[This article is based on the weekend class taught by Pūjya Swami Viditatmananda Saraswati on May 19, 2019 at Saylorsburg, PA.]
Lord Kṛṣṇa in chapter 3, verse 19 of the Bhagavad Gītā2 prescribes a very simple means of attaining the highest in one’s life. In this verse ‘the highest’ is described as ‘param.’ What is meant by attaining the highest? That is described in the preceding verses, 17 & 18.3 Attaining the highest is attaining that which we are constantly seeking in our lives, namely, unconditional happiness. Not only are we seeking happiness but also we are seeking unconditional happiness which is not confined to a time, place or condition. One wants to be happy at all times, all places, and all conditions. The person who attains that kind of happiness is described in the verses 17 & 18 as ātma-ratiḥ, ātma-tuṣṭaḥ, and ātma-tṛptaḥ. The happiness that one experiences is described as taking place in three stages which are denoted by the three words, ratiḥ, tuṣṭiḥ, and tṛptiḥ. The degree of happiness goes from one stage to the other. The first state is called ratiḥ which is due to the happiness that one gains by dwelling upon something that one loves. One enjoys even thinking about something that one loves. Then, this happiness grows when one gains that which one loves. This is the second stage of happiness called tuṣṭiḥ. One’s happiness becomes the highest when one experiences the object of love that one has gained. This is the stage denoted as tṛptiḥ. Before one enjoys what one loves, one should get what one loves, and before one gets it, one thinks about what one loves. The progression of the degree of happiness is from ratiḥ → tuṣṭiḥ → tṛptiḥ. The Taittrīyopaniṣad describes the three stages as priya, moda, and pramoda, respectively.4 When one’s happiness reaches pramoda, or tṛptiḥ, the individual is lost in happiness. One even loses one’s individuality. All that remains is happiness.
In the context of the 19th verse, it is not just this experiential happiness that is talked about. There are moments when one gets this kind of experiential happiness when there is an ecstatic moment. One loses the sense of time, place and even one’s individuality. All that remains is a flame of happiness. Everyone has this kind of experiences now and then. In deep sleep, one has that experience. A yogī in his/her state of samādhi, absorption, experiences that happiness. But then, one comes out of the experience concluding that the happiness came from experiencing something other than oneself. Vedānta teaches that any experience of happiness comes really from one’s own self because, the Self or ātmā, is of the nature of limitless happiness. Whenever we experience any happiness we are only experiencing ourselves. Self-knowledge is nothing but knowing that the Self or ātmā, is of the nature of limitless happiness. Therefore, in any experience of happiness, there is the invariable presence of ātmā. Ātmā is, in fact, anubhava svarūpa, the truth of any experience for that matter.
In Vedānta the experience of happiness is called ānandamaya kośaḥ, or bliss sheath. Kośa is like a sheath that covers the person’s understanding and becomes the locus for confusion and error.5 When I experience happiness, if I do not realize it as my own Self, then I remain forever as the seeker of that happiness. There is an entrenched notion that the happiness comes from something else. I expect happiness to come from somewhere. This is the kośa and the error is committed by all. Vedānta teaches that happiness is my own self. Happiness does not come from anywhere else. It is simply a manifestation of myself. If I have knowledge of my true nature, then, I am no more a seeker of happiness. Even after knowing that I am the limitless happiness, I do not necessarily own up that happiness because there are some inhibiting factors, such as the habitual errors of identifying with the body mind, and sense complex. Some lingering doubts are there. Therefore, nididhyāsanam is required to firm up the conviction that I am of the nature of happiness. This is the second stage of sādhanā that one has to carry out. The first is to know, and the second is to gain a firm abidance in the knowledge. For this wise person, who now abides in this happiness, who has a firm conviction that ‘I am happiness,’ ‘tasya kāryaṃ na vidyate,’ for the knower of the Self there is nothing to be done.3
One has immediate knowledge, aparokṣa jñānam, that I am. The self-existent and self-evident nature of ātmā are known effortlessly. One does not rely on a means of knowledge to know ‘I am.’ The sāmānya aṃśa of ātmā, that is, the self-existent and self-evident nature of ātmā, are always known. However, the viśeṣa aṃśa that ātmā is limitless, is not known. Hence, one says ‘I am a Brāhmin’, ‘I am a human,’ ‘I am a man,’ ‘I am a woman,’ etc . In pratyakṣa jñānam, perceptual knowledge, there is an object of perception and the ensuing duality of the knower and known. The knower is separated from the known. Then, there is parokṣa jñānam, indirect knowledge, such as inference, presumption and comparison. If the object of knowledge is in front of me, I have perceptual knowledge. If it is removed from my sensory perception, I have indirect knowledge. What about the Self? The Self cannot be remote because it is myself. That which is separated by time, place or condition, is called remote. I am not separated from myself. I am myself. When the viśeṣa aṃśa of the Self is not known, then one says that ‘I am a Brāhmin.’ In this statement ‘I am a Brāhmin,’ ‘I am’ is the sāmānya aṃśa. The viśeṣa aṃśa is taken to be Brāhmin which is an erroneous conclusion. The Brāhmin-ness belongs to the body-mind-sense complex, the non-self. The error is caused because there is lumping together of the self and non-self resulting from the erroneous identification with the non-self.
It is important to note that Vedānta does not teach self-knowledge. It only corrects the error made with reference to the viśeṣa aṃśa of the Self. This correction takes place by negating what the Self is NOT. When one says that ‘I am a human being,’ ‘I am a Brāhmin,’ etc., the aspects of human being, Brāhmin etc., belong to the body which I am NOT. Vedānta teaches by negation of what I am NOT because I already know what I am. What I am and what I am not are mixed up. I have to let go the identification with the non-self. Even when the viśeṣa aṃśa of the Self that it is limitless is known, the habitual error of taking the body to be myself comes in the way and distracts me. Therefore, alertness is required on my part to gain abidance in the knowledge of the Self. This is all the teaching of Vedānta. It is very simple. In fact, everything else is complicated. One who has this knowledge of the Self, ‘tasya kāryaṃ na vidyate,’ – whatever he has to accomplish in life has been accomplished.3 There is no compulsion that he has to do something. It is really the accomplishment of what is already accomplished. The limitless nature of the Self is an already a siddha viṣaya, an accomplished fact. One has to own up that. That is all.
One always feels some pressure in doing things. If I do this, then I will gain something. This creates pressure because I need to gain something. If I do not do something, I will lose something. This also creates a pressure. We always do things to the accompaniment of the pressure, the pressure to gain something that we do not have, and the pressure to protect the thing that we have gained. This dyad, yoga-kṣema (योग–क्षेम), dictate our efforts. Yoga is aprāptasya prāpaṇam, gaining that which one does no have; kṣema is prāptasya rakṣaṇam, safeguarding that which is gained. The ātma jñānī is free from both these concerns. Freedom from all compulsions, pressures in life, is called mokṣa. We complain that the world, our bosses, friends, family, put pressure on us. Nobody can put pressure on us if we do not put pressure on ourselves. Only when the yoga-kṣema pressure exists in us, then someone can create the pressure by dangling a carrot or a stick in front of us. If one can be free from the concern of the dyad, there is no pressure. It is one thing to possess something that may serve a purpose. It is another thing to possess it because I cannot do without it. To possess something is not the problem but the dependency is the problem. Mokṣa means freedom from all dependencies. When one becomes free from all the needs, one becomes free from all expectations, from all demands.6 One doesn’t demand anything from anybody, from Brahmaji, the creator, and all the way up to a blade of grass; expects nothing from anybody for one’s security, one’s well-being and for one’s happiness. One is self-sufficient. The wise person does not even worry about what will happen tomorrow and where the food will come from. Īśvara takes care of the wise person’s yoga-kṣema.7
Mokṣa is a very simple thing. It is simply freedom from dependence, freedom from compulsion, freedom from pressure, freedom from need. It is self-sufficiency which is the nature of oneself. The self-sufficiency can be called happiness. The goal in life is to gain this self-sufficiency. We should understand the goal correctly. Then only we can understand the means properly. Sādhana, the means, becomes clear only when the sādhya, the end, is clear. If the goal is self-sufficiency, freedom from the need of any possession, then sādhana, also has to be compatible. If needlessness is my nature, and that is my goal, then I should not keep on justifying my needs. Living a life in which I keep on justifying my needs will not make sense because, then, I’m not moving in the direction of my goal. Needs arise because of my ignorance of my true nature that I am free from all the needs. The more I justify my needs, desires etc, the more I am justifying the self-ignorance. To discover someday that I am free from all needs, that I am adequate by nature, I should start living a life where I progressively give up justifying the needs. Giving up the needs is not necessarily giving up the possessions. It is giving up the dependence. Lord Kṛṣṇa offers a very wonderful plan to do that.
Lord Kṛṣṇa starts with the simple thing that one can give up. One can give up the dependence upon the result of the action, karma phala. He suggests performing the action for the sake of the action without any kind of an agenda of what one will get out of that. Lord Kṛṣṇa does not specify the type of action as it can be any action that is commensurate with one’s station in life. There is always a choice of doing what is right and what is convenient. If doing what is right and what one likes to do are different, then one gives up what is convenient, and does what is right. Seeking a reward means that one is justifying one’s need. The needs are nothing but superimpositions. The limitless nature of the Self is not known and this ignorance gives rise to the superimpositions of the needs. One should stop giving reality to one’s needs. One can start by not depending upon the outcome for gratification. Instead, one learns to gain gratification from the action itself rather than from the result of the action. Action means a lot of exertion and one may protest as to how one can gain gratification from it. It is a matter of one’s determination. Even if the work is all drudgery, with a resolve, one can enjoy the action and derive gratification. One may not always have freedom in the action one has to do. The action is determined by so many circumstances over which one may not have control or a choice. But then, one has the freedom as far as one’s attitude towards how the action is to be performed. If one is so determined, action itself can become a source of enjoyment. It is all in the mind. One can enjoy the glory of the Lord who has endowed one with the skills and knowledge to perform the action. That, “my faculties are functioning; my mind is functioning; my hands are working,” are all proclaiming loudly that the glories of the Lord are involved in every moment, in everything that one does. The sensitivity that His grace manifests in every aspect of the action will be sufficient to create the love for the action.
Asaktaḥ satataṃ kāryaṃ karma samācara -> The word samācara used in verse 19 also occurs in verse 9 where in also Lord Kṛṣṇa teaches Arjuna to perform action free from attachment.8 The instruction is not karma samācara but kāryaṃ karma samācara. cara -> act; ācara -> necessarily act; samācara → act well. kāryaṃ karma is the right thing to do, and that which has to be done whether one likes to do or not. In other words, necessarily perform well the action that has to be done. Performing well is nothing but executing the action in the spirit of a contributor. One contributes the three Ts – Time, Talent and Treasure that one has, as a means for self-growth. In every aspect of the interaction that one has with the world, the attitude should be one of how ‘I can be a contributor in this situation.’ One’s attention is towards karma to make sure that it is done in the right time, in the right place and in the right way, and not towards the outcome. The type of karma itself takes a back seat to the consideration that this action must necessarily be performed by me at this time. The consideration, what is the right thing to do rather than what is the convenient thing to do, dictate one’s action. One’s attention is diverted from the worries and concerns about the outcome of the action that will come in the future, but the focus is given to the present when the action has to be done. One is ready to accept gracefully the outcome, whatever it will be.
Asaktaḥ means attached. There are two kinds of attachments. One is the attachment to the outcome. The mind wants a given outcome because then only it will be happy. One gives up this dependence on the outcome which holds hostage one’s happiness. The second attachment is to the strong I-sense in the form of ‘I am doing this,’ ‘I did it,’ and ‘it is my action.’ It must be recognized that this inevitable sense of doership can be classified as a tāmasik doership, a rājasik doership, or a sātvik doership. While tāmasik doership can be one of inactivity, a rājasik doer is one with a strong attachment to the ego sense that ‘I am the doer.’ No doubt, a karma yogī also has a sense of doership. He is not free from it. But it is a sātvik doership, one where the sense is that one is the instrument in the hands of the Lord. This is simply a shift in the attitude. When one performs the action, the attitude can be that ‘I am the author of what I am doing,’ or ‘I am an instrument for the action that is being done through me.’ Giving up both the attachments, to the result of the action and the ego-sense that I am doing, is performing the action well. Action itself is the privilege, an opportunity to contribute, to be the hands and legs for Īśvara for His cosmic activity. This way there is no comparison and no competition with anyone. One respects the action, and in turn one respects oneself. One does not have to be somebody else. One can compete with just oneself to strive for excellence in the action itself.
kāryaṃ is the right thing to do in a given situation. The right thing is determined by the role one is playing or simply it is one’s duty, kartavya, what is to be done. It is a challenge to do what is right. There are many temptations which prompt one to take liberty with what one is doing. The strong attachment to the reward, in particular, could give rise to various compromises in the action itself.9 The fear of exertion may be a deterrence to perform the right action.10 For kāryaṃ karma samācara, one has to dot the i’s and cross the t’s. This may sound like a tall order but this is the way to grow spiritually. For bringing this into one’s lifestyle, if other things, such as prāṇāyāma, yoga etc, help, then one can adopt them as well. But for the spiritual aspirant, who is in a certain stage in life, the primary sādhana, is the attitude of anāsakti, detachment at the two levels discussed earlier. This person is a karma yogī in whose mind is the bhāvana that he/she is the servant of Īśvara, he/she is enjoying the grace of Īśvara, his/her abilities and skills are all due to Īśvara’s grace and that he/she has the opportunity to do something in the spirit of contribution because of grace of Īśvara. In other words, Īśvara fills the mind of a karma yogī in every step of the way.
Simply by doing kāryaṃ karma one attains the limitless, the total freedom, because one is consciously asserting freedom in one’s karma at the two levels, namely, asserting freedom from depending upon the karma phala and asserting freedom to let go the authorship of the karma. The relative freedom gained with respect to the karma, brings purification of the mind, antaḥkaraṇa suddhi. The rajas of the mind is given up and the mind becomes sātvik. One’s likes and dislikes change as the mind’s character changes from rajas to sattva . It is said that the brāhmaṇas, the thinking people, perform the actions as the means of knowledge . In a sātvik mind arises love for the knowledge, because of which one automatically goes to the teacher. Śravaṇa and manana will take place and knowledge will take place. The desire for knowledge finds its fulfillment. One gains liberation. This is a simple and doable prescription of Lord Kṛṣṇa to a spiritual aspirant who has already reached a certain stage in life and who has achieved a certain clarity in what one is seeking in life.
 In the rope-snake example, that there is an object is the sāmānya aṃśa. That it is rope is the viśeṣa aṃśa. When the viśeṣa aṃśa is not known, the object is mistaken to be a snake. When the object is both known and unknown, it becomes a locus for committing an error. It is the ignorance of the viśeṣa aṃśa makes one to conclude erroneously that the object is a snake. If the object is totally unknown, that is, both the sāmānya aṃśa and the viśeṣa aṃśa are not known, then a mistake cannot be made.
 yajante sātvikā devānyakṣarakṣāṃsi rājasāḥ | यजन्ते सात्विका देवान्यक्षरक्षांसि राजसाः ।
pretānbhūtagaṇāṃścānye yajante tāmasā janāḥ || प्रेतान्भूतगणांश्चान्ये यजन्ते तामसा जनाः ॥
(Bhagavad Gītā, chapter 17, v.4) (The sātvika people worship the devas; the rājasika people worship the yakṣa-rakṣas, and the other, tāmasika people, worship ghosts and bhūta-gaṇas.)
 tametaṃ vedānuvacanena brāhmaṇā vividiṣanti yajñena dānena tapasā’nāśakena ; etameva viditvā munirbhavati | etameva pravrājino lokamicchantaḥ pravrajanti | (तमेतं वेदानुवचनेन ब्राह्मणा विविदिषन्ति यज्ञेन दानेन तपसाऽनाशकेन ; एतमेव विदित्वा मुनिर्भवति । एतमेव प्रव्राजिनो लोकमिच्छन्तः प्रव्रजन्ति ।) Brahadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad, 4.4.22. The brāhmaṇas seek to know It (ātmā) through the study of Vedas, sacrifices, charity and austerity. Knowing It (ātmā) alone one becomes a sage. Seeking this world (ātmā) alone, seekers adopt renunciation.
1Based on the classes taught by Pūjya Swami Viditatmananda Saraswati on May 19, 2019 at Saylorsburg, PA.
2tasmādasaktaḥ satataṃ kāryaṃ karma samācara | तस्मादसक्तः सततं कार्यं कर्म समाचर ।
asakto hyācarankarma paramāpnoti pūruṣaḥ || असक्तो ह्याचरन्कर्म परमाप्नोति पूरुषः ॥ B.G. C3, v.19
3yastvātmaratireva syādātmatṛptaśca mānavaḥ | यस्त्वात्मरतिरेव स्यादात्मतृप्तश्च मानवः ।
ātmanyeva ca santuṣṭastasya kāryaṃ na vidyate || आत्मन्येव च सन्तुष्टस्तस्य कार्यं न विद्यते ॥ B.G. C3, v.17
naiva tasya kṛtenārtho nākṛteneha kaścana | नैव तस्य कृतेनार्थो नाकृतेनेह कश्चन ।
na cāsya sarvabhūteṣu kaścidarthavyapāśrayaḥ || न चास्य सर्वभूतेषु कश्चिदर्थव्यपाश्रयः ॥ B.G. C3, v.18
4Taittrīyopaniṣad, Brahmānandavallī, 5th anuvāka
5kośavat ācchādakatvāt kośaḥ कोशवत् आच्छादकत्वात् कोशः Taittrīyopaniṣad, Vol.2, Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Arsha Vidya Research & Publication Trust, 2016.
6prajahāti yadā kāmānsarvānpārtha manogatān | प्रजहाति यदा कामान्सर्वान्पार्थ मनोगतान् ।
ātmanyevātmanā tuṣṭaḥ sthitaprajñastadocyate || आत्मन्येवात्मना तुष्टः स्थितप्रज्ञस्तदोच्यते ॥ B.G. C2, v.55
When a person gives up all the desires, as they appear in the mind, happy in oneself with oneself alone, Pārtha!(Arjuna) that person is said to be one of ascertained knowledge.
7ananyāścintayanto māṃ ye janāḥ paryupāsate | अनन्याश्चिन्तयन्तो मां ये जनाः पर्युपासते ।
teṣāṃ nityābhiyuktānāṃ yogakṣemaṃ vahāmyaham || तेषां नित्याभियुक्तानां योगक्षेमं वहाम्यहम् ॥ B.G. C9, v.22
8yajñārthātkarmaṇo’nyatra loko’yaṃ karmabandhanaḥ | यज्ञार्थात्कर्मणोऽन्यत्र लोकोऽयं कर्मबन्धनः ।
tadarthaṃ karma kaunteya muktasaṅgaḥ samācara || तदर्थं कर्म कौन्तेय मुक्तसङ्गः समाचर ॥
A person is bound by karma if it is not done as yajña (i.e., as an offering to Īśvara). For this reason, Kaunteya!(Arjuna) being one free from attachment, perform action for the sake of that (yajña). B.G. C3, v.9
9niyatasya tu saṃnyāsaḥ karmaṇo nopapadyate | नियतस्य तु संन्यासः कर्मणो नोपपद्यते ।
mohāttasya parityāgastāmasaḥ parikīrtitaḥ || मोहात्तस्य परित्यागस्तामसः परिकीर्तितः ॥ B.G. C18, v.7
10duḥkhamityeva yatkarma kāyakleśabhayāttyajet | दुःखमित्येव यत्कर्म कायक्लेशभयात्त्यजेत् ।
sa kṛtvā rājasaṃ tyāgaṃ naiva tyāgaphalaṃ labhet || स कृत्वा राजसं त्यागं नैव त्यागफलं लभेत् ॥ B.G. C18, v.8