Friday, March 20, 2009

Isavasya Upanishad: Mantra 2


Kurvanneveha karmani
jijeevishet chatam samaaha
Eavam tvayi na-anyadha-itha-asthi
na karma lipyate nare


By performing actions (as enjoined by the scriptures) here in this world, you will desire to live a full life. There is no way apart from this. In this way actions will not bind you to the "doer".


13) While renunciation is emphasized within the tradition of Advaita Vedanta, for those individual suited for its pursuit, karma or action is recommended for the majority of aspirants. Many individuals feel the impulse to do actions in the course of their spiritual quest and in a manner similar to the teachings on "nishkama karma"--"doing actions and surrendering their fruits to the Lord" laid out in the Bhagavad Gita, the Rishi in this mantra elucidates the path of karmani (actions).

14) He begins with the phrase "Kurvanneveha", which means "performing"--"Kurvan" "only"--"eva" "here"--"iha". The next word is "actions"--"karmani". Taken together, we have the phrase "by performing actions (as enjoined by the scriptures) here in this world". But if we recall the beautiful teaching from the Bhagavad Gita on nishkama karma we are saved from imposing upon ourselves innumerable rules. For Sri Krishna teaches us only one principle: "Whatever you do, do it for My pleasure, and offer everything to Me." It is a pristine ethic that can be carried deeper as one matures within oneself. Whereas one person may happily offer to Sri Krishna a glass of whiskey, another person may offer Him a life of selfless service to humanity and to life. While the latter one is preferable, both are accepted by the Lord.

15) The late Jagadguru of Kanchi Kamakoti H. H. Sri Chandrasekarendra Saraswati Swamigal points out that the Vedas contain both karmakanda (the way of action) and jnanakanda (the way of knowledge). He notes that many believe the Buddha and Mahavira were the first to attack the karmakanda teachings of the Vedas. However this is not so because Sri Krishna says in the Gita, "The Vedas are associated with the three qualities of sattva, rajas and tamas. You must transcend these gunas (qualities). Full of desire, they long for paradise and keep thinking of pleasures and material prosperity. They are born again and again and their minds are never fixed in samadhi, these men clinging to Vedic rituals." The Vedas also turn against themselves, Swamigal says, in that "the jnanakanda constituted by the Upanishads ridicules the worshipper of deities as a dim-witted person no better than a beast." This can be appreciated in a simple way by holding the view that karmakanda teaching is prerequisite to jnanakanda. In this mantra karmakanda is not being belittled. On the contrary the Rishi is encouraging us to take up this path if we are not yet suited for jnanakanda. Also the Gita itself contains an entire chapter on the gunas (as we will explore below, in point 17) and another on karma yoga--so it includes karmakanda teachings similar to those it chastises the Vedas for including.

16) "Jijeevishet"--"you will desire to live" "chatam"--"one hundred" "samaaha"--"years". For those of us on the path of action it is important that we be engaged in and committed to our actions. To quote once again from Jagadguru Sri Abhinava Vidyatirtha Mahaswamigal, "When tendencies nurtured in the previous birth are the same as those in the present birth then obstacles to a course of action are negligible. On the other hand when past and present trends are at variance the course of action is decided by the one which is more powerful. If one tries hard enough, one can certainly overcome the past tendencies. How hard one must try cannot be determined before hand. Only when obstacles are encountered one must try harder and harder till one succeeds."

17) When considering action, there is another beautiful teaching from the Gita. It is that of the three gunas or qualities, which are tamas (inertia), rajas (passion) and sattva (purity). And, as Swami Chinmayananda explains in his commentary on this mantra, action as related to the gunas can be described respectively as inaction, action and unaction. It is common that only two categories will be noted; either action or non-action. But Swami's distinction is legitimate. For, while inaction and unaction are both outside of the spectrum of action, unaction is actually engagement in the most refined action possible. Unaction is of the same substance as renunciation (which is not achieved by simply refraining from action) just as heat is of the same substance as fire.

18) But here we are talking about action and the path of action. So why do I mention unaction? Because as the qualities tamas and rajas reach certain limits within us, they turn into the next guna--as ice melts into water and water rises into vapor. It is the fulfillment of action for it to go beyond itself and become unaction. And according to Advaita Vedanta this is achieved through sadhana chatushtaya sampaatti or the fourfold qualification. This sadhana involves necessary preparation of the mind and heart so that Vedanta teachings can effectively awaken the akhandakara vritti, which is the inner pramana of authoritative intuition or knowledge. These qualifications are: viveka (discrimination), viragya (dispassion), samadishatkasampaatti (the six disciplines), and mumukshutva (unshakable desire for liberation). It is precisely through the accomplishment of these qualities that our action is transformed into unaction.

19) The second part of our mantra begins with the word "eavam". "Eavam" means "in this manner" or "in this way". It indicates that even an enlightened person works--albeit by way of unaction. In many cases such a person has realized the Self but still has work to do if they are going to incarnate jnana phalam or the fruit of knowledge. Such fruit does not emerge automatically with enlightenment. Also, not everyone who has Self-knowledge is able to communicate effectively through their quality of life or verbal expression.

20) "Eavam tvayi na-anyadha-itha-asthi"--"There is no way apart from this." This teaching speaks empathetically into the twilight of samsara--and offers a way out. In order for this to be possible, however, the "fact" of this samsara and the advidya (ignorance) that produces it must be accepted. We have all had the experience of being lost, and from it we know the significance of that moment when we realize we are lost. From then on it is simply a matter of persisting to find our way until we do find it. Differently, the person of inaction does not yet know it is possible to be lost (which is considered in mantra 3 of this Upanishad). Only a person of action can recognize this and then engage in appropriate sadhana so that action can be carried beyond itself and transformed into unaction.

21) In conclusion, the Rishi says, "na karma lipyate nare". "Na"--"no" "karma"--"action" "lipyate"--"clings to" "nare"--"the man (person)". I translate this with the sentence "In this way actions will not bind you to the "doer"." What the Rishi means is that actions at first chaotic and selfish are harnessed through ritual practice and then tamed through the gradual practice of nishkama karma. The fruition of all this is our abiding realization that the Lord is the Doer of all actions.

om tat sat


Chris Hebard said...

Hello, I read your blog, lovely blog. When I was reading the mantra, that time I was feeling some heavenly.

Nathan Spoon said...

Thank you, Chris. Namskaram