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Bonded work is compensation, free work is compassion || Acharya Prashant, on Bhagavad Gita (2020)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
14 min
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यस्त्वात्मरतिरेव स्यादात्मतृप्तश्च मानवः।

आत्मन्येव च सन्तुष्टस्तस्य कार्यं न विद्यते।। 3.17 ।।

yas tvātma-ratir eva syād ātma-tṛiptaśh cha mānavaḥ

ātmanyeva cha santuṣhṭas tasya kāryaṁ na vidyate

The man who rejoices only in the Self and is satisfied with the Self, and is contended only in the Self—for him there is no duty to perform

~ Shrimad Bhagwad Gita, Chapter 3, Verse 17

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न बुद्धिभेदं जनयेदज्ञानां कर्मसङ्गिनाम्।

जोषयेत्सर्वकर्माणि विद्वान् युक्तः समाचरन्।। 3.26 ।।

na buddhi-bhedaṁ janayed ajñānāṁ karma-saṅginām

joṣhayet sarva-karmāṇi vidvān yuktaḥ samācharan

The wise man established in the Self should not unsettle the mind of the ignorant one attached to action, but should get them to perform all their duties while dually performing his own duties.

~ Shrimad Bhagwad Gita, Chapter 3, Verse 26

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Question: In verse 17, Shri Krishna says that there is no duty to perform for the one who rejoices only in the Self. Yet, when we look at the greats—like Mahavira, Buddha or Kabir Sahib—they took huge steps to dispel the darkness of man’s mind, as if they were performing an undeclared duty.

And, in verse 26, Shri Krishna again refers to the wise one and says that he should get others to perform all their duties, dually performing his own too. Is there any contradiction here? And, what makes a Buddha or a Mahavira do what they do?

Acharya Prashant (AP): “The man who rejoices only in the Self and is satisfied with the Self, and is contended only in the Self—for him there is no duty to perform. The wise man established in the Self should not unsettle the mind of the ignorant one attached to action, but should get them to perform all their duties while dually performing his own duties.”

You see, Shri Krishna is presenting the entirety, the totality of the matter of action here. On one hand, He says that in the highest state of Liberation there is no duty, no kartavya left; no duty at all left. That is point one that you have to understand. At the same time he says, “Look at me Partha (Arjuna). Who can bind Me in duty? I have no duty at all! And yet, I keep doing everything.” He presents his own example. You have to look at everything together to get the complete picture.

On one hand he indeed says that the liberated one has really no boundation upon him to do anything. The liberated one has no boundation; he has no obligation to do anything, because he is now liberated. And then he says, “Look at Me Partha! I keep on doing stuff day-in and day-out!” And he devotes a couple of verses elaborating how much he does. He says, “If I do not do things, this entire world will collapse. So, I do more than anybody else. People work in their limited ways. Look at Me, Arjuna! I work in an unlimited way. My labor knows no limits. Nobody works harder that I do!”

Arjuna is puzzled. “But Sir, didn’t You just say that the liberated one has no duties left to perform? Why do You act then?” Shri Krishna just smiles. “If you could understand that much, why would you need the Gita?”

So, the common folk has duties because he is not liberated, and the liberated one puts duties upon himself, because he is liberated.

That’s the way this is.

The one in shackles has to bear kartavya or duties as punishment. You’ll have to live within your duties because you are not liberated. This is your punishment.

And the liberated one loads himself with duties, not because he is full of passion towards the world, but because he has compassion.

Shri Krishna tells Arjuna, “The Gyani, the realized one, should work or rather works in an outworldly way, in a worldly way, just as the ignorant one does.” These are very beautiful verses. All the chapters of the Gita are wonderful, but Chapter 3 probably stands the tallest. He says, “The ignorant ones keep working, Arjuna, in a similar way, the realized one should also keep working.” And he quotes himself as the foremost example of the worker. He says, “Look at Me! Here are all the ignorant ones assembled in the field of Kurukshetra to fight. They are working; to fight is their work. And here is Me as well. What am I doing in the middle of this idiotic crowd? All fools ready to cut each other to pieces. Totally stupid people they are, right on both sides! Do they know why they are fighting?"

"Half of them would be dead before the end of the day! But look at them; how they flex their muscles, how they brandish their weapons, somebody is blowing the conch, somebody is puffing his chest, somebody is threatening the other one. And before the Sun sets, half of them will be gone, and gone for nothing. Idiots! And in the middle of this crowd, who is standing as a mere charioteer? Not even a warrior—a charioteer. Me! Me! Doesn’t it occur to you Arjuna, what am I doing here? After all, I’m a realized being, am I not?”

No, Arjuna is not quite sure about it, till Krishna displays to him what is commonly known as the ‘virāṭ rūpa’ (universal form).

Krishna is asking, “What am I doing here? They are fighting because they are ignorant, and here I am fighting because I am not ignorant. They are fighting because they are ignorant. And I too am fighting, because I’m not ignorant!”

That’s the way the realized one has to live. Outworldly it will appear as if he’s doing all the things that all the ignorant ones are doing; he cannot shun action, he cannot run away. That’s the message – he cannot run away.

"They are fighting; you too fight. But they are fighting from their darkness; you fight from your Light. You cannot run away. Shunning action is not possible. You have to fight."

The world is the battlefield. To be born is to be born as a warrior. To be born is to be born with weapons and armor.

What to do?

Now you know why a Buddha, a Mahavira, a Kabir work so hard all his life. Don’t you wonder? What does he have, left to achieve? (Pointing at various people in the audience) He’s working because he wants a new car, he’s working because he wants a new wife, he’s working because he wants a new job. What is it that impels the Sage to work so hard? That’s the secret; that’s what made Krishna smile.

“Arjuna, you will never really know why I work, because I work without a ‘why’. You work for a reason; I work for no reason. And if you have to have a reason, the reason is compassion. You know, you are a man of words. You need some word to satisfy your shallow inquiry, so I give you a word. The word is ‘compassion’.” If you go to Kabir Sahib, he will say the word is ‘sahajatā’ (being natural).

The realized one just works. He doesn’t work for a cause really; though apparently, he might declare a cause.

He will say, “You know, I’m working for such and such reasons, for such a cause, for such a mission,” such things. But really, he’s just working—just working. He cannot help it; it has to happen. You cannot go to him and question, “But why are you doing it? But why are you doing it?”

Somebody went to J. Krishnamurti, and Krishnamurti was saying, “One doesn’t need a Teacher,” and such things. “No Guru is needed and one is sufficient unto himself,” and such things. And there was this person, he questioned Krishnamurti. He said, “But aren’t you too teaching? You too are a de-facto Guru. And all the time you are railing against Gurus!” And Krishnamurti was almost shocked, it is said. You know how he replied? He said, “But I don’t do it intentionally!” Somebody said, “You too keep teaching and guiding us all the time. Aren’t you my Guru?” And Krishnamurti says, almost as if, you know, caught or accused, or convicted, “But I don’t do it intentionally!”

That’s how the realized one acts. He doesn’t do it intentionally. He just acts. He just acts.

Somewhere, if I remember correctly, Krishnamurti also said, “When the flower blooms, the fragrance spreads.” The flower doesn’t really intend to make your day; it just happens. The flower can’t help it. The flower didn’t really plan to entertain your nostrils or your mind; it just happens. He can’t help it.

That’s the state of the realized one: he can’t help it. He’s helpless.

“Oh, bad! But we thought he’s quite empowered. We thought if you are realized, then you are all in control of yourself!” Oh no, not at all.

Rather, what you call as ‘realization’ is about losing all self-control. You just flow; flow not in the way the common man flows. The common man flows in the dirty stream of his passions, and desires, and tendencies. The flow of the realized one is an altogether different thing; it’s a different stream. A few years back I had differentiated between the two streams, calling one stream as 'accidental', and the other as 'essential'.

But, you know, some smart fellow can actually go to Kurukshetra and accost Krishna, “Sir, what are you doing here? After all, you are Krishna! Your place is in the jungle. And, if not in the jungle, you should be found at some other quiet, secluded place meditating, or perfecting your Yoga. After all, you are the supreme Yogi, aren’t you? How does it behove a Yogi to be really having the harness in his hand?”

(Reading the question again) “Is there a contradiction here? What makes a Buddha or a Mahavira do what they do?”

No, no contradiction here. And do not ask for a reason. If you’re really honest, then you should know that there does not exist a reason. As we said, if you are interested in satisfying your flimsy curiosity, then you could say the reason is the upliftment of the world. As they say in common usage that “The Sage takes birth to redeem the world.” But that’s the language of the world. In the Sage’s own language, such an expression does not exist. He will not say that he has come to really serve the world, or redeem the world, or do some favor to the world. He just does what he does. This ‘justness’ is the pinnacle of all spiritual advancement; sahajatā.

Even Krishna does not really disclose to Arjuna why he runs the entire world or maintains the prakritik (natural) order. He does not disclose. He just says, “I do that. I do that.” And Arjuna is probably not insouciant enough to insist on an answer. So, he lets it go at that.

Question 2: Just now you said that the liberated one doesn’t do anything intentionally, he just does it, whereas the non-liberated one acts with a cause. Is there a reason behind it?

AP: There can be two reasons there. You see, if you are someone who is in bondage, then your actions could be in two directions. The direction of the irreligious action is towards the thickening of bondages. If you are in bondages, then there is an irreligious action possible. The irreligious or non-spiritual action is the one that will lead to a thickening or deepening of your bondages.

Then, there is the religious action. That is the action called as ‘kartavya’. What is 'kartavya' or 'dharma'? That which leads to Freedom from your bondages. So these two courses of action are possible to the one who is not yet liberated. He can act this way, or he can act that way.

Then, there is the liberated one. Right? And the liberated one really does not need to act for himself, because he has no bondages left. So he does not need to further liberate himself; he’s already liberated. Yet he keeps on working—and that’s what the wonder is.

If the one in shackles acts, then it can be explained. He’s acting for the sake of his Freedom, Liberation. He is in shackles. You can see the chains, the fetters, you can see. So, he’s working, and it is obvious why he is working. He’s a sincere fellow, he’s a sensible fellow. He wants Freedom. This is the religious man.

Who is the irreligious man? Who is wearing chains, and is working in a way that will load him with more bondages. This is the irreligious fellow.

Now you come to the liberated one. The liberated one needs no religion at all. He has gone beyond religion. In his case, religion has already served its purpose. He needs no religion.

Does Krishna follow a religion? No. Krishna is religion itself. He does not follow any religion. There is no Dharma, no kartavya for Krishna, and yet he’s found working so very diligently, so very uninterruptedly. Why? That’s what you need to find out. In trying to find that out, the finder will get lost. That’s the great thing about such an endeavor to find. No finding will really happen, but the one who set out to find will get exhausted.

Question 3: If the liberated one stops doing work because it is not his compulsion to act, will it then leave no difference between the liberated and the non-liberated?

AP: How will he stop doing? Who will force him to stop doing? He does what he does. He’s alone to himself. Who can stop him from doing what he must? It’s his free will, and only he really has free will. You cannot stop him. You can at most physically kill him — go ahead and do that! But still you cannot really stop him. He will express himself in some other way; the Spirit will remain. One instance of the Spirit, one particular body can be killed, but the Spirit, really, cannot be stopped.

Liberation is not something that happens to a man. It is more abstract. There’s nothing personal.

Therefore I keep saying that the way we usually talk about enlightenment, it’s all bogus.

Enlightenment is a myth.

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