Karma and Advaita:

A Question asked at a Social Network Group:

“Is there a room for a concept of karma within non-duality? Is karma not another concessionary concept, useful only for the mind still caught in the belief of cause and effect?

A Reply:

It is very important and valuable in Shankara Advaita to have a correct perspective on ‘karma.’

It is, however, futile to expect or to give a one word or even a one line answer to the question. To do so will be an insult to the question itself!

Your hunch that “karma is another concessionary concept, useful only for the mind still caught in the belief of cause and effect” is very true, if you consider the seeker to be no more than a distilled mass of 2-3 lbs of brain. But fortunately or unfortunately, that mass of brain always comes with many appendages and appurtenances. Those can never sit tight!

Secondly, a man in the world, can’t but act, as though mounted on a machine, in spite of himself (18.61, BG). So even a jIvanmukta will continue to act – but for the benefit of the world.

Yes, it is agreed that no “action” done will result in yielding liberation – there are many Upanishadic mantras that say so. Only Self-knowledge is the one that liberates. Still ‘action’ is never advised to be given up.

The word Karma, as everyone here would know, has two meanings.
It means actions that we do in this life. Karma also means the effects of our past actions, to be experienced by us.
The world is the field provided for us to square up our karma. The body and the mind are the ‘instruments’ through which we perform the karma.
The effects from the past actions work as the ‘seeds’ to sprout thoughts in us. Thoughts produce desires and desires propel us for action.
However, those actions that one takes up for the bare necessity of maintenance of the body (feeding, keeping it clean etc.) are a part of one’s custodial responsibility for the body and hence do not have any carry-forward effects. Actions done unintentionally just by the body without any intervention from the mind also do not have carry forward effects.
All those actions done with an intention, a motivation, a desire for a specific result have a carry forward effect and one will necessarily reap the result of those actions.
Advaita is not about giving up action. Nor is it about changing the world or upsetting the structure of the world. Advaita is about giving you the clues to perform actions without having to face any ‘consequences’ of those actions. In other words, you are “freed” from being “affected” by the actions done. That is the liberation, the ‘mukti‘ in this world.
So the cleverest thing to do in order to be not affected by what is done is to “give up the sense of ‘I am the doer’.” As there was no claimant to own the action, the effects get orphaned without a owner for them. Depending on the stage of our life (studentship, householder, forest dweller and renucniate) and age (boyhood, youth, middle age and old age), the scriptures recommend certain actions that have to be done by each individual, such actions being in harmony with the entire ecosystem in which s/he lives.
Even an Avatar cannot escape doing action, though s/he may not have anything to get or gain. Thus the wheels of the world are always kept oiled and the beginningless and endless cycle of samsAra goes on and on and on and on.
Jivanmukti in Advaita is, therefore, not putting an end to actions (karma) but ending the ownership and doership of actions.

 

7 thoughts on “Karma and Advaita:

  1. “Your hunch that “karma is another concessionary concept, useful only for the mind still caught in the belief of cause and effect” is very true, if you consider the seeker to be no more than a distilled mass of 2-3 lbs of brain. But fortunately or unfortunately, that mass of brain always comes with many appendages and appurtenances. Those can never sit tight!

    Secondly, a man in the world, can’t but act, as though mounted on a machine, in spite of himself (18.61, BG). So even a jIvanmukta will continue to act – but for the benefit of the world.”
    —————————————-
    You have put it very well but I am not convinced (as if it matters!) that a jivanmukta will continue to act for the benefit of the world. The notion of “benefit” is just too elusive, and I find myself thinking of Alvin Plantinga who is supposed to have “solved” the problem of theodicy. The mind numbing irrelevance of such arguments to those afflicted by worldly suffering is astonishing.

    Patanjali Yogasutras (2.15, Taimni rendering.)

    ” To the people who have developed discrimination all is misery on account of the pains resulting from change, anxiety and tendencies, as also on account of the conflicts between the functioning of the Gunas and the Vrttis (of the mind).”

  2. Thanks for your observations, Shishya.

    You say: ” I am not convinced (as if it matters!) that a jivanmukta will continue to act for the benefit of the world. ”

    That a Self-realized man would /should work for the good of the society/world comes from Bhagavad-Gita itself – e.g. 3.25 which says:

    ” As ignorant men act attached to work, O’ Bharata, so should the wise man act, unattached from a wish to protect the rnasses.

  3. re Shishya’s quotation of Patanjali sutras: (2.15, Taimni rendering.)

    ” To the people who have developed discrimination all is misery on account of the pains resulting from change, anxiety and tendencies, as also on account of the conflicts between the functioning of the Gunas and the Vrttis (of the mind).”

    In a recently discovered sub-commentary purported to be by Shankara, trans. Trevor Leggett – 1990, one can find Shankara’s further reply to the above sober comment in that sutra (2.15):

    ‘Change, anxieties, and samskara-s… are pain alone… everything is pain. Why everything? Because the causes are taints, which can only bring about pain. Birth and life and experience, and the objects which cause the deposits of taints and so on, are causes of pain, and so it is that everything is pain alone. [later, answering to an objector]… ‘The ever-changing Ignorance makes everything baneful, and so, pleasure in objects is itself a bane, because it contains the seeds of pain, as what it means to say that pleasure in objects is Ignorance.’

  4. Just as an aside, T. S. Rukmani states in the introduction to his two-volume ‘YogasUtrabhAShyavivaraNa of Shankara’: “I am now confident, after this exhaustive study, that the author is certainly NOT the brahmasUtrabhAShyakAra Shankara, whichever other Shankara he might be”.

  5. Apologise for not having given above the complete title of the book translated by Trevor Leggett. The title is, ‘The Complete Commentary by Shankara on the Yoga Sutras’ – A Full Translation of the Newly Discovered Text. (1990)

    I take it we have to defer to T.S. Rukmani’s position if what he was referring to in the quotation given by Dennis is the book I just referenced.

  6. Thanks again to Martin and Dennis for leading me to Trevor Leggett and TS Rukmani.
    ——
    “Rukmani, who is an accomplished Sanskritist, also questions Leggett’s affirmation that the Vivarana shows great originality and cites many instances of scholastic formalism. Be that as it may, the text is still a significant contribution to Classical Yoga, as Rukmani herself readily admits. Although she finds the author’s style at times “pompous and pedantic,” she confirms that he is “not an immature writer and he needs to be read with care.” This would explain why a renowned yogi-scholar like Vijnâna Bhikshu (sixteenth century) bothered to refer to the Vivarana.”
    —-
    So she does give some credit to the vivarana author though it is not Shankara.

    I am particularly struck by verse 1.35 and both commentary (italics) and sub commentary ( plain type) below the verse.

    Maybe there is hope for me yet.

    What a wonderful site, tlayt.org….thanks again, Martin.

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