Acts versus Knowledge
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       =======  Understanding Hinduism  =======

Acts versus Knowledge ( Pravritti-Nivritti)

Acts versus Knowledge

(The religion of ) Pravritti Dharma and Nivritti Dharma

"In this world there is a two fold path; the path of knowledge
of the Sankhyas and the path of action of the Yogis."
--The Bhagavad Gita, Ch 3, Verse

"The Vedic dharma (religion) is verily twofold, characterised by
Pravritti (social action) and Nivritti (inward contemplation),
designed to promote order in the world; this twofold dharma has
in view the true social welfare and spiritual emancipation of
all beings."

-Sri Shankaracharaya (A.D. 788-820)
One of the greatest philosophers of India.

From The Bhagavad Gita
Chapter 18, Verses 5, 6, 7 & 11

Acts of sacrifice, gift and austerity should not be abandoned, but should be performed ; sacrifice, gift and also austerity are the purifiers of the wise.
[Note: There are three types of Sacrifice,gift and austerity; Sattwic, Rajasic and Tamasic.]

But even these actions should be performed leaving
aside attachment and the desire for rewards.

Verily the renunciation of obligatory action (acts of sacrifice, gift and austerity) is not proper ; the abandonment of the same from delusion is declared to be Tamasic.

Verily, it is not possible for an embodied being to abandon actions entirely ; but he who relinquishes the rewards of actions is verily called a man of renunciation.

From the Mahabharata
Santi Parva, Section CCXLI
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Addressing his father, Suka said:
The declaration of the Vedas are twofold. They once lay down the command, "Do all acts." They also indicate the reverse saying, "Give up acts." Where do persons go by the aid of Knowledge and where by the aid ofActs? Indeed, these declarations about knowledge and acts are dissimilar and even contradictory. I desire to hear this. Do tell me this.

Vyasa said: I shall expound to thee the two paths, viz., the destructible and the indestructible, depending respectively upon acts and knowledge.Listen with concentrated attention, O child, to me, as I tell thee the place that is reached by one with the aid of knowledge, and that other place which is reached with the aid of acts. The difference between these two places, is as great as the limitless sky. These are the two paths upon which the Vedas are established; the duties indicated by Pravritti and those based on Nivritti.

By acts, a living creature is destroyed. By knowledge, however, he becomes emancipated. For this reason, Yogis who behold the other side of the ocean of life never betake themselves to acts. Through acts one is forced to take rebirth, after death, with a body composed of the six and ten ingredients.

Through knowledge, however, one becomes transformed into that which is Eternal, Unmanifest, and Immutable.

One class of persons that are however of little intelligence, applaud acts. In consequence of this they have to assume bodies (one after another) ceaselessly. Those men whose perceptions are keen in respect of duties and who have attained to that high understanding (which leads to knowledge), never applaud acts even as persons that depend for their drinking water upon the supply of streams never applaud wells and water tanks.

The fruit that one obtains of acts consists of pleasure and pain, of existence and non-existence. By knowledge, one attains to that where there is no occasion for grief; where one becomes freed from both birth and death; where one is not subject to decrepitude; where one transcends the state of conscious existence. By knowledge, one attains to Brahman, which is Supreme, Unmanifest, immutable, ever-existent, imperceptible, above the reach of pain, immortal, and transcending destruction; where all become freed from the influence of all pairs of opposites (like pleasure and pain, heat and cold, insults and compliments, happiness and unhappiness etc., where all become freed also of wish or purpose.

Reaching that stage, they cast equal eyes on everything, become universal friends and devoted to the good of all creatures. There is a wide gulf, O son, between one devoted to knowledge and one devoted to acts. Know that the man of knowledge, without undergoing destruction, remains existent forever like the moon on the last day of the dark fortnight existing in a subtle (but undestroyed) form.

As regards the man devoted to acts, his nature may be inferred from beholding the newborn moon, which appears like a bent thread in the firmament (subject to growth and decay). That person of acts takes rebirth with a body with eleven entities for its ingredients, that are the results of modification, and with a subtile form that represents a total of six and ten. The deity who takes refuge in that (material) form, like a drop of water on a lotus leaf, should be known as Kshetrajna (Soul), which is Eternal, and which succeeds by Yoga in transcending both the mind and the knowledge.

[Note: The soul resides in the body without partaking of any of the attributes of the body. It is, therefore, likened to a drop of water on a lotus leaf, which, though on the leaf, is not yet attached to it, in so much that it may go off without at all soaking or drenching any part of the leaf.]

Tamas, Rajas, and Sattwa are the attributes of the knowledge. The knowledge is the attribute of the individual soul residing within the body. The individual soul, in its turn, comes from the Supreme Soul. The body with the soul is said to be the attribute of jiva (embodied soul). It is jiva that acts and cause all bodies to live.

Of knoweldge, there is no end

From The Mahabharata
Aswamedha Parva, Section XLIV
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Brahma (Prajapati) said: All actions end in destruction, and all that is born is certain to meet with death. Every mobile and immobile thing in this world is transient. Days end with the sun's setting and Nights with the sun's rising. The end of pleasure is always sorrow, and the end of sorrow is always pleasure. All accumulations have exhaustion for their end, and all ascent have falls for their end. All associations have dissociations for their end, and life has death for its end. Sacrifice, gift, penances, study, vows, observances, - all these have destruction for their end. Of Knowledge, there is no end. Hence, one that is possessed of a tranquil soul, that has subjugated his senses, that is freed from the sense of meum, that is devoid of egoism, is released from all sins by pure knowledge.

From Vivekachudamani of Shankaracharya
Verses 11 & 10

Work leads to purification of the mind,
not to perception of the Reality.
The realisation of Truth is brought about by discrimination
and not in the least by ten millions of acts. 11.

[Note: Comments by Swami Madhavananda,
Advaita Ashrama, Mayavati, Himalayas:
The idea is that works prescribed by the scriptures, when properly done, cleanse the mind of its impurities. Then the Truth flashes of itself.]

Let the wise and erudite man, having commenced the practice of the realisation of the Atman (Self) give up all works and try to cut loose all bonds of birth and death. 10.

[Note: Comments by Swami Madhavananda: "All works" = All works done with motive, including the good ones prescribed in the scriptures and those that are evil, which men do prompted by their own nature.]

From The Mahabharata
Aswamedha Parva, Section XXXI
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

The Brahmana said: There are three foes in this world. They are said to be ninefold, agreeably to their qualities.

Exultation, satisfaction and joy ;
these three qualities appertain to Goodness (Sattwa).

Cupidity, wrath and hatred ; these three qualities are said to appertain to Passion (Rajas).

Lassitude, procrastination and delusion ; these three qualities appertain to Darkness (Tamas).

Cutting these with showers of arrows, the man of intelligence, free from procrastination, possessed of a tranquil soul, and with his senses under subjection, ventures to vanquish others.

Kshetrajna (Supreme Lord) is eternal and is destitute of qualities as regards its essence. Kshetra (Prakritii or the manifest or matter) is that in which the qualities are produced and absorbed. Hence one who understands duties, casting off qualities and the understanding, and having his sins destroyed, and transcending the qualities, enters the Kshetrajna.

[Note: The realisation of the Self is attained when one transcends or annihilates the three gunas or qualities (Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas). Spirit is devoid of qualities or attributes; matter is endowed with qualities or attributes. The qualities of Sattwa,Rajas and Tamas appertain to matter or Maya. Exultation, satisfaction and joy, although these are Sattwic qualities, are nevertheless qualities or attributes. With the aid of the Sattwic qualities, one transcends all the qualities and discards all the qualities, as when an athlete, pole-vaulting with the aid of a long pole, goes over (transcends) to the other side of the bar, but it is impossible for him to take the long pole with him over the bar, just so, likened to the pole are the Sattwic qualities which (casting off) have to be transcended along with the other two qualities of Rajas and Tamas.
From The Mahabharata, Santi Parva
Section.CCXXXI :

Mind is identical with the manifes

From The Mahabharata
Santi Parva, Sec.CCXXXII :
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

The Creator creates with the help of Avidya (Maya or prakriti) this universe. At first springs up that which is called Mahat. That Mahat is speedily transformed into Mind which is the soul of the Manifest

Refer to pages "Egoism" , "Maya".

Refer also to the Topic ' The four functions of the mind ' which can
be found on Page "The Soul and its Destiny"

From The Mahabharata
Aswamedha Parva, Sec. XXXI
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

In days of old, king Ambarisha had acquired a tranquil soul. When diverse kinds of faults were in the ascendant and when the righteous were afflicted, Ambarisha of great fame put forth his strength for assuming sovereignty. Subduing his own faults and worshipping the righteous, he attained to great success and sang these verses:
'I have subdued many faults. I have killed all foes. But there is one, the greatest vice, which deserves to be destroyed but which has not been destroyed by me! Urged by that fault, this Jiva (embodied soul) fails to attain to freedom from desire. Afflicted by desire, one runs into ditches without knowing it. Urged by that fault, one indulges in acts that are forbidden.
Do thou cut off that cupidity with sharp-edged swords.

From cupidity arises desires. From desire flows anxiety. The man who yields to desire acquires many qualities that appertain to passion (Rajas). When these have been acquired, he gets many qualities that appertain to Darkness (Tamas). In consequence of those qualities, he repeatedly takes birth, with the bonds of body united, and is impelled to action. Upon the expiration of life, with body becoming dismembered and scattered, he once meets with death which is due to birth itself. Hence, duly understanding this, and subduing cupidity by intelligence, one should desire for sovereignty in one's soul. This is true sovereignty. There is no other sovereignty here. The soul, properly understood, is the king. Even these were the verses sung by king Ambarisha of great celebrity, on the subject of sovereignty which he kept before him; that king who had cut off the one foremost fault viz., cupidity '.

The Religion ordained for the householder

From the Mahabharata
Anusasana parva, Section CXLI
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Maheshwara said: The religion ordained for the householder is said to have Pravritti for its chief indication. Auspicious and beneficial to all creatures, I shall expound it to thee. The householder should always make gifts according to the measure of his power. He should also perform sacrifices frequently after the same manner. Indeed, he who wishes to achieve his own good should always achieve meritorious acts. The householder should acquire wealth by righteous means. The wealth thus acquired should be carefully divided into three portions, keeping the requirements of righteousness in view. With one of those portions he should accomplish all acts of righteousness. With another he should seek to gratify his cravings for pleasure. The third portion he should lay out for increasing. Of all the modes of life, that of the householder is the first. Of this there is no doubt.

Abstention from injury, truthfulness of speech, compassion towards all beings, tranquillity of soul, and the making of gifts to the best of one’s power, are the foremost duties of the householder. Abstention from sexual congress with the spouses of other men, protection of the wealth and the woman committed to one’s charge, unwillingness to appropriate what is not given to one, and avoidance of honey and meat, - these are the five chief duties. Indeed, Religion or Duty has many branches all of which are fraught with happiness. Even these are the duties which these embodied creatures who regard duty as superior should observe and practice. Even these are the sources of merit.

The conduct of husband and wife should be equal

The conduct of husband and wife, in the case of householder, should be equal. He should every day make offerings of flowers and other articles unto those deities that preside over domesticity. Well cleaned and well rubbed, his house should also be every day fumigated with the smoke of Homa (ghee or clarified butter poured on his sacred fire in honour of the deities and the Pitris or ancestors). [Related articles "Mantras–Sacred fire" See column on the left]. Even these are the duties appertaining to the householder’s mode of life as observable by a regenerate person. Those duties really uphold the world.

Householders of pure mind are capable of earning very great merit. Indeed, he who cleanses his soul by the performance of the five sacrifices (yajnas; the five yajnas or sacrifices are Deva yajna, Rishi yajna, Manushya yajna, Pitri yajna, and Bhuta yajna).

[Related articles Mantras-Sacred Fire topic "Sacrifice"]

He who is truthful in speech, who is free from malice, who makes gifts, who treats with hospitality and honour all regenerate [Note:Regenerate is twice-born (Dwija):mother gives physical or genetic birth; teacher gives spiritual birth] guests, who lives in well cleansed abodes, who is free from pride, who is always sincere in his dealings, who uses sweet and assuring words towards others, who takes pleasure in serving guests and others arrived at his abode, and who eats the food that remains after the requirements have been gratified of all the members of his family and dependants, wins great merit.

That householder who rises at dawn, and serves food to his guests, and having honoured them duly bids them farewell by following them (as mark of honour) for a little distance, acquires eternal merit. Hospitality towards all, and the pursuit of the aggregate of the three (Religion, Wealth and Pleasure), are the duties of the householder.

(The religion of Nivritti is different. It exists for emancipation from re-birth by absorption into God).


Related articles
Sankhya versus Yoga
Gita( Gita verse by verse, chapter 5)

Preyas & Sreyas
Katha Upanishad (Upanishads)

Virtue,Wealth & Pleasure
Mantras-Sacred Fire

The Soul and its Destiny

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