Satsang at Ganga Darshan

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

According to the law of karma, our destiny depends on our karma in the previous life. Yet what was our first karma that brought us into this world? Did we have any karma at all in our first period of life?

According to the theory of karma, every inherent cause has an inherent effect. Cause and effect are the two expressions of nature, the manifest or created world. The cause and effect of life is birth and death. Anybody who takes birth is going to die one day – that is the law governing life. Similarly, a seed contains all the genetic information of a tree. If the environment is right, the seed will become a mighty tree one day. If the conditions are not appropriate, it will remain a seed. If the seed does not become a tree, it does not mean that it is not affected by cause and effect. It means the karma did not get the right environment in which to express itself.

Our entire life is governed by karma, otherwise we would not be here. Animals have a karma, humans have a karma, trees have a karma, the elements have a karma, the entire creation has a karma. The biggest karma is transformation. What does not change in the world is change itself. In fact, another name for karma is change, change in an existing pattern and in the generation of a new pattern.

In human beings the seed of karma is desire. In animals it is instinct. Animals generate karma because of their instinctive nature. Sentient beings, such as human beings, generate karma because of desires; desires become the cause for the generation and expression of karmas. If one looks at the original karma from the point of view of yoga and the spiritual traditions, the cause of karma was the desire: “Eko ham bahusyamah – I am one, let me become many.” So human life and the karmas of human life are ruled and governed by desire.

Desire is also influenced by the conditioning of the society, culture, religion and so on. It is this desire that one has to observe and analyse in the process of yoga. The only indication that exists in yoga to measure the process of spiritual development is the reduction of desires. With the reduction of desires, there is reduction of karma, and with the reduction of karma, there is the experience of inner freedom. Taking charge of one’s life is the goal of all the traditions that advocate realisation, moksha, nirvana or samadhi.

——February 2002

We react through our intellect and pretend it’s from the heart. However, according to dharma, intellect or mind needs to be there. To what extent does the heart need to be there? Does the concept of thinking from the heart exist? Where is the dividing line between the mind and the heart? Is it possibly the same line between karma and dharma? Could karma be related to the heart and dharma to the intellect?

Don’t confuse karma and dharma with heart and intellect. Dharma and intellect have opposite natures. Intellect is a linear process. Dharma is a creative process. It’s like the difference between the right brain and the left brain. Dharma is a mixture of the left and the right. It is artistic, linear, mathematical and intuitive. Karma is the governing agent of the mind and the heart. It is not subservient to the heart or to the mind. It is the ruler of your life. How can you control the ruler of your mind through something that is not even remotely associated with it? So karma and dharma have nothing to do with the heart and mind.

Karma and dharma are eternal principles. Heart and mind change from moment to moment. If you try to link your karma or your dharma, then they are not karma and dharma any more. They become whims of your mind and heart. If you have had the experience of confronting the whims of the mind and the heart, do you want to go through the same again managing your karma and dharma? It will not work.

We are all guided by our karma. Action is karma, and the reaction of that karma should be dharma. This is the secret. In order to experience karma and dharma in our life, we have to use common sense, not necessarily the intellect or the heart. Common sense is guided by both the brain and the heart, never by just one. If it is guided by only one, it is not common sense. There has to be something common between the mind and the heart for them to function as a unit and to bring forth a positive result. Common sense always gives good results if you use it. Sometimes knowledge gives negative results, but common sense gives appropriate results. So the intellect has to be transcended and purified.

Sri Aurobindo said, “In the beginning intellect was my friend. Now intellect is a barrier. Transcend it.” This statement applies to everyone. Initially, intellect is used in an attempt to understand something that is incomprehensible to the mind. But there comes a time when this creates a block in the natural, spontaneous and innocent expression of the self. And then we begin to falter. Intellect becomes a barrier, and at that point one has to let go of the intellect.

What is the heart? Is it just an organ inside the rib cage, ticking away from the moment we are born to the moment we die, or is it a faculty? Just as intellect is a faculty of the brain, of antah karana, the heart is a faculty. In English heart means the physical organ, but the expression of the physical organ has not been defined. In Sanskrit it is defined as bhava, feeling, sentiment, an expression of innocence and simplicity which is not guided by the intellect or mind, but is natural and spontaneous. However, the faculty of the heart, the physical organ, is actually guided by the mind. The mind says, “This person is nice,” so the heart says, “Alright, I’ll accept what you are saying,” and empathy, a connection, develops. A few moments later there is a struggle and the mind says, “This person is not as nice as I thought earlier,” and the heart says, “Fine.” There is a break, so there is headache and heartache.

Right now it is not the heart that is guiding your mind, it is your mind that is guiding your heart, the intellect is guiding the bhavana. As long as the intellect is guiding the bhavana, we will face emotional and psychological struggle and conflict. This makes the heart faculty tainted and impure. Intellect covers the luminosity of the feeling of the heart and gives it a different colour. Even in bhakti, the heart’s feeling may be there, but the mind intervenes. Even when you see God or guru, instead of feeling joy at having experienced that connection, the mind intervenes and says, “Go and ask God when will I be free from my troubles? When will my suffering end?” What is the use of seeing God when your focus is on your suffering.

If you are on the right track, these thoughts should come to you naturally and spontaneously. You have to use your common sense, the common faculty of the heart and the intellect, to be able to discriminate between the appropriate and the inappropriate. When you are able to make this differentiation, you will become a yogi who knows the difference between the heart and the mind.

—December 2003

In the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna talks about action without expectation. If we don’t expect, from where will the motivation, inspiration and energy to act come?

There are two types of karmas: sakama, with expectation and desire, and nishkama, without expectation and desire. The fulfilment of personal desires is based on name, fame, power, money, security, and so on. The focus is external, social, personal, self-oriented and self-motivated. At this level we are seeking fulfilment and satisfaction. This is the focus of our actions in the world.

Nishkama means being disinterested, doing work without expectation. Now, it would be wrong to say that one can exist without expectations. There is expectation, but instead of a mundane, worldly expectation, the feeling is directed towards spiritual thoughts and God. Whenever we perform an action, we are responsible for the action and its outcome. The action can give us praise or abuse, it can give us monetary wealth or take it away. While performing actions, we are very conscious of what will lead to gain. If an action may lead to abuse, we will try to avoid it. If an action may result in our losing money, we will try to avoid it. We are constantly looking for ways to avoid the unpleasant – and this choice is known as sakama. Sakama means avoiding the unpleasant and working for the pleasant, that is, with expectation.

Nishkama, without expectation, involves actions with the mind fixed on spiritual, not worldly, thoughts. A servant has to perform many unpalatable activities, but does so by disidentifying with the action. The servant knows the outcome is the responsibility of the master giving the instructions. To become nishkama, free from expectations, one needs to have the same attitude towards God, to think of whatever one does as seva, service to God, to guru, to humanity. Expectations are caused by our association with the world, the senses and objects. Detachment from expectations is the result of going beyond the normal associations of the mind and connecting the mind with the higher reality.

We cannot create a transformation in the mind just by thinking that from today we will perform selfless actions. There has to be an awareness of performing actions, not with a vested interest, but to express our creativity and to ensure that whatever we do gives good results.

—October 2001

What is the difference and similarity between non-attachment and indifference?

Indifference means absence of caring, sympathy, participation and involvement. Non-attachment simply means that you are not obsessed by your attachments. When our feelings and emotional bonds are handled properly, it is non-attachment, and when they are not handled properly, it is attachment. Attachment is the outcome of identifying with the ego, desire or expectation. Non-attachment means observing that identification and managing the results, rather than being carried away by the force of the identification.

In attachment there is caring, sympathy, the need to possess, cherish, own, be happy and content. In non-attachment all these things remain; the only difference is that now you have the ability to manage the outcome of the attachment, and you are not obsessively involved with the object or area of attachment.

—October 2004

The Bhagavad Gita says to do karma but not for the fruits. In business, don’t you have to be aware of the fruits?

Being selfless does not mean that you do everything for free, as charity. Being selfless is an attitude in which the first consideration is the well-being of the other person. That consideration motivates your course of action and its implementation. Karma yoga is planning an action, anticipating both the positive and the negative, whereas karma is just running into action, without any anticipation of whether it is right or wrong, and then crying about it.

We have to change our perspective and attitude towards ourselves and towards our participation in life. Social ills, personal problems and conflicts will always exist in the world, and there is no way we can avoid or remove them. So it is advisable to learn how to accept and manage them. To manage them you don’t have to look for solutions in the scriptures, or from a counsellor, a book, a master or a teacher. You just have to work with yourself and cultivate a different dimension of your personality. This is the aim of yoga. It allows you to live just as the gentle, soft tongue lives surrounded by thirty-two strong, sharp and hard teeth.

—October 2004