Chapter Eight
Action in Knowledge of Krsna
na mam karmani limpanti
na me karma-phale sprha
iti mam yo ’bhijanati
karmabhir na sa badhyate
“There is no work that affects Me; nor do I aspire for the fruits of action. One who understands this truth about Me also does not become entangled in the fruitive reactions of work.”(Bg. 4.14)
The whole world is bound by karma. We all know of the existence of microbes or germs which exist by the million within the measurement of one millimeter. In the Brahma-samhita it is stated that beginning with the microbe, which is called indragopa, up to Indra, the king of the heavenly planets, all are bound by karma, the reaction of work. We all have to suffer or enjoy the reactions of our work, be they good or bad. As long as we have to suffer or enjoy these reactions, we are bound to these material bodies.
By nature’s arrangement the material body is given to the living entity for his suffering or enjoying. Different types of bodies are acquired for different purposes. The body of a tiger is made for killing and eating raw meat. Similarly, the hogs are made in such a way that they can eat stool. And as human beings our teeth are made for eating vegetables and fruits. All of these bodies are made according to the work done in past lives by the living entity. Our next bodies are being prepared according to the work which we are now doing, but in the previously quoted verse Sri Krsna indicates that one who knows the transcendental nature of His activities becomes free from the reactions of activities. Our activities should be such that we will not again become entangled in this material world. This can be made possible if we become Krsna conscious by studying Krsna, learning of the transcendental nature of His activities, and understanding how He behaves in this material world and in the spiritual world.
When Krsna comes on this earth, He is not like us; He is totally transcendental. We desire the fruits of our activities, but Krsna does not desire any fruits, nor are there any reactions to His actions. Nor does He have any desire for fruitive activity (na me karma-phale sprha). When we enter into business, we hope for profit, and with that profit we hope to buy things that will make our life enjoyable. Whenever conditioned souls do something, there is desire for enjoyment behind it. But Krsna has nothing to desire. He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and He is full with everything. When Krsna came on this earth He had many girl friends and over 16,000 wives, and some people think that He was very sensual. But this was not the fact.
We must understand the meaning of relationships with Krsna. In this material world we have many relationships as father, mother, wife or husband. Whatever relationship we find here is but a perverted reflection of the relationship we have with the Supreme Lord. Whatever we find in this material world is born of the Absolute Truth, but here it is pervertedly reflected in time. Whatever relationship we have with Krsna goes on. If we have a relationship in friendship, that friendship is eternal and continues from life to life. In the material world, a friendship exists for a few years and then breaks; therefore it is called perverted, temporal, or unreal. If we make our friendship with Krsna, it will never break. If we make our master Krsna, we will never be cheated. If we love Krsna as our son, He will never die. If we love Krsna as our lover, He will be the best of all, and there will be no separation. Because Krsna is the Supreme Lord, He is unlimited and has an unlimited number of devotees. Some are trying to love Him as lover or husband, and therefore Krsna accepts this role. In whatever way we approach Krsna, He will accept us, as He states in Bhagavad-gita.
ye yatha mam prapadyante
tams tathaiva bhajamy aham
mama vartmanuvartante
manusyah partha sarvasah
“All of them—as they surrender unto Me—I reward accordingly. Everyone follows My path in all respects, O son of Prtha.” (Bg. 4.11)
The gopis or cowherd girl friends of Krsna underwent tremendous penances in their previous lives to attain Krsna as their husband. Similarly, in Srimad-Bhagavatam, Sukadeva Gosvami says that those boys who were playing with Krsna had undergone great penances and austerities in their previous lives in order to acquire Krsna as a playmate. Thus the playmates, associates and wives of Krsna are not ordinary living entities. Because we have no idea of Krsna consciousness, we take His activities as triflings, but actually they are sublime. All perfection of our desires is there; whatever desires we have constitutionally will be perfectly fulfilled when we are in Krsna consciousness.
Krsna did not need any friends to play with Him, nor did He desire a single wife. We take on a wife because we have some desire to fulfill, but Krsna is complete in Himself (purnam). A poor man may desire to have a thousand dollars in the bank, but a rich man who has millions has no such desire. If Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, why should He have desires? Rather, He fulfills the desires of others. Man proposes and God disposes. If Krsna had any desire, He would be imperfect, for He would be lacking something. Therefore He says that He has no desire to fulfill. As Yogesvara, or as master of all yogis, whatever He wills is immediately realized. There is no question of desire. He becomes a husband or lover or friend just to fulfill the desires of His devotees. If we accept Krsna as friend, master, son or lover, we will never be frustrated. Every living entity has a specific relationship with Krsna, but at present this relationship is covered. As we advance in Krsna consciousness, it will be revealed.
Although the Supreme Lord is full and has nothing to do, He works in order to set an example. He is not bound to His activities in the material world, and one who knows this also becomes free from reactional activities.
“All the liberated souls in ancient times acted with this understanding and so attained liberation. Therefore, as the ancients, you should perform your duty in this divine consciousness.” (Bg. 4.15)
The process of Krsna consciousness requires that we follow in the footsteps of the great acaryas who have attained success in spiritual life. If one acts by following the examples set by great acaryas, sages, devotees and enlightened kings who have performed karma-yoga in their lives, he shall also become free.
On the battlefield of Kuruksetra, Arjuna was very much afraid of being entangled in his activities by engaging in warfare. Krsna therefore assured him that if he fought for His sake there would be no possibility of entanglement.
kim karma kim akarmeti
kavayo ’py atra mohitah
tat te karma pravaksyami
yaj jnatva moksyase ’subhat
“Even the intelligent are bewildered in determining what is action and what is inaction. Now I shall explain to you what action is, knowing which you shall be liberated from all sins.” (Bg. 4.16)
People are actually confused as to what is work (karma) and what is not work (akarma). Krsna here indicates that even great scholars (kavayah) are bewildered about the nature of work. It is necessary to know which activities are genuine and which are not, which are bona fide and which are not, which are prohibited and which are not. If we understand the principle of work, we can become free from material bondage. It is therefore necessary to know how to conduct work so that when we leave the material body we will no longer be forced to take another but will be free to enter into the spiritual sky. The principle of proper work is clearly stated by Sri Krsna in the last verse of the Eleventh Chapter:
“My dear Arjuna, one who is engaged in My pure devotional service, free from the contamination of previous activities and from mental speculation, who is friendly to every living entity, certainly comes to Me.” (Bg. 11.55)
This one verse is sufficient for understanding the essence of Bhagavad-gita. One must be engaged in “My work.” And what is this work? It is indicated in the last instruction in Bhagavad-gita in which Krsna tells Arjuna to surrender unto Him (Bg. 18.66).
By the example of Arjuna we are to learn that we should only perform work which is sanctioned by Krsna. This is the mission of human life, but we do not know it. Because of our ignorance we engage in so much work which is connected with the bodily or material conception of life. Krsna wanted Arjuna to fight, and although Arjuna did not want to fight, he fought because Krsna desired it. We have to learn to follow this example.
Of course Krsna was present to tell Arjuna what his work was, but what about us? Sri Krsna was personally directing Arjuna to act in such and such a way, but just because Krsna is not personally present before us, we should not assume that there is no direction. Indeed, there is direction. In the last chapter of Bhagavad-gita the proper work which we are to perform is given.
na ca tasman manusyesu
kascin me priya-krttamah
bhavita na ca me tasmad
anyah priyataro bhuvi
“For one who explains the supreme secret to the devotees, devotional service is guaranteed, and at the end he will come back to Me. There is no servant in this world more dear to Me than he, nor will there ever be one more dear.” (Bg. 18.68–69)
It is therefore incumbent upon us to preach the method of Bhagavad-gita and make people Krsna conscious. People are actually suffering for want of Krsna consciousness. We should all engage in spreading the science of Krsna for the benefit of the whole world. Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu came with this mission of teaching Krsna consciousness, and He said that regardless of one’s position, if he teaches Krsna consciousness he is to be considered a spiritual master. Both Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam are filled with information on how to become Krsna conscious. Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu selected these two books and requested that people in all corners of the world spread this science of Krsna in every town and village. Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu was Krsna Himself, and we should take this to be Krsna’s indication of our proper work. But we should be careful to present Bhagavad-gita as it is, without personal interpretation or motivation. Some people present interpretations of Bhagavad-gita, but we should present the words as they are spoken by Sri Krsna.
One who works for Krsna may appear to be working like anyone else in the material world, but this is not the case. Arjuna may have fought just like an ordinary military man, but because he fought in Krsna consciousness, he was free from the entanglement of his activities. In this way, his work, although appearing material, was not material at all. Any action sanctioned by Krsna—regardless of what it may be—has no reaction. Fighting may not be a very nice thing, but sometimes, as in the case of the Battle of Kuruksetra, it is an absolute necessity. On the other hand, we may perform work which may be very altruistic or humanitarian in the opinion of the world and yet be bound to material activity. So it is not the action itself which is important but the consciousness in which the action is carried out.
“The intricacies of action are very hard to understand. Therefore one should know properly what action is, what forbidden action is, and what inaction is.” (Bg. 4.17)
The path of karma is very intricate; therefore we should understand the distinctions between karma, akarma and vikarma. If we simply engage in Krsna consciousness, everything becomes clear. Otherwise we will have to make distinctions between what we should do and what we should not do in order not to become entangled. In the ordinary course of life we unknowingly break some law and have to suffer the consequences. Similarly, the laws of nature are very strict and stringent, and they accept no excuse. It is a law of nature that fire burns, and even if a child touches it, he will be burned despite his ignorance and innocence. Thus we have to choose our course of action very carefully lest the stringent laws of nature react to bind us to suffering. It is therefore necessary to understand what work to do and what work to avoid.
The word karma refers to prescribed duties. The word vikarma refers to activities which are against one’s prescribed duties. And the word akarma refers to activities which have no reaction at all. In the execution of akarmic activities, there may appear to be some reactions, but in actuality there are not. When we work under the directions of Krsna, this is actually the case—there are no reactions. If we take it upon ourselves to kill someone, we are subject to capital punishment by the state government. Our actions are then called vikarma, for they are against prescribed actions. If, however, the government drafts us into the army, and we engage in battle and kill someone, we do not suffer the reactions, and this is called akarma. In the one case we are acting according to our own whims, and in the other we are acting under the direction of the government. Similarly, when we act under the direction of Krsna, our actions performed are called akarma, for that kind of activity has no reaction.
“One who sees inaction in action, and action in inaction, is intelligent among men, and he is in the transcendental position, although engaged in all sorts of activities.” (Bg. 4.18)
One who can actually see that despite activities there are no karmic reactions, who understands the nature of akarma actually sees things as they are. The word akarmani refers to one who is trying to avoid the reactions of karma. By dovetailing his activities in Krsna consciousness, although one may perform all kinds of activities, he is free. On the Battlefield of Kuruksetra, Arjuna engaged in fighting, and those on the side of Duryodhana also engaged in fighting. We must understand how it is that Arjuna is free from reaction whereas Duryodhana is not. Externally we can see that both parties are engaged in fighting, but we should understand that Arjuna is not bound by reactions because he is fighting under the order of Krsna. Thus when we see someone working in Krsna consciousness, we should understand that his work does not carry any reaction. One who can see such work and understand it is to be considered very intelligent (sa buddhiman). The technique is not so much in seeing what a person is doing but in understanding why he is doing it.
Actually Arjuna was engaged in very unpleasant activity on the battlefield, but because he was in Krsna consciousness, he suffered no reaction. We may be performing some action which we may consider to be very good work, but if we do not perform it in Krsna consciousness we have to suffer the reactions. From the material point of view, Arjuna’s initial decision not to fight was a good one, but from the spiritual point of view it was not. When we do pious work, we get certain results. We may take a birth in a very good family, in the family of a brahmana or a wealthy man, we may become very rich or very learned, or we may become very beautiful. On the other hand, if we do impious work, we may have to take birth in a low class family or animal family, or become illiterate or foolish, or very ugly. Although we engage in very pious work and take a good birth, we will still be subject to the stringent laws of action and reaction. Our principal aim should be to escape the laws of this material world. If we don’t understand this, we will become attracted by aristocratic families, wealth, or a good education or a beautiful body. We should come to understand that despite having all these facilities for material life, we are not free from birth, old age, disease and death. To caution us of this, Sri Krsna warns in Bhagavad-gita:
“From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place.” (Bg. 8.16)
Even on Brahmaloka, the highest planet in the material universe, repetition of birth and death are also present. We have to go to Krsna’s planet in order to be free from this. It may be very nice to be a rich man or a beautiful man, but how long shall we remain such? That is not our permanent life. We may remain learned, rich and beautiful for fifty, sixty or at most a hundred years, but real life is not for fifty or a hundred years, nor a thousand years nor even a million years. We are eternal, and we have to attain our eternal life. That we have not attained it is our whole problem. That problem can be solved when we are Krsna conscious.
If we leave this material body in Krsna consciousness, we will no longer have to return to the material world. The point is to avoid this material existence altogether. It is not a question of improving our condition in the material world. In prison a man may want to improve his condition to become a first class prisoner, and the government may give him A-status, but no sane man will become satisfied by becoming an A-class prisoner. He should desire to get out of the prison altogether. In the material world some of us are A-class, B-class or C-class prisoners, but in any case we are all prisoners. Real knowledge does not consist in simply getting an MA or PhD but in understanding these basic problems of existence.
“One is understood to be in full knowledge whose every act is devoid of desire for sense gratification. He is said by sages to be a worker whose fruitive action is burned up by the fire of perfect knowledge.” (Bg. 4.19)
The word panditam means learned, and budhah means well-versed. In the Tenth Chapter we also find the word budhah in the verse budha bhava-samanvitah (Bg. 10.8). According to Bhagavad-gita, one may not be a learned man just because he has received a lot of education from a university. Bhagavad-gita says that he is a learned man who can see everything on an equal level.
“The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater (outcaste).” (Bg. 5.18)
In India, according to Vedic civilization, a brahmana who is learned is considered to be the topmost man in human society. The pandita, who is learned and gentle, sees such a brahmana on the same level with a dog or an outcaste who eats dogs. In other words, he sees no distinctions between the highest and the lowest. Is this to say that being a learned brahmana is no better than being a dog? No, that is not so. But the pandita sees them as the same because he does not see the skin but the spirit. One who has learned the art of seeing the same spirit soul within every living being is considered to be a pandita, for in actuality every living being is a spiritual spark, part and parcel of the complete spirit whole. The spiritual spark is the same in all, but it is covered by different dresses. An honored man may come in a very shabby dress, but this does not mean that he should be dishonored. In Bhagavad-gita these material bodies are likened unto dresses which are worn by the spirit soul.
“As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.” (Bg. 2.22)
Whenever we see any living entity we should think, “Here is a spirit soul.” Anyone who can understand such a spiritual vision of life is pandita. Canakya Pandita gives the standard for education or the qualification for a pandita in this way: “The learned man sees all women, with the exception of his wife, as his mother; he sees all material possessions as garbage in the street, and he looks on the sufferings of others as he would look on them in himself.” Lord Buddha taught that we should not even hurt animals by word or deed. This is the qualification for a pandita, and this should be the standard of life. It is therefore to be understood that one is to be considered educated in accordance with his vision of life and his activity in accordance with that vision, not by his academic degrees. This is the understanding of the word pandita from Bhagavad-gita. Similarly, the word budhah specifically refers to one who is well-versed in the study of scripture. The results of such realization and scriptural learning are thus described in Bhagavad-gita:
“I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who know this perfectly engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts.” (Bg. 10.8)
The well-versed person or budhah is one who has understood that Krsna is the origin of all emanations. Whatever we happen to see is but an emanation of Krsna. For millions and millions of years sunshine has been emanating from the sun, and yet the sun is as it is. Similarly, all material and spiritual energies are coming from Krsna. As a result of knowing this, one becomes a devotee of Krsna.
Thus one who knows that he must work in Krsna consciousness, who no longer desires to enjoy this material world, is actually learned. Everyone is working in the material world due to lust (kama), but the wise man is free from the dictations of this lust (kama-sankalpa-varjitah). How is this possible? Jnanagni-dagdha-karmanam: the fire of knowledge burns up all reactions of sinful activities. It is the most potent of purifiers. Our lives have meaning and direction only in so far as we strive to attain this transcendental knowledge of Krsna consciousness, raja-vidya, which is the king of all knowledge.

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