Skilful in action

Updated: Nov 21, 2019

yogasthaḥ kuru karmāṇi saṅgaṃ tyaktvā dhanañjaya |

siddhyasiddhyoḥ samo bhūtvā samatvaṃ yoga ucyate ||2.48||

Remaining steadfast in yoga, Dhanañjaya (Arjuna)! Perform actions abandoning attachment and remaining the same to success and failure. This evenness of mind is called yoga.


In Gītā, there are two definitions of karma-yoga, first one is samatvaṃ yoga ucyate - evenness of the mind is called yoga. Only with the understanding of doing karma with Īśvara-arpana-buddhi and receiving the result with prasāda-buddhi, then the evenness of the mind is possible. Being yogasthaḥ - abiding in the attitude of samatvam, do your duty - karmāṇi kuru, saṅgaṃ tyaktvā - renounce (outgrown) toward result of karma (in the form of emotional attachment).


Up to this juncture, the most one can live with is emotional balance towards the material growth. Through karma-yoga, desire for material growth is still there, but will accept the result of action with equanimity. But without the background of self-knowledge, the desire to fulfil one's inadequacy is always there. Only with the background of gaining clarity of mind to understand the self, then total karma-yoga is possible. This is where the second definition of karma-yoga: yogaḥ karmasu kauśalam comes about.


buddhiyukto jahātīha ubhe sukṛtaduṣkṛte |

tasmādyogāya yujyasva yogaḥ karmasu kauśalam ||2.50||

One who is endowed with the sameness of mind, gives up both punya and pāpa here, in this world. Therefore, commit yourself to karma-yoga. Karma-yoga is discretion in action.


"Yogaḥ karmasu kauśalam," - skill in action is karma-yoga. Skilful or efficiency in the action itself is not the meaning here, but skill of converting action which binds us to action which paths us to liberation. When samatvam is there, even though one's emotion is not bound by drsta-phala, but adrsta-phala in the form of punya and pāpa still bound the person in this cycle of birth and death. Therefore karma-yoga is complete when it is backed up with the knowledge of the self, when he/she understands that there is a higher purpose of karma which is "converting the material growth to spiritual growth (clarity of the mind for one to pursue the knowledge of the self)," it is - yogaḥ karmasu kauśalam - Skilful in yoga.


Perform action by outgrown the material-growth's expectation doesn't mean material will not come as the result. As the law of karma has never failed, the material result will come along with the spiritual growth which we kept in mind. Just like we are having outdoor walk to refresh our mind, in the same time, physical health will also be gained even though is not the main intention of the doer.


Q: How does the clarity of mind which gained by karma-yoga is helping us to abide in self knowledge?

A: Mind which isn't affected by emotional attachment, can see clearly about the fact between ātmā and anātma. We have been attached to anātma as the self for the entire life, hence difficult for us to see this fact. Therefore samatvam is important. Only with one pointed mind without being attached to worldly objects, one can stay on with the priority of jñāna pursue (not being side-tracked) and contemplate on one's own nature. Therefore karma-yoga is needed to prepare oneself for self knowledge to take place.


Lord Krsna has imparted these two stages (karma-yoga and jñāna-yoga) for Arjuna who desires to liberate. He taught the self knowledge first, then he figured out there is more qualification which Arjuna need to work on, therefore karma-yoga is taught. Before taking the plunge into the sadhana (means to accomplishing goal), Arjuna would like to know what is characteristic of the wise person who are successful gaining self knowledge. At least the thinking of "how am I going to be if this knowledge is gained by me?" is there. And also the spontaneous act of a jñāni serves as guideline for the sadhaka (one who is taking this pursue). Therefore Arjuna asked:


arjuna uvāca |

sthitaprajñasya kā bhāṣā samādhisthasya keśava |

sthitadhīḥ kiṃ prabhāṣeta kimāsīta vrajeta kim ||2.54||

Arjuna said: Keśava (Krsna)! What is the description of a person of firm wisdom, one whose mind abides in the self? How does such a person, whose mind is not shaken by anything, speak, sit, and walk?


Arjuna wasn't really curious about how a jñānī speaks, sits and walks. He shouldn't mean it literally, since he can observe how Lord Krsna speaks, sits and walks. He wants to know the characteristic of a person who has the firm wisdom of the self. He uses three different words here for a jñāni, which are important to give a further explanation.


sthitaprajñaḥ, one who abides in the knowledge of ātmā. Arjuna didn't use the word prajñaḥ alone (learned person / the one who know), because he knows by merely knowing the nature of ātmā will not make one release from samsāra. But one must own up this ātmā as oneself without any doubt. Therefore knowledge of the self is not just to be known, but it needs to be owned up as oneself. It is different from any other knowledge. When we learn knowledge of chemistry, we don't become chemistry compound itself. But the knower of ātmā-jñāna is ātmā itself. He is samādhisthaḥ - one who abides in oneself, which is pūrnaḥ - whole. "I am ātmā" this notion is so firm and well rooted - sthitadhīḥ, no matter what happened, it will not shake him/her even a little bit from this nature of wholeness - pūrnatvam.

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