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15th Mar 2022

What is the Meaning of Karma According to Bhagavad Gita

What is the meaning of Karma? 

 Karma is one of the core philosophical tenets propounded in the Gita shlokas. The Hindu social structure is so heavily influenced by the notion of ‘karma’ that it is regarded as the ethical foundation of the Hindu societal structure. The Upanishads contain references to the doctrine of Karma. Post this citation, the karmic ideology grew so exponentially, gained a lot of acceptance to the point where it became an inseparable element of Hindu tradition. The Sanskrit root ‘Kru’, which means activity, is the source of the word ‘karma’. The concept of karma is one of the primary foundational principles of Hinduism. When activities are conducted with egocentric intent, requirements and preferences, Hindus believe that they will have adverse repercussions. In this blog, we will look into what the Bhagavad Gita says about karma, or the Law of Action, and how to execute actions without the desire to prevent their outcomes. 

The philosophy of ‘karma’ maintains a close connection between karma, the soul and rebirth. The soul is said to be indestructible i.e. the body dies with death, but the spirit goes on to live for eternity (this is also coherent with the Law of Conservation of Energy, used in Physics & Chemistry, stating that energy cannot be created or destroyed, instead can only change from one form to another). Per ancient texts, the soul aggregates all a person’s moral and immoral deeds in their body. It aches when doing terrible deeds, but it makes one feel happy when performing moral, intrinsically good actions. However, if the cumulative effect somehow doesn’t lead to cleansing and a person’s ‘Karma’ does not meet the requirements of ‘Dharma’, the spirit will continue to endure and resurrect. As a result, ‘karma’ has a powerful linkage to the soul and reincarnation. 

Karma Yoga (Discipline of Action) 

Lord Krishna was a leading embodiment of Karma yoga. He led a worldly existence while never forgetting his responsibility to defend Dharma and save the world from sin and injustice. He fully supported intrinsic worth without being caught up in the material world’s charm or exhibiting any prejudice and bias. Furthermore, he aided the Pandavas to terminate injustice and reinstate Dharma in the universe, which was in decline at that time. 

Some critics may criticize Krishna and the Pandavas’ conduct during and after the grand battle of Kurukshetra, but it is equally important to note here that Krishna had no personal stake in the war. He had even sworn that he would lift no weapon or display any physical prowess, no matter how long the battle endures. He did not gain any personal benefit from the war, instead, that war had an impact directly on society and its karmic direction as a whole. He put the core concepts of Karma yoga into effect when he committed to these actions and took those decisions. 

When we read the chapter in Bhagavad Gita where Krishna had shown Arjuna his ultimate form, Krishna admitted that he had already foreseen the outcome of the war and that his only role was to assist in the unfolding of the divine plan. Krishna’s Karma yoga is reflected prevalently in all his teachings throughout the Bhagavad Gita and its slokas. 

None of us can escape karma, however with the guidance of karma sanyasa yoga, one can escape the repercussions that may arise resultantly. This is the wisdom that the Bhagavad Gita provides us. 

The Bhagavad Gita emphasizes knowledge-based action and ‘sanyas’ as a way of accomplishing freedom from the repercussions of one’s deeds. ‘Sanyas’ refers to the abandonment of desire-driven activity, whereas ‘Tyag’ refers to the surrender of the deed’s fruit. Both attributes are found in a genuine Karma yogi. Not someone who surrenders action or the hallowed fire, but the pure sanyasi is the one who executes his labour without anticipating the result of his activities (Chapter 6: Sloka 1). 

If tasks are carried out based on wants, attachments and an egocentric intent, one must accept full responsibility for all consequent actions and their results. One must accept, the sorrow brought by committing sins and the happiness by performing positive deeds, equally. The individual has no genuine liberty from the restrictions and constraints of earthly existence in either situation. Undertaking deeds based on self-serving intent and greed, believing that one is the implementer, and desiring to reap the benefits, binds man to a cycle of enslavement and deception. He who believes he is the author of his deeds is merely a misled soul, unaware of the reality about the guna spheres and their role in constraining activities. Such a misled soul must confront the repercussions of his acts, both good and evil when acting out of wants and attachments, to enjoy the fruition of his deeds. In this world, heavenly regions, or infernal realms beyond death, a man may receive either grief or happiness depending on the kind of his deeds. 

The Final Word – Who is a Karma Yogi 

 Bhagavad Gita hence teaches us that the genuine awakened Karma yogi is the one who is aware of the difference between action and inaction (4.17). He realizes who a true man of action is and how the gunas (qualities or attributes) compel people to act. He is aware, of how certain actions bind him to misery and pain, while others lead him to liberation. He is conscious that just his senses are involved with the subject of his perceptions while he executes his acts, and hence remains indifferent. As a result, even when executing actions, he becomes dormant and remains unmoved by the consequences of his endeavors, much like a lotus leaf is immune to the muddy water around it. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

What according to Gita is the soul’s relationship with the body?  

The soul connects with the body, its actions, and its karmic repercussions because one is ignorant of his connection with Krishna. However, when the spirit soul realizes its true place, it understands that it is separate from the body and its activity. It becomes aware of the soul as an eternal element, not in unison with the material body. Then karma is no longer the sole focus of one’s life. 

How is it feasible that sinful individuals enjoy life without suffering the consequences of their actions?

You can think of karma as a deadly virus. Sometimes symptoms appear immediately, sometimes there is a time gap. However, after you’ve been infected, it’s just a matter of time before the symptoms occur.