Chapter 4 – Jnana Karma Sanyasa Yoga

Yoga of accomplishing eternal joy (sanyasa) through knowledge (janana) and work (karma)

This chapter is mainly targeted to a seeker… someone who is searching for deeper purpose, a state free of problems / mental agony, a source of eternal joy. Think of Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Beetles’ George Harrison, Julia Roberts and many others who have sought the insights of Vedanta to understand deeper meaning of life. This chapter is for seekers like them.

To understand this chapter better, lets pick a techie, we will call him Mark, from the Silicon Valley. Mark has everything money can buy but is still in pursuit of deeper meaning of life. Mark meets his friend Steve who’s figured it all out after he went through some transformation few years back. Here is the conversation between – Mark asking the questions and Steve providing the answers.

Q – Why am I not happy? Even though I have everything, it always feels like something is missing. Events in my life are moving from one state of suffering to another state of suffering. The joy of a new home, a new girlfriend, a new car seems to last only for a while before I get disinterested in them and pursue something else. What can I do about it?

A – There is one indisputable fact in every eastern philosophy that states “Desire is the cause of suffering”. As we accept the fact that Gravity causes things to fall on ground, similarly it’s an accepted fact for the ancient eastern philosophers that desire eventually causes suffering. The more you desire for material and non-material things, you are creating for yourself guaranteed misery. Any work done that’s driven by desire is sure to create an unintended consequence of suffering in the long run.

QEvery work we do is surely motivated by some desire. Going to school, getting good grades, getting a job, starting a company etc. are all driven by desire for money, power, health, pleasure etc. Does it mean one should not desire anything in life and by extension not work at all?

A – Laws of nature operate impartially on everyone and everything. All desire driven actions surely causes suffering. You can never satiate all your desires. It’s much easier to accomplish the desire compared to dealing with the pain / suffering that comes later. Look at your own life. You have worked all your life to quickly accumulate things you desired for and see where you have landed. Desire fulfillment and suffering are two parts of the same coin. However it does not mean that you stop working. If everyone stops working, there will be absolute chaos and no meaningful progress made in this world.

It is critical to understand the difference between ‘selfish desire driven work’ and ‘selfless passion driven work’. As I said, the former will surely result in suffering and unhappiness. However as you know when work in itself becomes an act of joy i.e. the joy of work is not in the eventual outcome but the very process of work is the goal, then such a work will lead one to joy and happiness. This is the ‘Yoga of Work’ (Chapter 3). Think about a musician. Is it the end of the music that gives the musician joy or the performance itself? All great accomplishments we have seen in the history are delivered by individuals who selflessly worked for a greater good and derived joy in their work. Their goal was definitely not selfish money making or pleasure seeking. Anyone that worked for only money, pleasure, power, etc. found themselves miserable in the end (4.1, 4.2, 4.11, 4.12).

Q- What’s wrong with me that I am feeling all these strange emotions. People around me seem to be going on with their lives normally. Is it just me?

A- We all have a soft inner voice of reason, a moral compass, something that inherently knows right from wrong, good from bad e.g. when you are in a dilemma somewhere deep inside you hear the right answer. This soft inner voice is also a non-judgmental witness to all our actions in all our states of conscious, unconscious, dream state, deep sleep state, etc. For many that are in constant pursuit of material / non-material pleasures, this inner voice is not easily accessible. Only few people who have deeply understood the futility of all our material pursuits are able to tap into this inner wisdom and free themselves from the grind / suffering caused by desire driven actions.

Sometimes, when social evils take power and the society witnesses rampant oppression, lawlessness, corruption, etc. then this inner voice of reason becomes very powerful in masses and manifests in form of revolution, public upraising, independence movements, rebellion, etc. History is rife with examples where an invisible force brought masses together towards a common purpose to achieve / restore all things that nature bestowed upon us such as freedom, liberty, equality, access to basic necessities, etc.

You have two choices to deal with your situation a) ignore your inner calling that you are experiencing and get back into desire driven actions, continue to pursue material and non-material happiness / pleasures and learn to deal with suffering like many do OR b) learn to access this inner wisdom through observation, contemplation, meditation and achieve freedom from suffering by getting rid of desire driven action and repurposing your actions for greater good (4.5, 4.6, 4.7, 4.8, 4.9, 4.10, 4.14, 4.15, 4.16)

Q- I am not sure I am made for sitting in one place to do meditation, contemplation etc. I am a very competitive, aggressive, restless and goal driven person. Even in my pursuit of finding meaning / purpose of life, I still carry the same approach of competitiveness, restlessness, etc. Am I set-up for success in my pursuit?

A- When you say ‘I’ am this or that… what do you exactly mean by this ‘I’? Who exactly is this ‘I’? Is it your physical body made up of water, carbon and minerals? Or do you mean your mind that gives meaning to the inputs provided by your senses? Or is ‘I’ your intellect that stores all the memories, makes decisions, creates experiences, etc.? Or does it mean your ego that creates the sense of self which helps you survive by forcing decisions to meet ‘self’ish needs?

Your body, mind, intellect and ego are made up of elements of nature just as everything we see around us such as trees, mountains, clouds, animals, stars, planets are also made up of the elements of nature. We all are made from the star dust. Sankhya Philosophy believes the elements of nature have 3 Gunas or qualities / characteristics –

  1. Sattva – This quality is characterized by purity, fineness, subtlety. You identify Sattva by its brightness, lightness and ability to emanate joy.
  2. Rajas – This quality is characterized by activity and motion. You identify Rajas by its restlessness, hyperactivity, passion, desire, change etc.
  3. Tamas – This quality is characterized by inertia and inaction. You identify Tamas by negligence, indifference, inactivity, ignorance, insensitivity, gives pain, negative outlook etc.

Sankhya philosophy argues that we all have some combination of all these three Gunas and our personalities are fundamentally shaped by the constituents of these three Gunas.

Certain jobs require certain personalities / traits / gunas.

  • A Scholar / Scientist requires Sattva personality
  • A Warrior / Soldier requires Rajas personality
  • A Businessman / Entrepreneur requires a combination of Sattva and Rajas personality
  • People with Tamas personality generally end up not making much of themselves and hence get to work on menial jobs.

These personalities are mostly influenced by nature and only with extreme heroic hard work one can change ingrained personality. The very fact you are asking questions relating to higher purpose of life and are curious to understand the nature of desire and suffering clearly signals you are a mix of Rajas and Sattva personalities. With some effort, you can achieve success in your pursuit. (4.13)

Q- What do I exactly do to free myself from this sense of hopelessness / meaninglessness of life?

A- There are many ways to accomplish your end goal of finding meaning and joy in life depending on your personality type. As I said, it all starts with the basic fact that desire causes suffering and all your efforts to gain joy back in your life is to manage your desires / expectations. By developing Yagna mindset i.e. repurposing all your actions to selflessly serve others for the greater good, you can overcome suffering. Below are some approaches to perform Yagna for various personality types –

Strong Willed / Disciplined – Desire predominantly starts with our senses and creates a want in mind. Controlling the senses and avoiding the situation or connection with sense objects is one of the ways to overcome desire. For example it’s much easier to say no to a rich cake that is ‘not in front of you’ than the one that is available on your plate. Avoiding sense objects through will power and discipline to a large extent stops want creation in mind. Other practices include meditation, breath control exercises (pranayama), austerities such as fasting, celibacy, voluntary poverty, etc.

Empathetic / Compassionate – Donation, charity, helping poor, etc. Just as Warren Buffet and Bill Gates are giving away their wealth , if you develop an ability to give away everything you have for the greater benefit of the society, you will have a more meaningful life.

God Fearing / Religious – Developing a sense of being God’s instrument to advance divine goals, deeply knowing that I am not the doer and I am just a means through which the supreme intelligence operates helps destroy all selfish desires in the long run. Also seeing everything around us as God’s creation and when the separate identity of the self merges into the overall creation, joy returns back to life.

Intellectual / Knowledge Seeker – Through intellectual contemplation on the nature of desire, suffering, ego, mind, senses, one can relinquish desires and achieve eternal joy in life. This contemplation should be complemented with study of philosophy, scriptures and discussions with the learned. This approach requires very scientific outlook to question everything and empirically test every hypothesis. The seeker of this path of knowledge is eventually able to achieve everlasting joy by performing selfless work with passion for the benefit of others.

All the above approaches solve the same problem and reaches the same destination. One will know the problem is solved when day today problems of life do not cause mental agony i.e. the problems will never go away. It’s just they have no lasting impact on the individual. Few other signs of reaching the end state are – feeling of oneness with everybody and everything; the mind is stable in the present and no problems from the past or concerns about the future cause any anxiety; one’s focus and concentration is intense and long lasting. (4.18, 4.19, 4.20, 4.21, 4.22, 4.23, 4.24, 4.25, 4.26, 4.27, 4.28, 4.29, 4.30, 4.31, 4.32, 4.35)

Q- There are many choices above. Is there one approach that is superior to other approaches?

A- The path of Knowledge is the most superior of the approaches. Knowledge is the most valuable resource available to human beings and it helps them lead a more meaningful life. Only knowledge can motivate individuals to work for the benefit of society and overcome all selfish needs. Learning about this approach from another seeker who has figured it out is the most efficient way to practice this path. Knowledge alone has the capacity to heal all the past mistakes and overcome all damaging emotions of guilt, shame, humiliation, etc. Only through knowledge one can remain steadfast in the moment of present that is not disturbed by past events and future anxieties. The seeker of the path of knowledge should have three guiding principles –

  1. Shraddha – When we first begin learning we encounter teachings / concepts that make no sense and that seem wildly counter-intuitive to the way we experience ourselves and the world around us. Shraddha is the ability to stick to the path with trust and suspension of doubt.
  2. Tatpara – is to be eagerly engaged in learning. This is an attitude of being deeply engrossed in learning at the exclusion of everything that hinders learning.
  3. Samyat Indriya – is the control of senses, mind and intellect. The biggest enemy of learning is distraction. Samyat Indriya is an ability to control thoughts and actions away from distractions.

In this life nothing is more important than knowledge. (4.33, 4.34, 4.36, 4.38, 4.39, 4.40)

My Notes Chapter 4