All sanskrit texts like the Upanishads, Vedas and so on are pretty huge. The ones I am writing about are just a few among them which have held meaning to me. The Bhagavad Gita was one such which was the first I started trying to translate on my own instead of accepting the standard translations. The reason for this was the most common verse from Gita which is has been quoted by one and all with innumerable meanings attached to it:
karmanaevÀdhikÀraste mÀ phaleÍu kadÀ cana | mÀ karmaphalahetur bhÂr mÀ te sango'stvakarmani ||2-47||
Everyone translated this to me as some form of “Do your duty and don’t expect any fruits from it”. Now, to me atleast this made no sense. How do I even know what my duty is and truly any actions I did had always a reaction, then how can there be no results from it? Good or bad result is the next. It is impossible in the physical world to do something and not expect it to have a reaction. Hence I went about trying to translate things on my own and what I realized was that when a context gets added to the translation, the meaning changes completely and certain words take on a different meaning. For eg., a “mouse” when translated without the IT industry in the picture, translates to a living creature, whereas a “mouse” in the context of a computer is an input device.
Here I want to write about this most mis-interpreted verse. This verse belongs to set of verses where Krishna is giving a condensed gist of the Karma Yoga to Arjuna. The following is the Sanskrit and my English translations of the before and after this verse:
vyavasayatmika buddhirekeha kurunandana | bahushÀkhÀ hyananta ca buddhayo'vyavasÀyinÀm ||2-41|| The knowledge of a steady atma is only one Arjuna, many branches does this have when understood through intelligence yÀmimÀm pushpitÀm vÀcam pravadantyavipaÌcitah | vedavÀdaratÀha pÀrtha nÀnyad asti iti vÀdinah ||2-42|| kÀmÀtmÀna svargapara janmakarmaphalapradÀm | kriyavisheshabahulÀm bhogaishvaryagatim prati ||2-43|| bhogaishvaryaprasaktÀnÀm tayÀpahrtacetasÀm | vyavasÀyÀtmikÀ buddhiha samÀdhau na vidhÁyate ||2-44|| There are so many intelligent people who talk in flowery words But these debates and arguments are nothing other than just words The Physical world (heaven of actions) will always have only birth (janma), actions (karma) and reactions (phala) By all these actions and reactions you will only get the wealth of experiences With wealth of experiences and a fearful heart the knowledge of the steady atma cannot be got traiguyavishayÀ vedÀ nistraigunyo bhavÀrjuna | nirdvandvo nityasattvastho niryogakshema ÀtmavÀn ||2-45|| yÀvÀn artha udapÀne sarvataha saÎplutodake | tÀvÀn sarveshu vedeshu brÀhmanasya vijÀnataha ||2-46|| The vedas are description of three characteristics. Just as how when water is picked from the ocean into a jug, the jug water is no different from the water in the ocean, so also, an atma devoid of these three characteristics, devoid of duality, devoid of time, devoid of health and wealth is no different from the Brahman karmanaevÀdhikÀraste mÀ phaleshu kadÀ cana | mÀ karmaphalahetur bhÂr mÀ te sango'stvakarmani ||2-47|| Action is what forms this physical world and nothing more (Every action has an equal and opposite reaction don't expect more) But that cannot mean that you can stop acting yogasthaha kuru karmÀÉi sangam tyaktvÀ dhananjaya | siddhyasiddhyoha samo bhutvÀ samatvam yoga ucyate ||2-48|| Give up attachment to these actions Dhananjaya Seeing accomplishments and non-accomplishments as equal is called yoga of equanimity durena hyavaram karma buddhiyogÀd dhananjaya | buddhau sharanamanviccha krupanÀha phalahetavaha ||2-49|| Keep away actions using intelligence Dhanajaya It is because of such action by intelligence do we expect result - result (being something more than a reaction and hence a phala) buddhiyukto jahÀtiha ubhe sukÃtadushkrte | tasmÀd yogÀya yujyasva yogaha karmasu kaushalam ||2-50|| Because of this intelligence is born both happiness and sadness hence fight because it is a reaction and nothing more karmajam buddhiyuktÀ hi phalam tyaktva manishinaha | janmabandhavinirmuktÀha padam gacchantyanÀmayam ||2-51|| It is also only because of this intelligence do humans have to give up results (or expectations) when you are free from this attachment to birth you attain padam (this can be relief?) yadÀ te mohakalilam buddhir vyatitarishyati | tadÀ gantÀsi nirvedam shrotavyasya shrutasya ca ||2-52|| If you can keep your mind turned away from this perishable world then anything that is told or heard (I believe it should be senses) makes no difference shrutivipratipannÀ te yadÀ sthÀsyati nishcalÀ | samÀdhÀvacalÀ buddhistadÀ yogam avÀpsyasi ||2-53|| If you can keep keep your mind steadily away from the senses Then knowledge of steadiness will be available to you
I think these verses need to be read with a small context set to them. Let me try to set that context. We have a number of radio stations transmitting programs on various frequencies (91.3, 96.8 and so on). All these waves are present in the atmosphere around us and we do not know or understand them unless we have a receiver that is tuned exactly to that frequency. Say we get a radio and start tuning, as we go from one band to the next we go from being clear reception to noise clear reception and so on. When the receiver is not tuned noise overpowers reception, the program is not perceivable.
In the same way, let’s say, that the underlying truth as Sanatkumar says in Chandogya Upanishad is a field in which all these vibrations and entropies are formed, then how can we go back to being just that steady field? The only way, is to cut out the noise that exists in that field, isn’t it? My take is that the steady state that is talked about here is the same as the field that is talked about in Chandogya Upanishad. Hence, here it is said, the steady atma is only one, but see it through intelligence and it becomes and many branches.
If we think about it, why is intelligence needed? I think it is because there is a finiteness to our knowledge. We are trying to make up for this finiteness by deduction and logic to extend it to become infinite, which we call intelligence. This can be only useful in this world, not in the underlying field. When the parameters of deduction change logic has to change and hence intelligence falls apart. So, in these verses it says that all these debates and arguments and flowery words are just in this intelligent world, makes no sense anywhere else.
Accomplishments, happiness, sadness everything is also just the by-product of this intelligence and just various states of vibrations and entropies present in the underlying field and has formed this physical world. If you live and perceive in this physical world, you have no choice but to live according to the rules of the game here which is actions and reactions. Don’t expect results and be unhappy.
Obviously, if we remove the entropies and noise, what remains is just the underlying field which is what is called as Brahman. When you can keep your awareness steadily away from these noise and vibrations that form you, then you should be able to see that underlying field.
While logically this makes a huge lot of sense, I wonder is it even possible to maintain such a steady state? Isn’t it because of the disturbance of the steady state anyways that life around us was formed? Can we even exist in this physical world when we achieve that state?