How Can You Combine the Power of Five Yogas To Wash Away Your Sins?

Fivefold Yoga

by Jayaram V

Notes: I have translated the Bhagavadgita twice. The first one was a loose translation. The second one was a word to word translation with a detailed commentary. The commentary is however different from what you will find here. In this section I will share with you my thoughts about the knowledge, philosophy and wisdom of the Bhagavadgita as I understand it from my perspective. Jayaram V


What is the central purpose of karmayoga? Before that we have to answer the question what karmayoga means. In simple terms, Karmayoga means practicing the yoga (of liberation) through your actions. In its practice you use your mundane actions either to establish a union (yoga) with your true Self or with God to attain the state (yoga) of liberation or self-realization. This definition satisfies the meaning of karma as actions, and the twin meaning of yoga as a union and as an auspicious state.

Karmayoga was a revolutionary and transformative milestone in the development of Hinduism, devotional theism, and Indian spirituality. It immensely helped to bridge the gap between the ascetic and renunciant traditions of Hinduism on one side and the Vedic householder traditions on the other and offered a holistic approach in which a follower of Hinduism had a unique opportunity to strive for the four chief aims (Purusharthas) of human life, namely dharma (moral and religious duty), artha (wealth), kama (sexual desire), and moksha (liberation) without having to become an ascetic recluse until the last phase of his life, or abandon worldly duties and obligations.

The purpose of karmayoga

The starting point of this holistic approach is karmayoga. The purpose of karmayoga is to find relief from the bonds created by your actions (karmabandha). Actions produce consequences, called the fruit of your actions (karma phala). They are responsible for your suffering and rebirth. Karmayoga helps you perform your actions without producing karmic fruit. Its logic is simple. Since intentional and desire-ridden actions produce positive or negative consequences, you should perform your actions without any desires. If you burn your desires, your karma also burns. Secondly, since actions are performed out of the desire to achieve something or gain something, which lead to bondage, you should perform them not only without any intention but also without any desire or expectation for the fruit of such actions.

Thus, karmayoga means yoking your actions to the divine purpose of achieving liberation or union with the Self. You practice it by bringing your divinity or spirituality into your actions, and make them part of your life upon earth. With karmayoga you transform your most mundane tasks into spiritual actions and sanctify your whole life as an act of divine worship. By acknowledging God, and bringing Him into your thoughts and actions, you impart to your life and actions the power and will of God and transform them into a form of yoga as part of your self-transformation and inner purification.

In Hinduism you will find a valid reason to cultivate such an attitude. You cannot selectively practice your religion according to your convenience and live two separate lives, one spiritual and the other this worldly. You cannot be one person in the presence of God when you perform your rituals and worship, and another person in the world when your pursue your worldly goals and selfish desires. If you do it, it would be a life built on delusion and self-deception. If God is omniscient, it implies that you must practice your faith as a way of life and let Him become the center of your life and your thoughts in every aspect and on all occasions. It means that you cannot separate your spiritual life from your worldly pursuits and live two different lives, without suffering from the consequences of your actions and paying the price as suffering.

The best way to resolve the problem of karma is to view your life as an expression of God, and understand its unitary purpose, which is to express his Will and Intention through your life and actions. Your existence is part of God's manifested existence. You can stand apart from it and consider yourself an independent and distinct individual. You have been given the freedom and the power of the will to do so. However, if you do it, you become a creator (or God) of your own life in your own right and answerable to all your actions. You have the right to declare yourself free in your own capacity from all the obligations that are imposed upon you by your dharma, but if you do it, it will take you out of the equation of God's Will and make you responsible for every action that you perform or do not perform. Since your knowledge, vision, wisdom, and abilities are limited, it puts enormous burden upon your shoulders and makes you answerable to all your actions.

Knowledge and Intelligence

There are two ways to live your life. One is to perform your actions for your sake or for your family sake with a purely selfish desire (kamatmana) for wealth and enjoyment (bhoga aisvarya gati), and with the heaven as your highest goal (svargapara). It is what many people do. They perform rites and rituals, or worship gods in their homes and temples to fulfill their desires. They are certainly good people who lead pious lives and abide by their religious beliefs, but unfortunately they cannot escape from the problem of rebirth, or avoid suffering. Since they act according to their desires and leave the problem of karma unresolved, they may enjoy the fruit of their actions but cannot escape from the suffering and the consequences caused by them

To avoid this unwholesome approach, the scriptures suggest another and better solution whereby you can have the freedom to enjoy your life as God himself and not suffer from any consequences. In this approach you have the permission to use every means that are available to you, namely your actions, knowledge, intelligence, desires, and possessions to manifest the will of God through your life and actions and grow the light and purity of God in you. The Bhagavadgita leads you in that direction through an integrated process by combining the power of your actions with the knowledge of the Self and the wisdom of God. This is the trident (trishul) of your spirituality with which you can destroy the delusion and the bondage that arises from the actions of the triple gunas.

If creation is a great symphony, you are one of the musicians who participate in it with God as your director. In that orchestra, you have to do your part and play your notes. However, how do you know which notes to play or what instrument to use? The Bhagavadgita says that in performing your actions you must first control your desires. Then you must use your knowledge and intelligence, to guide your actions. Here, the sequence is important because your knowledge and intelligence shine only when you have no desires and no personal or hidden agenda.

Knowledge (samkhya) and intelligence (buddhi) are vital to the practice of karmayoga. Without them you can neither restrain your desires nor understand the true purpose of your life and actions. Right knowledge which arises from the study of scriptures introduces you to the problem of karma, bondage, ignorance and delusion, and to your real identity as an eternal, indestructible, and infinite Self. You realize the problem of rebirth, and how you perpetuate it through your actions and involvement.

Acquiring such useful knowledge to pursue your liberation whether through actions or otherwise is called jnanayoga. It is important not only to elevate your actions but also polish your intelligence. When you become aware of eternal truths concerning your existence and true identity, your intelligence also shines and helps you make informed and intelligent decisions about your life and liberation. Using your intelligence to discern the right from the wrong or the truth from the falsehood is called buddhiyoga. You practice it by stabilizing your mind in your intelligence, so that you can use your intelligence to make  informed decisions or perform nonbinding actions.

The Bhagavadgita clearly suggests that without using your intelligence to discern the truths of your existence or understand the problem of rebirth, you cannot truly practice karmayoga, find release from the bonds of karma (karma bandham) or escape from the turbid mire of your delusions (mohakalilam). Indeed, the Bhagavadgita defines yoga itself as skillfulness in action (yogaḥ karmasu kauśalam). The skill in action arises when you surrender to the will of God and take refuge in your intelligence to perform your actions without any attraction or aversion to the dualities and pairs of opposites.

Perfection in karma yoga arises when your intelligence is polished, purified, intensified and stabilized, so that you will have the power to know what to do and what not to do, or what to choose and what not to choose. With that discerning wisdom you will overcome your delusions and cultivate dispassion (nirvedam). With the power of intelligence also comes the ability to know the right from wrong and how to ensure the order and regularity of life.  Hence, even if you are disinterested in the outcome of your actions, your intelligence will save you from creating chaos and disorder through your actions, or disrupting life.

Renunciation and devotion

The three yogas, jnanayoga, buddhiyoga, and karmayoga, which we have discussed so far are interdependent, like the three points of an eternal triangle. They are effective when you practice them together with the spirit of renunciation, or the renunciation of desire for the fruit of your actions, which leads you to what the Bhagavadgita refers to as the yoga of renunciation (sanyasayoga). Detachment, sameness, disinterestedness and indifference are the foundation for its practice. It is important to remember that like any of the yogas which we have discussed so far, you cannot practice renunciation also in isolation, but only in conjunction with other yogas, so that together they can be effective.

By renunciation we mean the practice of letting go, detachment, sameness, non-seeking, freedom from attraction and aversion, surrender, silence of desires, and selflessness. As Vivekananda stated, the feeling of "I and mine" is responsible for human misery. From ownership arises selfishness, which in turn leads to attachment and our increasing dependence of worldly things to escape from the problem of suffering and insecurity. Vivekananda also said that you should not say in your mind, "My Child," or "My home," because the moment you say it you sow the seeds of suffering.

Therefore, if you want to be free, you should renounce ownership and doership and not let the "tentacles of selfishness" spread in your mind. Whether you are pursuing knowledge, performing actions, or applying your intelligence, the spirit of renunciation has to be injected into every aspect of your life. In other words, you cannot practice karma yoga in isolation, but along with the other four yogas and make your life sacred and divine.

In that integral yoga your life becomes a great sacrifice, with every action and its consequence becoming an offering to God in the fire of renunciation. It leads you to what the Bhagavadgita refers to as the bhakti yoga, the state of devotion or the practice of devotion. By that, you become a devotee in the temple of God's creation not by superficial rituals, or putting some money in the temple treasure chest, but by becoming a sacrificial offering itself to God. In that act of devotion, you and your actions become the offerings or the sacrifice (bhakta), and God the sacrificer and the enjoyer of the sacrifice. Through the five yogas, your life becomes a Vedic chant (rik) in the sacrifice of life, a song of God (Saman) in the symphony of creation, and a form of ritual worship (Yaj) in the mortal world to conquer death. You become Brahman, the means and the purpose of the Vedas themselves.

The ignorant ones do not see the underlying purpose of the five yogas, namely karmayoga, jnanayoga, buddhiyoga, sanyasa yoga and bhaktiyoga. They see them distinctly as if they are not interrelated. In truth they are the five petals of the flower called your life which you place at the feet of God with devotion in the temple of creation. They can be practiced in isolation, but their power intensifies when you practice them together and integrate them into your way of life. The five yogas will save your from the five cardinal sins (panca mahapatakas) and the attachments caused by the actions of your five senses  and the five elements in association with the triple gunas in all the five sheaths of your being.

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