Seeking God

Yoga of works

Arjun is a man who doesn’t like to think too much. He wants clear instructions on what to do. The subtle layers of meanings in Krishna’s words are getting too much for him. He is perplexed. In Verse 1 of Chapter 5 of the Bhagavad Gita, he asks Krishna, “Which is the better way – renunciation of works or the yoga of works? Tell me clearly so that I can just follow your orders.”

Like Arjun, I am perplexed. So I thought I’d write it down for clarity.

Up to this point in the Gita, Krishna has talked about two paths. The path of yoga is the path of ‘desireless works’. One does whatever one has to in a spirit of ‘offering’ it to God. The other path is the path of Sankhya philosophy, of the renunciation of works, of giving up desire completely, and letting nature do what it must.

Both of these come from different world views (of course, everything always leads to the same destination).

According to the yoga of works, in apparent action there is inaction, explains Sri Aurobindo in The Message of the Gita. While we may be doing some action – writing, reading, eating, walking – when we dedicate every activity to God, we are also in a sense inactive and are allowing ourselves to be mere instruments of the action. The school principal of one of the Mother’s International Schools explained it to me thus: “It’s the difference between the active and passive voice as in English grammar. ‘I am eating the apple’ versus ‘The apple is being eaten by me’.” When we remove the ‘I’ as the doer, we allow the ‘universe’ to do the doing through us. This is yoga of works.

In the Sankhya system, in apparent inaction there is action. According to this philosophy, the entire world is a play of gunas (qualities) of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. When they are at an imbalance (which they are all the time in the material world), they manifest as thoughts, actions and matter. The table is a manifestation of tamas quality for instance; it is the nature of tamas to be physically inactive. So even what appears to be inactive to the human senses is actually only playing out its gunas – it is active being inactive! If and when all gunas become balanced, the being is united with the universe and ceases to exist in the material realm. (Sounds like Lucy touching 100% in the movie, huh?) The path of renunciation of works is giving up on action and desire totally, and work towards 100% realization.

But as Krishna says in his reply to Arjun in the next verse, the yoga of works is the better (and, in fact, the only viable) option, only because most of us (unless we are tables) cannot renounce all action altogether. We must do some sort of action in our lives – even the basics of survival require some action; eating something, for example. So one may as well do it in the spirit of ‘an offering’ to God – “I hereby eat this toast for YOU, my Lord”, “I hereby laugh at this joke for YOU, my Lord”, “I hereby decline this job offer for YOU, my Lord” and so on.

Krishna is a big on free will, except he insists we act out of our ‘discriminating wisdom’ (buddhi) if we have to make it anywhere close to Him. Interestingly, the very act (there you go, even intention is an act) of offering your acts to Him helps you put your buddhi to good use. You’ll only do actions you really think are worthy of Him.

So you think you’re acting out of free will but — if you want to achieve actualization — it’ll have to be a filtered sort of free will. Krishna is very clever that way.

I’d left my Gita class earlier this week in a bundle of confusion about the two paths. But I’m feeling better now after organizing my thoughts here.

Thank you for your active inaction in being my sounding board. Have a great day!

Seeking God

Three lessons

Last weekend, I found myself in not one but three different spiritual study classes. Here are selected notes:

Divinity 24/7: The first one I attended was a satsang at an amazing place in the middle of nowhere called the Temple of Inspiration. Peopled by smiling, silent, everyday folks with halos around their heads, the prayers, meditation and study lecture by an awesome doctor there left me with much peace for the whole week. A lasting lesson that stayed with me was when, after her talk about Kriya Yoga, the doctor responded to a query by the lady sitting next to me, who happened to share my name. “How do we keep our divine connection alive 24/7 despite hectic, busy lives?” my namesake asked.

The doctor replied with a question, her eyes closed: “Do you have to make any effort to be the mother of your child?”


She continued: “You know it in every cell of your body. It is a deep and all-encompassing knowing that you are the mother of your child. In the same way, when your connection to divinity becomes a deep and all-encompassing knowing in every cell of your body, you will be connected 24/7. There will be no effort required.”

Oh mother: The second talk I attended was at my local Buddhist group, where a group of women’s division members were talking about lessons from a book by Daisaku Ikeda. Just before I had left for this meeting, I’d mourned on the phone to my dad: “I’m so caught up in life’s daily grind, I fear I am not spending enough time on my spiritual growth.”

At this meeting, God answered me through the group’s senior, who suddenly diverted from the topic at hand to say: “As women, wives and mothers, we’re constantly running about fulfilling our various roles. We get caught in the whirlwind of daily activities and go round and round, faster and faster, till it becomes impossible to get out. But we must.”

I stared so hard at her, she intuitively looked me straight in the face and asked, “Would you like to say something?”

“Yes. That’s what I needed to hear. How do we break out of the whirlwind?” I wondered aloud.

“If the whirlwind is leading to growth, there is no problem. But most times for working moms like us, it isn’t. You need to make a special effort initially to invest in your spiritual growth. But soon you will notice that everything else becomes easier, life becomes vaster, fresh energy flows into all the different areas of your life. It is worth it,” she twinkled at me.

Through all of the following week, I noticed.

Non-violent battles: The third talk I attended was a Gita lecture at the Aurobindo Ashram. Our teacher talked about why it’s important to have our sattvic tendencies control our raajsic and taamsic tendencies. “You do not have to completely suppress your negative taamsic emotions or raajsic desires (for then they only lay low until the moment is right for them to exert themselves), but you must control them through your sattvic qualities. Sattvic values are those pertaining to peace, balance, love, compassion, harmony, santulan.”

Preoccupied with events from my life, I asked, “But if we must operate from our sattvic values alone, then how does one stand up to a bully, for example? Isn’t some kind of aggression required sometimes?”

Our teacher removed his glasses before replying, “The entire Gita is about Krishna urging Arjuna to fight a battle that goes against his peaceful tendencies. Operating from your sattvic state does not mean suffering injustice. On the contrary, you have to fight it, it is your duty, said Krishna to Arjuna. The key is to do it without attachment to the reward, to do it not out of malice but out of neutrality and non-attachment to ego. If you must fight, do not fight with your anger or pride. Fight with fearlessness, detachment.”


Last weekend I took three steps towards God. And God sent three thousand love notes to guide me.

Seeking God

Both sides

Sometimes, you’re the daughter craving for your mother’s approval. Sometimes, you’re the mother craving for your daughter’s approval.

Sometimes, you are lonely and wish for companionship. Sometimes, you have too much companionship and wish for solitude.

Sometimes, you’re stuck in an office and miss the calm of the trees. Sometimes, you have the trees but miss the stimulation of an office.

Sometimes, you’re a busy editor with freelance writers chasing you for payments. Sometimes, you’re a freelance writer chasing busy editors for payments.

Sometimes, you’re both things at the same time.

Sometimes, you curse the ‘mall culture’ for promoting consumerism and ruining the environment. Sometimes, you head to the mall for just that spa where you can get just that heavenly foot massage.

Sometimes, it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead. 

Sometimes, you enjoy Adele.

Sometimes, you wear a sari and think, ‘Ah, this is so me.’ Sometimes, you wear trousers and a flowy top and think, ‘Ah this is so me.’ Sometimes, you wear a kurti with jeans and think, ‘Ah, this is so me. Too.’

Sometimes, to cleave means to split. Sometimes, to cleave means to join.

Sometimes, you zoom across lanes and overtake others on the road and adrenaline rushes through your veins. Sometimes, you sit back and let others overtake you and it doesn’t really matter.

Sometimes, you give money to a beggar and feel guilty for propagating the beggars’ mafia. Sometimes, you don’t give money and feel like a heartless monster.

Sometimes, you have a pimple on your forehead. Sometimes, you’re acne-free. Sometimes, you win. Sometimes, you lose. Sometimes, you frown. Sometimes, you guffaw. Sometimes, you believe Arushi’s dad killed her. Sometimes, you can’t believe he would.

Sometimes, you think about life. You don’t think so much about death. Except that if it comes, you’re pretty happy with all you’ve managed to try out in this life. It’s not been a total waste. Oh no, not at all a waste.

One day in your Gita class, you learn that human existence is all about making peace with duality. And then it all makes sense.

Sometimes, you can cleave a story into two.

Sometimes, you cleave both sides into a story.