not engaged his energies, both personal and extended, in the service of Krsna, his renunciation is incomplete, and his knowledge is incomplete. Krsna says: “Only the ignorant speak of karma-yoga and devotional service as being different from the analytical study of the material world [sankhya]. Those who are actually learned say that he who applies himself well to one of these paths achieves the results of both.” (4) Actually Krsna had already stated this in the 39th verse of the Second Chapter, and again in the third verse of the Third Chapter. Both of these paths are ultimately the same, Krsna said, because the goal is the same. The aim of the analytical study of the material world is to find out the soul of existence, Krsna, or the Supersoul; so by this speculative process one comes gradually to the conclusion, as explained in the Seventh Chapter, that Krsna is everything; and when one understands that He is everything, there is nothing else to do but to surrender in full devotional service. So the real student of sankhya philosophy ultimately finds the root of the material world, Visnu or Krsna, and then in perfect knowledge engages himself in the service of the Lord; whereas the bhakta engages in the service of the Lord from the very beginning. Therefore, Krsna says that devotional service is better, although in essence there is no difference in the two. But as long as one is not engaged in the service of Krsna and does not know that the two are one in conclusion, he has neither satisfied the demands of knowledge or service. So Krsna repeats this statement in the fifth verse. “One who knows that the position reached by means of renunciation can also be attained by devotional service, and who therefore sees that sankhya and yoga are on the same level, sees things as they are.”
Krsna has therefore established the point that the paths are the same because the goal is the same. In either case if one completes the course, one achieves Krsna; of that there is no doubt. But of the two, Krsna has also made clear that one is better. The second verse clearly states: “Of the two, work in devotional service is better than renunciation of works.” Similarly, in the 47th verse of the Sixth Chapter Krsna tells Arjuna that of all yogis “He who always abides in Me with great faith, worshiping Me in transcendental loving service is most intimately united with Me.” And if we will recall the 7th verse of the Third Chapter: “He who controls the senses by the mind and engages his active organs in works of devotion without attachment is by far superior.” So this conclusion that work in devotional service is superior to mere renunciation in so-called knowledge cannot be overlooked. Work in Krsna consciousness is automatically perfect knowledge, but mere renunciation of work is not necessarily Krsna consciousness. After all, Arjuna wanted to renounce fighting and go to the forest for meditation, and Lord Krsna heartily disapproved.
In the 6th-11th verses Krsna explains exactly why this is so. Verse 6 says: “Unless one is engaged in the devotional service of the Lord, mere renunciation of activities cannot make one happy. The sage, purified by the works of devotion, achieves the Supreme without delay.” As explained in this and the subsequent verses, Krsna consciousness is a process of purification. And what is that purification? It is a clearing away of the material contamination. And what is that material contamination? It is action from time immemorial based on the principles of sense gratification, action based on the concept of “I” and “mine,” and action, predicating the false ego, based on “I am lord of all I survey.” This is the condition that we have inherited, and since time immemorial we have been carrying out these activities; and now to simply try to stop them cold with nothing to replace them will not help us. Krsna says that it is not possible to stop action, for even the maintenance of the body requires action. Just as a giant rolling stone may not be stopped dead in its course, but with a very little effort its direction can be changed, so too activity cannot be stopped, but the direction can be changed, and that change is called purification, or Krsna consciousness. “Formerly I have been engaged in all these activities for my sense gratification. Now let me do them for the satisfaction of Hrsikesa, Krsna, the proprietor of all senses. Gratifying my senses will simply bind me further in the slavery of material bondage, but satisfying Krsna will release me at once and forever.” So in the eighth and ninth verses it says that “A person in the divine consciousness, although engaged in seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, eating, moving about, sleeping, and breathing, always knows within himself that he actually does nothing at all.” And the tenth verse says that such a person is unaffected by the sinful or pious reactions of his deeds, “as the lotus leaf is untouched by water.”
The Pleasure Within
In all the Vedic hymns it is indicated that everything in the material world is a manifestation of Brahman and that all the effects are but differently manifested and are nondifferent from the cause. Similarly, in Sri Isopanisadit is stated that everything is related to the Supreme Brahman, or Krsna, and thus everything belongs to Him only. One who knows perfectly well that everything belongs to Krsna, that He is the ultimate proprietor of everything, and that everything is engaged in His service, naturally has nothing to do with the results of his activities, whether virtuous or sinful, exactly as the lotus leaf, although remaining in the water, is never wet. Therefore Krsna’s instructions throughout Bhagavad-gita are “unto Me,” “surrender to Me,” “think of Me,” “be devoted to Me.” Always unto “Me,” Krsna. The conclusion is that such a person in Krsna consciousness is already liberated, free from the concept of the material body and senses, for he knows that even this body belongs to Krsna and should therefore be engaged cent percent in the service of Krsna. And what is the position of a person so purified? Krsna says in verse 17: “When one’s intelligence, mind, faith, and refuge are all fixed in the Supreme, then one becomes fully cleansed of misgivings through complete knowledge and thus proceeds straight on the path of liberation.”
Because the devotee’s every action is dedicated to Krsna, naturally his intelligence, his mind, and his faith and refuge are all fixed in the Supreme. In such a happy condition one becomes fully cleansed of all misgivings through complete knowledge. Misgivings mean doubts. There are so many doubts that beset the struggling neophyte—the senses are so strong, Krsna asserts at one point, that they carry away the mind of even an intelligent man. But because one has acted only for Krsna, he is said to be steady, and therefore in possession of real knowledge: aham brahmasmi, “I am not this body; I am part and parcel of the Supreme, Krsna.” Everything is a manifestation of that Supreme Spirit; therefore one proceeds straight on the path of liberation. Liberated from what? Liberated from this material body, or bodily conception of existence. Verse 21 says: “Such a liberated person is not attracted to material sense pleasure, but is always in trance, enjoying the pleasure within. In this way, the self-realized person enjoys unlimited happiness, for he concentrates on the Supreme.”
Material bondage means that I am in bondage to my senses, and that they are forcing me to act other than I might want to. Just as Arjuna asks Krsna what it is that forces a man to commit sin, even against his will; and just as St. Paul confessed, “That which I would do, I do not, and that which I do, I would not.” So even where the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak. The senses are constantly dictating to us: “Now feed me.” Actually, as it is explained in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, everything in the material world is “food and looking for food.” All living entities are food for some other living entity, and similarly they are preying on some poor creature. Similarly, each of the senses is looking for its food, and the objects of the senses are its food, the only difference being that the senses are never satiated, any more than a fire is extinguished by a lavish supply of gasoline. Therefore it is said that the senses are on fire; taste is on fire; sight is on fire; touch is on fire; hearing is on fire; smelling is on fire; and finally, the mind itself is on fire. Everything is on fire, and the only thing that can extinguish it is the mercy of the spiritual master, which is likened to the gentle action of the rain that can extinguish any forest fire: samsara-davanala-lidha-loka.
Twenty-four hours a day the conditioned soul is being kicked by material nature in the form of lust: first kicked by the party of lust for some pleasant sight, or some pleasant sound, or being forced to go here or go there in search of some satisfaction, some intoxication, or some sex pleasure; and then if one is not satisfied, which one never is, he is angry. So on the rebound he is kicked by the party of anger. First lust, then anger; that is the cosmic football game being played at the expense of the forgetful living entity under the stringent rules of material nature. But by the grace of the bona fide spiritual master, one can immediately be freed from this bondage simply by following in the footsteps of Krsna and Arjuna. Krsna is the original spiritual master, and Arjuna is the original student, and the key to success in self-realization is to hear in the same way that Arjuna heard. The spiritual master is the actual representative of Krsna because he speaks nothing but what Krsna spoke. Anyone who adds to or takes away from what Krsna said cannot be bona fide, and one who wants to “interpret” Krsna’s words is the greatest pretender. Krsna’s words are Absolute and need no interpretation. After all, what kind of ego is it that thinks, “I can improve on or explain the message of the Supreme Person”? Are we to suppose that He was not capable of saying it another way if it would have been clearer? This is sheer madness. Furthermore, we have the absolute check of Arjuna. How did Arjuna understand Krsna? So the spiritual master, who is presenting the words of Krsna exactly as Krsna spoke them and exactly as Arjuna understood them, is a bona fide spiritual master, and as such, it is he alone who can deliver the fallen soul from its pitiable condition.
Standards Of Pleasure
Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
So in this 21st verse Krsna is explaining the characteristics of the liberated soul. A person situated in transcendence is not attracted, Krsna says, by the pleasures of the material world, for he is always in “trance.” That trance does not mean sleep or some unconscious state, but steadiness of mind, a mind fixed on the Supersoul, or supreme goal Krsna. In that condition, the verse says, one is always enjoying the pleasure within. Unlimited happiness is his, it says, because Krsna is the reservoir of all pleasure. The name Krsna means all-attractive, and by His omnipotence He has endowed His name with full potency so that in the name of Krsna we can attain all pleasure; simply by chanting Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare one has access to all pleasure.
Krsna is the reservoir of all pleasure. Krsna is the reservoir of all opulence, all beauty, all wealth, all fame, all strength, all knowledge, and all renunciation. Thus He is the reservoir of all pleasure. Whatever pleasure there appears to be in the material world variously reflected, it is but a reflection of this supreme pleasure, Krsna. So the devotee who is merged in the thought of Krsna is drinking deeply at that pleasure well, and because he is obtaining some higher pleasure, he has no desire for a lesser pleasure. Actually, we are all seeking pleasure, and we must go where we find pleasure. Therefore if a man is not finding pleasure in Krsna he will seek it elsewhere; that is for certain. Similarly, if a man is finding pleasure in Krsna, he will not seek it elsewhere. So verse 22 says, “An intelligent person does not take part in the sources of misery, which are due to contact with the material senses. O son of Kunti, such pleasures have a beginning and an end, and so the wise man does not delight in them.” How can sensory contacts, which are temporary and ephemeral, compare to the pleasure of Krsna, which is eternal, always blissful, and fully cognizant? In the Eighteenth Chapter Krsna says that there is a happiness “which at the beginning may be like poison, but at the end is like nectar.” And similarly, there is another pleasure, which “appears at the beginning like nectar, but at the end is like poison.”
The Ultimate Purpose
Because sensory pleasures are all temporary, in the end they leave nothing but ashes in the mouth. They are like poison, and so the wise have nothing to do with them. And here it is clearly stated that a person who is liberated, and in Krsna consciousness, has no desire for them. It is not simply that he refrains from them, but he has actually lost the taste. That means that he is actually drinking of the pleasure of Krsna. It is something like being asked to eat a second time after being fully satisfied by good food. Sri Yamunacarya, a great devotee in Krsna consciousness, said: “Since I have been engaged in the transcendental loving service of Krsna, realizing every new encouragement in the matter of self pleasure, whenever I think of sex pleasure I spit at the thought, and my mouth becomes bitter with distaste.” A person in Krsna consciousness is so absorbed in Krsna that he has no taste for sense pleasure, not even the highest form of material pleasure, sex pleasure. Actually, the whole world is moving under the spell of this sex motivation, but a person in Krsna consciousness is free from such bondage and works with greater vigor as a result. This is the test of spiritual progress, namely, how much am I becoming detached from matter, or how much taste do I have for sense pleasure? Just as the test for a man’s recovery from disease is the gradual decrease in fever, so when the fever of sense gratification goes down one knows well that he is making advancement. So as long as I am still feeling some desire for material sense pleasure, I should know well that I am not yet fully situated in that transcendental position of drinking freely from the well of Krsna, for when that day comes, certainly I will spit at the highest conceptions of this material world.
In the Padma Purana it is stated, “My dear sons there is no reason to work very hard for sense pleasures in this life. Such pleasures are available to the stool-eaters [hogs]. Rather, you should undergo penance in this life whereby your existence will be purified, and as a result you will be able to enjoy unlimited transcendental bliss.” So by this process of purification, by acting in Krsna consciousness, one comes to the position of the healthy life, of actually feeling the pleasure of Krsna, or transcendental bliss. This process of purification, or action in Krsna consciousness, is at once both the path and the goal. As Krsna says in the last verse of the chapter, “The sages, knowing Me as the ultimate purpose of all sacrifices and austerities, the Supreme Lord of all planets and demigods, and the benefactor and well-wisher of all living entities, attain peace from the pangs of material miseries.” No one is free from the pangs of material miseries, just as no one is free from the demands of the senses, but by knowing Krsna as the ultimate purpose of all sacrifice and austerities, one can engage in the transcendental loving service of Krsna and thereby be completely released.
Under the spell of illusion, living entities are trying to be lords of all they survey, but actually they are dominated by the material energy of the Lord. The Lord is the master of the material energy, as He is of all energies, and the conditioned souls are under the stringent rules of this material nature. Unless and until one understands these bare facts it is not possible to achieve peace in this world, either individually or collectively. This is the sense of Krsna consciousness, that Lord Krsna is the supreme predominator, and that all living entities, including the great demigods, are His subordinates. One can attain perfect peace only in complete Krsna consciousness. But by cultivation of this Krsna consciousness, of this consciousness that “Krsna is the Supreme and I am His servant,” one comes into a position to understand that Krsna is the well-wisher and benefactor of all living entities, and thereby attains peace. Actually, Krsna as the supreme predominator is not in need of anything. He is full of all opulence. Therefore, He needs nothing from His creation; but His creation is always dependent on Him. He is in a position to supply everything. Because we are His parts and parcels, it is our position to render transcendental loving service. We are supplying transcendental loving service to Krsna, and actually Krsna is supplying everything to us. In this transcendental exchange of love we can know Krsna as the benefactor and well-wisher of all living entities. Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.