The greatness of spiritual masters is that they create spiritual masters out of normal individuals in the world – this is compared to many lamps lit by one lamp, by AMMA. While talking about Vedanta, the one name that comes to mind instantly is Adi Sankaracharya (of course this may not be the case with many people – such people ought to learn Vedanta more seriously and sincerely). It is not a surprise that Sankara, the great spiritual master, had four wonderful disciples each one giving us treasures of knowledge through their works and leading the way to humanity in the form of Sankara mutts in the four corners of India. One of Sankara’s foremost disciple was Sureshwaracharya. There are definitely some difference of opinion with respect to whether this Sureshwaracharya was the same as Mandana Mishra who had a debate with Sankara – our goal is not to argue about historical values of things which we can gladly leave it to historians and to those intellectuals who are so engrossed in logic that they forget the Brahman which is to be proven through logic. Sureshwaracharya is famous for his vartikas and hence he is also called Vartikakaara. Just in brief, vartika is a type of commentary wherein the commentator can go against the actual work (which is being commented) and mention concepts which might have been left out or which might help lower seekers (seekers with lesser intellect) to understand properly. His vartikas include vartikas on Sankara’s Upanishad bhashyas on Brihadaranyaka and Taittirya Upanishad (the former being a very vast work so deep in concepts and volume), vartika on Dakshinamurthy Astakam of Sankara and vartika on Panchikaranam of Sankara.
Amidst all these vartikas it is his individual work that stands out as a monument of Vedanta. This individual work is Naishkarmya Siddhi. The greatness of this work isn’t because it is an individual work (there have been many individual works) but because this handles one of the very important concepts of Vedanta which is an analysis of karma or action and its place in Vedanta (or the spiritual quest of a seeker). This analysis of karma is very important as we find Sankara spending a lot of time explaining karma and jnaana in the fourth sutra of Brahma Sutra and Krishna himself explaining this in many places of Gita.
Karma and Jnaana are two important words which if we don’t understand properly we will end up in suffering and sorrow though it might appear as if we are in the spiritual path. Today when Haiti hasn’t yet healed even little bit from the earthquake in Haiti and when spiritual masters are doing a lot of social services through their charitable missions, it becomes very important to understand the place of karma in our life. This is being dealt in depth by Sureshwaracharya in Naishkarmya Siddhi. It is impossible to even give a brief of this work in a short article so we are just going to analyze karma and jnaana aspect (with a small paragraph on the work itself).
Sankara beautifully explains in atma bodha
Avirodhithayaa karma naavidyaam vinivarthayet
Vidyaavidyaam nihanthyeva tejasthimira sanghavat
Since action is not against ignorance therefore action cannot remove ignorance; only knowledge can remove ignorance even as light alone can remove darkness.
Actions, any actions, stem from a particular fruit or goal to be achieved by the action. This means that actions are propelled by desires. Desires in turn are that which instigate us to achieve perfection in one or the other way. These desires arise because we are ignorant of our very nature of perfection – “I” am perfect Brahman, this is not known and hence a seeker desires to become perfect. All the desires whether it be petty ones or big ones like getting a car or a job or a wife are impelled by our strive for perfection. This striving itself is because we don’t know our very nature of Brahman. Thus ignorance or avidya or ajnaana is the cause of desires (kaama). Desires in turn make us do actions so that we can become perfect. Actions go on and on leading to many births and never letting us get any perfection. This is because karma or actions are like the grand children of ajnaana (ajnaana -> kaama -> karma) and thereby they can only add on to ajnaana and not remove ajnaana even as darkness can only add on to more darkness. Darkness cannot remove itself – only its opposite of light can remove darkness. In the same way only knowledge can remove ignorance – actions cannot remove ignorance at all.
If actions cannot remove ignorance, it means that actions cannot give us moksha or liberation. Then why do we do actions? We do actions for two reasons:
One is because not even for one second can a person remain without doing actions as we are in the action-work (karma loka).
Actions can help us get out of actions itself (selfless action or nishkaama karma purifies the mind – purification of the mind is essential for knowledge to become effective)
As to whether we will be doing actions after realization, we don’t have to think about it now. Let us first realize and then worry about it (those who cannot still stop thinking about it, actions will automatically fall off after realization even as a ripe fruit automatically falls off a tree – a realized person will never get affected by actions as he is not the doer but the witness Self).
Since we cannot be without doing actions, therefore the only option we have is to do actions that can help us get out of this chain of action. Can something itself help us out? Definitely – even as a maze can help us get out of the maze (with some helping directions or a person in the maze); even as a dream lion can wake us up (get us out of the dream world).
Sureshwaracharya gives this beautiful sloka as to why actions cannot give us moksha:
Utpaadyam aapyam samskaaryam vikaaryam cha kriyaa phalam
Naivam mukthiryathah tasmaat karma tasyaa na saadhanam The four types of fruits of actions are creation (origination), attainment, purification and modification; since moksha cannot be any of those fruits therefore action is a not means for moksha.
The above sloka doesn’t mean that karma doesn’t help at all. Karma does help us indirectly through purification of the mind (the purification type of action) but not directly as moksha can be directly attained only through knowledge.
Ramana Maharshi also beautifully mentions this in Upadesha Saram thus
Ishwaraarpitham na icchayaa kritham
Chittha shodhakam mukthi saadhakam
Actions performed as an offering to Ishwara and without any craving for the fruits thereof will purify the mind and thereby (indirectly) help is moksha.
Thus purification of mind happens through nishkaama karma or selfless actions. Many people in the world think that selfless actions are those which are performed when we are part of some or the other organizations doing some relief work or visiting orphanages. No – any action can become a selfless action if it is performed as an offering to Ishwara (which means there is no doership) and without craving for fruits. If there is no kartha or doer and there is no phala or fruit, then action itself doesn’t exist. Such action which is in fact an inaction will purify the mind (that mind which is focusing on duality – dual notions through desiring a lot – desire itself means that we consider ourselves as different from objects of the world). Once a person gains purity of mind, then knowledge will become fruitful – this is like a mirror which has been cleaned will result in us seeing our own face in it. An impure mind is like a dirty mirror in which our face cannot be seen (an impure mind will not be able to experience bliss out of knowledge and knowledge will just become an intellectual property which will only boost the ego).
When nishkaama karma is performed, it leads to the state where action ceases to exist (actions continues externally but since the ego does actions and “I” am just a witness to it, therefore is no doer or enjoyer – this is like an actor portraying his role in the drama where actions are happening externally though really there is no action happening). This state is termed as naishkarmyam or the state where karma ceases to exist. That state where karma doesn’t exist is the state of jnaana or the state of Brahman. It is this state that is the main subject matter of this beautiful work of Sureshwaracharya. This work is a huge work spanning more than 400 slokas and split into four chapters. The first chapter is one where Sureshwaracharya analyzes karma thoroughly to refute the various views that karma can give us moksha and that only jnaana can give us moksha. The second chapter is devoted to an analysis of the mahavakya of Tat Tvam Asi or That Thou Art. The third chapter analyzes the atman and the anaatman (self and not Self). The fourth and final chapter is a summary of the other three chapters through various Vedantic quotations. Each of these chapters are vast and exhaustive in themselves. There are a few good commentaries on this work though the standard one is the Chandrika of Jnaanottama; another good one is Bhaavaprakaashika of Chitsukhacharya (though it bases itself on Jnaanottama’s Chandrika).
It is really a treasure for a seeker to even read through these chapters once. Let us hope that this brief glimpse of this work of Sureshwaracharya (not exactly a glimpse of the work but a glimpse into the subject-matter of the work) instigate us to learn this work so that it can take us to the state of naishkarmyam or moksha or anandam.
Naishkarmya Siddhi with Chandrika work