Where in Bhagavad-gita can I find definitions of: sukarma, vikarma, and akarma?

by Laxmimoni dasi

Bhagavad-gita addresses karma, in all of its varieties, throughout the entire text. The Gita does not specifically use the word "sukarma," however the prefix "su" means auspicious. Sukarma is that action which causes no material karma (reaction), either "good" or "bad." It is the same as akarma — karma or work that does not bind us.

If you look at verse 2:47 you will see a summary of the various types of Karma (work) briefly described by Srila Prabhupada. In verse 4:20 and purport you will get definitions of akarma and vikarma, with reference to those specific terms. Also in verse 3:6 and the purport akarma is discussed and in verse 3:15 vikarma is discussed.

"Surrender Unto Me" is a study guide for the Bhagavad Gita written by HH Bhurijana Prabhu which goes into great detail about the various types of karmas that the living entity may encounter in regards to work, knowledge, attachment, and the yoga ladder. The word "Karma" has many meanings in Sanskrit and so these different meanings have to be sorted out to really understand the concept.

In the Gita itself Srila Prabhupada addresses these concepts but often without using the specific words. Often the concepts of vikarma and akarma are used in relationship with the yoga ladder. The jiva (self) progresses from the bottom of the yoga ladder — base sense enjoyment — where the living entity has no cares for what happens to anyone else, or even himself in the future. That is known as vikarma, (bad karma or work which binds in a negative way).

As the jiva becomes more aware, he may worship the demigods to obtain better sense gratification. That is called karma kanda, work which binds but in a "positive" way. Next, he progresses to serving the Supreme for the purpose of getting a better material life, ("Dear Lord, please give me an 'A' on the test or a good husband"). That is sakama yoga, or work which attempts to please the Lord but with attachment to material things. From there, the living entity progresses to niskama karma yoga, which is characterized by giving up attachment. Within that rung of the ladder there are various levels...the highest is sukarma, or transcendental karma. For example, I serve Krishna, develop love for Him and get no material reaction; my "reaction" is that I leave the material world and go back to serve Him there. Also for my work I am not interested in any reward except that Lord Krishna is happy. This is the level of the Gopis (cowherd girls of Vrindavan - the most elevated spiritual personalities).

The reason I put "good" karma and "bad" karma in quotes is that any material karma that binds us to the material world is actually bad. We don't belong in the material world. We belong in the spiritual world. So if we are born wealthy, beautiful, etc. ("good" karma) that's not really what we want; because we're still bound in a material body. Or, if we're poor, ugly, miserable, etc. ("bad" karma), again we're bound to a material body. It's kind of like being in a prison. One case is like being in a "first class" cell and in another case is like being in solitary confinement. One is worse then the other but both are in prison!

Why do people think the Vedas are mythological?

Our Answer:

Note: the Puranas are ancient histories found in the Vedas. According to Bhagavad-gita, verse 10.18, "The Puranas are histories of bygone ages that relate the pastimes of the various incarnations of the Lord."

In general, people find it difficult to place faith in something they perceive as "super normal" and/or beyond their senses. But many of the things they do place their faith in are quite unworthy of faith. For example, various Darwinian theories on the origin of life have now been found to be highly questionable. At one time people thought the earth to be flat. Many ideas about health have been proven wrong. Conversely, many people are realizing that ideas, originally found in the Vedas, about yoga and cow dung, for example, are actually correct, although at first they were considered "weird" or impossible.

How can they accept that the world was created by a "big bang?" Where's the evidence? Have they ever seen any thing happen in that manner? Maybe they can explode their next house into existence ;-). How do they know what they read on the Internet isn't just the ranting of some madman? (it often is, yet they search there for "truth").

Furthermore, it's very easy to understand that our senses are imperfect. What we see isn't always correct. Stars appear tiny to our eyes, yet they're huge. The sun also appears quite small, yet it too is enormous. If it's dark, I can't see my hand in front of my face, and many can't see well at all without corrective lenses. There are sounds that we can't hear, yet animals can hear them and radios can pick them up. We can't see wind or electricity, but we know it's there by its symptoms.

At least with these understandings one can realize that the ability of the human to KNOW what is reality, what is "true," is very limited. Thus we find ourselves putting our faith in politicians and scientists who have, repeatedly, fed us lies and led us in the wrong direction due to greed, envy, and other ill motivations.

On the more positive side, anyone who's open-minded enough to take up chanting, associating with devotees, eating prasadam and reading Srila Prabhupada's books they will often begin to understand and experience the potency of the Hare Krishna philosophy and the Hare Krishna Mantra. As they experience these things, their faith will grow and they'll find it easier to accept various parts of the shastra (scriptures).

To try to convince people of these esoteric things prematurely may be a mistake. One must learn to walk before running. So better to help them to keep an open mind and then begin to explore the more tangible aspects of Krishna consciousness...until they can become purified enough to accept the Vedic literatures as axiomatic truth.

After all, they accept the news and the newspapers, so why not just accept that Krishna is God and try to chant His name and eat some prasad...and suspend judgment for some time. Gradually everything will become clear.

Read more Q and A

Why did Bhishma, such a great devotee of Lord Krishna, oppose Krishna and Arjuna in the Battle of Kurukshetra?

by Laxmimoni dasi

Bhishma is a Mahajana (one of Krishna's greatest devotees), and he achieved spiritual perfection in his relationship with Krishna by serving the Lord in a chivalrous mood. He was fully aware that Krishna's will would be done no matter what side he himself fought on, so he chose to do his duty and fight with those for whom he was working (the Kuru family).

Another consideration was that Bhishma had taken a vow, when he refused to marry, that he would remain and protect the ruler of Hastinapur (capital city of the Kurus) until the kingdom was safe. And although he had a benediction that he could die at will, he chose to remain alive until he could see that the Pandavas were in their rightful place. His participation in the battle was with his body, but his heart and blessings were always with the Pandavas.

What does it mean to do one's own duty?

Our Answer:

sreyan sva-dharmo vigunah
para-dharmat svanusthitat
sva-dharme nidhanam sreyah
para-dharmo bhayavahah
- Bhagavad-gita
, 3.35

The meaning literally is: "It is far better to discharge one's prescribed duties, even though faultily, than another's duties perfectly. Destruction in the course of performing one's own duty is better than engaging in another's duties, for to follow another's path is dangerous."

Each of us is born with a body and mind due to past karma. We have inclinations, tendencies to act in a certain way, as well as physical and psychological abilities to do certain things. If we don't act according to them, we'll have problems.

Each of us, in order to attain spiritual perfection, should seek guidance from a guru (spiritual master), and take direction from the scripture, to see how we can use the particular body and mind we have received in the service of God.

This is a long-term project, not just a "one-time, success-or-failure-at" activity. When we see what our inclination is, we should use that in Krishna's service; not take on other roles looking for money, or fame, or even "peace" (in the sense of not having any problems or worries). Worries, problems, and whatever else will come our way anyway - if we're supposed to suffer or enjoy them - but if we're acting in a selfless manner for the pleasure of God, Krishna, using whatever gifts and talents we have in His service, then we'll be rightly situated.

How can one achieve gravity? How can one achieve humility?

Our Answer:

"And satisfaction, simplicity, gravity, self-control and purification of one's existence are the austerities of the mind."

- Bhagavad-gita, 17.16

Hare Krishna! Thank for your question, or should I say questions, because within this small paragraph are many questions which contain within their answers the ultimate goal of life.

The real meaning of self-realization is, as you say, to understand that you're not a body but rather a soul. That is, a spiritual part of Krishna who has an independent existence and yet whose complete happiness and satisfaction depends on ones relationship with Krishna, the source of all spiritual and material energy.

Gravity is described in Krishna book :

"A person who does not express his mind to everyone, or whose mental activity and plan of action are very difficult to understand, is called grave."

Generally, we consider that one who is grave, or has gravity, is in control of their thoughts and emotions; their thoughts and emotions do not push or control him. Their decisions are made with careful thought. Things are held in place with control and consideration, rather than being rashly done by emotions. So, gravity in relation to the mind would mean controlling the mind and making decisions based on "self realization;" that is, considering the true spiritual nature of one's self, rather than just being motivated by the needs of the body.

Humility, or not desiring respect or adoration from others, is also sometimes described as being "selfless," rather than "thinking less of one's self." In other words, out of respect for others, I think of them and try to serve them for their good rather than for my own personal "fame."

The last question, "How to find satisfaction in the self alone?" is a life-long question which begins with chanting the Lord's name, following the order of His devotee and Himself in the scriptures, and working actively to please guru and Krishna without focusing on the needs of the mind and body.

What does Krishna mean in the Bhagavad-gita when He says, "My devotees are never vanquished"?

I received this yesterday and yesterday evening I read, in Nectar of Devotion, in the chapter titled "The First Stages of Devotion":

"So Sukadeva Gosvami has recommended to Pariksit Maharaja that in order to be fearless of death, one has to hear and chant and remember the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna, by all means. He also mentions that the Supreme Personality of Godhead is Sarvatma. Sarvatma means 'the Supersoul of everyone." Krishna is also mentioned as isvara, the supreme controller who is situated in everyone's heart. Therefore, if some way or other we become attached to Krishna, He will make us free from all danger.

"In Bhagavad-gita it is said that anyone who becomes a devotee of the Lord is never vanquished. Others, however, are always vanquished. 'Vanquished' means that after getting this human form of life, a person does not come out of the entanglement of birth and death and thus misses his golden opportunity. Such a person does not know where he is being thrown by the laws of nature."

Hare Krishna! I hope this is helpful.
Laxmimoni dasi

What is "om namo bhagavate vasudevaya"?

"Om namo bhagavate vasudevaya is known as the dvadasaksara-mantra ("mantra of twelve syllables"). This mantra is a vishnu-mantra, for by practicing the chanting of this mantra one is elevated to the Vishnuloka (Vishnu is the four-handed form of Krishna. Vishnuloka is where He lives in the spiritual world). It means:

"O my Lord, the all-pervading Personality of Godhead, I offer my respectful obeisances unto You."

In all of ISKCON's temples this mantra is chanted 3 times before beginning to speak on the Srimad-Bhagavatam.

I hope this is helpful.
Laxmimoni dasi

Is the Bhagavad-gita historical or allegorical?

An allegory is a story that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, usually moral or political. Allegories have their value, but we recognize the Bhagavad-gita as a work of nonfiction, intended for a specific purpose, and not open to interpretation by just anyone.

Our sources say Krishna factually spoke to Arjuna on the Battlefield of Kurukshetra, to enlighten him about spiritual reality; that the self is different from the body, that each of us is a unique, eternal, spiritual entity, endowed by our Creator with specific duties to perform in service to Him, both in this brief lifetime and throughout eternity.

Accepted as it is, the Gita is easy for anyone to understand and put to use. It has historical value, shedding light on the advanced spiritual culture of a bygone era. It contains practical advice for becoming free from the miseries of life and experiencing the natural happiness of the self. It has spiritual value as an introduction to the teachings of the Supreme Person, Krishna, on the nature of our eternal relationship with Him in this life and the next.

If accepted as an allegory, it's unclear whose allegory it might be and what their intention in writing it may have been. Some may like to speculate about this, but we'd consider such questioning useless, since the Bhagavad-gita has such immense value when accepted as it is. If it's accepted as simply a "story," then what is its value, except to whomever whimsically chooses to "believe" it?

We accept the Bhagavad-gita not as story, or even as a theoretical philosophical work, but as the blueprint of a spiritual culture, a culture with extremely high moral and spiritual standards, into which the Bhagavad-gita was spoken, and which perpetually exists wherever and whenever its teachings are followed and practically applied.

In the Gita itself, Krishna recommends one learn His teachings from a living representative of the tradition, to get the greatest possible benefit from the literature. As Srila Prabhupada mentions in his own commentary on the Bhagavad-gita, Bhagavad-gita As It Is , it is meant for the formation of character, not as an abstract philosophical treatise meant for armchair speculators. If accepted as it is, the Gita can help one have a profound spiritual awakening—Krishna says that by careful study, we can know both ourselves and God factually. It is doubtful whether the study of any fiction—no matter how imaginative and seemingly full of meaning—could promise and deliver tangible results of such magnitude.

Read more Q and A

Does the Gita promote violence? Was the Battle of Kurukshetra seen as a "holy war?"

Krishna recognizes that violence and war are inevitable features of material existence. The material world is not a place of peace. We're here because we're envious of Krishna's supremacy, and by extension we're envious of Krishna's parts and parcels, namely, each other.

The duty of any government is to protect the citizens so that they can live peacefully and execute their religious duties. The special feature of human society and the human form of body is that by using it properly we can learn how to love and serve God.

When, inevitably, there are transgressions against peace, and disruption of people's normal duties, government must be prepared to stop those transgressions, by violence if necessary.

Specifically, the Battle of Kurukshetra was to be fought between the sons of Pandu, the Pandavas, who were all devotees of God, and dedicated to spiritual culture, and their cousins, the sons of Dhritarastra, who were not devotees, and who unfairly cheated the Pandavas of their claim to the throne. Krishna was inciting Arjuna to violence because it was Arjuna's duty to rule the kingdom and he was being prevented from doing so.

On the other hand, Krishna also makes it clear that for the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time, so even the "killing" He was recommending for Arjuna was not killing anyone, factually. (see Bhagavad-gita, 2.21, Purport)

The self is different from the body, and the greatest violence against humankind is to keep people in darkness regarding their spiritual identity, thus preventing them from understanding and serving the Supreme Person.

Often people perform violent acts in the name of religion. Such behavior is not the same as what Krishna is encouraging Arjuna to do. "Holy wars" throughout history have generally been fought by people thinking, "my religion is true and yours is not," and "therefore, I have the God-given right to kill you. God is on our side."

But if everyone truly understood and accepted Krishna's teachings in Bhagavad-gita—that we are all equal as spirit souls, that everyone's duty, regardless of faith, culture, or "religion" is to serve God—then there would be no need for fighting.

On what basis do you accept your scripture as truth?

Vedic knowledge presents itself as factual, and we've found no reason to doubt it. Those familiar with their comprehensive, consistent, and detailed information on so many aspects of human endeavor—spiritual, ethical, and practical—would likely find it hard to believe that they could have been fabricated with no basis in fact.

Respected scholars—past and present, east and west, secular and traditional—accept the knowledge contained in the Vedas—including the Srimad-Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-gita—as both factual and timeless. Vedic teachings are the basis of one of the world's most enduring cultures. We wouldn't be interested in them if we thought they were fiction. Their scope and accuracy—along with considerable reliable testimony attesting to their validity—make it difficult for us to dismiss them as make-believe.

Fiction can't help us. If we mention a health concern to our doctor, for example, we wouldn't expect him to base his diagnosis and treatment on something he read in a book of fairy tales. We would hope he has factual knowledge of how the human body works, and experience dealing with a wide variety of diseases. Likewise, if we're looking for spiritual knowledge, knowledge of the self beyond the body, we don't want to waste our time—and life—with information that may or may not be true.
Read More

Some accounts in Vedic literature describe persons, places, and circumstances that are beyond our experience. They may not make "logical" sense to us or agree with what we've been taught in school. We may want to dismiss the information as made up or false. (Of course, some believe that everything is false, but that idea is also logically false.)

But if something is true, it ought to be verifiable. We say what you'll find in the Srimad-Bhagavatam is verifiable by personal experience. Krishna tells Arjuna in the Bhagavad-gita, "When, however, one is enlightened with the knowledge by which nescience is destroyed, then his knowledge reveals everything, as the sun lights up everything in the daytime." (Bhagavad-gita, 5.16).

What Krishna is talking about isn't about "believing" in something, although all knowledge begins with faith, and if someone is determined to not believe anything, they won't learn anything. It helps to have a degree of skepticism when approaching any new subject—especially spiritual knowledge—so that we're not misled. It also helps to at least theoretically accept that there is an Absolute Truth and we can know something about it. And, when we apply what we've learned, our consciousness should change for the better.

But how can we factually know what's beyond our experience? The most direct way to identify your father, for example, is to ask your mother. Similarly, we say that Vedic writings like Srimad-Bhagavatam are the most direct way to learn about the supreme Father, the Absolute Truth, Krishna.

The twentieth century's foremost Vedic scholar and teacher, Srila Prabhupada, had this to say about whether the Vedas (including Srimad-Bhagavatam) are truth or fiction:

"Men with a poor fund of knowledge only accept the history of the world from the time of Buddha, or since 600 B.C., and prior to this period all histories mentioned in the scriptures are calculated by them to be only imaginary stories. That is not a fact. All the stories mentioned in the Puranas and Mahabharata, etc., are actual histories, not only of this planet but also of millions of other planets within the universe.

Sometimes the history of planets beyond this world appear to such men to be unbelievable. But they do not know that different planets are not equal in all respects and that therefore some of the historical facts derived from other planets do not correspond with the experience of this planet. Considering the different situation of different planets and also time and circumstances, there is nothing wonderful in the stories of the Puranas, nor are they imaginary.

We should always remember the maxim that one man's food is another man's poison. We should not, therefore, reject the stories and histories of the Puranas as imaginary. The great rishis like Vyasa had no business putting some imaginary stories in their literatures." (Srimad-Bhagavatam, 1.3.41, Purport)

We're not asking you to take our word for it. We encourage you to put the information to the test. For starters, try chanting the Hare Krishna mantra, the Vedas' most recommended practice for achieving peace of mind and enlightenment in the modern era. Your personal experience will demonstrate the authenticity of Vedic teachings more effectively than anything we could say.

Read more Q and A