Karma: KARMA YOGA is not opposed to Jnana yoga. In fact, the former is possible only when the letter is attained.
No embodied being can completely renounce actions. The constituent Gunas of Prakrti, Sattva, Rajas and tamas, necessarily give rise to actions. As Wordsworth says :
“The eye cannot choose but see.
We cannot bid the ear be still,
Our bodies feel where’re they be
Against or with our will.’
The universe itself depends on actions. Inertia is not liberty, but death. Work keeps up the cycle of the universe and it is the duty of every individual to help it. He who does not do so and finds pleasure in the sense in sinful and lives in vain. The ideal of the Gita in not negativism, asceticism or escapism. It is not negation of actions, but performance of actions in a detached spirit. It is not Naiskarmya, but Niskarma Karma. The giving up is not of action itself, but of interest, desire, fruit, attachment regarding action. Desire binds a man; he should therefore act in such a way when action does not bind. The Gita synthesizes both Pravritti and Nivritti. As a Prof. M. Hiriyanna says : ‘ The Gita teaching stands not for renunciation of action, but for renunciation in action’. It is emphatically stated that Samnyasa does not mean the renunciation of action, but of interest, desire and attachment; it means the giving up of the fruit of all work. Actions are our sphere; fruits are not our concern. We should never be attached to the fruits of actions and at the same time we should never be inactive. And without the knowledge, renunciation of desire and attachment is not possible. So only a true jnani can perform niskama karma. Therefore the Gita says: Only fools and not wise people speak of Jnana and karma as different and opposed; really they are one.
Here arises an apparent contradiction in the Gita where it is also remarked that for him who has realized the self, who is enjoying the bliss of the self, and who remains ever satisfied in the supreme peace of the self, for him there remains nothing to be done. This verse emphasises the word ‘tasya’ (‘for him’). The perfect has no axe of his own to grind. He simply acts for the good of the people. The Lord himself, though he has nothing to accomplish for himself, acts for the benefit of humanity. The perfect man also has to work for the benefit of humanity ( loka-sangraha ) in the spirit of perfect detachment, disinterest, selflessness, with no desires to reap the fruit. He alone is capable of doing so. The liberated ‘cave-dweller’ in Plato goes again into the cave to free others. He who performs actions in a detached manner, thinking himself to be a mere instrument of God, is not contaminated by sin like the lotus-leaf, though living in water, yet not being contaminated by it. But the Gita definitely recognizes a supra-social state for the liberated sage. He cannot be forced to work. He may not be living in society, yet his very presence in the world confers benefits upon humanity, like the presence of the sun.
An objection is raised here that absolutely disinterested action is a psychological impossibility. But it is not valid:
Firstly, the liberated sage has risen much above the psychological plane. He is on the transcendental mystic plane and empirical injunctions and prohibitions, ordinary rules of practice and psychological rules do not apply to him. Intellect cannot grasp this state; it can only point towards it.
Secondly, for the aspirant we may say that the Gita recommends, not the annihilation of all desires, but the merging of all desires in one supreme desire – the desire for the development of spiritual life. All actions, therefore, should be inspired by this supreme desire. The betterment of our spiritual life is the single motive and the only end prescribed for all our actions.