Sorry for walking in after a long time...
I wanted to understand what is the role of this Chapter Five. Hence some reflections here that will help further study of this chapter.
In a few days I will catch up to where you all are. And see if I can add value.
Here are some thoughts:
Chapter Five - Why
An understanding of why Krishna is talking about renouncing action in this chapter. How does this take off from the four chapters we studied so far and how does this link to the rest of the chapters we will be studying.
For this we need to see how Krishna’s words meld with the intention of the Vedas.
There are three main sections to the Vedas – Mantra-s, Brahmana-s, Aranyaka-s.
The mantra portion is a poetic expression of great recognition of the beauty that nature is. It is therefore a collection of metric texts (poetry committed to meter) that glorifies the expression of nature, presentation of nature. This was early man’s way of glorifying the Lord and thus recognise the role of the Supreme Divinity.
Then comes a stage in the jiva’s evolution when he wants to use his hands and limbs to put to expression that same mantra. This is a set of ritualistic worship of the Lord as he (the jiva) understands His representation on earth. This section is Brahmana-s. Often these rituals are explained as means to attain material needs such as rain, son, crop, cattle. Adapted to modern times, they are seen as resulting in the attainment of career success, wealth, fame, name...
Until now, what we saw was a shubbechha (auspicious intention) prompted by the glory of nature expressing as a desire to worship Him, the Lord, as seen in nature. Grateful for the heat of the sun, the food of the earth, the coolness of the breeze, the water of the oceans/rain, man wishes to thank the Unknown.So the sun, moon, planets, trees etc were worshipped and each of these deified by man as a devata, brings results – the fulfilment of his material needs.
Then man reaches a stage where he either has no more needs, or has needs but wants nothing anymore. He is satiated, or vairaagyam follows. Or a deep desire to give up the external pursuits and instead seek the Lord within by inquiring into one’s own existence and purpose, such as Who am I? This formed the Aranyaka-s section of the Veda-s, and typified by the stage where man gave up the world and retreated into the forest (symbolic) OR gave up the secular life to pursue the spiritual (more identifiable by us). These Aranyaka-s are made up of the Upanishads where worship (called upasana) is worship of the Lord for the sake of the Lord and not for any desire fulfillment.
The Veda-s were the source book of guidance at a time when thought was suited to the stiff prescriptions of the Veda-s. When Veda-Vyaasa compiled the Gita, it was the guide book for a man of a newer era, a man who had matured through time (as a civilisation maybe...) – what Gurudev in his classic metaphor compares to the maturing of a flower into its fruit, whereby the flower is not destroyed but “grown to its fulfilment in the fruit.” (BG Ch 5 intro)
In just the same way, the reaching of the Gita by a seeker is a maturing of his sadhana from ritualistic worship to desireless worship. We must be appreciative (and not critical) of ritualistic worship which many are prone to condemn as foolish. Maybe we perform rituals (in our early stage of sadhana) with an intention to gain something, success, house, cattle...because we desire them and the vasanas for those exist in us and act up. So we worship and we attain their fulfillment.
But in the process we also gain a deeper grounding of our relationship with a Lord who we come to see as benevolent, kind, generous, loving and giving and punishing and as the karmaphala daata. This very worship, once it matures, drops off the desire for using the karmindriyas to worship and evolves to worship with the mind (eg, Upasana via Aranyakas), where the seeker seeks silence, non-action, and a contemplative abidance and being with the inner self. [So the ritualistic, idol-based saguna worship, matures to a gradual desire to shut the eyes, as if seeking a nirguna, niraakaara Bhagawan, where visual worship is not desired but a silent contemplation, a desireless or non-desire-based worship using the mahavaakyas of the Upanishads.]
If we examine this, we will see a gradual maturing from desire to action to not-action. The Mantras express desire, the Brahmanas express Activity using Karmindriyas, the Aranyakas evolve to not-action.
This is exactly Krishna’s process too via His Gita which He tries to explain to Arjuna in Chapter 5, except, using a logic that leads up from Karma Yoga or action which is performed as ‘worship of the Lord’, as an offering to the Lord – maybe, an equivalent of the Brahmanas. And KY itself is prescribed at a stage where high tamas reigns in the heart/mind of the individual. It is KY that kickstarts the tamasic individual into an active one.
It is the shift from tamas to rajas that KY uses to describe true activity. This constitutes activity that one must do (Niyama-s) , activity that one must not do (Yama-s, not doing is also action therefore), which together form the foundation of our spiritual evolution, ethical precepts if we may call them that, as in kindergarten where the fundamental A,B,C is taught without which Grade I is impossible. [In a way we may say that his kshatriyahood too was just the starting point as if precepts that governed Arjuna the warrior kshatriya – a set of what he may do and may not do. Later Krishna will tell him to go beyond kshatriyahood to the dharma underlying it.]
And to urge Arjuna towards perfection, Krishna began Ch 2 by describing the Man of Equipoise, the Sthitapragnya. If that man is to be Arjuna’s idol, goal – just as the eye of the fish was during the Draupadi Swayamvara -- then to get there he needs to first apply action with the right attitude, then give up action also with the right attitude, but also know the difference.
Action is the pole of the pole-vaulter. You use this to attain critical height in your sadhana. Then action has to be dropped......
That means take up activity intelligently. Until now Arjuna fought a battle because maybe he saw it as a niyama, a thing he must do. Now he must do that niyama with intelligence. This is maturing from flower to fruit. That is, go beyond and examine the intention of an action and stay with it. If war was being fought to protect dharma as a kshatriya, then the intention behind an action becomes protection of dharma and not kshatriyahood.
Thus if we track where Krishna and Arjuna have reached so far, we will see that in Ch 2 Krishna began by detailing KY and simply asking Arjuna to act without an eye on the results [ pick up the pole because you need to practise how to vault over it. You have to learn to use the pole, not examine its quality, wood, formation, smoothness....just pick up the pole and work with it to gain poise; likewise action is a means not something to get attached to]
...........and went on to show that a Sthitapragnya was naturally meditative, was not caught in a mix of thoughts and ideas, and as a result did not feel anger, hatred, anxiety etc while performing an action. [Actually Arjuna had attained this during his focus on the eye of the fish...] Very simply Arjuna should not see death and dying as the culmination of action in war but go beyond results. Death is a result. An outcome; but the real lesson lies beyond it.
And Krishna says there is no endeavour better than one for the protection of dharma, righteousness.
Now this redefines for Arjuna the purpose of battle. The dying of a kin in battle is not the killing of a kin, but the protection of dharma....
This Krishna begins in Ch 2 where He explains the immortality of the soul. “Therefore you (Arjuna) should not lament for any being...”
Next He talks about doing duty, since fairness is more important – “there is no endeavour better than one for the protection of dharma, righteousness.” Therefore do your duty (action) and die in battle – and gain heaven; or win, and gain the world. Both ways, action is required. And here Krishna suggests performing with an equipoised mind – desireless-ly.
This is how Krishna delivers the Yoga of Action, or the science of action without desire for fruit/outcome. This is the starting point of understanding action.
Then in Chapter three, Krishna leads up to saying that (therefore) regardless of anything else, performing one’s duty is supreme. Why they must be performed, what happens when not performed, what happens when performed...
Arjuna was keener to gain wisdom and wanted a path.
To that Krishna said wisdom cannot be attained without performing action or by avoiding action.
Thus Krishna brought Arjuna once again to the realms of Activity and Action.
But now in Ch 3 Krishna suggested performing these actions selflessly, as worship (again drawing from the Aranyakas). If Tamas can be resolved with KY, then in action itself lies the genesis for Rajas too. For rajas is what promotes desire and selfishness, which are again products of the senses and mind. (Hence ego).
So Krishna brings in the attitude of awareness while performing action – this leads up to selfless action – and thus to action not for selfish ego-led desire, but action for greater good.
In so preaching, Krishna vociferously denounces renunciation at the stage of life Arjuna is. For Arjuna wished to renounce and take sannyaas.
Whereas Krishna said if spiritual wisdom is what you want, then action is the route. If you are clear Truth is what you want, spiritual height is what you seek, then Action that is selfless is the action you need, to attain that Spiritual Wisdom. So He tells Arjuna who was on the brink of dropping everything and taking to the forest.
So Chapter 4 then leads up to how to make Action the means to Knowledge or the other way round: how to make Knowledge the fruit of Action. For this Krishna tells Arjuna to treat all of life as the supreme Yagya, where he acts for greater good, gives all he can, takes only that which is proportionate to his contribution and not more...
By performing action selflessly, with the spirit of a huge consulting assignment where every player has a role to play and contribute towards the completion of the assignment, Bhagawan said Arjuna must fight the battle at Kurukshetra with the spirit of Yagna, designed to deliver dharma, without any desire (even desire to save/protect his kin and teachers and grandfather was counted as desire filled action)....
In this manner till the end of chapter 4 we see how to convert action into a Yagna.
How to use action to attain Knowledge.
Until here we dwell/delve in the Brahmanas, the worship of the Lord using our actions. Karmindriyas.
After this Krishna will show Arjuna how to polevault into contemplative meditation on the Lord as in the Aranyakas..... where we will drop the pole and then release ourselves on the wings of faith into the Lord’s realm.... (That will be Ch 6)
To understand all this, we study Chapter Five, where Krishna differentiates between renouncing action and performing action selflessly-desirelessly. Yet He will show that both lead to Knowledge. That performing action selflessly than renouncing it will aid in dissolving the ego....and attaining Knowledge. And more...