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The secret of right action || Acharya Prashant, on Bhagavad Gita (2020)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
8 min
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श्रेयान्द्रव्यमयाद्यज्ञाज्ज्ञानयज्ञः परन्तप।

सर्वं कर्माखिलं पार्थ ज्ञाने परिसमाप्यते।। 4.33 ।।

śhreyān dravya-mayād yajñāj jñāna-yajñaḥ parantapa

sarvaṁ karmākhilaṁ pārtha jñāne parisamāpyate

Knowledge-sacrifice, O scorcher of foes, is superior to sacrifice (performed) with (material) objects. All action in its entirety, O Partha, attains its consummation in knowledge.

~ Shrimad Bhagwad Gita, Chapter 4, Verse 33.

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Question: From verse 25 to 33 of Chapter 4, Shri Krishna speaks of the following sacrifices to gods: sacrifice of self, which is the ego, Aham; 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’? What is really meant by ‘jnana yagya’ that Krishna says is greater than all the other sacrifices or yagya? Please also help us understand the meaning of verse 33 that says, “All actions in their totality culminate in knowledge.”

Acharya Prashant (AP): No, no, that’s not what verse 33 says. (Making correction in the English translation of the verse) Not 'culminate’ in knowledge, 'dissolve' in knowledge. The word used is ‘parisamāpyate’; an ending, ‘samāpti’. The word ‘āpti’ means highest, a climax; ‘samāpti’ means — having truly attained the climax; that is ‘samāpti’.

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?

Questioner(Q): Their consequences.

AP: Their fruits, right? Their residues. But in understanding, actions do not leave behind any residue, because in understanding, 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, which simply means Nishkām Karmā.

You do not act for the sake of the result; that’s the mark of Wisdom or Understanding. You just act. Therefore, action leaves you with no obligations, no achievements, nor any heartbreaks.

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? To whom is the euphoria? To whom is the sadness?

Q: To oneself.

AP: To the actor.

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 or gratification, then action leaves you with neither happiness nor sadness; you are free of the action.

That’s what Krishna is saying here. Your action has attained closure; your action has attained fulfilment. 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...?

Q: Bitterness.

AP: Bitterness. What if the action leaves you with a sense of accomplishment? Again, you will be tempted to...?

Q: Act.

AP: Act one more time. ""You see, I got something. Can’t I repeat my success?" So, you see, 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? If you want to act one more time, 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 Kālacakra (wheel of time). You’re still in? Kālacakra. Kāla is time, and kāla is death. And you’ll be afraid.

Getting it?

Now, the questioner is saying, “What is meant by ‘sacrifice’, and what is meant by ‘jnana yagya’?”

'Sacrifice' obviously means — giving up, or offering. At the root of sacrifice is realization. What realization? Because the questioner says, “What is ‘sacrifice’, and what is ‘jnana yagya’? Why is ‘jnana yagya’ higher than all other sacrifices?” So, we’ll consider 'sacrifice', and we’ll consider what is 'jnana', or 'realization'.

What is at the root of all sacrifice? When would you sacrifice something for something else? 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 tradeoff. But it’s a very wise tradeoff; it’s 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. Right? This is yagya.

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’s 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-a-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."

And then in between, 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 pranayama or restraint of breath. So these are the three ways of giving up. There is stuff that you give up, and there are ways in which you give up. So, three ways are also listed here. What is central is the intention to give up.

And remember: giving up in the spiritual sense is not charity. Giving up in the spiritual sense is good business. You have given a smaller thing up and attained something 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'. 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 ten rupee note and you’re asking me to give it up.” You have to, in the same breath, tell him, "By giving up this ten rupee note, you will indeed get something that is worth rupees five hundred." 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 you know, 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.

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