V Subrahmanian, Monday, December 13, 2010 8:38 am

Generating Relish for Self-knowledge

‘Not a single moment man remains doing nothing’ says Bhagavan Sri Krishna in the bhagavad gItA (3.5). The gItA (3.4) teaches man’s true nature is ‘naiShkarmyam‘ – the Self which is characterized by actionlessness. While on the one extreme man is compelled by his tendency to act, the other extreme is that man by nature is a non-doer. While what man does determines what man becomes, the scripture comes to his rescue by telling him what to do to free himself from the cycle of birth and death. This path is called ‘pravRtti dharma‘. The word ‘pravRtti’ means action, endeavor, aimed at accomplishing a desired end. It might look like a paradox when the scripture teaches that ‘work is the way to worklessness’. Looked in another way, this statement means ‘properly directed/performed action alone is the panacea for the problem of compulsive action.’ The worldly analogy of removing a thorn by using another thorn (pointed instrument) fits this situation.  

Now, what prevents man from switching from the sad state of compulsive action to the state of no-action, naiShkarmyam? It is his mind. The condition of the mind which is bogged down by the weight of impurities  prevents this transition. The purpose of well directed pravRtti, in other words known as ‘niShkAma karma‘ (action with no desire as the drive) is to gradually reduce this weight of impurity and render the mind pure to settle in the state of no-action. Action leads one to this state. Krishna warns:

‘Your right is for action alone, never for the results. Do not become the agent of the results of action. May you not have any inclination for inaction.’ (2.47)

The bRRihadAraNyaka upaniShad (4.4.22) says: ‘tametam vedAnuvachanena brAhmaNA vividiShanti, yajnena dAnena tapasA anAshakena‘ 

The brAhmaNa-s seek to know It through the study of the veda-s, sacrifices, charity and austerity consisting in a dispassionate enjoyment of sense-objects.

Echoing this upaniShadic statement, the Lord says in the gItA:

The practice of sacrifice, charity and austerity is not to be abandoned; it is surely to be undertaken. Sacrifice, charity and austerity are verily the purifiers of the wise. (18.5)

This man becomes bound by actions other than that action meant for God. Without being attached, O son of kunti, you perform actions for Him. (3.9)

The word ‘sacrifice’ (‘yaj~na‘) catches our attention. What is sacrifice? How to engage in it? Who is eligible to do it?

Sacrifice is offering something to God. In sacrifice there is a giving up, a detachment. The giving up of the action, the material, the fruit of action, the doership – all these are involved in a sacrifice. Sacrifice presupposes a recognition of one’s station in the society and one’s duty. Performance of this duty with a particular attitude constitutes sacrifice. Can we single out certain duties for sacrifice and leave out the rest? ‘No’ says the Lord:

‘O son of kunti, whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer as a sacrifice, whatever you give and whatever austerities you undertake, (all) that you offer to Me.’ (9.27)

In order to make this sublime practice come within the reach of everyone, at all times, the Lord, out of unbounded compassion says:

‘Whoever offers Me with devotion -a leaf, a flower, a fruit, or water, I accept that (gift) of the pure-hearted man which has been devotionally presented.’ (9.26)

In order to assure us that the Lord who ‘accepts’ these is not in an unseen place but verily situated very close to us, the Lord says:

‘O Arjuna, the Lord resides in the region of the heart of all creatures, revolving through mAyA all the creatures (as though) mounted on a machine!’ (18.61)

Now, the question: How to engage in a sacrifice, yaj~na?

The Lord lists, as a representative sample, a number of methods in which one could engage in a yaj~na:

‘Other yogi-s undertake sacrifice to Gods alone, Others offer the Self, as a sacrifice by the Self itself, in the fire of brahman.’ (4.25)

‘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.’ (4.26)

‘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.’ (4.27)


‘Similarly, others are performers of sacrifices through wealth, through austerity, through yoga, and through study and knowledge; others are ascetics with severe vows.’ (4.28)


‘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.’ (4.29)

‘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.’ (4.30)

‘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 kuru-s (Arjuna)!’ (4.31)

‘Thus, various kinds of sacrifices lie spread at the mouth of the veda-s. Know them all to be born of action. Knowing thus, you will become liberated.’ (4.32)

‘O destroyer of enemies, Knowledge considered as a sacrifice is greater than sacrifices requiring materials. O son of prtha, all actions in their totality culminate in Knowledge.’ (4.33)

Now the last question: Who is eligible to engage in ‘yaj~na‘?

Anyone who is determined to uplift oneself is eligible to engage in a yaj~na. In the several types of yaj~na-s the Lord listed as a sample, we see that many can be performed by everyone.  What the Lord said in 9.27 is well within the means of everyone. In this pravRtti dharma that results in purifying one’s mind, there is no distinction between secular and spiritual; every deed, thought and word forms the subject matter of a yaj~na. It is up to the sacrificer, the aspirant, to constantly be alert in seeing that each deed, thought and word issuing from him is a fit offering to the Lord. 

Reverting to the gItA (18.5) ‘Sacrifice, charity and austerity are verily the purifiers of the wise.’  we can now see that all the items mentioned here, ya~jna, charity and austerity, are covered in the list of sacrifices under the fourth chapter. Whether it is charity or austerity, it involves ‘giving up’ of something or the other. It is this giving up, of the possessive nature, that is crucial to a yaj~na. The ego is the one that is behind the possessive nature. When by yaj~na one constantly tames the ego, what results is an increased inclination, a thirst for Knowledge, of the Self. This is what the Br.Up. quoted above calls ‘vividiShA‘, the ‘desire’ to know the Self. 

Now we turn to a beautiful exposition of the subject of generating relish for Self-Knowledge from the pen of svAmi vidyAranya. In his monumental introduction to the taittirIya upaniShad he says:

The relation of the theosophical section of the veda to the ritualistic section is that of end and means. Knowledge is the end, whereas the vedic ritual (karma) forms the means to knowledge, either by way of purifying the manas or by way of creating a taste for knowledge. The smRti speaks of ritual as a means of purifying the mind, in the following words:

‘He who has undergone the forty sacraments (samskAara-s) becomes united with brahma and attains to His region.’

[The list of the forty samskAra-s is given in taittirIya upaniShad]

By these forty sacraments the mind of man is purified, i.e., rendered fit to receive knowledge. That they create a craving for knowledge is declared by the Br.upaniShad (4.4.22):

‘The brAhmaNa-s seek to know It through the study of the veda-s, sacrifices, charity and austerity of restricted food  (consisting in a dispassionate enjoyment of sense-objects).’

The distinction between the two purposes served by the vedic rites is clearly explained in the vArtikasAra as follows:

Once a craving for knowledge arises, then it finds all resources and can soon achieve its object, like the craving for food.  The regeneration of the mind (brought out by the observance of vedic ritual) can but eradicate the sins that obstruct the rise and growth of knowledge, while the immediate conditions of knowledge must be secured by a separate effort. That work is said to conduce to the regeneration of the mind which a man does, impelled to it by the command of the scriptures enjoining it as incumbent on the particular caste and order to which he belongs, lest some evil may accrue from its omission. That work, on the other hand, conduces to create a craving for knowledge, which one performs and dedicates to the antaryAmi – to Him who dwells within all as their Ruler – in the hope of acquiring knowledge, urged on to that course of action by the teachings of the scripture. Though the fruits of the nitya and obligatory duties is declared in the passage ‘by karma one goes to pitR loka (the world of manes),’ still, they can produce also a craving for knowledge, for the very reason that it is so declared in the shruti. Since the purification is the main result of the obligatory duties, the enjoyments which result from them can be no obstacle, as the intellect, in consequence of its purity, sees the evanescent nature of the enjoyments. The seeker of mokSha should offer to God the fruits of even kAmya-karma, those works which are prescribed for specific purposes. For the shaking off the chain forged by works, our Lord has taught as follows (in the gItA):

‘O son of kunti, whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer as a sacrifice, whatever you give and whatever austerities you undertake, (all) that you offer to Me.’ (9.27)

and

‘Your right is for action alone, never for the results.’ (2.47)

Wherefore, obligatory works as well as works primarily prescribed as a means for specific ends, when performed in the service of the Lord, creates a craving for knowledge. Though a desire for wisdom springs up when the excellence of wisdom is learned from the scriptural texts themselves, still, owing to karma there will be a want of relish for wisdom, just as the tongue of a man who is sick of a bilious disease cannot relish milk, however fond he may be of it and however desirous he may be to drink it. But this relish is restored when by medicine he is cured of the bilious disease. Similarly, though a desire for knowledge arises when a man learns from the scriptures that knowledge of brahman conduces to the extinction of all pain and to the attainment of unsurpassed bliss, still, he has no relish for the processes of acquiring knowledge such as the study of the scriptural teaching, and so on. So the purANa says:

‘To men of great sins wisdom-worship is not agreeable. On the other hand, the wisdom-worship appears repulsive in itself.’   

A relish for the scriptural study etc. arises when the great sin obstructing he growth of wisdom has been destroyed by works done in the service of the Lord. It is this relish which is spoken of as a vividiShA or desire for wisdom. What that indirect process is, is described in the vArtikasAra as follows:

‘Works conduce to the liberation of the Self by way of creating a taste for wisdom.
Being quite consonant with ajnAna or nescience, they cannot directly conduce to it, as the knowledge of the Self does.
For the destruction of nescience nothing but knowledge is required.
And for the birth of knowledge nothing but self-control and the like is necessary.
For self-control and the like nothing but purity of intellect is necessary.
For purity of intellect nothing but performance of obligatory duties is necessary.’

Thus, do works indirectly help the growth of wisdom. Works are the means and knowledge of brahman is the end thereby achieved. This is the relation between the ritualistic and the theosophical sections of the veda. As for any other relation between the two there is no authority whatever.

Here ends the extract from svAmi vidyAranya’s introduction to the study of upaniShad-s taken from the book: ‘The taittirIya upaniShad‘ with the commentaries of shrI shaMkarAchArya, shrI sureshvarAchArya and shrI vidyAranya – a translation by alladi mahAdeva sastri published by Samata Books, Chennai.

We have thus the question of generating relish for Self knowledge addressed by the scripture. And the method that is taught is: performing each and every act- of the body, mind and speech, with an attitude of offering to the Supreme. This, as a dedicated practice, attenuates the unruly mind and brings to it a host of sublime qualities, a requirement called ‘daivI sampat‘, divine qualities, that is a must for the practice of sAdhanA.

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