Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2 verse 45: The Veda’s concern is with the three Gunas. Be without the three Gunas [action], freed from duality, ever firm in purity, independent of possessions, possessed of the Self.
Arjuna's selfish attitude and lack of concern for others has gotten him into a dark place of dithering, cowardice, confusion...waffling intellect. Krishna illustrates the dangers of selfish desires and actions that result from a weak and wavering mind 2.44. In this verse He begins to enlighten Arjuna on the infinite possibilities of selfless actions to strengthen the mind, and achieve steady intellect and the highest levels of spiritual and material wellbeing.
The three Gunas are the primal forces of creation — (1) rajas | spur, (2) sattva | development and (3) tamas | dissolution — upholding all activity, everywhere and at all times. All three Gunas are necessary for creation to stay the course of evolution. Each Guna always operates to relative degrees in the phenomenal world of change: creating, developing and dissolving one stage of reality flowing into the next. No Gunas, No action.
Be without the three Gunas: ‘The Veda’s concern is with the three Gunas.’ That is, the Veda’s concern is with actions and consequences (2.42). To snap Arjuna out of his obsession with right and wrong action and their unfathomable myriad of consequences, Krishna instructs him to be without action. ‘Be without the three Gunas.’ Krishna’s teaching is a master stroke of simplicity and effectiveness: to achieve the best course of action and achieve the highest levels of spiritual and material wellbeing be without action, ‘Be without the three Gunas.’ Don’t look for a solution to issues of right and wrong action on the level of action itself, else you’ll dissolve into a puddle of irresolution, weakness and inaction, which at this point in the Gita, Arjuna personifies.
Though it sounds incongruous — resolving action and its consequences by nonaction — Krishna’s logic fulfills the practice of karma yoga He set out in verse 2.39: no three Gunas; no action; and obviously, no ‘binding influence of action.’ On the level of the Self, nonactive deep within and separated from action on the surface level of the mind (self), the practitioner achieves liberation from action and experiences the eternal and unbounded nature of contentment (Self).*
Renunciation:** Whenever we selflessly serve the desires of others we break ‘the binding influence of action.’ In serving others, their desire sparks our action to achieve their outcome. We operate on their desires and expectations, not ours. In the moment we act to fulfill others’ desires, we break the cycle of impression-desire-action at the level of our desire to find lasting contentment in the material world (2.39). No desire, no action (‘Be without the three Gunas’), no binding influence of action, no attachment.
This innocent renunciation is the practice of karma yoga: serve the desires of others and automatically renounce your own. In selflessly serving others, we innocently renounce our own selfish desires to find happiness and contentment in objects of the senses. No selfish desire to achieve lasting contentment in the material and ever-changing world of the three Gunas, no action to attain it (‘Be without the three Gunas’) and no impression of dissatisfaction to spur desire and action anew. Poof! In putting others’ desires first, we naturally renounce our own and break the cycle of impression-desire-action (2.39).
[As we shall see, sacrifice of desire (that is, renunciation) is in our DNA; we were born to practice karma yoga; sacrificers of desire is who we are at our most fundamental level (3.10).]
‘No effort is lost,’ (2.40). In the instant we act to serve other’s desires, our outward flow of attention to seek happiness and contentment in objects of the senses stops dead in its tracks. Liberated from hijacking desire and the self-perpetuating cycle of impression-desire-action, the ever-present and charming field of dharma turns attention inward towards the happiness and contentment we seek. Such is the happy and content nature of charm. The path and the goal are one and the same. Liberation is instant.
‘No obstacle exists’ (2.40). Having innocently renounced desire by serving others’ desires, we need nothing. We’re content deep within. There is nothing to obstruct. We’re there. We live in the eternal present, outside time. We’ve achieved the goal of all action: contentment. How can there be an obstacle when we’ve already reached the goal?
Motive and the mechanics of liberation: Dharma is motive, an ever-present field pulling us forward along the path of evolution. We seek happiness and contentment in everything we do. Every action. No exceptions. Everyone — Stalin, Gandhi, your mom, the schoolyard bully, you — seeks happiness and contentment in all actions taken. (This may be true for coyotes, turtles and amebae as well.) Motive for more happiness and contentment is universally constant, underlies the nature of the three Gunas, gives them direction and hence, gives direction to all our feelings, thoughts, and actions. This is dharma: life’s ever-present compass heading towards happiness and contentment along the path to higher levels of spiritual and material wellbeing, and final liberation from the bondage to karma (2.39).
Dharma is the path to liberation. Have faith in your dharma. ‘Be without the three Gunas.’ Throw in the towel. Resistance — that is, selfishness — is futile. Serve other’s desires. Innocently renounce your own. Hand your awareness over to dharma. Dharma naturally turns attention inward towards greater levels of happiness and contentment. Acting in accord with dharma to serve others’ desires, happiness and contentment manifest from within — or rather, we discover what has always been there, hidden from view.
‘The resolute intellect is one-pointed’ (2.41). Having innocently renounced desire and halted the flow of attention out into the disruptive phenomenal world, intellect steadies. Distractions fall away. Singular-motive dharma aims intellect towards liberation. Through intellect’s subtlest quality, the ego, we see our ultimate Reality and Truth. Steady, resolute and one-pointed we realize who we are deep within our mind, outside change, outside time, constant: unbounded and eternal inner contentment, the Self. In realizing our Self in its fulfilling nature of contentment, we feel familiar with all possibilities.
Realization of Self occurs at the same breath we renounce desire. Realization takes no time. As soon as we renounce desire, dharma takes over — and the charm of dharma is that happiness and contentment we seek. We live outside the need for change. Content in the present, we live in the present.
Union (Yoga): This is liberation. Having realized Self, we achieve union of finite outer activity (lower self) within the infinite nature of unbounded inner contentment (higher Self). Inner contentment just is, non-dimensional, constant, unchanging. Inner contentment is the End in itself, the goal of all action. By definition, the infinite includes all finite and bound. The finite self unites with the infinite Self as soon as we realize our true nature, unbounded inner contentment. In union, individual feeling, thinking and acting (self) coexists in simultaneous union with unbounded contentment (Self).
Desires still engage the mind in actions but fail to drag refined qualities of intellect and ego out into the ever-changing phenomenal world. [To understand the relationship between intellect and ego with bondage to action and liberation from it see 2.39.] We still desire on the surface level of the mind; deep within desires no longer occur. This is the experience of union (or Yoga): simultaneously maintaining never-changing inner contentment (Self) while engaged in outer activity (self). We feel comfortable with all.
Mother is at home: In union (in Yoga) we feel secure from within. As a natural consequence of serving others’ desires, the bright light of contentment shines through everything. Petty individuality drops away. We become cosmic in nature. We’re having a “good day.”
All this naturally becomes ours to enjoy from selfless service to others:
• We’re ‘freed from duality’ of disunion between lower self and higher Self functioning at relative and Absolute levels of life. In union, outer and inner live in harmonious union of inner contentment. Tugs of heart and mind cease to whipsaw us into conflicting feelings and actions which wear us down. In the evenness of inner contentment we achieve balance of mind (2.48). Success and failure, progress and reversal, ups and downs, hot and cold, easy and hard, forward and backward … all the dualities of life release their grip. Liberated from fear engendered by loss and gain (2.40), we act in balanced, skillful and easy ways. Freed to act spontaneously, we readily achieve outcomes. We’re in the groove of service.
• ‘Freed from duality’ we operate from refined levels of inner awareness ‘ever firm in purity’ of our selfless intention to serve others, engendering growth in spiritual and material wellbeing for all. Negativity and wrong actions fall away; in contented Self, ‘purity’ of right action and positive attitude prevail (2.47).
• ‘Ever firm in purity’ and content deep within we feel fulfilled (2.46). In need of nothing, self-worth exists ‘independent of possessions.’ Attachments begone. We cast away the burden of tightly holding onto what we have and the need to possess what we don't. We break free from emotional attachments to outcomes, exercise positive aspects of our personality and enjoy life through actions we take.
• Inner contentment (Self) pervades and illuminates all. We experience steady intellect and balance of mind (2.48). ‘Possessed of the Self,’ the nature of the Self’s unshakable contentment governs all feelings, thoughts and actions.
It’s not called a “practice” for nothing. We experience union each time we serve the desires of others. Depth and duration of experience depend on strength of mind. Continued practice of karma yoga — serving others’ desires — strengthens the mind and enlivens experiences of the higher Self and its harmonious union with lower self. In time, we become established in union, established in Yoga (2.47, 2.48).
Proof of concept: Hold the door open for someone.***
*But what exactly can any active men or women do to be “Without the three Gunas,” automatically renounce desire and serve the course of evolution for all? In verse 8 of Chapter 3 (the yoga of action) Krishna provides the answer, “Do your natural duty.” Serve the desires of those you honor and love.
**Renunciation is an event that sets off a chain reaction of evolution (2.51).
***In 4.42 Krishna gives the most succinct instruction to practicing karma yoga.
copyright commentary Keith R Parker 2021