Krishna said, "Arjuna, you have work to do. Do it! But give up all interest in the fruit of your work." Krishna did not say that there would be no fruit. The fruit will certainly be there. Every action has its consequence or fruit. But the fruit is not your concern; you should not aspire for it. Therefore, the essence of Krishna's teaching is that you must do your duty, but do it without keeping the outcome in mind.
For every action there is an outcome, and subsequently, this outcome gives rise to another action. This ongoing cycle of action and result, result and action, manifests itself in a way similar to the cycle of the seed and the tree. The seed and tree also follow one after the other, with the seed giving rise to the tree and the tree giving rise to the seed. Without a seed you cannot have a tree and without a tree you cannot have a seed. The same thing is true for an action and its result. These are natural cycles in the world. When this is so, with one always following the other, why should you take a special interest in the outcome? Your duty and responsibility is to perform the right action; have no concern about the result. Krishna told Arjuna, "In this battle, you should be indifferent to what happens to your own people or what befalls you. Do your duty without letting your mind dwell on the outcome."
In battle, warriors wear shield and armor. This gives them some protection against the powerful weapons that are shot at them by their enemies. In the spiritual battle which you must fight, you must also wear a type of shield and armor. Here the shield is devotion and love for God, and the armor is wisdom. In an ordinary war relating to the world, the fighting may last only a few days, or it may drag on for a few months or even some years. But the spiritual battle goes on continuously; it never ends. It has been fought by mankind unceasingly, right from ancient days. Since time immemorial there has been the fight between good and bad, between virtue and sin, between attachment and detachment.
Humanity has been waging an endless war with its feelings of I ness and my-ness, with its feelings of hatred and jealousy and other evil qualities that have taken shelter within it. Egoism and attachment, in particular, have extraordinary strength. They are really dreadful. Compared to them, you, the individual who is fighting them, are not so strong. You are really quite weak. In fact, you have become so dominated by these negative qualities that, like Arjuna, you have identified yourself with them. Now, to fight such powerful enemies and qualities, you have to follow the directions of the indwelling Lord and you have to wear a very strong shield and armor. The mighty shield and armor that you have to wear in this spiritual battle are devotion and wisdom. They will protect you from such formidable enemies.
When you have a parasol to shade you, you are not troubled by the hot sun. When you wear sandals or shoes, you are not concerned about stepping on a thorn. When you wear a shield and armor, you are not too much bothered by the weapons being hurled against you. "Therefore, Arjuna," Krishna said, "in this inner battle you must don your spiritual shield and armor." When Krishna lifted Arjuna out of his despondency at the beginning of the Gita, he gave Arjuna the armor of wisdom. That was the first teaching that Krishna offered.
Krishna said to Arjuna, "All these attachments that you now have, all these desires to possess things, are not tendencies that you acquired yesterday or the day before. They have been with you for numerous births and they are responsible for all the pain that you are experiencing. You have no way of knowing when you will finally be able to rid yourself of the pain they have caused. But you cannot do much about the past, so do not worry about it. Focus, instead, on the means for eliminating the pain that would come to you in the future, were these attachments and desires to continue ruling over you.
"In the battle that you are about to fight, you have provided yourself with worldly armor. That will help protect your body from external enemies; but how will you be able to protect yourself from the internal enemies which you are battling inside you? To protect yourself from them, you have to wear the armor of wisdom. You are concerned about your external enemies, but you are not thinking about the inner enemies at all. If you succumb to your inner enemies you will never be able to conquer your external enemies. Therefore, first conquer these inner enemies."
It is natural to search for a doctor when you are sick and suffering, but it is of greater importance to see to it that you do not contract any illness in the first place. It is said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. From earliest times, the inner enemies have been subduing mankind and filling human beings with sorrow. As long as you are filled with egoism and attachment, you will not be able to free yourself from grief and sorrow. You have been engaged in wrongful actions, and these have been responsible for all your pain. Does this mean that you should abstain from action? No. You have no choice but to act. You must act, and you are free to enjoy your actions as well. But from now on, you must perform all your actions properly, in a way which will not accrue harmful consequences and pain to you in the future. In keeping with this, it is very important that you understand the underlying principles of right action.
Action is called karma. You are born in karma, you develop in karma and you die in karma. It is karma, or the actions you perform, which are responsible for all good or bad, sin or virtue, profit or loss, joy or sorrow. Truly, karma is responsible for your very birth itself. Karma is really the creator for mankind. It shapes your life. It follows then that you should not look upon action with carelessness. Your entire life is associated with action. Therefore, recognize the importance of right action and engage in that, unwaveringly.
Do not think that action is just a small thing. It may start as a small sapling but it will grow into a very big tree. Before a seed can become a tree, it has to break out of the soil in which it was sown. Then, once it has become a big tree, it will offer you its fruit. Whether this fruit brings you joy or sorrow depends on the seed that you have sown. To get the very finest fruit, the seed of action which you have performed must be of the highest quality and it must break out of the soil of egoism. Then this action can be transformed into yoga. Yoga is union with God.
What is the root cause of egoism? Why should you ever feel egoistic? Egoism arises because of the ignorance which is inherent in you. You have to think out for yourself what is the birthplace of this egoism, where did it come from and where will it end? Consider these facts of the physical universe: Light travels at the rate of 670 million miles per hour. At this rate, light travels a trillion miles per year. We consider the sun to be very near; the distance between the earth and the sun is approximately 90 million miles. For us, the splendor of the light coming from the sun is exceptionally bright. But this is the light from only one sun. There are billions of suns and stars. The distance to the nearest of these is almost 4 light years, or something like 23 to 24 trillion miles.
The stars look as though they are very close to one another, but the distance between any two stars is tens of trillions of miles. They look as though milk has been spread all over the sky. The stars that you can see with a high-powered telescope number in the billions. And there are many, many more objects in the heavens which you cannot see. What is the size of the earth in the context of such a vast universe, where there are billions upon billions of stars, spread over distances of trillions upon trillions of miles? And what is the place of this little planet earth in relation to the huge sun, which, nevertheless, is only a minor star among the countless stars that speckle the heavens?
On this earth, what is the size of the country in which you are a citizen? What is the size of the state you are living in? Within it how small is this district that you are now in? And how much smaller is the little town that you call home? And then, how very much smaller still are you on this tiny plot of land that you occupy within it? If such is the scale of the universe and such is your size in it, why are you so puffed up with egoistic feelings? If you were to take true cognizance of the vastness of the world, you would not have any egoism. Only when you are oblivious of the greatness of the universe in relation to your minute size can you ever be filled with such a foolish notion.
Perhaps you are proud of your own body. But the body consists of only the five elements. One day or another it will perish. Only the indweller is permanent. It does not have birth or death, it does not grow or decay. It shines everywhere. In the whole world it is the one permanent entity shining as the effulgent one, in a sea of changing forms. It is behind every form, it is the splendor animating every feature in the vast universe. Even in utter darkness it is there, for it is that which reveals the darkness to you. This all-pervading splendor is the indweller, the eternal flame ever shining inside this inert body. Look to this indweller, turn towards it, and you will not be deluded by pride and egoism.
Take shelter in the indwelling Lord. Do not keep looking towards the body and feeling proud. The body is subject to so many diseases; it undergoes many changes. It is barely able to journey on this ocean of worldly existence and survive. The body is only an inert thing; it is nothing more than seven buckets of water, the iron from four 2-inch nails, the phosphorous from 1,100 match sticks, the carbon contained in four pencils and two pieces of soap. When you put all these things together with a few other assorted substances, it becomes a body. So, the body just consists of this inert matter. But it is able to move and exhibit life because there is an indweller inside.
Consider the wall clock that is hanging there. It has three hands: a second hand, a minute hand and an hour hand. As soon as you wind the clock, all three hands start moving at their own prescribed rate. How long will they keep moving thus? They keep moving as long as there is power in the spring to energize them. The moment that power is exhausted, they stop wherever they are. Your body may be compared to a clock. The breath may be compared to the spring. Your actions may be compared to the second hand; your feelings may be compared to the minute hand; and your joy may be compared to the hour hand. It is the divine energy within which empowers and vitalizes all this.
In the context of this example of the clock, you can answer the question as to why you perform actions at all. You see that the second hand, which represents your actions, moves quite fast and soon covers one whole revolution of 60 seconds. At that point, the minute hand, which represents your feelings, will have advanced one sixtieth of a revolution. It is only when the second hand has made sixty full revolutions of sixty seconds each, and the minute hand has gone once around, that the hour hand, which represents an experience of divine joy and bliss, will move one division. The hour hand moves so slowly that you cannot even detect its movement, although you can see the movement of the minute and second hands.
There is an inner secret here. Once every hour all three hands meet. When the action which is associated with the body and nature, when the feeling which is associated with the inner man, and when the unending joy which is associated with the divinity all come together, then you have the meeting of nature, man and God.
Nature has been described as the field of action; it gives you the opportunity to sanctify your work and reach your goal. When you perform 60 good actions, one good feeling will emerge. Therefore, to get the one good feeling you have to perform so many good actions. And it is only when you have sixty such good feelings that there will be one small movement of the hour hand, which represents the ineffable experience of divine joy. Therefore, Krishna told Arjuna to perform good actions. When you do innumerable good actions, you are likely to get one or two deeply satisfying and lasting good feelings. And it is only when you develop innumerable such good feelings that you will be able to reach the bliss that is the eternal state of the atma. Therefore, you must start by performing many good actions.
The body has been given to you for this specific purpose of performing actions. It is impossible to spend even a moment without being active. That is why the performance of sacred activities, which includes ceremonial and ritual worship, has been given so much importance in the Vedas, the holy scriptures of India. But sacred actions do not just refer to performing sacrifices, doing penance and giving charity, each of which gives rise to an anticipated result. There are many actions that you can undertake from which you would not expect any fruit, at all. Such actions, which are performed without any concern for the fruit, can be termed karma yoga.
When an action is performed without desire and without any feeling of egoism, then it is karma yoga. That is the highest form of action, the most sacred of all, and it's one you should follow in every move you make in life. Remove your egoism. Drive it away. Remove your desire for the fruit. When you perform action with this attitude, it becomes work in the spirit of true sacrifice, it becomes penance and it becomes yoga. All three of these, sacrifice, penance and yoga convey the same idea. Every action you perform should be sanctified in this way. Even inhaling and exhaling are actions; they are also karma. Without performing karma, man cannot live for even a moment in the world. But karma associated with ego will always be narrow and harmful.
Therefore, perform all actions with only the feeling of sacrifice in your heart, not with a self-serving feeling of egoism. The results will be good or bad, beneficial or harmful depending on the type of actions you perform. The actions themselves depend upon the feelings of selflessness or selfishness you have. The feelings, in turn, depend on the thoughts you harbor. And the thoughts depend on the food that you consume. Therefore, you have the sequence of food leading to thoughts, thoughts leading to feelings, feelings leading to actions, and actions leading to results. These results, in turn, lead to more feelings, ones of pain or joy, depending on the nature of the actions, feelings, thoughts and food. From this you see the great importance of always taking in very pure and wholesome food.
Assume that a sage performing a vedic ritual makes a small fire, as is prescribed by the scriptures. The smoke pouring forth will depend on the type of fire that was made. A cloud will form as a result of the smoke that has risen up. Water vapor condenses due to the cloud and there are droplets of rain. The crop below depends on the rain, and so the food that is consumed depends upon the crop. Finally, the physical body, being the same as food, depends on the food that is taken in. Therefore, even food can be traced back to the type of actions, in this case, to the fire that had been built and the sacrifice that had been performed.
If your actions are good, then your birth will be good. Your actions are the original cause, your birth is the final result. In this context, Krishna said, "Keep all your attention on performing good deeds; do not pay any attention to the fruit." The fruit will follow by itself, but your focus should be on the action.
In the past, you have been associated with a number of good or bad actions and as a result, you are now enjoying or suffering their consequence in the form of joy or sorrow. How do you get rid of the sorrow that is the result of your past bad actions? It is only by engaging in good actions that you can remove this sorrow. That is the reason why action has been given primary importance in the Vedas. Bad actions must be replaced by good actions, which then lead to totally selfless actions, where there is no personal interest in the fruit. This, then, becomes karma yoga and brings you into union with divinity.
If you are careless with your actions, or if you waste your actions, your whole life becomes a waste. Life has been given to you so that you engage yourself in good karma and ideal activities. Karma does not mean just performing actions with the body. Karma is the very name of the body itself. Since the body has come as the result of actions performed previously, one of the meanings of karma is body.
Body is the consequence of actions; it is associated with time, circumstance and causation. But this applies only to the waking state. In the dream state, the body is inactive, so there cannot be any action at all; there will only be the illusion of action, or maya. In dreams, all the senses will be still. In the state of deep-sleep, which has been called the causal state, there will not even be any mind. Beyond this state is the ultimate source, that which is called the great cause, the original cause. It transcends the causal state. This original cause is the divinity. Here is a small example to illustrate these states.
Those of you who are students walk here from the hostel, which is about one kilometer away. At 4:15 in the afternoon, you leave the hostel and by 4:30 you reach the gates of the ashram. So, it takes you about 15 minutes to move your body from the hostel to this complex. Your purpose for coming here is to hear Baba's lecture. In every action you undertake, there will be these same four factors, a time, an activity, a cause or purpose and a result. The time, as you have seen, was 15 minutes. The activity was to walk from the hostel to the prayer hall. The reason was to listen to the lecture. The result is that you will be sanctifying your life thereby. In this way, the waking state can be used for one's spiritual advancement.
Now consider further, that after this discourse is over you return to the hostel. After you have had your dinner, you relax on your bed and go off to sleep. You have a dream. In the dream you find yourself wandering on a boulevard in Paris. When did you leave the hostel to travel to Paris, and how long did it take you to get there? That question cannot be answered. There is no specific time involved here. How did you travel there? Was it by ship or by plane? That also cannot be answered. There is no specific activity involved in getting there. Why did you go to Paris? You do not know; there is no apparent reason for being there. What is it that you have enjoyed there? What is the result of your going? Even that you cannot answer. There is no specific result accruing from your action that can be discerned there. So, in the dream state, there is neither time, action, purpose, nor enjoyment of the results; none of these are there.
Now, assume that soon after you fell asleep, some one came and woke you up. You got up and realized that you had been asleep for only five minutes. During the course of those five minutes you had your dream and you went to Paris. How is that possible? It is not possible. It was only a mental experience. You have not performed this action, either with your body or with your senses. That mental experience is associated with your subtle form. But it is the gross body which has these four factors of time, action, causation and circumstance. You have seen that none of these occur in the subtle or mental experience associated with the dream state. Only because of the tricks of the mind have you been able to create a new world there.
The mind created so many people on that busy boulevard in Paris, so much traffic, so many objects. The mind has this exceptional power. It has an extraordinary capacity to create anything, or destroy anything, not only in dream, but also in the waking state. For all your actions, it is the thoughts in your mind which are responsible. When you offer such a powerful mind to the Lord, then not only the mind but all your actions, everything you do, will have been offered to him. When you use your mind to think of the Lord, all your actions become sacred.
A great sage used to say, "If you sing hymns of praise to the Lord and offer a light to him, then the entire world will shine with the effulgence of that light." In your worship you take a flaming lamp, and offer the light to the Lord. Your mind, which is made up of many desires, can be likened to the oil, the wick can be likened to the sacred wisdom you have gathered. When you join these two together, using your wisdom to turn your desires to God, then you get the effulgence of divine light blazing forth from their union.
For this oil and wick there must be some holder. The body can be thought of as the container which holds this oil of desires and the wick of wisdom. The blissful joy that you feel is the effulgence of the light coming from this sacred lamp. If there is only a wick and you try to light it, it will not burn. Or, if you want to light the oil itself, you will not be able to do it. But when the wick is associated with the oil, then it will be able to burn, and you will have light.
Another way of seeing this oil and the wick, is to think of action or work, which is associated with the mind and its desires, as the oil. The buddhi, or the intuitive intellect, which is associated with wisdom, can be thought of as the wick. When you combine these two, namely, action and buddhi, in other words, when you make all your actions sacred, following the dictates of your highest inner motivator, then the light will shine forth. This light is the eternal light of the atma. When all your actions become sacred, you will come into awareness of your eternal truth, you will be basked in the light of the one immortal self.
Now, the flame in the lamp has a number of individual characteristics. When there is a breeze, the flame will flicker. When water comes on it, it will sputter, making some sound. If there are impurities in the oil, it will give forth smoke. It also gives off heat; if you touch it, it will burn you. And, depending on the type of oil and the flow of air there will be different colors to the light emerging from the flame. These various characteristics belong to the flame, but they are not associated with the radiance that emerges from the light of that flame.
There is only one characteristic to that radiance; that is, it envelops all it touches in the splendor of its effulgence. The flame has a number of different attributes, but the effulgence of the atma has only the one attribute of illuminating and removing darkness. That immortal inner light of the atma is given equally to all people. That is its one all-encompassing quality. But, for the flame of life, there will be many individual characteristics. Many changes and problems will come into it.
There are three types of activities emerging from different aspects of this flame of life. There are the ordinary actions which lead to ordinary results, which in turn, lead to more actions in an endless cycle. This is like a flame that burns steadily one moment and sputters the next, or burns in various hues and at various temperatures.
Then there are the good actions, those which always bring good results. These good actions are like an unchanging flame which is ever steady. This second type of activity applies to performing your worldly duties in a righteous manner, being active in good causes, engaging in devotional practices, etc. These are all good actions but along with them, there will still be a clear interest in the results. The Vedas have declared that even the best and most beneficial actions performed with interest in the results can only take you as far as heaven. You should not be under the impression that heaven endows you with immortality; when the merits of the actions have been consumed, you have to come back down to earth. So, this second type of action, also perpetuates the cycle of birth and death.
Lastly, there are actions which are not related to the attributes of the flame. This third type of activity is associated with the pure radiance, the effulgence of the atmic light. For such actions, interest in the fruit is not relevant, at all. Such actions emerge out of your inner nature, your deepest truth, which is divine. You perform all your actions as an offering to the divinity, knowing that the one divinity is in everyone. Such sacred acts can be called yoga, for then you are engaged in karma yoga. This is purity in action where there is no attachment to the outcome.
Realize that when you are interested in the fruits, they soon become exhausted, and new actions have to be undertaken again and again, in an endless cycle. Take, for example, a member of the legislative assembly who runs for election. If he achieves victory in the election, he can go to the assembly for five years. As time passes, his term of office runs out and at the end of five years he has to return home. Similarly, all the merits which you earn through your activities may be compared to this kind of limited term which lasts for a number of years. At the end of the period you have to come back into birth again.
As long as your merits last you enjoy heaven, but as soon as they get exhausted you must again descend into birth. Therefore, while describing the doctrine of karma to Arjuna, Krishna said, "Instead of aspiring for the temporary result of an action, which keeps you bound to the cycle of birth and death, aspire to realize the supreme divinity which is your own true self. When you know that the one divinity is the immortal self of all and act from that knowledge, then your actions are aligned with the divine will and they will be sacred. Then you will never have to come back into birth again. But, if instead, your actions are motivated by the results, which, in turn, leads you into to life after life and you are perpetually coming and going, then how will you ever be able to reach your permanent goal?" There is a small story to illustrate this.
An inveterate thief was caught in the act of stealing and was put into prison. It was decreed in court that he be imprisoned for six months. The six month period soon passed and the day arrived when he was to be released. The jailer came and told the thief, "Well, by tomorrow evening your term will be completed and you will have served your punishment. You can make your preparations to go. Collect all the personal possessions that we are holding for you, and be ready to leave." The thief was not overly happy to hear this, but he was not unhappy either. He was just indifferent, for he knew what was to happen. "Let the articles remain here," he said.
The jailer asked him, "Why, don't you want to take these things with you?" The thief replied, "There is no point in taking them with me. In a day or two I will be back. Soon enough, you will see me again in this same jail. Since it will be just a few days, why should I bother with them?" So, this thief knew that he was going to indulge in stealing again, that he would be caught and punished again and, undoubtedly, he would land right back in this same prison.
In the same way, your actions may be compared to this coming and going of the thief. You perform actions in your life here on earth. In time, you are motivated to make all your actions good actions and they produce good results. Afterwards you go to heaven. When your term there has expired you come back again to earth. Krishna said, "This process of going up and coming down is not good." At this point, Krishna gave Arjuna the sacred teachings. He directed Arjuna to seek out the place of eternal truth and abide there. Once you are established in that permanent place, abiding in your immortal self, actions can no longer bind you. Then there will be no need to ever come back again, for you will be established in the permanent bliss of the atma. Compared with this exalted state, earthly and heavenly joys are like mere atoms in the infinite universe.
* * *