guṇaiḥ karmāṇi sarvaśaḥ
kartāham iti manyate
The spirit soul bewildered by the inﬂuence of false ego thinks himself the doer of activities that are in actuality carried out by the three modes of material nature. – Bhagavad Gita 3.27
The unique contour of goodness, passion, and ignorance in each living being compels the being to act and react in a subtly peculiar way. But, under the influence of false ego we think that we are the doers.
Why am I not the doer? I think, I act, I react, but still I’m not the doer! So, a murderer is not a murderer, and a philanthropist is not an altruist. Then why am I bothered about transformation and all? Can this non-doership rip off our laurels and absolves us of our sins? The big story of this universe seems so meaningless in the knowledge of this idea if we understand it independently.
Is Krishna not contradicting Himself when He tells Arjuna, “Thus I have explained to you knowledge still more conﬁdential. Deliberate on this fully, and then do what you wish to do.”(BG 18.63)? Why would the supreme intelligent being contradict in a manner so obvious to humans? How do we reconcile contradictory patterns? What appears contradictory to our mind and senses is harmonious in the eternal world.
By referring to scriptures and under the tutelage of the bonafide parampara, spiritual teachers explain the deeper meaning of the verse 3.27. Srimad Bhagavatam teaches us that Krishna’s Ksirodakshayi Vishnu form is known to us as Paramatma who accompanies each soul in our journey through 84 million species. We hop from one body to another. The most dominant and consistent desires that occupy our minds and bodies in a birth and at the time of death determine our next specie. Krishna’s external energy, Mahamaya, runs the material worlds and gives us those experiences that Paramatma approves for us. So in this trio, living entity (soul) is the desirer, Paramatma is the approver, and material energy is the provider.
On the material plane, three modes of nature that influence us are: goodness, passion, and ignorance. In Sanskrit, the modes are called gunas, which also means ropes. So these three types of ropes control our experiences until we’re liberated and have taken refuge in Krishna. We’re layered with false ego, knowledge-giving senses, working senses, mind, and material intelligence. With so much of layering, our thoughts and actions can’t be free and uncontaminated. So, Krishna says, Pratima, you’re actually a soul who under the influence of false ego, thinks that you’re the doer in your life, when actually your unique configuration of gunas is controlling you. You asked for it, Pratima, He says. You desired to experience independently of me, so I sent you to the world where desirers like you are trying to be the controllers in everything they do.
As long as we’re controlled by our desires, our non-doership remains under the contaminated influence of Mahamaya. And, we act like a drunkard who sways on a lonely road on a dark night and falls in a ditch until someone helps him out. As soon as we take refuge of Krishna, Yogamaya sets us free from the layers of illusion and adorns us with the effulgence of love, our original svarupa, and we become eternally free. Krishna says, “Therefore get up. Prepare to ﬁght and win glory. Conquer your enemies and enjoy a ﬂourishing kingdom. They are already put to death by My arrangement, and you, O Savyasācī, can be but an instrument in the ﬁght.” –BG 11.33 When we’re truly free, we want to become an instrument of Krishna’s will. We want to serve Him. And in this highest state of consciousness, we realize that we’re only His instruments, not the doers. So, this non-doership does absolve us our sins, but doesn’t rip off our laurels. Souls who become instruments of Krishna are glorified eternally. The world reveres them, looks up to them, takes their shelter. Arjuna, Prahlad, Hanuman became instruments of Lord’s will, while Ravana, Dhuryodhana, Karna fell prey to the illusionary energy who’s subservient to the Lord.
“If gunas control me, how can I be free to actually use my minute freewill?” I once asked my Bhagavad Gita teacher. “Gunas compel us, they don’t propel us.” he answered. Performing austerities under the guidance of a bonafide teacher and chanting the holy name purify us of material contamination. Chanting of the holy name awakens the dormant love in our hearts and makes us eligible to enter the spiritual world.
To remain conscious of the truth that if I’m not an instrument of Krishna, I’m serving maya can free us of false laurels and irreversible sins.
A couple of months ago the maya of my mind attacked my spiritual practice. My mind made me appreciate my discipline and sincerity. I thought of how restless I used to be hopping from one idea to another, one practice to another. Always restless! In everything I did. My devotional practice dissolved all old patterns, and broke all past records. No yoga or kriya could keep me engaged for more than 20-days or a month. I would mock the idea of joining a spiritual institution and following any guru. The mental review of past life brought a sense of appreciation for my discipline and sincerity along with the sense of gratitude for Krishna and Vaishnavas. Krishna takes personal interest in His devotees even neophytes like me. He treats each of us uniquely and connects with us personally. I’m a neophyte who is still learning to crawl. Only a few days would have passed and I started finding it hard to chant my rounds. Scripture study became a formality, and I started skipping it too often. But, Krishna doesn’t let us fall away. From within my heart He reminded me of the self-appreciation and guided me that all the potency I use in my spiritual activities is instilled by Him. By revoking my ability to practice properly, He made me realize that on my own I can’t accomplish anything. In a moment He can deprive me of my gifts and make me insolvent. But He doesn’t want to … So, my mind made me think that I was the doer, and Krishna reminded me that I’m His instrument.
I want to wrap up this post with two intense verses from Sri Śikṣāṣṭakam. Take a few deep breaths and in a prayful mood try to feel the depth of these golden words that Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu have left for us:
tṛṇād api sunīcena/taror api sahiṣṇunā/amāninā mānadena/kīrtanīyaḥ sadā hariḥ
“Chant the holy name of the Lord in a humble state of mind, thinking oneself lower than the straw in the street. One should be more tolerant than the tree, devoid of all sense of false prestige and ready to offer all respects to others. In such a state of mind one can chant the holy name of the Lord constantly.” (Śikṣāṣṭaka 3)
ashlishya va pada-ratam pinashtu mam/adarshanan marma-hatam karotu va/yatha tatha va vidadhatu lampato/mat-prana-nathas tu sa eva naparah
I know no one but Krishna as my Lord, and He shall remain so even if He handles me roughly by His embrace or makes me brokenhearted by not being present before me. He is completely free to do anything and everything, for He is always my worshipful Lord unconditionally. (Śikṣāṣṭaka 8)