Text of the Bhagavagd Gita (Mother's Institute of Research) - Session 7: Karmayoga—Sacrifice; Swabhava-Swadharma (28 September 1998)

We had said last time that Karmayoga has three aspects: the ‘object’, the ‘instrument’ and the ‘method’. The object is to be able to do action without bondage, without incurring bondage. To do action and yet to be free from action, that is the object. The instrument is: will. And third is the method. The method consists of three steps. The will is normally weakened in us because of desire. Wherever there is desire, there is a fluctuation in our consciousness. We are not able to fix ourselves on one specific point; a will, which is afflicted by desire, is to be so cleaned, so purified that it becomes fixed: sthita.

The question is: what is the method by which this process can be done? If will can become concentrated, then the object that we have put forward can be realised: “to do an action without incurring bondage”. Since desire is the affliction, Sri Krishna first of all points out that, “that point where desire is strongest has to be tackled first”. The desire is strongest at the point of the seeking of fruits of action, the enjoyment of the fruits of action: therefore the first step is to do action, but without the desire for the fruits of actions.

The second is to understand the process of action in Reality. In Reality we find all action is a part of a cosmic movement, vast movement. This vast movement is a result of yajña, of a sacrifice. This yajña proceeds from the Supreme, although in our experience we find action to be proceeding from our small little ego. As a result we say, ‘I am doing’, or ‘I am not doing’, but later on, we find that this ego itself is a cog in the machine of a cosmic nature. Therefore, we say that the action proceeds from Prakriti, because this whole machine is called Prakriti and then we discover that this Prakriti itself is moved by a greater will, and that greater will is the Supreme Lord Himself. It is the will thrown by the Supreme Lord, which is returned in a reverse movement, and this movement continues on, and on, and on, and that is what we call: the process of exchange.

This process of exchange is what is called yajña. There is an offering on the part of the Supreme, there is on the other hand a return of offering from the Supreme Shakti, and between the two there is a constant exchange. In that process, we as individuals are a centre without circumference. In that centre this process is repeated. If we allow that process to continue on, and on, and on, then we see that action proceeds, but we are free from egoistic attribution to the action to ourselves. We see the vastness in which the action goes on, proceeding by itself. We do not interfere with it by our desire. If we can do this, that action will proceed, and yet we shall not be affected by it.

But normally, since we are egoistic, we have the tendency to interfere; we constantly interfere in this vast movement. Therefore, the procedure to be followed is that instead of clutching at the action’s movements, we, ourselves, repeat the process of offering. Action is offered from our side, the action, which seems to be proceeding from ourselves, that action we simply offer: this process of offering is yajña. Therefore the second step consists in ‘offering our actions’.


In the process of offering, we get a great advantage, namely of doing action without the desire for the fruits of action. Psychologically, it is very difficult to do an action without the desire for the fruits of action. Therefore if you do an action with this sense of offering, and then we feel comforted psychologically that we are doing an action for something; that something is: “not to grasp at anything”, but to offer:

patraṁ puṣpaṁ phalaṁ toyaṁ yo me bhaktyā prayacchati ||9.26||

…the water, or the flower, or the leaf: our action may be regarded in the form of these three things, and we offer it to the Lord. If you continue to do this, a stage can come when it becomes automatic and we become free from clutching at any action and grasping at it and therefore, we are liberated.

In the process of sacrifice, we have said that this is the second step and we shall go to the third, but between the second and the third, there is a long procedure. This second step is a very, very long procedure, because normally we offer our actions to ordinary objects, ordinary instruments. To offer our action to the Lord is a long procedure, because first of all we do not see the Lord, we only see ordinary instruments around us. Therefore in the first place, we seem to be offering to ourselves even if we say, ‘I am offering to the Lord’; usually the objects to whom we offer are ordinary. At a higher stage, greater forces are visible, which in the language of the Veda are called gods, cosmic powers. We begin to offer them to the gods, and then after that we begin to offer it to the Supreme Lord.

Therefore sacrifice is supposed to be a process of ascent. In Sanskrit, there is a word, adhvara; adhvara is a path of ascent and sacrifice is also called adhvara; that is why one who does a sacrifice is called adhvaryu, the priest is called adhvaryu that is because sacrifice is a path which moves upwards. It takes us from lower levels to the higher levels. But ultimately, when we reach that point, the third movement of Karmayoga starts.

What is the third movement? In the third movement, we find that action no more proceeds from us; till that time we are feeling, although it is not a correct feeling, but it is a feeling that the action proceeds from us and you are offering the action to the Lord. But, when you reach a stage when you have been offering to the Lord, you begin to perceive that action proceeds from the Lord Himself. This is the distinction between the second step and the third step.

In the second step when you are offering, you have the perception that the action proceeds from yourself and you are offering it to the Lord. But, in the third step, you find that the Lord Himself is acting. This is the culmination of Karmayoga. When the Lord himself is acting and the action proceeds from Him and you find that it proceeds through you, then you realise you are simply the instrument of the action. You are no more offering even. It is simply a movement from above, and you are the instrument, and you are not depleted at all because by now the process of offering has become so great that clutching, that consciousness of clutching at things disappears.

Therefore, without any obstruction from your part, the action flows, as a flute for example: when the flute player plays on the flute, if the flute is absolutely smooth and pure, then the wind which is blown into the flute receives no obstruction. And therefore the flute plays the tunes exactly as the flute player wants to play. The flute gives no resistance at all. When our instrumentality becomes so pure by the action of offering all the time, and there is no movement of clutching at anything, then the Lord’s will proceeds from Him, but proceeds through us.

There was a time when one disciple told the Mother: “Mother, I am doing Mother’s work”, so, Mother said: “It will take a long time before you can do Mother’s work. First you do work for the Mother, then, at a certain stage it will be Mother’s work later on”. This is one of the important things that have to be distinguished: ‘To do the work for the Lord’ and then, ‘To do the Lord’s work’. The second stage is the stage where you are doing work for the Lord. Then, a third stage comes when you really do the Lord’s work.

These are the three steps of Karmayoga: to do action without the desire for the fruits of action is the first step; to do the work as a sacrifice, as an offering to the Lord is the second step; third, you reach a stage where the work proceeds from the Lord and is passed through you as an instrument, that is the third step.

The third is also called divyam karma. A stage of divyam karma, when you do the divine work, not work for the Divine, but it is divyam karma. In your whole being, since there is no egoistic vibration, since there is no desire, the entire will of the Divine, when it proceeds through you, there is no wave, and therefore there is no scattering away of the will, no distortion of the will; it proceeds straight and with all its force, irresistibly, omnipotently.

This in brief is the entire teaching of Sri Krishna in the first four chapters of the Bhagavad Gita, where what exactly is the action is described and you will see that in this procedure, as we proceed further on, in our path, we become aware of what we are or the world is, or the Supreme is, and therefore, it is a process in which Karma yoga becomes Karmayoga by virtue of the Knowledge. Without the Knowledge, there would be only a mechanical movement, but there is no conscious participation and no conscious understanding, therefore the real Karmayoga would not be possible. That is why, this Karmayoga is supposed to be a union of Karma and Jnana: it is a synthesis of Karma and Jnana.

There is also at the same time an increasing process of devotion; because when you begin to offer yourself to the Lord, then, as you come nearer, and nearer to the Lord, the devotion for the Lord also increases, and therefore in your offering to the Lord, experience of devotion also gets mingled with it.

This last portion is not fully expounded in the first four chapters. That aspect will come much later, when we come to the 11th chapter and the 10th chapter and 12th chapter. And a further exposition will come even much later, because it is a very important element of Bhakti and the culmination of Bhakti, so, at the end of the 18th chapter, when the purity of our instrumentality becomes so great, that sarvadharmān parityajya (18.66), all Dharma, each Dharma is also an obstacle, each standard of action is also an obstacle, when our entire being becomes so pure, that there is no thought even of Dharma, then the Supreme’s will can pass through us, but that will require a complete offering: mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja ( 18.66), a complete offering.

What is described in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th chapters is ultimately continued to be developed in the 7th, 8th and 9th chapter particularly; how the Knowledge element becomes more and more powerful; and then 10th, 11th, and 12th chapter, we are told how Bhakti becomes very powerful, and then from 13th to 18th chapters we are told as to how absolutely our entire being becomes free from all kinds of Sattwa, Rajas, Tamas, all Gunas and we completely transcends them, then we shall have completed our whole process of Yoga. But in the first four chapters, you might say, the basic foundation of Karmayoga is laid down.

There is, in the process, as we had seen last time, a combination of two elements: the element of development of sense of ‘equality’, and perception of ‘oneness’. This Knowledge that the whole world is nothing but one reality that the source of the whole world is one reality, one without the second; the growth of this perception is an accompaniment of your development of Karmayoga. As a result, whatever happens to us, we are able to offer it with equality: samatvaṁ. We had seen last time that of samatvaṁ, there is first a very important statement of the Gita: samatvaṁ yoga ucyate (2.48): it is equality that is called the Yoga. Second statement we had seen was: yogaḥ karmasu kauśalam(2.50); usually when there is equality, there is neutrality, and neutrality at a lower stage becomes indifference. In order that we do not become indifferent, Sri Krishna says that the mark that your samatvaṁ is of a correct type, you must measure your action: if in your action there is any kind of inefficiency, any kind of negligence, then that samatvaṁ is not a correct samatvaṁ, it has become deteriorated into indifference. There has to be perfect application in your action. Simply because you are equal to results in one way or the other, your application, your proficiency should not diminish. Therefore these two sentences are of extreme importance, because they give the measurement: if you want to watch out and to make a measurement whether your Karmayoga is on the right line, with the right kind of pressure, then you must see how much is your equality, and how much is your efficiency. There is a very important question, which can be raised at this stage: there is a view that Karma yoga consists of doing only specific kinds of action; this is different from Sri Krishna’s view that Karmayoga consists of doings sarvakarmāṇi: all kinds of action. We have to take into account this conflict, which has been in the Indian tradition. According to this tradition, according to one of these traditions, Karmayoga consists of doing actions of specific kinds, not all actions. It is on the basis of this idea that the word yajña is often understood. According to that theory only yajña should be done and no other work and by yajña was meant: ‘the ritualistic sacrifice’. The idea was that from among so many kinds of actions you are only to pick up only those actions, which are related to the ritualistic sacrifice: the arrangement for the sacrifice, collecting materials for the sacrifice, inviting people for the sacrifice, to all the activities of yajamāna; one who invites, and all the activities in regard to the lighting of the fire of the sacrifice, the offering of your material into the fire, the recitation of Mantra, which is also connected with the offering of your sacrifice, the distribution of all the materials, which are used and which have to be gifted away to the people, that is also, according to this theory, the right kind of action, and then for you to eat what is remaining at the end, the remainder, and if you do not do this sort of thing, and if you eat away everything, then as Sri Krishna says, it is called stena, you are called a thief because you have taken away the things of the others that should have been gifted to the others and you are taking it away, you are only entitled to the remainder. This is the theory of Karmakanda, (karmakāṇḍa), of the Vedic ritualism, (not of the Veda, but of the Vedic ritualism). As I said last time, Sri Krishna describes this process also in the Bhagavad Gita while speaking of yajña, and therefore it might give an impression that Sri Krishna also advocates this theory of Karmakanda, although in the 2nd chapter, He has already spoken ofvedavādaratāh in a condemnatory manner, He has condemn the Vedic ritualistic method. Yet in the 3rd chapter He repeats the Karmakanda, and gives an impression as if He prescribes only those actions, which have to be done for yajña. But later on, He explains that real Agni is brahmāgni: Brahma itself is the Agni, that there are many kinds of yajña. When you control all the senses: that also is a yajña. When you control your breath: that is also yajña. When you do any action and offer it: that is yajña. When you do tapasya and offer it: that is also yajña. And the highest is jñāna yajña. When you offer your knowledge, (first of all attain to the Knowledge and offer that Knowledge): that is the highest yajña, according to Sri Krishna, and then He uses the word explicitly sarvakarmāṇi: all actions, it is not something specific, which is ritualistic sacrifice. This is the one theory about Karmayoga and we have to be clear that in the Bhagavad Gita, there is no selection of a specific kind of works, all works are to be offered: all works are to be sacrificed.

There is another theory, which points out that while ritualistic sacrifice is of course to be astute, we have to do only those actions, which are prescribed by Dharma; this is another theory, not ritualistic sacrifice, but only Dharmic kriyās: this is another theory. When you want to do an action, you do only those actions, which are Dharmic kriyās, which are prescribed in Dharma, not all actions but only those actions, which are prescribed as Dharmic kriyās, this is also called another theory of Karmayoga.

This is more subtle than the first one; the first one is easier to find out because rituals are all prescribed and given but when you are told that you have only to do Dharmic kriyās, then in regard to Dharmic kriyās, there are many controversies: which are Dharmic kriyās and which are not? In the Bhagavad Gita we get several words, which seem to be favouring this view, that also we must take into account, and distinguish in our mind very clearly.

There is first a word, which is used: niyataṁ karma, (3.8). niyataṁ karma is a word, which means: ‘that which is prescribed’. Action, which is prescribed, is called niyataṁ karma, and very often “niyataṁ karma” is associated with “nityaṁ karma”: that which is a ‘daily’ work to be done. “nityaṁ karma” and “niyataṁ karma”, both are associated with each other, so it is argued that the kind of action that we have to do is ‘prescribed daily work’.

At a later stage, you get another word in the Bhagavad Gita and which says dharmajaṁ karma, you do the karma, which is arising out of Dharma, dharmajaṁ karma kuru. Then there is another word which says: sahajam karma kuru, a further complication: dharmajam karma kuru, and then sahajam karma: sahajam means that which is spontaneous, that which arises from your very nature. There is a further word svabhāva sahajaṁ karma: ‘you do the work which is arising out of your own svabhāva’; svabhāvajam, svadharmajam, sahajaṁ karma, that also is given in the Bhagavad Gita.

Bhagavad Gita also says that there is a distinction between svadharma and aparā dharma, and even says that even if you do an action, but not so well, but if it is your svadharma, then that is to be preferred to an action that you can do very well, but which is not according to your Dharma: this is very clearly stated. The work which you can do very well but if it is not according to your svadharma, then that is not to be accepted, we should not do that action; we should on the contrary do that action, which is according to your svadharma, even though that action you may not be able to do so well. It may be my Dharma, (svadharma), to teach; I may be very good at cooking. Between the two even if I cannot teach well, I must still teach, and I must avoid cooking because cooking is not my svadharma: this is the kind of meaning that we can apply to these words.

There are many other questions also arising as regard to this. Remember I am now going into the depths of the problems regarding Karma yoga. The three steps are very clearly stated, now it is in the stage of ‘what kind of Karma’? When you are offering, what kind of offering you have to do: we are trying to analyse this, and there are many subtleties in this, that is why we need to be much more clear about it.

There are further complications: ātmanā ātmānaṁ uddhared (6.5), this is another great sentence of the Bhagavad Gita, “you should raise yourself by your Self”: ātmanā ātmānaṁ uddhared. In raising yourself by your Self, by what will you raise yourself? Normally we are in many activities at the level of Tamas; therefore it may be prescribed that when you are in the Tamasic condition and you want to raise yourself, then apply Rajas so that you are raised up. When you are Rajasic so apply Sattwa so that you are raised up further. How do you decide at what stage, what kind of action you have to do? Will you do Tamasic action, or Rajasic action, or Sattwic action? This is also a further complication.

This raises the question: what is the right action? What is the good action? The answer to this whole complexity is that fundamentally, whatever action you happen to be doing, you offer it to the Supreme Lord, basically, this is the basic answer of the Bhagavad Gita. All other propositions that have been made are important, and then has to be taken into account, but if there is any problem in the mind, one thing is that the moment you do an action as an offering to the Lord, and when you have given up the desire for the fruits of action, that even if it is a duṣkṛta, or a sukṛta, whatever it may be, the moment you do this, you will be free from action. This is one general simple proposition.

We go farther, and discuss all the other details. Take for example: we always tell the children, ‘read’, because we think reading is a good thing. We do not ask the question whether ‘really’ reading is a good thing, and whether reading ‘all the time’ is a good thing, and reading ‘anything and everything’ is a good thing: these are the detailed questions which we do not raise at all. We simply want to see the child keeping himself busy with a book and we find that the child is doing well: it is a very superficial kind of a perception in which we are involved.

If a child is talking to a friend, we do not like it, it is a waste of time; if the child is playing games it is not a good thing because wasting time; it will not give good marks to the child ultimately: this is how we consider. What then is the measure by which we shall decide what is to be done by the child?

In the theory of dharmajaṁ karma, it is much easier: what is given written down; what is niyataṁ karma: what is prescribed. It is easier to find out. But Sri Krishna’s meaning of niyataṁ karma, is much more subtle.

Whatever you are, you are offering at that stage, therefore there is an ascent. Gradually you go on expanding yourself and your sacrifice becomes greater and greater, much more intelligent, much more understanding, much more luminous.

The word niyataṁ means, (if you examine the context in which the word is used in the Bhagavad Gita XV||I, 47), you will find that niyataṁ means, ‘that which is controlled’, not prescribed, but that which is controlled:yat comes from the word, ‘making an effort’; yatna comes from the word yat. An effort always means: ‘regulated effort’: the real effort is that effort which is a real effort, this is a regulated effort. I may be tilling the soil, but in a haphazard manner: that is not called ‘effort’. The effort is when I really put the plough, yoked with the bull, and see that the plough shall actually…is entering into the soil, and then, when it moves it really cuts the soil and moves forward, therefore it is niyataṁ, it is that which is regulated. All regulation is a method. All methodised effort is yoga. The very definition of Yoga is nothing but ‘methodised effort’. Therefore niyataṁ means is a Karma, which is determined by Yoga. There is no more something to be found in the books, which is a book of prescriptions: niyataṁ means is a work which is determined by the yogic effort.

And “nityaṁ” karma is not only the daily activities which we are obliged to do every time, but it is niyataṁ means which has to be done “nityaṁ”: you have to do all the time the niyataṁ means. All activities, which you have to do all the time, all your activities, daily activities, have to be niyataṁ, have to be determined by Yoga.

Therefore the solution is that ‘all works’, not something this or that or that, ‘all works’ are to be offered, are to be performed. But still, there is a real meaning of svabhāva, svadharma, sahaja: these also have to be taken into account. In the process of rising from lower level to the higher level, this idea of svabhāvam, of svadharma, and sahaja, all the three concepts have to be taken into account. Although in the beginning all actions can be offered (at the end all actions have to be offered), but in the process of ascent, there is a real point in making a distinction. And that is why Sri Krishna says, that an action done according to svadharma is to be preferred:

svadharme nidhanaṁ śreyaḥ paradharmo bhayāvahaḥ ||3.35||

This is another sentence in the Bhagavad Gita: sva–dharme nidhanaṁ śreyaḥ, “While doing your action according to svadharma, even if that occurs, it is better than doing something that is appertaining to the Dharma of another, para–dharmo bhayāvahaḥ, is perilous, dangerous: it is perilous to follow somebody’s else’s Dharma”. Now what is the meaning of this?

Question: Is this Swadharma decided by birth?

Answer: Sri Krishna Himself says, guṇa–karma–vibhāgaśaḥ (4.13): all Swadharma arises from Swabhava; Swabhava is, according to the varṇa; varṇa, is not decided by janma, by birth, it is decided by “guṇa–karma–vibhāgaśaḥ”. According to your natural qualities and your natural inclination of action, it is that, which decides it.

In our tradition however, gradually Swabhava and Swadharma came to be determined by birth: this was the beginning of the deterioration of Indian tradition. If India had to keep itself alive to the Truth that irrespective of birth considerations, we have to decide whether you are this or that or that or that, Brahmin or Vaishya or Kshatriya or Shudra, then our culture would have remained very strong. But human nature is mechanical; it wants to decide things mechanically, much more easily.

Just as the examination system: you should be able to judge each one individually. Each one should be compared with his highest, but that is very difficult, so we give a general examination to everybody and then judge by comparison because it’s much easier, so mechanical. Even in marking, we follow a very routine mechanical method: five answers are given more or less correctly so equal marks should be given, without realising that to give a very intelligent answer to one question may be more difficult than answering five questions.

As Pranav rightly said the other day that the answer that they give, the teacher did not appreciate, and it is quite true. An intelligent answer to one question is to be much more appreciated than mechanical answers to five questions. But it is difficult, if you have to give attention to each one of these intelligent answers, then the teacher has to work very hard and that human beings don’t normally accept. So they make out a mechanical chart; if this question is answered in this way: ‘correct’. If it is slightly different, it is ‘not correct’: this is the difficulty of human nature.

If you have to decide what is your Swabhava and Swadharma according to your perception of the Guna and Karma, it is a very difficult task. You have to examine each one very, very thoroughly, very minutely with a great subtlety, with a great complexity; but if there is a benchmark, or if he is a son of a Brahmin therefore he is Brahmin, it’s very easy.

Therefore, consistent with the mechanical nature of human nature, the profound idea of Swabhava and Swadharma got deteriorated. We forgot for example the great statement: janmana jayate śudraḥ, ‘everybody is born a Shudra at birth’, everybody. It is by Guna and Karma that a distinction arises whether he is Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra. These profound statements have been relegated into the background. That is why Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita does not allow you to take recourse to mechanical answers.

Question: One has two or three children. How is it that every child’s nature is different from birth; they must be born with such a nature. Is it true?

Answer: The point is that each individual is a special manifestation from the Divine, having a very specific action to be done by him or by her: this is what is really called Swabhava. The original bhāva of his own Self (svabhāva means bhāva of the svā: svā means oneself). This svā actually is nothing but a portion of the Divine Himself. The Divine Himself is Satchitananda; therefore the basic Swabhava of everybody is Satchitananda, of everyone, no distinction, because it is the common nature of everyone.

And yet, in the play of the world, each one is given a specific task. Therefore there is a preponderance of the movement towards that task which he is supposed to perform, those energies, which are appropriate to that action they become prominent in a given individual; others do not become so predominant; they become predominant in another person. Swabhava has two meanings: Swabhava is that which is born out of the Divine, and which in any case we manifest irresistibly; and secondly Swabhava is that, which is pertaining to your specific work in the world.

Both the things are important while giving an account of an individual. There are certain things, which are common to everybody; but there are also certain things which are specific to a given individual. I am answering a question at the origin, but the question that you have put forward is a question regarding what is happening now, not at the origin. The answer to that question is that each one of us, even though he has a Swabhava of these two kinds, has been cast into the veil of Ignorance. Therefore, his original Swabhava gets distorted in this veil of Ignorance. There is a conflict between the movement of Nature, in which we are cast and our original Nature and our original action, which has been prescribed for us by our very Being.

In the movement of Nature into which we are cast, there are three movements: the Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas. Our original Nature is Satchitananda, whereas here, you find the three movements of Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas. There is a conflict between Satchitananda Nature, and the nature which is specific for yourself in this world drama. These two get into conflict with Rajas, Tamas and Sattwa. For the moment, since we are caught in the net of Ignorance, we forget our real Swabhava. Identifying ourselves with Tamas, Rajas and Sattwa, we think, “I am Tamasic”, we think, “I am Rajasic”, we think, “I am Sattwic”, which is not your ‘real’ Nature. None of these elements is your real Nature, but we get entangled in this.

All of us therefore, as long as we are in ignorance we are in basic conflict. We are identifying ourselves with whatever is predominant in Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas, in the Prakriti, although behind this, there is always an inner feeling, which proceeds from our real Nature. Discovery of our real Nature even though entangled in Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas is the basic work of man. Not to regard ourselves to be Sattwic, Rajasic and Tamasic, but to discover our real Self, our true Nature, Satchitananda nature, and the nature, which proceeds from our real work? This is our task. And Karmayoga is fundamentally a process of this discovery.

Question: There is nothing called destiny?

Answer: Destiny is the work that you are supposed to do in the world. Right from the beginning, you are given a task to be done in the world, which nobody else will do. It is your specific work. It is…imagine you are like…a god. When you are directing a drama you are like God. You tell so many actors and assign to each one the acting that he has to do according to a character. You have assigned to each one, whatever he is supposed to do. Imagine these actors are very unintelligent, and the work you are assigning to them they don’t understand very well, they crudely do their acting, then as a director what do you do? You constantly trained them and said, “Look, ‘this’ is not your role, ‘this’ is your role.”

This is what we are supposed to do in this world. We are all crude actors in this world. God has given a work to us, and we are acting in a haphazard manner, and therefore we don’t succeed very often because we are doing all haphazard things. We have a destiny to the extent to which we are able to bring out our Swabhava, and put it rightly into our outer nature, and surmount Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas, or even to make Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas act according to our Swabhava, even more Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas, even though we are overpowered by it, even to make ‘that’ act according to our real Swabhava: this is one of the most important tasks of Karmayoga.

Therefore, this Karmayoga cannot be done mechanically: this Karmayoga requires subtlety, you have got to be awakened; you have got to do well intelligently that is why it’s called ‘Yoga of intelligent will’. It is Yoga of Buddhi. If you don’t apply Buddhi, if you don’t apply your consciousness, then this Yoga cannot be performed.

What is the difference between a good teacher and a bad teacher? A bad teacher teaches mechanically. A good teacher is one who takes into account every child, and sees what is his Swadharma, what is his Swabhava, and how the child has got entangled into some other qualities, which are not according to Swabhava, and therefore, he is not able to do rightly what he is supposed to do. To put every child on the level in which his Swabhava really manifests, that is the real task of the mother, of the father, of the friends, of the teachers. Every individual is to be helped in that line.

This Swabhava concept is very important in Karmayoga. When we say: “All actions have to be offered to the Divine”, we have to make a statement saying: “All actions have first to be analysed”. We have to see levels of actions; we have to see what is really actions proceeding from true Swabhava and what is proceeding on account of our entanglement with Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas. How to match these two and how gradually to allow the Swabhava to come out? Swabhava is something, which is irresistible. Even for the time being, it may become resisted, it may become obstructed. But true Swabhava is something that will definitely manifest in the given time and if obstructions are removed, then there is no need to tell somebody now to do this or do that. Swabhava automatically, it is a tremendous force because behind, it is a will of the Divine. The Divine has given that work, and the moment all the obstructions are removed, that Swabhava will manifest automatically.

This is why Sri Krishna also tells Arjuna that, “Even if you want to run away from the battlefield, you will come back because it is your Swabhava, you cannot resist it, and you will come back. When all your Prakriti, Sattwa, Rajas, Tamas, will all be quiet and you will really be yourself, automatically you’ll run into the battlefield and do your work.”

That svabhāvajam is automatically sahajam; sahaja means that which is spontaneous, which is irresistible. Swadharma is somewhat to be distinguished from Swabhava: Swabhava is the becoming of your true Self; Swadharma is the law of the development of that true nature. There a movement is called bhāva; Dharma means there is a law of that bhāva.

A plant is first of all to be put into the soil, and then it begins to grow; but it does not give flower immediately the very next day, there is a law of its development. There is a bhāva, Swabhava, there is a law, there is a kind of a movement; but that movement has its own law, it moves in a particular rhythm, when your Swabhava begins to develop according to the law of that development that is called Swadharma.

You give to a child what you should give to the PHD student is wrong because even though the child may have that capacity in due course when he becomes in his movement, develops, at that given stage it is not according to Swadharma. That which is Swadharma for the child is what is appropriate to the child at ‘that’ time. Therefore, we have to find out for each one what his Swabhava is and what his Swadharma is. Everybody does not move at the same rhythm, that also is an important point. Different children have different rhythms with regard to different activities.

Question: Is Swabhava governed by the stars of a person?

Answer: Swabhava is governed basically by what is put into you by the divine Will. That is the basic answer. When you bring in the concept of a star, you are bringing a situation of the intermingling of Swabhava with Rajas, Sattwa, and Tamas: this intermingling happens at a given time. That time is what is called muhūrta in astrology: at that time, whatever stars are to be seen, they become a kind of an indicator graph as to when these two things have mingled at a given point. Therefore, if you see the star’s movements, and you see the intermingling of these two, how they act and react, there is a correspondence. But even if you do not see the stars and if you are a good psychologist and if you see how the two things have mingled together and if you know what is Swadharma of that intermingling then you can predict as to how it will move forward.

Question: How does Yoga come into it?

Answer: Yoga is the conscious understanding, and the effort to bring Swabhava into operation as quickly as possible. There is a normal movement of mingling, of Swabhava with Sattwa, Rajas, and Tamas, and there is so much of ignorance, there is so much of confusion, and this intermingling is a very difficult and a very painful process. The Yoga comes in to tell you that there is an intermingling first of all. Most often people don’t even know there is an intermingling.

We, human beings normally don’t know there are two elements in us: the element of real Swabhava and the element of Sattwa, Rajas, and Tamas which is not your Swabhava. We don’t even know the two things have been mingled out. A Yogi comes to know that there is a mingling, then watches and finds out what belongs to Prakriti, and what belongs to Swabhava, and then, guides the individual on the basis of Swabhava. And therefore, it follows that sometimes some things may be more natural to you, you may be able to do more quickly according to Prakriti, but Swabhava, it may not be appropriate to your Swabhava.

You may not be able to do things better and yet Sri Krishna says: “You go to Swabhava even if you are not able to do things so well”, which ordinarily you will say, “Why do you do it? This child is able to do this very well in this activity, and you tell him, “don’t do it”, and ask him to do something in which he is not so proficient to do, why do you do that?” Yogi’s answer is that this mingling in him at present is not appropriate, is not fitting with each other. Therefore, in order to make the individual grow on his right lines ultimately, you sacrifice even now his proficiency in this; allow him to grow into this, so that gradually that which is irresistible will come out: it will become sahajaṁ.

Question: The Yoga accelerates the Swadharma..

Answer: That’s right, exactly. In fact, Vivekananda when he was asked: “what is yoga?” He said: “Yoga is a process of acceleration”. The very words he used: “Yoga is a process of acceleration.” That which normally takes a long time because of ignorance, because of our unintelligence, because of our adoption of mechanical means, we are not able to move fast. If you know things properly, then you accelerate the whole process. What is normally done in ten years, you can do in six months.

So, now come back again to this question of “offering of action”. Although it is true that you have to offer all actions, as you move forward, you do make a distinction between discovering your true action, and doing action according to what is being done automatically, mechanically by you. The more you offer your true action, your svabhavajaṁ, the greater will be the speed of your movement, your sacrifice will be much greater and you will enter into a greater relationship with the supreme Lord, and siddhi, the highest achievement will be quicker.

But when you reach the highest then again you find that you do not become restricted. Restriction is a law of your development during the process of development: ‘this is my work’, ‘this is his work’, ‘that is his work’; ‘this is my nature, that is his nature’. This is true only as long as we are moving from lower levels to the higher levels. But once you reach the higher levels, then these divisions become thinner and thinner. Then it is possible for you to do any work. You will become fourfold. You will become Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra at once, all the four. Therefore your Swabhava will be multiple, anantaguṇa: therefore this law is only a law of development, but it does not bind you. Therefore: sarvadharmān parityajya (18.66). This law is a law of development at a certain stage of your achievement, you give up all the bondages, all the restrictions, you throw yourself wholly to the Divine, and Divine is anantaguṇa, therefore He can pour into you any kind of Karma, you become instrument of His.

Like Sri Krishna once I have said: Sri Krishna in His Swabhava, He was a Brahmin because He was a great teacher, Bhagavad Gita itself is an example of what a great teacher He was. He was a Kshatriya because he was a great warrior; He had fought so many battles in His life. He was Vaishya because He was the greatest lover because Vaishya’s basic work is exchange and the most important movement of exchange is love, therefore Vaishya is basically a lover and He was a supreme lover. And He was Shudra, that is to say He could do any kind of work, even menial work. He became the charioteer in the battlefield, looking after the horses: how to give them rest, how to make water to be given to them, and how to obey Arjuna’s orders. If Arjuna said, “take me here”, He would take him there, if he said, “take me there”, He would take him there. That requires a tremendous capacity of obedience. He was a great Shudra.

So, you arrive at a point where you can’t even describe saying He is Brahmin, or Kshatriya, or Vaishya, or Shudra. He is all: all distinctions disappear, whatever Divine wills of Him, that He is able to do. And that is the highest level of Karma yoga. When you reach the acme of Karma yoga, whatever is willed by the Divine in you, you find the necessary capacity to do it.

Sri Aurobindo gives his own example: when somebody wrote a letter to Sri Aurobindo about philosophy, and Sri Aurobindo said, “I am not a philosopher, not a philosopher, not a philosopher, I am a poet.” That was his real, you might say, ‘Swabhava’. Then, he explains how he became a philosopher. He said at a given time, it was necessary to manifest a knowledge that was accumulated by him, as a result of the prayer of the Mother. The Mother prayed to Sri Aurobindo, “All the knowledge that you have, give it to mankind.” So Sri Aurobindo agreed.

How to manifest that knowledge in the best possible manner for this world: this world understands that knowledge only in philosophical terms. Sri Aurobindo said that, “That was demanded of me to be a philosopher, so I became a philosopher.” And he became the greatest philosopher, and it was so simple as this, it was ‘will’ of the Divine that he should write philosophically, although he had no Swabhava of it, it manifested as a philosopher, and “The Life Divine” that He wrote is the greatest philosophical work in the world today.

Such is the possibility when we reach the highest height of Karma yoga. Then you become an instrument of God, and God cleans everything, all kinds of restrictions of Swabhava, Swadharma: all is removed. That is the real meaning of sarvadharmān parityajya: all Dharmas are surrendered. So there is no obstruction at all of any kind; a perfect instrument, which is readily available to the Divine, and whatever Divine wills, the instrument is able to do it. This also answers the question whether one should do good action or bad action.

There is a third theory. The third theory is…according to this theory: Karmayoga consists of doing good actions. It is similar to Dharma and Adharma, but there is a slight difference: Swabhava, Swadharma is a much more detailed analysis, but this idea of good or bad is much simpler. According to this theory, you should do the good actions, and avoid bad actions; you should do the right action, and avoid the wrong action. As a result there is a theory that Karmayoga consists of doing your own duty. “Duty for duty’s sake” is another theory of Karmayoga. “What am I to do in life? What is my duty? What is not my duty is not my work. If I am a teacher and not the principal of the school, then I would say my work is to teach in the class, it is not my business to admit children, to see what is happening in the whole school, it’s not my duty. If I do my duty, I am doing Karmayoga. I am not supposed to do anything else'': this is the third theory. And very often it is said that the Bhagavad Gita actually gives you this doctrine of “Duty for duty’s sake”. It is also argued by many people that Bhagavad Gita is nothing but a Karmayoga, which prescribes to you that you should do your duty.

Is it really so? Is the Karmayoga of the Bhagavad Gita going down to the doctrine of “duty for duty’s sake”. And very often the answer is ‘yes’! Because Arjuna, when he came to the battlefield, he came because it was his duty to fight. And therefore he had come to the battlefield. Seeing his grandfather, and his teacher, and many other friends, and brothers standing against him, he was bewildered, he became weak and feeble, and said, “How can I fight with them?” And therefore, he said, “I will not fight”. And then, Arjuna was rebuked by Sri Krishna who said, “You have forgotten your duty, your duty is to fight.” And that was the answer, and then Arjuna began to fight, and the whole Bhagavad Gita is nothing but this. He had come as a result of his sense of duty, he forgot his duty and Sri Krishna reminded him and said: “Your duty is to fight”. And he began to fight. That is the teaching of the Bhagavad Gita: but this is a very superficial reading of the Bhagavad Gita.

Not that the idea of duty is not there at all: the idea of duty is present. But the centre of the whole argument of the Bhagavad Gita is not “Duty for duty’s sake”. If you analyse the argument of Arjuna, when he says, “I will not fight”, do you find that in that argument he was not aware of his duty? You can say that he forgot his duty only if in his argument, there is no mention of his duty, but that is not so. He knows very well. He clearly states that, “for the sake of my duty, I should really fight and kill these people.” But he says, “I will not do it.” It is not as if he has forgotten it. Why? Because he finds that, “If I kill, there will be a great Adharma, I think it’s my Dharma, but performing my Dharma, another big Adharma will be produced.” Why? Because a large number of people will be massacred, will be slaughtered, will be killed. Therefore, there will be dharmakṣaya, kuladharmakṣaya, the women will give up their Dharma, and ultimately varṇasaṁkaraḥ jāyate, (1.41): the whole clan will be scattered, and there will be so much of mixture of blood, and the whole idea of Dharma will be destroyed. He said, “Dharma produces Adharma. If duty produces Adharma, is duty to be performed?” That is his question.

And Sri Krishna answers, “Not merely this that ‘Look, your duty is to fight therefore, you fight’, no.” He says, there is a difference between that which is an action as a ‘duty’ and an action that proceeds from ‘your Swabhava’. Your duty may be according to anything that is given in our society; it may not be according to your Swabhava. So, Sri Krishna’s answer is that, “Because of your Swabhava, seeing your Swadharma you should fight.” He does not say, “Seeing your duty you must fight.” That is one answer.

Even that, Arjuna does not accept. Arjuna’s argument is that when Dharma, even Swadharma is going to produce this Adharma, the whole kuladharma will be destroyed. Therefore, he says that renunciation is better. Therefore he brings another idea: that when dharma and Adharma are in the question, then you should renounce all the action, neither do this nor do that, you just renounce.

Therefore, the whole Bhagavad Gita arises out of this: is renunciation the right thing to do? And Sri Krishna’s answer ultimately is, “Neither that you should do renunciation, nor should you do your duty, but you should do “divyam karma”, you should do the divine’s work.” The answer of Sri Krishna is that, there is something else: “If you do the Divine’s work, according to the whole Karma yoga, in which you transcend the idea of duty, you transcend even the idea of Swadharma”. The whole consideration is: what is the Divine’s will? If the Divine Himself through you is shooting arrows, then that is the right thing to do. You do not consider whether it is right or wrong, you transcend that whole idea of right–wrong, good–bad. You see the Supreme, what the Supreme is doing in you. You are only a flute. Let the flute player play the flute that you are.

Sri Krishna says: “I will show you what the Supreme is doing.” And therefore in the 11th chapter, Sri Krishna shows the whole viśvarūpadarśana, and says: “There, you see what the Supreme is doing”, and Arjuna cries out and says: “I am seeing all the Kauravas being killed.” The Supreme Himself was killing. Arjuna’s ideas, and Arjuna’s fears, and his ideas of confusions of Dharma–Adharma, everything was blocking the way of the Divine’s action. So His answer is, “You see what is Divine’s will and you become His instrument.” That is the answer of Sri Krishna.

But in the process, there is a place for duty, there is a place for Swadharma, there is a gradation even of Swadharma, there is a place for the movement of Prakriti, there is a place for intermingling, rising from one Guna to the other, all this is the process to be done rightly.

But ultimately, all that has to be transcended so that there remains only one thing: the Divine’s will, your purity of instrumentality, complete surrender to that will of the Divine, and allowing that will to pass through you without obstruction. “This” is the answer of Sri Krishna, and that is why this teaching is not an ethics. In an ethical book you have to follow your duties, and if you forget your duties, you are reminded, “Here is your duty!” Such is not the answer of Sri Krishna. He gives a completely different dimension that, —“If you really want to know what you have to do, don’t consider Adharma–Dharma. I take you to another perception altogether: there is something like action which proceeds from the Divine. Therefore: go back to the origin, and Karma yoga consists in knowing the origin of things, and offering yourself to that origin, and receive whatever comes from there.”

These are the three steps of Karmayoga and these are the complexities of Karmayoga.