Enlightenment & Non-Attachment

Lord Krishna has been bringing up non-attachment since chapter two. Now we are hearing about how to get unattached, but the solution is almost as enigmatic as the problem.

“In this world, one is bound by action, except for actions for the purpose of sacrifice. Free of attachment, act for this purpose, Arjuna.”  — Verse 9

Attachment – bond, fetter

What is attached to what?

The above verse appears to suggest that you are attached to things and that you shouldn’t be. It reads like that. It feels like that. But it is not you that is attached.

What gets attached to things is one or more of your senses. That is what needs to become “free of attachment”. You cannot become free of attachments until the senses themselves become separated from the things they attach to, their ‘objects’. This happens automatically when the sense organs become separated from the sense faculties* in meditation (pratyahara).

You appear to be attached to things
due to identification with the
body and senses.

* Sense faculties - your powers of perception; your ability to see, hear, etc.

Freedom, liberation

Non-attachment comes in stages and over time through the consistent practice of meditation. At first, it shows up as you finding your meditation practice more desirable than other things, i.e., objects of sense (everything ‘out there’ qualifies for this label). Then one day in your meditation, you have your first direct experience and become completely enamored of your practice—you had a taste of true non-attachment when your sense faculties became separated from their physical organs, and you had a profound experience. Now you are hooked, and you want more.

In later stages of Yoga, other kinds of ‘attachments’ reveal themselves, but no worries, they will be dealt with in due course in the same way. One example is khechari mudra, where the tongue begins to try to rise up into the pharynx and can’t because it is ‘attached’. The point is, it is not you that is attached. It never has been.

You will remember that I said earlier that my own perspective is surrender, which is not well-known. It is traditional in that it has a lineage of masters a mile long, but the practice itself will not be known or understood by someone outside of it. So the solution is going to be different than would be the case with a more widely known form of yoga sadhana. Not being of such a path, I do not feel qualified to speak on this subject from that perspective, but can give you an idea of the solution to non-attachment according to my own path.

The Solution


Enlightenment is said by some to have been reached when there is no ego, no ‘me’. But as long as there is a form, there is some degree of ego*, and as long as there is a mind, there is an ego, for it is the very core of the mind. I tend to think of the ‘me’ as a simple misidentification, and that the way to undo this is through realization of non-doership, which separates you from nature (that stuff ‘out there’) and is true non-attachment, and the highest enlightenment.

The realization of non-doership happens when you realize that you don’t do anything and never have. This is not limited to realizing that it’s the Real You that does nothing, but that even the you that you think you are does nothing. It just looks like it does. All action is just nature doing her thing. When you get this you’re done with karma. You are not compelled to come back here to this world again. This is why non-attachment is necessary for achieving moksha, liberation.

* Ego - Sanskrit, ahamkara - 'I do'.


Surrender is not the same thing as the innocence of childhood but it looks a lot like it, and by thinking about it this way, you’ll get an idea of what I mean by ‘surrender’. The only real difference between innocence and surrender is that you are conscious of surrendering in meditation because you have chosen it, you have something specific to surrender, and you have surrendered it to something specific: God, or whatever your word is for that. Whereas a child is just doing what comes naturally. What they both have in common is this natural spontaneity.

Lest you be like a little child you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Because what we really are is currently occupied with being imperfect humans, this surrender is limited to the meditation room. If we could master all five of the yamas and all five of the niyamas here in this world, we could let this restriction go, but I do not recommend that you assume yourself to have reached this exalted state. However, if you have, I bow at your holy feet.

Direct perception is a direct experience, but direct experience is not necessarily direct perception.

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

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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.

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?


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

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III:6-8 The Dharma of Action

The role of ‘action’ in spiritual evolution. 

My own orientation, Surrender Meditation, is strongly reflected in my commentary on these verses, 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.

He who sits, trying to maintain restraint of his powers of action, even though remembered things stir his mind, is deluded. He is said to be self-deceived.

Previously, we learned that it is not possible to maintain inaction with our will, that nature will outwit us at every turn. Now Lord Krishna goes on to say that if we believe we can overcome this, we are fooling ourselves.

But one who, indifferent to outcomes, his inner power unrestrained, Arjuna, undertakes Karma Yoga with his powers of action, is superior.

Alternate translation:
But one who, without attachment, using the mind to control the senses, Arjuna, engages his powers of action in the Yoga of Action, is superior.

There is quite a difference between these two translations. My own, the first, is not consistent with any other translations I have found. This does not surprise me, as my own orientation of surrender sadhana is a radical approach to meditation and yoga sadhana in general. The second translation is consistent with traditional yoga.

I wanted you to see the difference, and how Sanskrit can be translated and applied to one’s own orientation. This is the beauty of Sanskrit: It expresses Truth so well that it can be relevant to several perspectives at once. This is not a fault, but a gift of the shastras (spiritual texts). 

Manasa ( मनसा ), the ‘internal instrument’ ( अन्तःकरण )

The word for ‘mind’ in this verse refers to antakarana*, the ‘internal instrument’ of perception and cognition—the faculty (the ability, power or inner-cause), not the physical sense organs.

*Antakarana - the 'internal instrument', the power to think, feel, and know; the emotions, conscience, and soul: anta - inner, karana - cause.

We are being reminded that we have the inherent ability to know, think and feel, and that these powers are not going anywhere. It is in this sense that the word manasa, mind, is used in this verse.

The ability to know, think and feel are powers of our Real Selves and cannot be put down by our will, as they are characteristics of our true selves. And, considering what they are, why would we want to do this anyway? Understanding this, we should not be despairing of these activities of the ‘mind’, even in meditation. This ‘internal instrument’ is what is behind the efficacy of Karma Yoga (Action Yoga). In fact, these powers are set free in Surrender Meditation, allowing for experiences beyond normal cognition.

Karma Yoga is most commonly applied to paths of service to guru and those in need, as a means of overcoming negative karma. Surrender sadhana is also Karma Yoga. In Surrender Meditation the mind is often active, and may even act as the ‘inner cause’ of kriyas, purifying actions that occur spontaneously in meditation.

Restrained or Unrestrained?

The word niyama is often translated as ‘observance’, in the sense of adherence to certain moral principles, and rites, rituals and ceremonies. But as a word, niyama can be understood as either ‘restrained’ or ‘unrestrained’, as its prefix (ni-) can either accentuate or negate the word attached to it (yama, to restrain). So, as with any verse, there is a traditional translation and an esoteric translation.

Whether the verse is translated as one’s “powerful internal instrument unrestrained” or “using the mind to restrain or control the senses,” along with indifference to outcomes it describes what is meant by Karma Yoga, the Action Yoga that Lord Krishna is urging Arjuna to take up. The only real difference is who or what is doing the restraining—you or God.

So you should take up this action, Arjuna. Action is certainly better than non-action, for even the maintenance of the body cannot be accomplished without action.

Lord Krishna has responded to Arjuna’s request in verses 1-3, where he asks Krishna to tell him specifically what to do. Krishna tells him to take the path of Action (Karma Yoga). Krishna further tells him that not acting will accomplish nothing, that it is not really possible to maintain inaction, so he may as well put action to good use and get on with his duty, his natural tendency, his own dharma: action.

Action Yoga
Karma Yoga

At this point it is important to remember the context: the clashing together of the opposing forces of sun-energy and moon-energy (ha-tha yoga, sun-moon union) that awakens Kundalini, the evolutionary force, in a very real way.* So we can assume that everything is leading up to this, and that once this has begun, we will expect more than growth: we will expect evolution.

* Kundalini awakens 'in a very real way'. Casual coffee house chats about kundalini's whereabouts, i.e., "My kundalini is in my sixth chakra now," will cease with this experience, and you may want to run. At this point, your good relationship with guru is as essential as Arjuna's.

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