Law of Karma and Non-attachment

The following is an excerpt of the commentary on the Bhagavad Gita by Radhikaji from her forthcoming book to be published in 2017. Chapter 4 Verses 9-18 are covered in this article.


Verse 9-10: Manifestation vs Creation

In the preceding verses, Sri Krishna spoke of the lineage and about being identified with the Cosmic Self when we see this verse from that angle it is very clear that we are not talking about a deity called Krishna but we are talking about Pure Consciousness and Sri Krishna, the teacher of the Bhagavad-Gita identifies with this Universal Self. Thus this divine process should be known in its subtlety, the process in which one is born, goes through life, dies and is reborn. Knowing means direct conscious experience, not intellectual understanding. If you know this process, through awareness you would know the mysteries of life and death and having known these you would learn how to manifest the desires or renounce them, so that you would no longer need to return to this plane of existence.

Verse 10 elaborates on how to do this. You do this when you free yourself from attraction, fear and anger. These are the samskaras. If you purify the mind, free yourself from these samskaras,  you can attain pure knowledge and unite with the Universal Self eventually. It is possible but first you need to purify the mind. 

The mind is partially immortal comprising of latent consciousness which is the storehouse of our samskaras. To manifest these samskaras you need an active consciousness and a body, the playground for your samskaras. The world is only an extension of the body. The world has the same gross qualities as the body and is therefore also a playground for your samskaras. 

Verses 11-12: Human Body, a living temple

When you surrender, Grace or a glimpse of all pervading Pure Consciousness comes to you. You do not surrender to a teacher or a person representing a tradition, or surrendering to somebody that you think is more knowledgeable.

Surrender means having humility, accepting that you are not infallible, and recognizing that you need guidance or help from a higher power.  Higher power, Universal Consciousness, Pure consciousness, Cosmic Self, these are different words for the same thing. The essence is the same, it’s nature is life itself and when you surrender to this, Grace comes. 

Verse 13: Varna System vs Casteism

Surely a person or one single person could not have created the four estates. These developed in many ancient societies and existed, not only in India but also in Europe. 

In Europe they were known as the four estates and in India they are called the four castes or the Varna system. 

Brahmins - priests, clergy

Kshatriyas - rulers, warriors, nobility

Vaishyas - merchants, master craftsmen, farmers

Shudras - unskilled labour

This was not based on birth, but rather on the nature of the person. Those who are capable of abstract thinking, maintain high moral conduct and who enjoy knowledge for the sake of knowledge are Brahmins. 

Kshatriyas are nobility or rulers. These took care of the welfare of others,  protected the weak, were generous and charitable.  It is often said Kshatriyas are aggressive. A good and wise King is not just aggressive, he protects his subjects, provides them with water, education, roads. This means a life devoted to service. They are born leaders.

The Vaishyas are those who are engaged in trade, agriculture, crafts. These people generally own land and generally possess some sort of entrepreneurial skills. They are part of this third caste or estate.

If you did not fall in to the above three, then you come into the  fourth category, which was the working class. These do not have any special skills or education.

Why is the varna system or caste system mentioned here? Is the Bhagavad Gita discriminatory and encouraging casteism?

It is important to reiterate that the varna system of ancient times was not rigid and based on birth. It was corrupted over time and abused by those who eventually usurped social power and prestige. The original concept was about how to allow each individual to lead a fulfilling life according to his own natural qualities and talents irrespective of birth.

If one can live out samskaras naturally and spontaneously then one can evolve spiritually as well and when the desire to evolve spiritually is really very strong then you have “adhikara”, that is, you are qualified for the Highest teachings.  It does not matter from what family you come, whether you are a Brahmin, a Kshatriya, Vaishya or Shudra. Some legendary sages came from very humble backgrounds. Valmiki, sage and author of the epic Ramayana, was a thief and murderer. 

In the Mahabharata, Yudhishthira the eldest of the Pandavas, responds to the question: How does not become a Brahmin? Is it birth, behavior or learning?

Yudhishthira replies, “Neither birth nor learning make a brahmin. It is behavior alone that makes one a brahmin.

Verses 14-15: The 4 Ashrams

This chapter is called Jnana Karma Sanyasa Yoga and explains the relationship between Jnana (true knowledge), karma (action) and sanyasa (non-attachment). One is identified with the Self, that is, a person of true knowledge does not have attachment to the fruit of the action. The seeker who attains direct experience or realization of pure consciousness, will be no longer bound by his actions. Such a person can perform all action but cannot be bound by it. Mumukshu is beautiful word it means “one who desires liberation”. Many say they want to attain but they are not mumukshus. Those who desire deliberation continue to perform action. This is quite contrary to the popular belief that you need to renounce everything. Instead you continue to perform actions like the  royal sages. King Janaka was a royal sage and he continued to perform his duties whilst completely unattached. He was witnessing everything. This is sakshatkar, the state of a witness, one who is fully realized. Sanyasa or renunciation does not mean renunciation of action. It means renunciation of the fruit of the action. It means internal renunciation. Sanyasa really means non-attachment.

Renunciation is mostly misunderstood as renunciation of the worldly objects. Most seekers miss sight of the fact that not only can householders attain the Highest, it is more likely that householders  would succeed in their quest because a householder is not bound by vows of poverty and renunciation. If need be a householder can enjoy worldly objects so that these do not create obstacles for him.

Having taken vows of sanyasa, certain samskaras may not be manifested. This means that sannyasa is only suitable for those who have already manifested their samskaras and are ready for this step. Taking vows of sannyasa prematurely at a very young age, under duress or as a form of escapism can lead to terrible internal conflicts and further away from attainment. This is why the Indian tradition from the Upanishads have always favored  the concept of the 4 Ashrams or phases of life. 

Of the four ashrams the first is Brahmacharya.

The next phase or ashram is grihasthashram,  the phase of householder life.

The third phase is Vanaprasthashram. In our modern context we can see these as those who share their knowledge of the profession, raising children or life experience. Vanaprasthashram  means expanding your family circle to include others. 

The final phase in life is Sanyasashram. In the Upanishads sanyasa was for the very last phase in life. Having fulfilled our desires and matured through our life experiences, having grown out of our own petty ego or family,  we can expand our circle of love to include others. This was the idea behind the four ashrams. The teachers of the Upanishads were householders sages, therefore it says: perform your actions like the royal sages.

Verse 16-18: Different kinds of Karma

There are 3 kinds of Karma: 

Karma: Action

These are the duties you perform in the course of your daily life. These take you away from suffering. Good deeds fall in this category. In a sense, it is right action. In the language of the Yoga Sutras it would be called white karma.

Vikarma:  Action opposed to right action 

This is action that is opposed to right action and leads to suffering.  Villainous and evil acts fall in this category. The world is like a spider’s web and we get pulled in deeper by doing wrong action. In the words of the Yoga Sutras it is called black action. 

Either karma or vikarma will also create  samskaras or impressions. This means you will remain stuck in the web of maya. Karma or right action also strengthens samskaras. You may not suffer, but you will not be free either. You get freedom only from akarma, learning to be completely non-attached, irrespective of what you do in the external world, always witnessing.

Akarma:  Inaction 

Akarma does not mean sitting around doing nothing. It is impossible to do nothing, because the moment you are supposedly doing nothing, thoughts arise. Thoughts are a subtler form of physical action. Akarma is extremely difficult to understand. In the language of the  Yoga Sutras it is called not-white not-black karma. Most of our actions are mixed. There is a little of karma and a little of vikarma; white and black mixed.


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