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The Secret of Right Action - Bhagavad Gita
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
11 min
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Overview

Sacrificing is a very wise trade-off; it is a bargain in wisdom. You’re giving up something that has a lower value, and having given this thing up, you attain something that has a higher value. This is yagya .

When you do not act for the sake of your own personal benefit, then action leaves you with neither happiness nor sadness; you are free of the action. Your action has attained closure, fulfillment.

Bhagavad Gita - Chapter 4, Verses 25 to 33

दैवमेवापरे यज्ञं योगिनः पर्युपासते । ब्रह्माग्नावपरे यज्ञं यज्ञेनैवोपजह्वुति ॥

Other yogis undertake sacrifice to gods alone, others offer the self, as a sacrifice by the self itself, in the fire of Brahman.

श्रोत्रादीनीन्द्रियाण्यन्ये संयमाग्निषु जुह्वति । शब्दादीन्विषयानन्य इन्द्रियाग्निषु जुह्वति ॥

Others offer the organs, viz. ear etc., in the fires of self-control. Others offer the objects, viz. sound etc., in the fires of the organs.

सर्वाणीन्द्रियकर्माणि प्राणकर्माणि चापरे । आत्मसंयमयोगाग्नौ जुह्वति ज्ञानदीपिते ॥

Others offer all the activities of the organs and the activities of the vital force into the fire of the yoga of self-control which has been lighted by Knowledge.

द्रव्ययज्ञास्तपोयज्ञा योगयज्ञास्तथापरे । स्वाध्यायज्ञानयज्ञाश्च यतयः संशितव्रताः ॥

Similarly, others are performers of sacrifices through wealth, through austerity, through yoga, and through study and knowledge; others are ascetics with severe vows.

अपाने जुह्वति प्राणं प्राणेऽपानं तथापरे । प्राणापानगती रुद्ध्वा प्राणायामपरायणाः ॥

Constantly practising control of the vital forces by stopping the movements of the outgoing and the incoming breaths, some offer as a sacrifice the outgoing breath in the incoming breath; while still others, the incoming breath in the outgoing breath.

अपरे नियताहाराः प्राणान्प्राणेष जुह्वति । सर्वेऽप्येते यज्ञविदो यज्ञक्षपितकल्मषाः ॥

Others, having their food regulated, offer the vital forces in the vital forces. All of them are knowers of the sacrifice and have their sins destroyed by sacrifice.

यज्ञशिष्टामृतभुजो यान्ति ब्रह्म सनातनम । नायं लोकोऽस्त्ययज्ञस्य कुतोऽन्यः कुरुसत्तम ॥

Those who partake of the nectar left over after a sacrifice, reach the eternal Brahman. This world ceases to exist for one who does not perform sacrifices. What to speak of the other (world), O best among the Kurus!

एवं बहुवि धा यज्ञा वितता ब्रह्मणो मुखे । कर्मजान्विद्धि तान्सर्वानेवं ज्ञात्वा विमोक्ष्यसे ॥

Thus, various kinds of sacrifices lie spread at the mouth of the Vedas. Know them all to be born of action. Knowing thus, you will become liberated.

श्या रे न्द्रव्यमयाद्यज्ञाज्ज्ञानयज्ञः परन्तप । सर्वं कर्माखिलं पार्थ ज्ञाने परिसमाप्यते ॥

O destroyer of enemies, Knowledge considered as a sacrifice is greater than sacrifices requiring materials. O son of Pārtha, all actions in their totality culminate in knowledge.

All actions dissolve in understanding

Questioner (Q) : From verse 25 to 33 of chapter 4, Shri Krishna speaks of the following sacrifices to gods: sacrifice of self, which is the ego, ahaṃ; sacrifice of organs of senses; sacrifice of objects of senses; sacrifice of functions of senses; sacrifice of wealth; sacrifice by austerities; sacrifice by study of scriptures; sacrifice by restraint of breath; and sacrifice of diet.

What is really meant by sacrifice or yagya , and what is really meant by jñāna-yagya that Krishna calls as greater than all the other sacrifices or yagya ?

Also, please help us understand the meaning of verse 33 that says, ‘All actions in their totality culminate in knowledge.’

Acharya Prashant (AP) : No, no. That is not what verse 33 says. Not ‘culminate’ in knowledge; dissolve in knowledge. The word used is ‘parisamāpyate’ ; an ending, samapti . The word ‘apti’ means highest, a climax. Samapti means having truly attained the climax. That is samapti .

You do not act for the sake of the result - That is the mark of wisdom

So, when it is said here that all actions in their totality culminate in knowledge, what is meant is that real understanding gives you a dissolution of all actions; all actions dissolve in understanding. What does that mean? What is it that actions leave behind?

Q : Their consequences.

AP : Their fruits, right? Their residues. But in understanding, actions do not leave behind any residue because you do not act for the sake of the residue; the action itself is chosen so wisely that it will not leave behind any fruit, any clutter, any dirt. It simply means niśkāma-karma . You do not act for the sake of the result. That is the mark of wisdom or understanding. You just act; therefore, action leaves you with no obligations, no achievements, nor any heartbreaks.

Happiness or sadness come to you only when you act for the sake of your own gratification

What is an achievement? What is a feeling of elation? What is this euphoria on the success of an action? It is the fruit of action, right? I acted, and my action achieved the target it was directed at, so now I am feeling elated. This is a residue of action. The action has left me with elation; elation is a residue of the action.

Similarly, what is disappointment or heartbreak? The action did not fetch me what I wanted from it, so what has the action left me with? Despair. Sadness. What is this sadness? It is a residue or fruit of the action.

Both of these residues come only to those who act in order to get something. Get something for whom? For whom is the euphoria? To whom is the sadness?

Q : To oneself.

AP : To the actor. So, happiness or sadness come to you only when you act for the sake of your own gratification. When you do not act for the sake of your own personal benefit, then action leaves you with neither happiness nor sadness; you are free of the action. Your action has attained closure, fulfillment. That is what Krishna is saying here.

The Wheel of Time

What if you are left with bitterness after the action? What will that lead to? That will lead to the . . .?

Q : Next action?

AP : Next action. So, you’re not liberated. You’re still under the obligation to act one more time because the action has left you with bitterness.

What if the action leaves you with a sense of accomplishment? Again, you will be tempted to act one more time. ‘You see, I got something. Can’t I repeat my success?’ So, you’re not liberated. You’re not liberated because you are again obligated to . . .?

Q : Do the next action?

AP : Act one more time, and you have created future for yourself, so you’re caught in the cycle of time. If you want to act one more time, what do you require? You require one more time; you require time. And if you require time, then you’re still caught in the clockwork; you’re not free of time; you’re still in Kalachakra (the wheel of time). Kāla is time and kāla is death—and you will be afraid.

What is meant by sacrifice?

Now, the questioner is saying, ‘What is meant by sacrifice and what is meant by jñāna-yagya , and why is jñāna-yagya higher than all other sacrifices?’

Sacrifice obviously means giving up or offering. At the root of sacrifice is realization. So, we will consider sacrifice, and we will consider what is jñāna or realization.

When would you sacrifice something for something else?

What is at the root of all sacrifice? When would you sacrifice something for something else?

Q : When I see that I would get something better.

AP : Seeing that the thing you have is of lower value than what you would get post . . .?

Q : Sacrificing.

AP : Sacrificing it. So, in that sense, it is actually just a trade- off. But it is a very wise trade-off; it is a bargain in wisdom.

You’re giving up something that has a lower value, and having given this thing up, you attain something that has a higher value. This is yagya .

We must know that Truth and Freedom are the most valuable

Yagya says, ‘Of what use is this little self to me? I give this up. Having given this self up, what do I get? I get the greater self, the real self, the pure self. I have given up the false self, the little self, the ego. Having given up the ego, I attain something immensely bigger.’ So, it is a profitable bargain. A small thing has been given, and something big has been attained.

Similarly, sacrifice of organs of senses, objects of senses, function of senses, wealth, this, that . . . Basically, we are talking of a value system here. We must know how to assess, how to evaluate. We must know what is the right value of one thing vis-à-vis another thing, and we must know that Truth and freedom are the most valuable; therefore, anything can be sacrificed for their sake. Hence, and then only, this becomes obvious, this thing falls in place. ‘I can give up my wealth if giving up of wealth brings freedom to me. I can give up my knowledge; I can give up senses, pleasures, ego, concepts. All these things I can give up.’

Joy is higher pleasure

And then some of the verses have also talked of the way of giving up. Three ways have been listed here by the questioner: sacrifice through austerity, sacrifice through study of scriptures, sacrifice through prāṇayama or restraint of breath. So, these are three ways of giving up. There is stuff that you give up, and there are ways in which you give up. What is central is the intention to give up. And remember that giving up in the spiritual sense is not charity; it is good business. You have given a smaller thing up and attained something . . .?

Q : Bigger.

AP : Far bigger. Infinitely more profitable. In fact, that is one way to define joy. Do not call joy as freedom from pleasure; just call joy as higher pleasure. Now, if you call joy as higher pleasure, then it becomes possible to sacrifice the lower pleasures for the sake of the higher pleasure called joy.

Spirituality remains very scary to people

Otherwise, spirituality remains very scary to people who have been spoken to in the language of renunciation. ‘Give this up, give that up.’ The ego asks, ‘But why? All I have is this 10-rupee note, and you’re asking me to give it up!’ You have to, in the same breath, tell him that by giving up this 10-rupee note, you will indeed get something that is worth Rs 500. And you have to really demonstrate it. He must be able to see it in his life that by giving up on smaller pleasures or the so-called good things of life, he has now attained a state that is far higher, a state that he would not like to exchange in return for anything.

In order to gain more clarity about the above topic, you can refer to Acharya Prashant's books Bhagavad Gita - Volume1 and Karma: Why Everything You Know About It Is Wrong .

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