The Mother Divine
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(Excerpts from Shri Vitthal Uvach)
By Kinkar Vitthal Ramanuja

Q. How does good and bad karma manifest?

A. After the completion of this lifetime, whoever does a lot of good, does not stay in samsara, he moves to heaven. With a lot of bad deeds, he moves into hell. If both are somewhat similar, then he comes back to earth. As long as good and bad karmas remain in similar proportion, the soul keeps coming back to the earth with multiple cycles of birth and death. This is true for most people.

For sadhakas, there are different heavens after death, depending on their level of realization. The Devi bhaktas will go to Deviloka, Krishna bhaktas will go to Goloka, a bhakta of Sri Ram will go to Saket, Shiva bhaktas will go Shivaloka, and so on.

The Jnana Margis don’t have a separate loka after death since they did not aspire to an Ishta; they believe in the concept of Aham Brahmasmi – hence they believe that their soul is identified with the Supreme Soul. They believe in non-duality and Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma – everything is part of the universe.

All paths eventually lead to the same goal. They differ on account of the soul’s personal attachment and direction based on that karma. No path is superior or inferior in comparison to the other.

Q. Maharaj ji, what is this caste system? Is it work-based or birth-based? There’s a Brahmin who consumes non-vegetarian food or alcohol and doesn’t undertake any puja paath and then there is another person, a non-brahmin – he does three sandhyas, keeps singing Naam – which of these may be called a Brahmin?

A. Maharaj quoted a shloka from the scripture and said, “A person who is born in a Brahmin household but does not perform sandhya or Gayatri has fallen; but a person who is born to a chandala, and manages to keep the name of God on his lips all the time, is indeed worthy of worship.

Nothing is achieved by mere birth, you have to perform befitting karmas too. What’s the use of being born in a good household and performing no meritorious actions? It’s useless!

Q. What is the difference between Karma and Karma Yoga?

A. Whatever work you do, everything is karma. It is the attitude with which you do it that differentiates karma from Karma Yoga. Supposing you are a householder, and you have gone out for shopping, if you think it is for your own house that you are shopping, it is karma. But if you say, “Bhagawan, I am shopping for Your house.” Then it becomes Karma Yoga. If you think you are working for your son or daughter, it is karma. If you look after your children as though they were God’s, saying, “Bhagawan, your child is going for exam,” and so on, it becomes Karma Yoga. Treat your samsara as a gift from God, a gift which you are maintaining. It doesn’t matter who you look up to Durga, Shiva, and Sri Ram, Brajanath, Sai Baba, Mahabir…Guru… just surrender to that deity.

The karma which helps you unite with God, has been declared to be Karma Yoga by Srimad Bhagawad Gita. This Karma Yoga is the source not only of peace and well-being, devotion and liberation, but also of perfection in any work or duty.

Karmanyevadhikarste ma phalesu kadachana (Bhagawad Gita 2/47)

You have always every right to carry on your own work or duty but absolutely no right to the fruits of your karma (leave that to the Supreme).

Yogah karmasu kaushalam (Bhagawad Gita 2/50)

This skill in karma (action), the practice of this tactic in every step of your work is yoga according to the Bhagawad Gita. But if you perform any task thinking that you are doing it for your children, friends and relatives, society or the country, some ego or stress is bound to be produced in you. Then the karma will turn into the ordinary grade, the kind that will engender bondage, worry and evil dispositions.

Karma is mandatory for all, and it will have to be performed, but if you do it to please and worship God, your worldly attachment will decrease, your mind will be calm and your work will also be done better. Now, even if there are any difficulties, they will cause no anguish because you are working only to please God and to win His love. You will no longer be anxious about success or failure and this will make your mind peaceful all the time.

Sri Ramakrishna explains this with a beautiful illustration — in fairs, one may see that some dancers are dancing with great finesses, balancing pitchers on their heads intact. One has to remain active in the multifarious activities of life in the same manner, but the pitcher on the head must be kept still, that is to say the mind has to remain steadfast in God. The scriptures also provide the same simile – maulistha kumbha parirakshanadhi nativa – Just like the dancer whose mind is always vigilant on the pitcher overhead.

Let us clarify distinctly the fundamental differences between common karma or sakam karma (karma with desire or expectation) or Karma Yoga or nishkam karma (karma without desire or ambition) which links us to the Godhead. In sakam karma, we cannot concentrate so deeply on work as the mind gets distracted or disturbed with the imaginary, rosy pictures of the good fruits of our karma. Secondly, if our dreams are fulfilled, we are so elated, restless, and sometimes proud, that we neglect our duties. Thirdly, if our dreams are not fulfilled, more often than not, we become a helpless prey to frustration, depression, etc.

On the other hand, we adhere to Karma Yoga e.g., if we go on doing our work or duties, (whatever they may be), indifferent to whatever fruits (good or bad) which they bring forth – our mind always remains peaceful and our concentration is undivided.

Again, if we are able to perform our work as worship to God, only for His pleasure and with no other end, our mind consequently reaches a sublime state. As a result of both these approaches, we are bound to do our work with much more efficiency and elegance.

Secondly, in case our desires, rather hidden desires, are fulfilled through this nishkam Karma Yoga, we do not get elated, egotistical or proud because we take all these good fruits of our karma as His kind blessings or prasadam, not as the offshoots of our karma.

Thirdly, in case our suppressed desires are not fulfilled for any reason whatsoever, we are never a victim to depression, frustration or tension, because we have already been made tension-proof by offering the fruits of our karma at the lotus feet of the Divinity. Thus, through the practice of Karma Yoga, we can avoid the minus points of sakam karma, (attachment, depression, anger, ego, etc.) and score the plus points of nishkam karma (e.g. efficiency, self-contentment, mental peace, and divine bliss.)

Q. Sometimes one feels that all these are mere theories. Is it really possible to be free from attachment and fix the mind steadfastly on God? If there is no attachment to work, if there is no expectation of fruit, then how will one feel inspired to do the work?

A. One of the greatest yogis and karma yogis of the world, Swami Vivekananda, has answered this question: “Even I used to feel like that before, but as I became enlightened gradually, I realized that’s not true. The lesser are we attached to the work, the better can we work at it. The more peaceful we are, the more work we will be able to do. If you read the lives of most accomplished men of the world who have done great work, you will find them to be men of extraordinary calm. Nobody could destroy the balance of their mind. Every page of The Bhagawad Gita bears testimony to it – an intense skill in action; but also a perennially pacific attitude. This is the state, which has been declared as karma rahasya. The aim of Vedanta is to attain to this state.” (Karmajivane Vedanta – 1: Jnana Yoga)

Q. How can shauch karmas be worship? What do you mean by that?

A. Well, I have told this once before. A highly accomplished saint of Mumbai, Sri Muktananda Giri had placed a picture of his eternally-realised Guru, Sri Nityananda Giri in his bathroom. Can you imagine that? Well, his sentiment was quite clear: “This body of mine (Muktananda) actually belongs to Nityananda. It is his body. Thus, my bathing etc. constitutes service of his divine frame.” Aha! What a sublime sentiment! How incomparable is this Guru bhakti! This is the zenith of devotional love. A glowing ideal of karma yoga too! All the activities of this world, no matter what they are, are instruments for Your worship. It’s all for Thy pleasure…. even the shauch karmas.

Q. This is one thing I feel very strongly about. Over the years I have realized that there’s no point in dwelling on the dark side of life. It doesn’t help at all. Earlier I used to feel bad about the wrong behaviour of people. Not anymore. I practice positive thinking now. All that matters is what can I do to fix things — that’s what matters! It’s better to leave the rest to God. Am I right?

A. You are right. Karmanyevadhikaraste ma phaleshu kadaachana (Bhagawad Gita 2/47), leave it to God. For better devotees like you — it is better to take recourse to nishkam prayer. God does not grant all the prayers. He is like a father who may withhold pocket money at times over the years. But he leaves a fat bank balance in his son’s name ultimately. God’s kindness is revealed in the long run.

Q. How does one inculcate that Nishkam bhava?

A. Think that whatever I may do with this body, O Hari, it’s all yours. Sleep, movement, dream and wakefulness, nothing is mine, O nothing is mine. When you do every action in this worldly life as though it were Thakur’s errand, Thakur’s samsara, then every karma turns into dharma. You see, it’s only when you think this samsara is mine, every karma is mine, that it turns into bondage. That way you are cast in eternal prison. You must treat both karma and dharma as mighty. Dharma itself is karma. Whatever spiritual practice you may do, say meditation – that is also karma. To state in simple terms – ‘you and yours’ results in mukti (freedom), ‘me and mine’ results in bandhan (bondage).

A professor arrived shortly, in an indulgent mood. She saw Vitthal Maharaj and said, “Maharaj you seem to be in better health than ever.”

He joked with her too. “No, I am the same! It is your eyes that have become healthier!” he said jokingly. And after a second’s pause added, “due to yoga!”

On learning that she had now retired from service at the college, he observed, “There is no retirement for me! No appointment, therefore, no disappointment!”