Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Vedanta - Part 51

VEDĀNTA the solution to our fundamental problem
D. Venugopal

D. Venugopal is a student of Swami Paramarthananda and a direct disciple of Pujya Swami Dayananda. He has successfully completed the long-term residential course in Vedanta and Sanskrit conducted from May 2002 to July 2005 at the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, Anaikatti.




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I - Should not jïäna be combined with karma to gain mokña?

We may now look into some of the major diverging views and their refutation to gain greater clarity of the vision of Vedänta. Even within the fold of Veda, the Pürva-mémämsakas hold the radically different view that Veda is meant to enjoin karma and that the statements that are not connected to an injunction are useless [317]. Only karma can produce results and not jïäna. As such, the revelation that ätmä is Brahman cannot by itself confer mokña. Karma enjoined by Veda should be necessarily performed for gaining it. Karma is the basic requisite and jïäna is the auxiliary means (aìga) for gaining the fruit of mokña [318]. Çaìkaräcärya takes every opportunity in his commentary to rebut this stand comprehensively [319]. He reasons on the following lines.


• Karma-käëòa and jïäna-käëòa are poles apart [320] even though they are two parts of the same Veda. Their subject matters are fundamentally different in nature. Karma is the means for producing a desired result and doing it is entirely dependent on the doer [321]. Jïäna, on the other hand, is for knowing a thing as it is. The knower exercises no choice over the knowing [322] and is obliged to use the appropriate means of knowledge for the purpose. He cannot use karma for the purpose, since karma has no capacity to provide knowledge. So, in their very nature, there is no scope for jïäna and karma to work in combination.

• Knowledge reveals the non-dual reality. But action, which involves duality in the form of the means and the end, the doer and the deed, conceals the reality. Their co-existence is thus absurd.

• It is not possible for karma to yield mokña. The fruits of karma are production, reaching another place, attaining some object, effecting a modification or purification [323]. Wholeness cannot be produced since whatever is produced would be limited. It cannot be brought into being by modification as whatever is modified is subject to time and would be lost. It cannot be obtained by purification, as what was once impure would again become impure. As for reaching or attaining it, there is no need for it as it is already the self. It cannot, therefore, be the result of karma at all. Wholeness is already present but it is not known. Gaining what is lost through ignorance can only be through knowledge and not through karma.

• Karma and jïäna cannot be combined as they serve mutually contradictory purposes. The person doing karma and the person seeking jïäna have necessarily to be different as their diagnosis of their problem and its solution are discordant. A person seeks jïäna after knowing through discriminative enquiry that the wholeness that he seeks cannot be obtained through karma. Out of this viveka, he develops dispassion towards karma, withdraws from inessential activities and seeks jïäna for gaining knowledge of his wholeness [324]. The person engaged in karma considers, on the other hand, that through the performance of karma prescribed in karma-käëòa, he can gain what he desires and be fulfilled [325]. He is yet to know that he cannot get the completeness, which is what he is really after, through karma and is yet to develop viveka and vairägya. He is yet to realize that only jïäna can solve his problem. If at all, he may have only a passing interest in seeking jïäna. Nor is he now eligible to seek it as only a person who performs karma as a karma-yogé becomes qualified to seek knowledge. So, he will be committed only to karma. The seeker of jïäna, on the other hand, would not be pursuing karma, since he knows that karma does not bestow self-knowledge. Thus, neither of them will be committed to both.

• Karma perpetuates bondage, since we have to be born again to experience the puëya and päpa that we have earned through our actions. So, karma, which is the cause for saàsära and jïäna which destroys saàsära are mutually contradictory like light and darkness and cannot be brought together even by hundred injunctions.

• It is incorrect to say that karma ordained by Veda cannot be given up, since Veda itself prescribes sannyäsa as a stage of life in which karma is abandoned to gain self-knowledge from a guru.

• Çruti, which indicates the means for various ends, nowhere prescribes any karma for gaining mokña. On the other hand, it is categorical at numerous places that attainment of self-knowledge is itself mokña [326].

• Mokña is not produced by knowledge. Knowledge only removes the ignorance, which is the cause of bondage. Mokña is always an existent fact, being the essential nature of ätmä. That is why mokña is by knowledge alone.


Çaìkaräcärya concludes that the antithesis between jïäna and karma is irremovable like a mountain. He adds that the only manner in which karma can be connected with jïäna is through its contributory role for purifying the mind, thereby making it receptive to jïäna. He points out in this regard that recitation (svädhyäya) of Veda and performance of karma in a spirit of dedication to Éçvara (karma-yoga) purify the mind. The seeker usually practices these.

317. ämnäyasya kriyärthatväd änarthakyam atadarthänäà ... (Jaimini Sütra, 1.2.1.)
318. This is called jñäna-karma-samuccaya-vada.
319. Çaìkaräcäryä’s introductory commentary to Kena Upaniñad and Éçäväsya Upaniñad.
320. düramete viparéte (Kaöha Upaniñad, 1.2.4.)
321. It is puruña-tantram.
322. It is vastu-tantram.
323. These are called utpädyam, äpyam, präpyam, vikäryam and samskäryam.
324. This is called nivåtti-märga or the path of release from bondage. This is also referred to as çreyas.
325. This is called pravåtti-märga or the path of activity. If it is for worldly gains, it is referred to as preyas.
326. Brahmaveda brahmaiva bhavati. Anyone who knows Brahman becomes Brahman indeed. (Muëdaka Üpaniñad, 3.2.9.) Tamevaà vidvänamåta iha bhavati |One becomes immortal here by knowing that (Brahman) in this way. (Puruñasüktam, 7.) Section II is based essentially on Swami Dayananda, The Teaching Tradition of Advaita Vedanta, p. 9 – 11.

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Page last updated: 18-Jun-2018