Science without conscience is destruction (Bhagavad Gita 2.42 – 2.44)

Flowery speech is uttered by the unwise, who take pleasure in the eulogising words of the Vedas, O Arjuna, saying: “There is nothing else!”

Full of desires, having heaven as their goal, they utter speech which promises birth as the reward of one’s actions, and prescribe various specific actions for the attainment of pleasure and power.

For those who are much attached to pleasure and to power, whose minds are drawn away by such teaching, that determinate faculty is not manifest that is steadily bent on meditation and the state of higher consciousness.

Bhagavad Gita 2.42-44

The ancient Indian religious scripture, the Vedas, is not just about religion and philosophy, it’s a complete manual on living, fully relevant to the civilization at that point of time. In addition to some of the deepest philosophical inquires on the nature of the Self, it has a huge ritualistic portion that prescribes specific rituals to attain specific results, like health, wealth, power, a better afterlife, etc.

The ritualistic portion of religion is helpful, but Self knowledge is essential. Self knowledge and Self-realization enables a person to understand reality and experience the oneness and connectedness of all life, so it’s the real basis of peace and morality. With Self-knowledge, one can apply the rituals in a meaningful way that’s helpful to oneself, helpful to the society and the environment. But without Self-knowledge, there is selfishness and narrow-mindedness, there won’t be right perspective. Without the right perspective, and without the right kind of wisdom, the rituals could be used in a way that’s harmful to the environment, to the society and ultimately prove to be harmful to oneself. Without knowing this, the unwise become so engrossed in materialism and obsessed with the ritualistic religion, they don’t even consider the possibility of Self-realization. To them, pleasures and material achievements is all that is there to live for, at best they think about performing some rituals to attain a more pleasurable afterlife. The wise ones are careful, they give the highest priority to Self-knowledge, Self-realization and spirituality, and use the rituals whenever needed.

We can draw a parallel between this and how we use science and technology in modern era. Scientific understanding of the material world has developed exponentially in the past century and we are able to harness the power of nature in a way that makes our lives simple and easy. Communication across the world has become easy, travel has become easy, finding knowledge has become easy, washing clothes has become easy, there is a device for everything. Nothing wrong with that, such a development is entirely welcome. When used in the right way, it can be very helpful in the evolution of consciousness in a manner that’s harmonious with the environment. But not everything is going the right way. Has our understanding of the material world matched by the understanding of the self? Self-realization, which is the real basis of inner peace and morality, is lacking. Without this kind of real morality we are still a primitive race even though we polish the outside with all kinds of technological gadgets and quote all kinds of scientific theories. And when very powerful technologies go into the hands of people who are still primitive at heart, the result could be destructive. As Eckhart Tolle puts it in his Power of Now, “Humans have learned to split the atom. Instead of killing ten or twenty people with a wooden club, one person can now kill a million just by pushing a button.” He asks, “Is that real change?”

So it’s important that wisdom prevails and we get our priorities right. Self-knowledge and Self-realization is the most important thing. One has to look inside as much as one looks outside. We have to learn to connect with each other and all of life from the level of the heart as much as we connect with each other through phones and internet and Facebook. With the right kind of perspective we can use the rituals and scientific knowledge in a way that’s helpful to ourselves and all life around us.

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A Karma Yogi has one pointed mind (Bhagavad Gita 2.41)

Those who are resolute in this path (of Karma Yoga) have one pointed mind. Many-branched and endless are the thoughts of the irresolute.

Bhagavad Gita 2.41

You feed your energies to whatever you pay attention to. A karma yogi knows this and s/he does not dissipate his/her energies. A karma yogi takes up a worthy purpose, puts all his/her attention into the purpose and gets it done.

Even physical science has plenty of examples to illustrate the power of focus and attention. When a paper is exposed to sunlight, nothing happens. But when the sun’s rays are focused using a lens into a single point of the paper, so much energy goes into the point that it burns. A piece of iron as such is nothing. But when the polarity of particles in the iron piece is aligned, it becomes a magnet.

We know that the objects of pleasure and pain vary from person to person and time to time, ultimately pleasure and pain have no reality, these are just notions of mind created by habitual responses of the mind and associations. But when we pay too much attention to the thoughts that try to convince us that the pleasure and pain are real, the reality of pleasure and pain grows in our life. When pursuit of pleasure and denial of pain becomes the dominant reality of one’s life, it’s one miserable life. A karma yogi knows this and so is focused only on the purpose at hand, he/she is not infatuated by the notions of pleasure and pain.

Swami Vivekananda says,

Take up one idea. Make that one idea our life — think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success.

See also: Karma Yoga (Bhagavad Gita 2.39,40) and Pleasure and pain, heat and cold (Bhagavad Gita 2.14, 15)

Karma Yoga (Bhagavad Gita 2.39,40)

After impressing upon Arjuna about the wisdom concerning the Self-realization and the analytical study of the nature of the self, Sri Krishna now goes on to speak about the Yoga of unattached action (Karma Yoga).

So far, the wisdom of Self-realization has been declared to you. Now listen to the wisdom of Yoga, endowed with which, O Arjuna, you shall break through the bonds of Karma. (Bhagavad Gita 2.39)

We have seen so much about the unreality of pleasure and pain. Actions motivated by pleasure and pain only  lead us to bondage. Unattached action is the only way out of this bondage.

What is pleasure and what is pain?

Let us try to understand this more deeply. What is pleasure? What is pain? Why does the mind run after pleasure and run away from pain? What is unattached action? Let me try to explain as much as I have understood based on my limited experience and study. You don’t have to agree with this explanation, but try to understand, experiment and validate it for yourself. Feel free to disagree, add up, clarify.

Have you ever observed your mind and your thoughts when you are happy? Have you observed that when you are truly happy, the mind is undisturbed and peaceful, there are no thoughts, you are totally aware in the present moment?

And have you observed your mind when you are in pain? When you are in pain, the mind is disturbed and uncontrollable. It is very difficult to focus the mind when it is in pain, it is very difficult to be in the present moment.

So, happiness is when your mind is undisturbed and in a state of awareness in the present moment. Pain is distraction of the mind. When you are in pain, you step out of the present moment. Conversely, when you step out of the present moment, you experience pain.

But does the state of your mind and your ability to be aware in the present moment depend upon some external object you think to be pleasurable (or painful)? This belief that ‘pleasure comes from external object’ just a habitual response we have built up over time, right? It’s just a habitual response, just a conception of mind. It cannot be real because the notions of pleasure and pain vary from person to person, from time to time. When you realize that pleasure and pain are not real, they are just notions of the mind, you break away from your dependence on the external object in order to be happy, you get back to the wisdom that happiness is the true nature of your Self.

Craving is pain

Eckhart Tolle says, “Stress is caused by being ‘here’ but wanting to be ‘there.”’ When the mind is caught up in the ignorance that pleasure (and pain) depends on the object outside, it is ever distracted. An ignorant mind cannot stay in the present moment. It always craves after more pleasure, it always runs after something that it thinks will bring more pleasure. It is here, but wanting to be ‘there’. When there is craving, the mind has stepped out of the present moment and naturally it is painful. All you need to do to be happy again is to get back to your Self, accept the present as it is, get back to the undisturbed state of awareness and presence. But the ignorant mind erroneously thinks that the pain will go away only when the object of craving is attained.

Eventually, the object of craving comes into your life sooner or later. When this happens, you are momentarily happy because having got the object of pleasure, the craving stops, the disturbance of the mind is gone, the mind gets back to the present moment. But the mind is still ignorant and it still attaches pleasure with the object outside. So the happiness lasts only for a limited period of time. All things pass, this too shall pass. When the object of pleasure is gone, the mind due to its ignorance gets disturbed again, feels the pain again, and thinks the pain is because it has lost the object while the reality is that pain has come because the mind has stepped out of the present moment. The craving starts once again. The cycle of pleasure and pain continues.

Lost in the cycle of pleasure and pain and ignorance…

The mind is caught up in this cycle of pleasure and pain as long as there is ignorance of attaching pleasure with an external object. As the cycle repeats itself again and again, the ignorance gets strengthened, it becomes extremely difficult to get out of this vicious cycle. When we are caught up in it for too long, the ignorance permeates so deep, almost to the core of our being that it becomes an addiction, we are at the mercy of the object that we have attached pleasure with.

When we are caught up in this cycle of pleasure and pain and ignorance, all our actions are governed and dictated by the pleasure principle. We have lost control. Actually, what we have been talking so far is very simplistic, in reality it is much more complex. There are many many external objects we depend upon for our happiness in various degrees. So the mind is always distracted, it runs after one object and suddenly it runs after another. It is tossed up and down by hundreds and thousands of different motives. Very miserable state.

In order to get out of this misery, we simply need to shed the ignorance, we need to understand that pleasure does not come from the object outside, happiness is the true nature of the Self. But it’s not that easy for many of us. It’s easy for the mind to understand conceptually, but when the ignorance has penetrated much deeper into the layers of habits, emotions, beliefs, reality and even coded into the DNA of the physical body, it is very very difficult to root out the ignorance.

Karma Yoga, the yoga of unattached action

Fortunately for us, the Bhagavad Gita proposes a method that can help us break out of this bondage. It’s called Karma Yoga, the Yoga of unattached action. Counter attack… simply stated, you don’t allow your actions to be dictated by the pleasure principle. You just do what needs to be done for the good of the world irrespective of whether the action brings pain or pleasure. Pleasure should never be the motive of your work. The motive should always be do good for the world. You should never care about the rewards you may get, perform good actions just for the sake of doing it. Never let the conceptions of pleasure and pain control your actions. As you go on this way you get more and more control over your actions and your life, your mind becomes more and more focused, you become less and less controlled by the pleasure principle.

The task may seem enormous, but we just need to give it a start. Start small, just start helping people without any expectations. You don’t have to go too far, just start by unselfishly helping your friends and people in your family. Just do things that needs to be done and does good to the world, refuse to be controlled by pleasure, but always know that such unattached action will ultimately do good to you by helping you take complete control of your life. When you taste even a little bit of the superior pleasure of breaking away from ignorance and wrong beliefs, no getting back. The momentum builds up slowly and steadily. It’s the beginning of the end of your ignorance. Even a little bit of this Karma Yoga does not go waste. As Lord Krishna says,

In this, there is no loss of effort, nor is there production of contrary results. Even a little of this practice protects one from great fear. (2.40)

Okay, but does this mean we should not enjoy life, should we always remain stone faced? Not at all. Appreciate the beauty of life, smile, laugh, enjoy. Enjoy things as they come along, but gracefully let go when they go away. Accept the present moment for what it is. Enjoy life, but don’t lose yourself.  The trick is to be aware all the time and catch the mind when it’s about to fall into the trap of ignorance.

Work for work’s sake (Bhagavad Gita 2.38)

Having made pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat the same, engage yourself in battle for the sake of battle; thus you shall not incur sin.

Bhagavad Gita 2.38

Pleasure and pain are not real. These are just notions of the mind. Without this realization the mind is always busy running after something that it thinks would be pleasurable or running away from things it finds painful. With the mind running here and there we won’t be able to perform any meaningful work. Besides, our understanding gets clouded, we lose our priorities and all immoral acts proceed from the ignorance of the fact that pleasure and pain exist only in the mind, not in the thing outside.

So when you rise above pleasure and pain, you won’t do anything inappropriate or sinful. There is no question of acting out of selfishness. No harming someone else just for the sake of gaining pleasure or losing pain because you know pleasure and pain don’t exist outside. When selfishness gets out of the way, all work you do would be for the greater good of the world. And the mind remains calm, there is no pleasure to run after, there is no pain to run away from, the mind is always focused on the work on hand. A calm and focused mind just does what needs to be done irrespective of chances of success or failure. Such a mind that works for work’s sake always turns out high quality work.

But can this level-headed-ness in success and failure be practical? Well, we should just try as much as we can, try for trial’s sake! If you want a practical example you should get to know MS Dhoni, who has this ‘ability to remain level-headed, at the height of success or depths of failure’. MSD is the current captain of the Indian cricket team and one of the most successful captains in Indian cricket.

Duty consciousness (Bhagavad Gita 2.31-37)

After speaking about the impermanence of physical existence and the immortality of the Self, Sri Krishna now reminds Arjuna about his duty.

Even if you consider your own duty, you should not hesitate because there is nothing better for a Kshatriya than a righteous war. (Bhagavad Gita 2.31)

Happy are the Kshatriyas, O Arjuna, who are called upon to fight in such a battle that comes of itself as an open door to heaven! (2.32)

We have seen in the very beginning that the duty of Arjuna as a skilled warrior is to fight this war, defeat the evil Kauravas and protect the people of the kingdom. Nothing less than that.

But what is your duty and my duty? What are we supposed to be doing in this world?

One way of looking at this: taking into account the circumstances of your life and your skills and abilities, do whatever the work on hand to the best of your abilities without getting distracted and without giving in to infatuations. As Swami Vivekananda says, “By doing well the duty which is nearest to us, the duty which is in our hands now, we make ourselves stronger and improving our strength in this manner step by step, we may even reach a state in which it shall be our privilege to do the most coveted and honoured duties in life and in society.”

Another way I look at it: We see Bhagavad Gita preach the oneness of existence, that you are not the physical body and your true nature is the immortal Self which is also the Self of all beings and entities in existence. Knowing that there is nothing other than yourself in existence, and dropping all ideas of ‘me’ and the ‘other’, dropping all separation and selfishness, do the most appropriate thing you can do that brings good to your world. Whatever work that takes you towards realization of oneness of life is appropriate and whatever work that takes you back towards the idea of separation and selfishness is inappropriate.

Sri Krishna continues his attempts to wake up Arjuna from his slumber…

But if you don’t engage in this righteous war, forfeiting your duty and honour, you shall incur sin. (2.33)

Moreover, the world will speak ill about you forever. For a man of honour, dishonour is worse than death. (2.34)

The great warriors, who hold you in great estimation, will think that you withdraw from the battlefield out of fear. Your value will go down. (2.35)

Your enemies will speak many unkind and fabricated words and insult your ability. What’s more painful than this? (2.36)

Even if we don’t understand all the philosophies, we should shed our lethargies and get on with the work on hand at least for the sake of not losing our honour.

If you are killed on the battlefield you attain heaven, or if you are victorious in the battle you enjoy the earth. Rise therefore, O son of Kunti, and fight with determination. (2.37)

Failure is not an option. If you die in your attempt to do good, you get to heaven. If you succeed in your attempts to do good you enjoy heaven on earth. That is it.

You are deathless, birthless, You are the infinite spirit (Bhagavad Gita 2.22- 30)

This part of the Bhagavad Gita I like the most. Sri Krishna continues…

Just as a person gives up old worn-out garments and puts on new ones, the same way the Self gives up old and useless bodies and accepts new ones. (2.22)

This drives home the point that you are not the body. You are the Self and you have these bodies. Nothing more need be said about this (please refer the previous posts).

This (the Self) can never be cut into pieces by the weapons, nor burnt by fire, nor moistened by water, nor dried by the wind. (2.23)

This (the Self) cannot be broken, it cannot be burned, it cannot be dissolved, it cannot be dried, it is eternal, all pervading, immovable, unchangeable and eternally the same. (2.24)

This (the Self) is impersonal, inconceivable, unchangeable. Thus knowing This to be such, you don’t deserve to lament. (2.25)

These three verses emphatically states that the Self is non-physical and removes all illusions and fears that may arise due to identifying oneself with the physical body.

Okay, but what if you are not able to accept all such concepts of about the Self? All we see is the physical body and, after all, Krishna himself says the soul is inconceivable. So why try to convince oneself with such unthinkable concepts? You may think so, that’s fine. Sri Krishna answers…

Even if you take this to have constant birth and death, you still don’t deserve to lament, O mighty armed! (2.26)

For, certain is death for the born and certain is birth for the dead; therefore, over the inevitable you should not grieve. (2.27)

All beings are unmanifested in their beginning, O Bharata, manifested in their middle state and unmanifested again in their end. What is there then to grieve about? (2.28)

A lump of clay on the surface of the earth takes the form of the pot, retains the form for a while, and then it’s broken and gets back to being the mass of clay on the surface of the earth. Similarly all beings are unmanifested in the beginning, manifest in the middle state and unmanifested again in the end. What’s there to grieve?

Some see This (the Self) with amazement, some speak about This with amazement. Yet others hear about This with amazement and there are others, who even after hearing about This don’t know (understand). (2.29)

Perhaps, this verse implies that only a few actually experience the real non-physical Self. Others speak about the Self, hear about it from others, and there are many others who even after hearing don’t understand at all. So, even if you can’t understand the Self, don’t worry, you still don’t have a reason to grieve as long as you can understand that death is certain for everything that’s born.

Grief is just unnecessary. Accept the inevitable and do what needs to be done. That is it.

This Self, the indweller in the body of everyone, is always indestructible, O Arjuna! Therefore, you need not grieve for any creature. (2.30)

Okay, this quote from Swami Vivekananda sums it up all, in meaning and spirit.

Stand up and fight! Not one step back, that is the idea. Fight it out, whatever comes. Let the stars move from the spheres! Let the whole world stand against us! Death means only a change of garment. What of it? Thus fight! You gain nothing by becoming cowards. Taking a step backward, you do not avoid any misfortune. You have cried to all the gods in the world. Has misery ceased? … The gods come to help you when you have succeeded. So what is the use? Die game. … You are infinite, deathless, birthless. Because you are infinite spirit, it does not befit you to be a slave. Arise! Awake! Stand up and fight!

The unreal never is, the real never is not (Bhagavad Gita 2.17)

The unreal never is; The real never is not. The truth about both has been seen by the knowers of the Truth (or the seers of the Essence).

— Bhagavad Gita 2.17

The unreal never is. The unreal was, the unreal would be, but the unreal never is.

The past and the future does not exist outside of our minds. What you think as past is nothing but stored up memories. What you think as past is nothing more than your own account of what happened. It can never be an accurate account of what actually happened. Even if you think it’s accurate, it exists only in your mind right now. It is not real. The past never is. You have the present, the reality in front of you right now, so why worry about the past? There is no reason to worry about the past, and there is no reason to bask in the glory thinking about some good that has happened to you in the past. It is no more.

Similarly, what you think as future is only your own imagination of what would happen, it has not happened yet. The future never is. The future is unreal. There is no reason to fear about something that might happen the future, because there is every chance your fears won’t come true, and you are only spoiling your present with your unnecessary and unpleasant imaginations. Likewise, there is no reason to be excited about something good that might happen in the future because there is every chance what you anticipate won’t happen, and by getting excited you take your focus away from the present and you are only heading towards disappointment.

Reality is now. This is the truth. Be real. Be in the now.

Pleasure and pain, heat and cold (Bhagavad Gita 2.14, 15)

Sri Krishna, the manifestation of God, continues his discourse…

Notions of heat and cold, of pain and pleasure, are born, O son of Kunti, only of the contact of the senses with their objects. They have a beginning and an end. They are impermanent in their nature. Bear them patiently, O descendant of Bharata. (Bhagavad Gita 2.14)

What is pleasure for you may be pain for somebody else. What is pain for you may be pleasure for somebody else. Also, what you found pleasurable sometime in the past, you don’t enjoy as much now. And what you enjoy now might be something you hated in the past. Pleasure and pain, likes and dislikes, these are just notions of the mind. They appear and disappear. They are impermanent. Even heat and cold are just notions of the mind. For example, in the place where I live in, a temperature of 30 °C is pretty acceptable, even cool, while the same temperature would be very hot to a person used to living near the Arctic. It’s the same temperature, but what makes it hot or cold is just the notions of our mind and our habitual responses. The number that denotes the measure of temperature might be real, but ‘heat’ is not real, it’s just a response of the mind. Even the number and system we use to measure temperature is made up by us, human beings. In absolute terms, these things like heat and cold, pleasure and pain, have no meaning whatsoever.

That person who is the same in pain and pleasure, whom these cannot disturb, alone is able, O great amongst men [Arjuna], to attain to immortality. (2.15)

The person who understands that pain and pleasure are just notions of the mind, and dis-identifies himself from these notions completely, is not disturbed by these notions anymore (though the notions themselves may still exist). When the person rises above these notions, he will find the real Self which is immortal. Note that not much of effort is required to free oneself from the notions of pleasure and pain. It’s just the understanding and the spontaneous dis-identification with the concepts of the mind.

See also, An attempt to understand the Self with the help of the analogy of life-cycle of a motorcycle.

The motorcycle analogy to understand self (Bhagavad Gita 2.11 – 2.13)

Sri Krishna, with a smile on his face, speaks these words to Arjuna:

While speaking learned words, you grieve for what is not worthy of grief. The wise grieve neither for the living nor for the dead. (2.11)

Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be. (2.12)

The embodied soul, just as it continuously passes from childhood to youth to old age in this body, passes into another body (after death). The firm ones never grieve about this. (2.13)

Let us try to understand this with the help of an analogy. Say, for example, you commute half an hour by walk between your home and workplace everyday. You want to save time, so you think it would be a good idea to purchase a motorcycle. Thus an idea is born, the idea of having a vehicle that will help you save your time. After a while, the idea takes shape, you purchase a motorcycle and start using it everyday.

After a few months, some part of the motorcycle gets worn out, and you change the part. After some time, something else goes wrong with the motorcycle and you replace certain parts. So, as you use the motorcycle regularly, you keep changing different parts of the motorcylce. After a few years you have replaced most parts of the motorcycle, that it’s physically not the same motorcycle you purchased years ago. But then… physically it may have changed, but to you it’s the same motorcycle… just think about it.

And then there comes a time when the vehicle has become too old it can’t be used anymore. You throw it away and buy a new motorcycle.

The physical parts of the motorcycle may change, the motorcycle itself may be replaced, but what holds it together is the idea of having a vehicle that will help you save your time, and as long as this idea remains in your mind, you will have a motorcycle that gives shape to the idea. The motorcycle may even evolve into a car, but it’s the same original idea that manifests in all these different forms.

Now, let us go back to the 13th verse in chapter 2 of the Bhagavad Gita. The Lord says,

The embodied soul, just as it continuously passes from childhood to youth to old age in this body, passes into another body after death. The firm ones never grieve about this.

It’s all clear now. Just as the idea of ‘having a vehicle that will help you save your time‘ passes through different states of the motorcycle from new to old, the idea passes into a different motorcycle when the old one is dead. The idea itself never dies. What’s there to grieve about that?

Now to verse 12:

Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be.

What you refer to as ‘my motorcycle’ not the physical motorcycle made up of metals and stuff. The real motorcycle is actually the idea, the original idea of having a vehicle that will help you save your time. The idea is non-physical. There never was a time the idea did not exist. The idea has always been there, it doesn’t have any birth or death. In fact, it’s wrong to say that ‘the idea is born’. Just that that idea that’s always been there crossed your mind at a particular point of time. It will remain in your mind for sometime and then leaves you. The physical motorcycle may be destroyed, the idea may leave your mind, but the idea never ceases to be. So, what’s there to grieve?

So, if you are not the physical body that changes state from childhood to youth to old age, if you are ‘that’ which goes through these different states in this body, and ‘that’ which takes up a different body when this body dies, then what is ‘that’? What are you?

Bhagavad Gita 2.6 – 2.9: Arjuna’s surrender

Ater all attempts to justify his state, Arjuna finally accepts he is confused. He requests Krishna to counsel him.

And indeed I can scarcely tell which will be better, that we should conquer them, or that they should conquer us. The very sons of Dhritarashtra, — after slaying whom we should not care to live, — stand facing us. (2.6)

With my nature overpowered by weak commiseration, with a mind in confusion about duty, I supplicate Thee. Say decidedly what is good for me. I am Thy disciple. Instruct me who have taken refuge in Thee. (2.7)

I do not see anything to remove this sorrow which blasts my senses, even were I to obtain unrivalled and flourishing dominion over the earth, and mastery over the gods. (2.8)

Sanjaya [the narrator of Bhagavad Gita] said: Having spoken thus to the Lord of the senses, Gudakesha [Krishna], the scorcher of foes [Arjuna], said to Govinda, “I shall not fight,” and became silent. (2.9)

This surrender in 2.7 is a good thing. When the mind accepts that it is confused and becomes silent, it’s ready to receive good counsel. When the cup empties itself, it’s ready to be filled with nectar.