IV:16 The Mystery of Action (Karma)

By now we have heard many teachings on ‘action’, and now, after all this, we suddenly find that no one really knows what it is! But once this riddle is solved, a corner is turned and progress flies like the wind.


What is action? What is inaction? Even the sages are confused about this, so I will explain it to you. Knowing this, you will be released from all misfortunes.

This verse is pivotal. It is going to be one of those places where some kind of mystery is hidden from obvious view. Surely what action is is obvious, but the verse suggests that it isn’t, so there must be something here that we may not know or understand correctly.

We are also presented with ‘inaction’, but it is the nature of nature to move, so how can there be any such a thing as inaction? To grasp what is being taught here, we must remember the context—Karma Yoga, or Action Yoga (chapter three).

“Even the sages are confused about this”
If the sages are confused about action and inaction we are surely looking at something very deep and very important that will not be immediately apparent to us, so let’s begin the hunt with a look at the word for ‘sage’:

In this verse, the word for ‘sage’, which is different than before, means ‘poet’.

If you want to remember something, put it in verse and meter and give it a little tune. This is what the sages did, and why we find so many mystical texts written in verse and meter. By putting teachings in verse and meter they are easily remembered and can be chanted, which reinforces the memory. (Remember this if you have children; it will help them with their school work.) This also makes written teachings nearly impossible to change and protects them from error and becoming obscured. This problem was discussed earlier.

The word for poet in Sanskrit also means ‘to describe or paint a picture’. In other words, we have a description that we can look at. The sages put teachings into rhythmic musical form to paint pictures of them so that we can see into them and glean their meanings. Scriptural teachings on Yoga have multi-layered understandings so that each of us can see Truth relevant to our own current phases of development, implying that because we make progress and change, so will our understanding.

“Knowing this”
The word for ‘knowing’ means ‘understanding what you know’. Understanding something is gained through experience, in this case, experience in meditation. But by the time one is a ‘sage’ much time has already been spent in meditation, and still the sage is confused. So where does that leave us?

This tells us not to expect to come upon the final answer overnight and without some means other than the usual mental logic. It must be experienced to be understood, and meditation is where you can experience it. It is useless for life in the fast lane. It is meant for sages—those with a meditation background who are deeply committed to realizing Truth and attaining liberation, and who use their meditation as a lab for gaining the necessary experience that ‘proves’ the teachings.

These hidden messages are always intended for sages and yogis so that they may become un-confused and continue to move forward, for there are places in the journey of yoga sadhana that one runs into seemingly unavoidable and unyielding obstacles. It is at these points that one must have a guru who understands through his or her own experience. But the author of the Gita, Vyasa, is taking the trouble to spell it out as best as He can in the awkward mode of written words.

Acquiring the necessary experience for understanding action begins with shaktipat diksha followed by a special practice that is not commonly known: Shaktipat Kundalini Yoga, Surrender Meditation.

“You will be released from all misfortunes”
The word for ‘misfortunes’ also means ‘disagreeable’ and ‘inauspicious’. This indicates that, even though we do yoga sadhana, these kinds of things may still be encountered but will not adversely affect us or our progress when we have correctly understood action and inaction, and have proceeded accordingly.


Think about yourself. How much of what comes to mind is nature (related to body, feelings, mind, personality, activity)? Now ask yourself who is noticing this.

Action and Inaction

All action is carried out by nature. One who is identified with nature experiences himself as the doer of action. Only one who is not identified with nature does not experience himself as the doer of action. Such a person, in effect, does nothing at all, and gets beyond the bondage and misfortunes of karma.

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

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Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2, Vs 16-21

Enlightenment, Self-realization, God-realization, Christ Consciousness… 

There is no coming to be of the non-existent. What is not non-existent is Real. These statements are understood by Knowers of Truth*.

The subject is sat — ‘the real; truth, existence; that which is without change, that which really is’.

“There is no coming to be of the non-existent. What is not non-existent is Real.”

• What is not real goes through changes. What is Real never changes.

• The unReal never is. The Real eternally remains.

• With the unReal nothing remains the same. The Real is ever-existent without modification.

• The changeless is what exists and is Real. Anything that can change does not really exist so it is not Real.

* The Knowers of Truth are the enlightened ones, the sages, those who have reached this understanding through direct experience.

Understand that that by which this universe is pervaded is imperishable, and that no one can destroy that which cannot be destroyed but endures always.

‘The Real’ is given more descriptors — it is ‘all-pervasive’, unlimited, everywhere always.

Self-reference:  What you really are has no limitations, is not located anywhere, is everywhere. You seem to have limitations and to be located somewhere, due to identification with the unReal.

These bodies, inhabited by the eternal, indestructible, immeasurable embodied one, come to an end. So fight, Descendant of Bharata!

“immeasurable” — all-pervasive and unlimited.

‘Descendant of Bharata’:  Krishna uses this epitaph of Arjuna’s to remind him that, having come into being from an original state of ‘continuous knowing’ (Bharata), he already knows all this and just needs to realize it.

Self-reference: God is reminding you that you already know this for the same reason.

He who imagines the embodied one to be a slayer, and he who imagines that the embodied one can be slain, does not understand. The embodied one does not slay, nor is it slain.

Krishna subtly weaves in the reality of ‘non-doership’ here:  What Arjuna truly is does nothing, so his arguments in previous verses have no foundation.

Self-reference:  What you really are is invulnerable, and what you really are never harms anyone. This is the basis of the first yama, ahimsa (harmlessness). Hurting others doesn’t work and can only cause your own downfall, because it is not possible for the Real You.

20 – 21
The embodied one is never born, nor does it die at any time. The embodied one is not a being, does not become a being, and will never become a being at any time in the future. It is birthless, eternal, and ever-existent. It is not slain when the body is slain.

How can anyone who knows this embodied one to be indestructible, eternal, birthless, and imperishable, kill or be killed?

Well obviously, this simply cannot happen. We are convinced!

Our bodies come into being, live for a while, and then they die, so by definition they are not Real, nor is anything in the world Real. If you don’t believe this, just try finding something that NEVER changes.

Self reference: The above verses suggest that what is Real is something that is constant. In other words, it is something that is always present no matter what is happening, what is going on around you, in the outside world or within. Think this over and look for this constant. Ask yourself what it is. There is an answer. It is below. Don’t look yet. Think it over and see if you can come up with the answer first, then take a peek.


Opposites Neutralized

In the unReal, the ‘relative’, everything is relative to and dependent upon everything else. The Real, the ‘absolute’, is unchanging, never-ending, true and constant existence. The relative (non-existent) describes what we are ‘being’, i.e., physical beings in a world of change. The absolute (existent) describes us as we really are.

Realizing this to be true, we can understand now, why polarizing opposites ultimately become neutralized, and why this is inevitable: they are unReal and we seek the Real. During the process, there is a state we can achieve in which opposites do not arise, where heat and cold, pleasure and pain, attraction and aversion, etc., do not arise and therefore do not exert any influence on us. This state is called Yoga (Union).

Namaste — I bow to the Divine One that you really are,
Durga Ma

Self-reference:  That which is constant no matter what, is YOU.

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Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 1, Vs 41-44

Ancient Mystical Writings – Download clear and simple translations in plain English from Durga Ma.

“Because of this [see previous verses], the family women are defiled. When the family women are defiled, caste becomes intermixed.

“The family women are defiled”

The word for ‘woman‘ here is stri, which means, ‘bearer of children’. There are other words for women, but women are mentioned specifically in this verse as the bearers of children. There is concern regarding the progeny of the male leaders of society who would lose control over the continuation of their line (‘family law’) if they were to lose control of the women. A woman knows who her children are, but a man can only know this if he controls the woman. This takes us back to the previous installment and the mention of “the destruction of family” causing the “family laws to be lost”. What would be lost is a clear male family line.

(Ladies: For an interesting interpretation of this, read this Translation and the Purport. Scroll down to page 83, and fasten your seat belts.)

“This intermixture is hell for the destroyers of the family and for the family as well, and indeed, the ancestors also fall, deprived of offerings of rice and water.

“By these wrongs of the family-destroyers, producing mixed caste, caste dharma disappears along with family dharma.

Dharma – laws, customs, traditions.

The word for caste means ‘race, species, kind, sort, character, nature, property, or quality’ and can be applied to people or things. Here it is referring to social classes into which the characteristics and abilities of people can be generally categorized, and which eventually became fixed and determined by birth, as was the case in the time of the Mahabharata war. The four castes are, Brahmin (God-people), Kshatriya (warriors and leaders), Vaishya (farmers, merchants, businessmen), and Shudra (servers).

In this verse, Arjuna is saying that the loss of family dharma (‘family laws’) would cause confusion about an individual’s caste. Because the caste system has become fixed and is determined by birth, this system would no longer be reliable with the destruction of controlled family lines based on male lineage.

“Men whose family laws have been obliterated, O Agitator of Men [Krishna], dwell indefinitely in hell, thus we have heard repeatedly.

We are to understand that this situation would be an unending hell for a man whose male family line has been destroyed. Another translation of this verse is, “Thus men whose family lines have been destroyed always live in hell, subordinate to women (literally, ‘one who waits on a child’, mothers).”

Maintaing ‘family laws’ has been a means of keeping society righteous, prosperous, and spiritually and morally virtuous. However, it is assumed that this can only happen in a patriarchy, but, much to Arjuna’s distress, here we have Krishna urging a war that will end all this.


Once again, unaware of the significant departure from the norm that this war represents for him, Arjuna resorts to what he has been taught. What he has been taught was valid and adequate when he learned it in the past, but he doesn’t realize that it is not sufficient for what he is up against now. What he sees as he looks upon the two opposing forces, is the destruction of those he holds dear, and the destruction of the proper order of things, a destruction that he believes will bring only suffering.

To understand these verses as they pertain to surrender yoga sadhana, we must begin to think beyond the concepts of ‘family’, hereditary ‘caste’, and ‘ancestors’ in the usual way. Considering the similarity of these, this statement from the previous installment reminds us of their place in understanding yoga: “…at another level ‘family’ (including caste and ancestors) brings to mind a genetic pool. DNA is one way of looking at the evolutionary force (kundalini) in its physical form, so we might assume that this ‘war’ will affect some transformative change (‘destruction’) within ‘the family law of the human body’ (DNA).”

We are being told that once the evolutionary force that Arjuna is about to deal with gets its way, things are going to change. As a result of this, there will be a new order, and the body is going to go through some interesting changes to get there.

Jaya Bhagavan,
Durga Ma

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