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The concept of Karm, Akarm, Vikarm and Nishkaam Karm || Acharya Prashant, on Bhagavad Gita (2020)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
8 min
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Questioner (Q): What is the exact meaning of ’Gahna Karmo Gati’? There are a lot of sayings about that.

Acharya Prashant (AP): You'll have to quote the entire shloka (verse); then you'll understand. Actually, these three words, ‘Gahna Karmo Gati’, have been quoted so variously and so frequently, even by the government of India, that they have lost all perspective. Therefore, you'll have to go back to Chapter 3 and 4 and look at the entire verse, and then you will know that the way these three words are used frequently, is not the way the shloka intends them to mean.

Q: And in the same chapter Lord Krishna has talked about Karma, Akarma and Vikarma.

AP: In fact, ’Gahna Karmo Gati’ is related to this, this only: Karma, Akarma, and Vikarma.

Karma is when you make a choice in acting. Akarma is when there is no choice available. No choice might be available for two reasons. One, the action might be totally involuntary, prakritik, or because you are so inattentive that stuff is happening without your consent or notice—that is Akarma. So, there is no doership involved there. There is no real choice involved there. Complete conditioning is at play—that is Akarma. So, the fundamental distinction is, first of all, between Karma and Akarma. Karma is when there is an agency making a choice. Akarma is when there is no agency at all making a choice.

Right now, you are nodding your head. Most probably it is Akarma, because you are not making a conscious choice to nod your head. Similarly, the beating of the heart—that is pure Akarma. That is pure Akarma. But the nodding of the head need not be Akarma, yet is Akarma, because it's happening just on its own in a most conditioned way. So, that’s the distinction between Akarma and Karma.

Now, you come to Karma. Karma has been broadly divided into three categories: Sakaam Karma, Nishkaam Karma, and then there is a very special category called Vikarma.

Nishkaam Karma is when you work directly for the sake of Liberation. "I'm working directly to attain liberation. I do not like my bondages, and I'm in a hurry. I love freedom so much that I cannot wait for it. So, I'm not working to keep my chains intact. I'm not postponing my liberation for another day"—that is Nishkaam Karma. "I'm not working to feed my kaamana, my personal desires. I'm working with only one objective—freedom from kaamana.” That is Nishkaam Karma.

Then, there is Sakaam Karma. Even in Sakaam Karma, there is a latent desire towards liberation, but because it is latent, therefore, it is indirect. Most people will say, "Yes, I want liberation, but through something else. So, I want liberation through a house. I want liberation through money. I want liberation through knowledge or through a man or a woman, or through something"—that is Sakaam Karma. "I'm chasing liberation via my desire. I am using my desire to come to liberation."

But what is common between Nishkaam Karma and Sakaam Karma is that you at least know that you are in bondage and want liberation. Nishkaam Karma is the honest and straightforward route; Sakaam Karma is the ordinary, dishonest and convoluted route.

Then, there is Vikarma. In Vikarma, you say, "I'm already liberated and I don’t need any liberation." In Vikarma, the one who is in bondages is so deeply dishonest, that he starts proclaiming his liberation, and he says, "I'm already liberated. Who needs liberation? I'm happy and I'll work to get more happiness." So, this entire cult of happiness, which is all-pervasive, especially in the West, is the cult of Vikarma—the cult of deep dishonesty, deep inner dishonesty. You decorate your bondages and start calling them your ornaments. Now there is no possibility of liberation, because now bondage itself has been named as liberation. You're deeply in an inner stress, and yet you call yourself as blissful. The result of this can only be mental disease. What else is this? Pandemic mental disease—Vikarma.

So, Krishna says, "Nishkaam Karmayogi comes directly to Me, Sakaam Karmayogi through my blessing attains the one he is worshiping." Right? So, if you want this, or that, or that, then you will attain that. Even if to be just disappointed, but you will attain that. And having attained that, you'll realize that that thing is not what I really wanted, so you will go to the next thing and the next thing. And there is some probability that after a series of disappointments, you will realize that you need to look somewhere else. So, some chance of liberation is there even for the Sakaam Karmi. But for the one who is now mired in Vikarma, there is no chance. His fate is suffering and forced punishment.

Q: Where is this Vikarma? Is it from the Bhagavad Gita if I wanted to read more?

AP: But it's not explained in Bhagavad Gita. Shri Krishna just leaves us in suspense saying that you must know the difference between Karma, Akarma, and Vikarma. By himself, he doesn’t quite explain. So, you have to go through the entire length of the Bhagavad Gita to deduce what he means. He remained a trickster all his life. He was quite a naughty fellow.

Q: Is there a version of the Bhagavad Gita you recommend reading or a translation that's better than others?

AP: In general, the translations provided by the Ramakrishna Mission are quite authentic.

Q: When I get a huge achievement in society or in our materialistic life, and at the same moment I want to be an egoless non-doer, every time it does not happen. It will be two-three days when I believe that I am not the doer. If I achieve some award on the stage, or any reward, exactly at that moment I don't want to be a doer. What will be the exercise, or how to prepare our mind for that?

AP: Then you have to know what is it that you are being felicitated for. If someone starts feeling inflated on being publicly felicitated, it merely means that he does not quite know what all that ceremony is really about. The one who has really earned his laurels knows fully well what goes into an event. If you look at even a small happening, you know very well how much of chance is involved in it. Even the thoughts in what you call as your ‘own mind’ are not really your own. We are not the doers of even our thoughts, how then can we really be the doers of this and that? So, somebody starts internally taking credit for some happening, it merely means he does not know the happening.

Let the public remain in illusion. If they are honoring you on a stage or something, let them remain happily deluded. Let them think that you have done something magnificent, but within yourself you should know that all this is just Prakriti. Prakriti plays games, ego takes credit. Stuff happens, and the ‘I’ pounces on it and says, "I did it!" The thing is, it happened.

It’s a great exercise in humility to see that that which we call as most intimate to our being, even that is incidental: birth, death, love affairs, marriage, kids, your very DNA, thoughts, passions, emotions, your gender.

Did you really intend to be born a male? And having born a male, after a while you start taking credit for your muscular body or your special height. It's just ignorance about the prakritik processes of the universe.

Q: What is ‘prakritik’? Does this mean random?

AP: Physical nature, all this that you see all around yourself; stuff, material existence that is conditioned to go on and on in its own way; material existence that does not really include or need consciousness.

An electron circling around the nucleus—that's Prakriti.

Planets orbiting around the sun—that's Prakriti.

A seed falling into the soil, and a plant sprouting off from it—that's Prakriti.

None of that really requires a choosing consciousness—it just happens.

You may want it, you may not want it, you may exist, you may not exist—that just happens.

Food getting digested in your intestines—that's Prakriti. You don't do it, it happens. No element of conscious choice is involved in this.

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