by Svami Kirtanananda Maharaja
(ISKCON New Vrndavana)
[This is the third in a series of eighteen articles on the eighteen chapters of Bhagavad-gita.—Editor]
As Chapter Three opens, it is clear that Arjuna has not understood Krsna very well. Not only has he not understood that the path of knowledge and the path of devotional service are ultimately the same because the goal is the same, but also he has not understood the difference between action with fruitive results and inaction, or action without fruitive results. Arjuna thus asked Krsna, “Why do You urge me to engage in this ghastly warfare if You think that intelligence is better than fruitive work?” Arjuna’s memory is still clouded; therefore he is still in a state of confusion, and he frankly admits, “My intelligence is bewildered by Your equivocal instructions. Therefore, please tell me decisively what is most beneficial for me.”
Actually Krsna’s instructions are never equivocal, as we can see from a detailed study of the Second Chapter. The instruction was not equivocal, but decisive; namely, Arjuna should fight for the sake of Krsna. Krsna explained this both on basis of philosophy and yoga. The fact is that it is Arjuna’s mind that is equivocal. But Arjuna has one good qualification: he is placing the whole matter before the bona fide spiritual master. Actually Arjuna is eternally liberated and never forgetful of Krsna’s instruction, but for our sake he is taking the part of the conditioned soul lost in forgetfulness. So he says, “Therefore, my dear Lord, please tell me decisively what is most beneficial for me.” If one is simply sincere and approaches a man in knowledge, he is sure to have all matters cleared up. After all, Krsna is the loving father of all living entities, and if one sincerely approaches Him for some guidance He wi11 surely give it to one’s full understanding.
In the Second Chapter Krsna previewed many paths of self-realization: sankhya philosophy, karma-yoga, work without fruitive results, devotional service, and many others. Now for the sake of His disciple, so that he wi11 more clearly understand, He wi11 give the instructions again, but in a more systematic and detailed way. In this Third Chapter He describes the path commonly called karma-yoga. Four great topics are discussed here: action, sacrifice, surrender and lust. As Krsna indicated in the Second Chapter, action is superior to inaction, and here again Krsna is more elaborately explaining that one can never achieve perfection simply by abstaining from work, indeed no one can refrain from work, for all are driven helplessly by the modes of nature. Indeed, Krsna says that one who makes a show of not working while the mind dwells on sense objects is merely a pretender and a hypocrite. One who can control the senses and the mind by engaging them in acts of service and devotion to the Supreme is said to be far superior. Therefore Krsna tells Arjuna, “Perform your prescribed duty, which is better than not working. “A man cannot even maintain his physical body without work.”
It is significant that Krsna chose Arjuna, a ksatriya or warrior, a married man in householder life, to receive this transcendental message. If we keep in mind that Arjuna is the representative of all conditioned souls, we can see that Krsna is saying that one need not be born of a high family, one need not have the best education, one need not have so many material qualifications in order to understand the science of Bhagavad-gita. One must only follow in the footsteps of Arjuna. One first of all must surrender to the spiritual master by hearing and service. This means to follow his instructions. The world is full of religious pretenders, men who want religiosity simply to cheat the innocent public and solve their own economic problem. That is not recommended here by Lord Krsna, for He is specifically discouraging his disciple from going off to the woods to meditate. He did not want him to become a pretender. He is therefore ordering him to do his prescribed duty. We may ask that if he is only performing his prescribed duty, how is he the example of religiosity? How is he any different from any other man who is taking care of wife and family and so many other mundane things? What is the difference between Arjuna’s duty and my so-called duty? Is religiosity merely duty? That is answered in the major portion of this Third Chapter under the topic of sacrifice. Verse nine says: “Work done as a sacrifice for Visnu [Krsna] has to be performed, otherwise work binds one to this material world. Therefore, O son of Kunti, perform prescribed duties for His satisfaction, and in that way you will always remain unattached and free from bondage.”
According to Krsna’s instruction, action or work is a foregone conclusion—everyone must work. But what work and how the work is performed are left to the living entity. That is his minute independence. Actually, we are all parts and parcels of Krsna, and as such we have all the qualities of the Supreme, who is supremely independent, but being fragmental, we have the qualities in fragmental or minute portions. Therefore our independence is not complete but partial, and in this case we have no independence to say that we will not work—we are compelled by nature to work, but we have the choice of who we wi11 work for, either Krsna or the false ego of “I and mine.”
All living entities are active, for they cannot even maintain their physical bodies without action, by nature’s law, but who are they working for? That is their choice. Arjuna now has a choice. He can either do as Krsna bids or he can follow his own whims. One path will lead to elevation and happiness, and the other to further bewilderment and frustration. Therefore to carry out action in the spirit of sacrifice means to understand that everything is Krsna’s.
In the Srimad-Bhagavatam Srila Sukadeva Gosvami describes the Lord as prajapati, the Lord of all worlds, all living creatures and all beauty, the protector of everyone. Similarly, Isopanisad says that Lord Krsna is the proprietor of everything, that everything is His energy, and as such He is the supreme proprietor. This material world is meant simply to give a chance to the conditioned living soul to practice Krsna consciousness to go back home, back to Godhead. That practice is celled yajna, or sacrifice. If factually everything is Krsna’s then ultimately we must come to that point where we want to present everything at the lotus feet of Krsna. Unfortunately we cannot do that all at once; it takes gradual development of consciousness, and that gradual development is made possible by means of yajna or sacrifice performed for Visnu. Yajna vai Visnu is the injunction of the Vedas. All sacrificial performances are meant for the satisfaction of Krsna, so in the subsequent verses it is explained that when the living entity follows this injunction and performs sacrifices for Visnu, then all of his material needs are automatically taken care of and his consciousness is gradually elevated to the position of Krsna consciousness. When every act of our daily lives, from sleeping to eating, becomes spiritualized by becoming a sacrifice to the Lord then that is the perfect stage of Krsna consciousness.
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada has written: “By performance of yajna one’s eatables become sanctified, and by eating sanctified foodstuffs one’s very existence becomes purified; by the purification of existence, finer tissues in thc memory become sanctified; and when memory is sanctified, one can think of the path of liberation, and all these together lead to Krsna consciousness, the great necessity of present day society.”
Actually the whole problem has arisen because of forgetfulness, because we have forgotten our original heritage as part and parcel of Krsna. From this forgetfulness, bewilderment has come about, and with bewilderment come frustration and anger and all the perplexities of material contamination. So if we want to remember our spiritual nature, we must perform yajna or sacrifice, and the proper sacrifice for the present age is sankirtana-yajna, or the chanting of the holy names of the Lord. This process is specifically recommended in the Vedas for this present time, and it was introduced for the deliverance of all men some 500 years ago in India by Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
In the Srimad-Bhagavatam it says: “In this age of Kali people who are endowed with intelligence shall worship the Lord who is accompanied with His associates by the performance of sankirtana-yajna.” Lord Caitanya is Lord Krsna appearing in devotional form, that is, as a devotee, and is accompanied by His associates Lord Nityananda, Sri Advaita, Gadadhara and Srivasa. Other sacrifices as prescribed in the Vedas are not readily performable in the age of Kali, but sankirtana or the chanting of the holy name is at once easy and sublime. Furthermore, the purpose of all other yajnas (namely the pleasure of Lord Visnu) is automatically fulfilled. Just to link the conditioned soul back to Himself, the Lord accepts our humble sacrifice, and this is enough to revive the dormant love of Krsna which lies within all our hearts. So the sankirtana movement of chanting Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, at once links the conditioned soul back to Krsna, and at once one can feel the material dust of contamination being wiped from the mirror of the mind. Then one can see the dormant love of Godhead springing forth. This love of Krsna is sometimes likened to a creeper that somehow or other breaks out of the hard shell of the human heart, and by the constant watering of Hare Krsna it grows and grows until it pierces through the material sky and then through the spiritual sky and finally enters that supreme planet, Goloka Vrndavana, where it finds the lotus feet of Lord Krsna and takes its eternal rest.
Purpose Of Sacrifice
Thus all sacrifice is meant for the satisfaction of Krsna or Visnu, and as such it cannot be done whimsically, for verse fifteen says: “Activity (karma) arises from the Vedas, and the Vedas spring from the Supreme Godhead. Therefore, the all-pervading transcendence is eternally situated in acts of sacrifice.” Karma means working according to the prescribed rules and regulations, or scriptural injunctions, and here it is asserted that such instructions are not different from the personality of Godhead. And elsewhere it is stated that “All the four Vedas—namely Rg-veda, Yajur-veda, Sama-veda, and Atharva-veda—are emanations from the breathing of the great Personality of Godhead.” Krsna is so powerful that just by His breathing He can produce so many Vedas; factually His omnipotence means that He can do anything with any one of His senses, and that is confirmed in the Brahma-samhita. Bhagavad-gita says that He can impregnate with His eyes, for it says that He glanced over material nature and thus fathered all living entities. Out of His infinite mercy, the Supreme Lord, after impregnating the conditioned souls into material nature, gave directions how they could return home, back to Godhead, how they could revive their original Krsna consciousness.
The individual soul is conditioned in matter because he has a tendency to try to lord it over material nature, to desire the enjoyment of some portion of Krsna’s inferior energy, matter. The Lord gives the conditioned soul a chance to fulfill his desire to be lord, but at the same time he instructs him to perform some yajna. In that way, while fulfilling his material desires, he can also progress back to Godhead. It is something like the little child who is pestering his mother while she is cooking: “Let me cook! Let me cook!” So the mother gives the child a little set of play cooking utensils and says, “Here, cook.” While the child is amusing himself with his artificial “cooking,” he is also being gradually trained up for the time when he can factually help mother with the real cooking. The conditioned soul is actually the servant of Lord Krsna, but because he has forgotten his position as servant, he is put into this material bondage where he must learn to serve before he can return to the kingdom of God. But as soon as one actually comes to that platform of desiring to render transcendental loving service to the Lord, immediately he is a liberated man, even if apparently still in the material world. Verse eighteen says: “A self-realized man has no purpose to fulfill in the discharge of his prescribed duties, nor has he any reason not to perform such work. Nor has he any need to depend on any other living being.’ A self-realized man knows that he is the servant of Krsna and knows that Krsna is the proprietor of everything; therefore everything which is entrusted to him is Krsna’s. Certainly such a liberated soul has no duty to perform, but one will find that such a man is always performing his duty. Why? Because there is no reason not to do it, and because Krsna has requested it. There is no reason not to do it because such a liberated man is no longer under the bodily conception of existence. Sometimes it appears to us too troublesome to do our duty because it may be a little inconvenient for the body. But for one who factually knows and has fully realized that he is not the body, there is no reason not to perform his prescribed duty. There is, rather, every reason to perform it. Krsna states in verses twenty and twenty-one: “Therefore just for the sake of educating the people in general, you should perform your work. Whatever action is performed by a great man, common men will follow in his footsteps. And whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues.” Krsna Himself is following this example, for He says that he has no need to act personally in any particular way, nothing to gain, nothing that He is in need of, yet He is never inactive.
The Real Guru
Lord Caitanya says that a teacher should behave properly even before beginning to teach others, and one who teaches in that way is called acarya or ideal teacher. There is a Sanskrit phrase, guru, sadhu, sastra, which means that the real teacher or guru is one who does not deviate from that which has been taught by other sadhus (holy men) or by scripture. These three, guru, sadhu and sastra, form the standard of truth and are always in agreement. Therefore one need not be in ignorance as to whether he is following a bona fide system. Does the guru follow in the line of the great acaryas and is his teaching in accord with the scriptures? Is the scripture and scriptural understanding confirmed by the guru and all other sadhus? In this way one can check the truth, and no one need be led astray or cheated by a pretender.
Krsna Himself, for our example, is following in the line of Vedic instructions, and instructing His disciple, “Just do your duty for My sake.” Krsna is urging Arjuna to do his duty, not because He needs it, but because this is the path of spiritual advancement—for everyone: “As the ignorant perform their duties with attachment to results, similarly, the learned may also act, but without attachment, for the sake of leading people on the right path.” (3.25). That means that the wise man and the so-called ignorant man are asked to perform similar duties, but we should not assume that they are on the same platform. The consciousness is different. The ignorant is acting because he thinks that he is going to get something. He goes to church or gives some charity, but in the hope of getting something back, either material or spiritual. But the wise man is doing these same things for a different reason—because it is the desire of Krsna. That is called devotional service. Therefore, the action is the culmination of surrender. Verse thirty says: “Therefore, O Arjuna, surrendering all your works unto Me, with mind intent on Me, and without desire for gain and free from egoism and lethargy—fight.”
Sacrifice is not meant for satisfying anyone less than the Supreme, and when the Supreme is satisfied, all the part and parcel subordinates like the demigods and living entities are automatically satisfied. The leaves of a tree are watered when the root is watered, and all the limbs of the body are nourished when the stomach is fed. Krsna is in need of nothing, but as long as we are disconnected from the service of the Supreme, something is out of joint. So actually, sacrifice or surrender is simply for our own good. Therefore Krsna is emphasizing the necessity for surrendering all work to “Me,” for keeping the mind intent on “Me.” Finally He tells him to fight enthusiastically without desire for gain and free from possessiveness. Everything belongs to Krsna, including the result of the battle; therefore Arjuna must simply fight for the sake of fighting because Krsna has requested it. That is the meaning of surrender and the real import of Bhagavad-gita. Krsna doesn’t tell Arjuna to surrender preaching work or to surrender teaching work or charity or humanitarianism or so many other things. No, Krsna says, “Surrender all your work to Me.”
In the Vedic system there are so many occupations. Some of them are not very pleasant. Arjuna’s was not very pleasant; he was a warrior, and he was being asked to kill his friends and relatives. If we, like Arjuna, surrender all work to Krsna, certainly the next part will follow: the mind will be intent on Him. When the mind is intent upon the lover, the lover is never out of mind. There is always longing for the lover, always the feeling, “When can I see my beloved again?” or, “What is my lover doing now?” or, “How can I do something for my love?” Everything is revolving about the lover, and in such a state of mind the next stage automatically follows: freedom from desire for gain, from false egoism and from lethargy. If one is actually intent on Krsna, he is always thinking of Krsna, about His pastimes, about His devotees, His beauty, etc. Who can be thinking of anything so gross as material gain, some business calculation? If Krsna is in mind, what loss could make one lament? Krsna is full, absolute, so if Krsna is in the mind, the mind must be full. That is fact. Therefore with great enthusiasm one can fight or do anything else Krsna desires. One can fight anyone—father, mother, son, daughter. What are father and mother but the accidental circumstance for the appearance of the body? Krsna is the real father and the real mother, and by love and service He will become one’s child and lover. We owe everything to Krsna, so if Krsna is bidding us to fight, how can we refuse?
For the person surrendering to Krsna, Krsna promises all good fortune: “One who executes his duties according to My injunctions and who follows this teaching faithfully becomes free from the bondage of fruitive actions. But those who, out of envy, disregard these teachings and do not practice them regularly, are to be considered bereft of all knowledge, befooled, and doomed to ignorance and bondage” (Bg. 3.31-32). For one who surrenders to the feet of Lord Krsna there is all good fortune; nothing can touch him, for he is protected by the Almighty Himself. But for the soul who refuses to take shelter of Mukunda, Krsna, the giver of liberation, everything is inauspicious.
The symbol of ill fortune is bondage to lust. As was stated at the beginning, all conditioned souls are impelled to action, but how they will act is their fragmental independence. Now we see that the soul can either surrender to Krsna or to lust, for in verse thirty-six Arjuna complains that he feels sometimes impelled to sin even against his will, and Krsna says, “It is lust only, Arjuna, which is born of contact with the material modes of passion and later transformed into wrath, and which is the all-devouring, sinful enemy of this world.” Actually this lust is a reflection of our dormant love for Krsna, but because the individual soul has chosen not to cultivate that love for Krsna, that same propensity is pervertedly exhibiting itself as lust. And that lust means sex enjoyment. Sex enjoyment is the bondage to the material world, for no man can do without it, and the more he gets the more tightly he becomes bound by material nature. The Manu-smrti tells us that lust cannot be satisfied by any amount of sense enjoyment, anymore than a fire can be put out by a constant supply of gasoline. In the state penitentiary criminals are kept in check by iron bars, and similarly, those who misuse their fragmental independence are tightly shackled by sex desire, which is forever binding them to material existence. Once having exerted his independence against the Lord, the conditioned soul has no further independence. So here Arjuna speaks of being impelled unwillingly, and elsewhere Krsna says that all living beings are working helplessly under the spell of His maya.
Some foolish people therefore conclude that Krsna is the origin of sin and that the living being has not moral agency and responsibility, and therefore one may go on as he pleases. But that does not follow any more than that the prison warden is responsible for the acts of the criminals under his charge. As wi11 be more elaborately explained in the Sixteenth Chapter, the living entity is being forced to act according to the modes of material nature, but still he is free. And what is that freedom? Freedom to become Krsna conscious, freedom to awaken from the slumber of forgetfulness induced by lust. “Therefore, O Arjuna, best of the Bharatas, in the very beginning curb the great symbol of sin (lust) by regulating the senses, and slay this destroyer of knowledge and self-realization” (3.41). So our choice is limited, and this is proof that we are fragments of Krsna. Krsna is the supreme independent; we have some independence, but we are not supremely independent. We can surrender to Krsna or we can surrender to His inferior energy and be forever kicked like a football by the agents of material nature, lust and anger. So how can we complete our term of material nature and transform that lust into love? Both lust and wrath can be turned into Krsna consciousness by expert guidance, and that process is called bhakti-yoga or Krsna consciousness, and it is exemplified by Hanuman, who transformed wrath into service for Lord Rama by visiting destruction on the demons of Lanka for the satisfaction of the Lord. And by the grace of the gopis, lust attained the highest perfection of love of Krsna in the bowers of Vrndavana. So the great secret of success is Krsna. Whatever is related to Him becomes perfect, and whatever is disjointed becomes useless and ugly. Acts performed for sense enjoyment are material; acts performed for the Lord are spiritual. Krsna makes the difference.