Necessity of karma kanda

According to Shankara, the entire Veda is important in that, till the seeker reaches the stage of pursuing the higher knowledge (jñana kanda) the duties enjoined in the other parts (karma kanda) are necessary for him. Otherwise, the Veda would not teach them. So, a spiritual seeker has to undertake scriptural study.

The path of action (karma yoga), states Shankara, is the ‘means to the supreme bliss indirectly’ in that it prepares the mind of the spiritual aspirant for knowledge, and thereby makes him competent for adopting the path of knowledge (jnana yoga), which is the direct path to liberation. Man cannot abstain from action, and as action binds man by resulting in karma… it is essential to know how to act without accruing further karma. This is the secret of action, called naiskarmya in the Gita… true renunciation is a mental disposition wherein the mind becomes serene without the distractions of the world.

(Spiritual Path). The Roots of Vedanta – Selections from Shankara’s Writings, p. 326

13 thoughts on “Necessity of karma kanda

  1. Dialogue between JK and Sw Venkatesananda, Saanen 1969

    K: Quite, quite. So sir, if Vedanta is the end of… which is by its own… the meaning of itself is the end of knowledge.

    SV: Yes, it’s wonderful, I never thought of it before: the end of knowledge.

    K: Freedom from knowing.

    SV: Freedom from knowledge, yes. (Laughs)

    K: Then why have they not kept to that?

    SV: Their contention being that you have to pass through that in order to come out of it.

    K: Pass through what?

    SV: Through all this knowledge, all this muck, and then discard it.
    That is, ‘after examining all these things and finding that they are of no use to you, then you must step out of it.’

    K: Now wait a minute, sir. Then why must I acquire it? If Vedanta means the end of knowledge, which the word itself means that: the ending of Vedas which is knowledge, then why should I go through all the laborious process of acquiring knowledge, and then discarding it?

    SV: Yes. Otherwise you wouldn’t be again in Vedanta. The end of knowledge is, having acquired this knowledge, coming to the end of it.

    K: Why should I acquire it?

    SV: Because otherwise it can’t be ended.

    K: No, no. Why should I acquire it? Why shouldn’t I, from the very beginning, see what knowledge is and discard it?

    SV: See what knowledge is.

    K: And discard, discard all the… Never accumulate. Vedanta means the end of accumulating knowledge.

    SV: Quite right. That’s right. That’s correct.

    K: Then why should I accumulate?

    SV: Pass through, perhaps.

    K: Pass through? Why should I? Sir, knowledge: I know fire burns. I know when I am hungry I must eat. I know I mustn’t hit you, therefore I don’t hit you. I don’t go through the process of hitting you, acquiring the knowledge that I’ll be hurt again. You follow? So each day I discard. I free myself from what I have learnt, every minute. So every minute is the end of knowledge. Right?

    SV: Yes, right, quite right.

    K: Now if you and I accept that, I mean, that is a fact, I mean that’s the only way to live, otherwise you can’t live, then why have they said, ‘You must go through all the knowledge, through all this?’ Why don’t they tell me, ‘Look my friend, as you live from day to day acquiring knowledge, end it each day’? – not Vedanta, not knowledge.

  2. Venkat,

    It’s quite obvious that they don’t tell you that because they don’t understand what JK is talking about. It would be the end of their search, their identity of being a seeker, and ‘someone’ who is trying to become ‘free’. There is no way you could go on with this charade of trying to ‘become’ something. You would discover that all of this is not necessary nor desirable in order to live as you really are. It is so simple that the mind is stunned into silence…………

  3. Martin

    India, more than any other country in the world has been steeped for centuries in Hinduism, and presumably pursuing the duties enjoined in the karma kana, and scriptural study. And yet it is the one of the most unequal, utterly corrupt, caste-ridden, poverty-stricken servile countries in the world. And the rottenness starts from the top, the presumably most educated, learned echelons of society, who have a sense of divine (or more precisely karmic) entitlement.

    So my contention is that this emphasis on authority and blind belief may start seemingly innocuously, at scriptural level, but then quickly pervades all manner of thinking. Freedom surely, can only come about if you are, from the outset, free from all authority, obedience and societal sanction? And then thinking it out for yourself, yes of course, using pointers to reflect upon along the way. Hence I think, the Platonic / Socratic ‘I only know that I don’t know’; hence the Ch’an advice of throw out all concepts; hence Vedanta in its literal sense.

    Best wishes,

  4. Venkat, I get your point about relying on authority and blind belief, and also about the accumulation of knowledge, which is what you and JK keep on insisting and decrying. As you know, one thing is ‘knowledge’, and another wisdom though, depending on the context, one can use either of these two concepts. Socrates’ emphasis was on wisdom and its pursuit (what can be known, etc. If you read the Phaedo, or Phedrus, you will see what was he inerested in and spoke about with such elocuence – the soul, beauty, the Good). Vedanta is nothing but, and its intent is not that of accumulation, quite clearly. I wonder if JK himself missed this point, or perhaps he wanted to give emphasis to what passes as knowledge but it is not such; to show illusion – deceptions of the mind – for what it is. I could continue on, but prefer to append here some pearls (if they are such) from my own blog… and sorry for the extension or space that they occupy.

    First, about karma:

    * ‘a true renunciation is a mental disposition wherein the mind becomes serene without the distractions of the world’. If this is from authority (Gita), let it be welcome.

    * The Self cannot be known by anyone who desists not from unrighteous ways, controls not his senses, stills not his mind, and practices not meditation. Katha Upanishad.

    About knowledge:

    * By knowing the Self, my beloved, through hearing, reflection, and meditation, one comes to know all things”. (Brihadaryanika Upanishad, 4.5.6).

    * Those who, perchance, even though they be women, will become firm in conviction with regard to the nature of the Ultimate Reality that is birthless and uniform, they alone are possessed of great wisdom, or in other words, endowed with unsurpassing knowledge about Reality, in the world. Shankara- Commentary on Gaudapada’s karika (Ga.Ka. B., IV 87-98)

    * Advaita teaches that all knowledge pertains to the mind, where the pair subject-object is a constitutive element. Ultimate reality cannot be known in that way; the only way to “know” it is by being it. For that to happen, the sense or feeling of being a separate individual has to disappear. It is an intuitive understanding… In advaita everything (as expression) is paradoxical. Mind is an instrument of the Self, but it is not other than the Self.

    * All science – and conventional, Western philosophy – is of the mind, where the dichotomy subject-object always obtains. Only in contemplation or intuition of reality (consciousness) can it be said that the separation (duality) disappears. ‘To be that which knows and to know that which is’.

    * Mind, and philosophy (and the occasional scientist, like an Einstein or a Heisenberg) can get to that point or realization, whereby they – philosophy and mind – will annul themselves of themselves. This is the teaching of Advaita Vedanta.

  5. What an encyclopedia of concepts some people possess. They can pull out an answer to any question put forth. But the questions continue in spite of these platitudes and pearls of wisdom they would have us believe. The only way that this stops is to see that your own thinking is creating this ‘condition’. By seeing the impossibility of your own mind helping you out of this, clarity dawns. It is not a clarity of thought, but its absence. It may be reflected in thought but is not of it. Freedom of the accumulation that we call ourselves is present, not tainted in the slightest by any experience. Forget all of these words and be present, and discover what you really are right now so you can live it. This is why the K’s talked about courage to stand alone.

  6. Martin

    Of course, wisdom can be known. I think you missed my point – and that of JK. He rails against second-hand knowledge, against the authority of anyone. But he is definitively not against wisdom – which is finding out for yourself, about yourself . . . which is also the major import of Vedanta, Ramana, Nisargadatta.

    Incredibly important really when we all live lives as sheep, devoted to greed, consumerism, spectatorship, war crimes committed in our names. Wasn’t that what Socrates railed about to his fellow citizens in Athens that lived such petty ‘unexamined’ lives? So these scripturally ordained duties, that are ‘necessary’ for the ‘immature’ ones, are really just an opiate to keep the masses docile. As all religions are.

    Anonymous is correct in saying that K talked about the courage to stand alone, about ‘a life lived without influence’. Now THAT is truth, beauty and the good that Socrates talked of.


  7. Venkat, I have to disagree wih you on several counts:

    First, wisdom cannot be ‘known’ (as you say), or learned, at least in principle. It is a way of being: a person is either wise or not wise (overall, which is the usual meaning). The wise are a model to either follow or learn from (indirectly), but wisdom is born in one (anubhava, prajna).

    Second, everyone starts with ‘second-hand knowledge’ (at school, university, books, journals, etc.); a knowledge or unerstanding which sometimes is derisively called ‘(just) intellectual’. Nothing wrong with that – is there? Once that knowledge (also in spiritual matters) is assimilated, it becomes one’s own, and is no longer second-hand… How does one learn?

    Third, if JK’s main intention was to rail against the precedig, that is, second-hand knowledge, then he was being partial and unreasonable.

    Fourth, what is ‘authority’, ‘authoritative’? Look up the dictionary but, initially, ‘coming from a good, reputable or acredited source’ – not just from a ‘position of authority’; something or someone you can trust, at least in principle… like the Vedas, or an experienced and reputable physician. It is different from (blind) belief, or faith. If JK railed against what is signified by this meaning of ‘authority’, he overstepped his authority and/or was simply wrong.

    Fifth, ‘Finding out for yourself’ is easy to say, almost like a truism and fashionable in some quarters nowadays, but what does that mean, and what does it exclude… studying the scriptures, any recognized sources, listening to experts… in any field?) Or am I missing the point once again?

  8. Hi Martin

    Great riposte as ever! Quite right, wisdom can’t be known – it is there or it isn’t.

    On JK, don’t assess him based on my limited understanding, and poorer articulation of what he said and meant.

    My initial response to you, was to your quote that asserted that those not yet prepared for jnana yoga, must necessarily follow duties prescribed to them by scripture. My assertion to that, was that it is shackling rather than liberating. I cited India as an example of poverty, in-nobility and servility despite being the country of sanataria dharma. Surely it would be far better to show a man how to think, rather than being given the routine of duties to perform. Rather than ask a man to memorise a formula, show him how algebra and logic works, and he can think out the solution for himself.

    Then we come to those who are ready for jnana yoga. I noted, on a recent previous topic discussion with you, that the jnana we talk of, is not that complicated to understand. It is the understanding that the ego is a false assumption and liberation is life without it. I think (not sure?) that you concurred with me on that. Therefore, given the simplicity of the message, the question of second hand knowledge and authority becomes a moot point surely? Yes, someone might point this out to you, or you may arrive at it through science, through reading, through some reflection, or some combination of all these.

    But it is not that difficult to understand this point – so why glorify as ‘Knowledge’, what is essentially a simple pointer to what we are not. The difficulty is assimilating it to the extent that the ego attenuates and is eliminated (though the latter may also be a contentious point?) Now surely this is the real task, which only I can do, no one else.

    And that task is to see, through careful awareness of yourself, the truth that the ego is an assumption. That is not an accumulation of knowledge – it is a discarding of all that you are not.

    Ramana, in his teens, with no scriptural learning or authority, went into an intense contemplation of death, which revealed to him the falsity of the ego. He did not have any authority or scriptural learning that gave him ‘knowledge’. We can say that he was an exception – and others may well need pointers to pursue. But ultimately we are the ones who have to undertake the journey, as he did; without being waylaid by some false sense of satisfaction that we now have Knowledge, built upon a comprehensive scriptural model of ultimate and relative truths, etc.

    On the other hand, the reason I am not liberated, may well be because I am deluded, and don’t have any authority to rely on.

    Best wishes,


  9. Martin,

    Just came across these from Sri Ramana in Guru Vachaka Kovai, almost echoing JK:

    147: Through your great love of learning you may, with great enthusiasm, learn the jnana scriptures thinking “These books which are the basis for attaining the clarity of immaculate jnana are certainly worth knowing”. However when you later attain maturity and attempt to sink into the source, you will definitely have to forget completely the scriptural knowledge which, with great effort, you previously learned and mastered.

    531: The intense jnana that dispels the false delusion arises only through enquiry into the reality that abides in the Heart. Be mindful that a thorough enquiry into lucid scriptural texts is like the picture of a bottle-gourd drawn on a paper – it can’t be used to cook a delicious curry.

    And here is Sri Ramakrishna:

    “Sacred books only point out the way to God. Once you have known the way, what is the use of books?”

    “Only two kinds of people can attain self-knowledge. Those who are not encumbered at all with learning, that is to say, whose minds are not over-crowded with thoughts borrowed from others; and those who, after studying all the scriptures and sciences, have come to realise that they know nothing”.

  10. Very good and apt quotations, Venkat. Crystal clear.Thank you very much.
    There are similar statements in the Upanishads, I seem to remember, and in Shankara’s commentaries.

    My authorities are mostly Satchidanandendra Saraswati, Ramana, Nisargadatta, K. Menon, F. Lucille, Bob Adamson, Yoga Vasistha, etc., as well as – if not foremost – the Upanishads, GK, BG, and BS. No need for more, even though one may read anything which seems interesting (from ‘Exotic India’ – books section, which I can’t resist looking up when they offer some reductions from time to time)… but being careful not to indulge too much… my weakness, though, is to indulge somewhat in those offerings by Exotic India, with free delivery. But I resist as much as I can. Kind regards,

  11. Venkat, Now I read mostly for real enjoyment, as a sunset, or a visit by a friend, or a walk in the countryside are such. M. (Take this as a P.S.)

  12. Excellent Posts by Venkat and Martin.

    Thank you Venkat for the sparkling snippets and thank you Martin for the elaboration and the real life example of watching a sunset, drinking a cup of tea or reading the AV.


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