III:9 How to Cancel Your Karma

What we do creates karma, yet we cannot stop action, so how can we ever be free of our karma? This verse gives us the answer—the one kind of action that will not create karma, and will ultimately eradicate it entirely.

NOTE: My own orientation, Surrender Meditation, is strongly reflected in my commentary on these verses (9 -15), but it is certainly not the only valid perspective. So if your orientation is other than this, you can draw your own conclusions accordingly, with my blessings.

9
In this world, one is bound by action, except for actions for the purpose of sacrifice. Free of attachment, act for this purpose, Son of Kunti (Arjuna). 

We learned previously that ‘action’ and ‘karma‘ are synonymous, that it is what we do that creates our karma, but that we can’t stop action. This undoubtedly left us wondering how we could ever be free of our karma. This verse provides the answer. In it we find that there is one kind of action that does not create karma: sacrifice.

Now, we really don’t want to hear this, do we? The idea of sacrifice is repugnant to us. But do we understand what sacrifice really is, beyond our usual ‘no pain no gain’ thinking?

Sacrifice
Yajña

We in the West are used to thinking of sacrifice as bearing some horrible burden, giving until it hurts, martyring ourselves for the sake of some cause, or giving up our own lives for someone else’s. Then there is human sacrifice on a bloody altar, and on we go with utter distaste. But this is not what is meant by the Sanskrit word for sacrifice, yajña, as we are about to learn.

‘Sacrifice’ from an English Dictionary

The act of slaughtering an animal or person or surrendering a possession as an offering to God or to a divine or supernatural figure. An act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy.

To come to an understanding of what is meant by the word for ‘sacrifice’ in these verses, taking the Sanskrit apart tells us something interesting. Remember the word ana which we learned means ‘knowledge’ or ‘wisdom’? In the word for ‘sacrifice’ we find the same base: jña. The prefix, ya, points to something more specific. 

yajñ– ‘sacrificing, worshipping’ = sacrifice as a form of worship (i.e., rites, rituals, ceremonies, spiritual practices)
ya (this)a  (understanding of a knowable) = something specific to know and understand

The Sacrificial Offering

Common sacrificial offerings are food, flowers, fragrances, etc., things associated with the senses, and somehow, in some cases, the idea of human sacrifice even sneaks in. You are, after all, human, so sacrifice is human. Tweak this just a tiny bit and it is easy to arrive at ‘human sacrifice’.

Sacrifice is one of the most misunderstood subjects to be found in mystical texts. Human sacrifice as the sacrifice of one human being by another, is a misinterpretation, perhaps by chance, perhaps because of simple ignorance, or perhaps by a ‘priesthood’ with an agenda of its own. We mostly think of sacrificial rites of this kind as a thing of the past, but they are not, though these rituals are not commonly known for obvious reasons.

In this verse, it is said that if your actions are for the purpose of sacrifice you will not be bound by them. This is very appealing, as such freedom yields great power. When the logic of the mind comes up with ‘the more you sacrifice the more power you gain’, the mind can can also come up with human sacrifice for a bigger offering. Those who would argue that they know from experience that this really works are unaware that, sooner or later, they will pay, for such willful and harmful actions create profoundly negative karma that will come back to haunt them. Fortunately, most take sacrifice to mean doing service for others in need, and though this still creates karma, it is good karma.

All of these ideas about sacrifice miss the point. Krishna is not talking about ‘things’ or ‘people’, he is talking about actions. And he has made the stipulation that the action be without attachment, which is not the case with these misinterpretations. At best, some will produce ‘good’ karma, but it is still karma, and any karma at all—good, bad or in-between—is binding.

Karma (Action) Yoga
Action free of attachment to the action and its outcome. Karma Yoga is the sacrifice. 

Paints a different picture, doesn’t it? So now we get the idea that there is something more going on with ‘sacrifice’ than the usual understanding. The next few verses will tell us even more.

Surrender Meditation
The ‘human sacrifice’ of offering oneself to God in meditation and accepting ensuing actions as the work of shakti, the activating force, and not one’s own.

By giving up ownership and control of action in meditation, you remove yourself as the doer of action, so you don’t own or control the results of it either. You don’t own any of it, so you don’t owe anything for it. Ergo, no karma.

Namaste (I bow to the Divine One that You really are),
Durga Ma
durgama.com

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9 thoughts on “III:9 How to Cancel Your Karma

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  5. Okay, I think I have hit a fundamental non-understanding. In 7 Alternate translation, …using the mind to control the senses”, how does ‘mind – antakarana’ control the ‘senses’ in yog? I do understand ‘…his inner power unrestrained’. This is surrender to me. Still, I would like to be able to put together and understand the alternate translation.

    Can you help? Elucidate even more? I know I’m missing something. Have I not understood what the ‘senses’ actually are?

    Thank you, Durga Ma.

    Jaya Bhagavan!
    Ritam

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    1. RITAM: In 7 Alternate translation, …using the mind to control the senses”, how does ‘mind – antakarana’ control the ‘senses’ in yog?

      DURGA MA: It doesn’t. That’s my point. In traditional yoga one tries to control the senses through restraint using the mind. Yog, however, is about non-restraint. Any control or restraint that takes place is spontaneous and not of one’s own doing. It is the business of God, shakti.

      Antakarana is mentioned because it includes the sense faculties (not the organs), and with surrender (unrestrained), the sense faculties allow for spontaneous, direct perception. So even though something may be ‘restrained’ the issue is whether restraint came about through surrender (non-restraint) or will (restraint).

      I think you know all this. It was probably my switching places of the bold text translation of the verse with the alternate translation where my own perspective usually comes up.

      Love,
      Durga Ma

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      1. Dear Durga Ma,

        Thank you. You are correct that I do understand the principle of surrender and non-restraint in yog. Also doer and non-doer. I am having difficulty with the sense faculties (hearing, tasting, seeing, etc.) “allowing for spontaneous, direct perception”. In yog? Perception of what? Who is “doing”? What is being revealed in yog? What?
        I hope you can see through my confusion because I cannot. Sometimes it seems to my mind that so many things are complicated by words I cannot unravel. The meaning is so clear when I just think of surrendering and not restraining anything in yog, but where’s the glitch in my brain? Is it worth pursuing to a clear understanding? I’m thinking it must be. If not, please just let it go. No answer necessary. I can give up the struggle.

        Love,
        Ritam

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        1. Dear Ritam,

          “Allowing for spontaneous, direct perception”. In yog? Perception of what?”:

          Experiences like visions, sensory experiences of sound, light, etc., other lokas, meeting with yogis and adepts and others, that you KNOW is all REAL, are had because your sense organs are off-duty and your sense faculties are not. You are perceiving all these things directly in yog by the simple means of your own sense abilities (faculties). That is how you are seeing these things, feeling things and hearing, etc.—everything that you are experiencing. No one is doing anything, and you certainly know that you are not. All kinds of things and places and knowledge and other wonders are revealed to you.

          Love,
          Durga Ma

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          1. Oh, now I get it! And yes, this happens very often both in yog and out as well. Thanks for connecting the dots for me. Not sure why things seem so complicated to this brain sometimes.

            Love,
            Ritam

            Like

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