Action & Reaction, Choice & Impulse in the Bhagavad Gita

On Action & Reaction, Desire and Anger:

Includes video of Citta Chats LIVE segment on this very topic, from a student question. Watch the discussion to further explore the article and topic: you.

As human beings we have a unique ability to be motivated by something other than instinct.
We can exercise choice in relation to the desires that arise in the heart, mind and body; and our values, what we value, may also also be a factor in our thoughts and actions.

Our preferences, desires and ambitions can all come into play in any action or decision, often driven by unconscious motivation or impulse. Brilliantly the teachings in the Vedas on Being and Creation distill these essentially infinite impulses and motivations to two categories: likes and dislikes, things we want to move towards or keep and things we want to avoid.

Ragas (desires, attractions) and dveśas (dislikes, aversions), if associated with our sense of happiness, well being, security and so on, can then be drivers in action and thought, often taking precedence over values, overpowering discernment.

“Well what is wrong with that?” is a reasonable question that has to be explored in a meaningful way. Much is not wrong exactly. That is not what is being said. There is no “wrong” in what is; it just is; though there is cause and effect, action and reaction, to be understood that can save us a lot of grief today.

Understanding where the impulses arise from, namely the mind/body/senses, or karyakarana sanghata, and not seeing the error of taking the desirer for “me” is at the heart of our sorrows and friction in the world. We will explore these things.

VIDEO clip from Citta Chats LIVE broadcast Wednesday, June 19th, 2013
Exploring how we hold our own reaction, impulses for healing

That we have desires is not a problem and this somehow seems how these teachings are heard sometimes. So we think, “Oh, I don’t want a desire-less life. My desires are beautiful…” and so on. The teachings can easily dispel this view, as it is but a distraction from what is being taught, and at no time is our experience of the world denied. The beauty in diversity and creative uniqueness arises out of these human drives. That we experience likes and dislikes, pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, is not a question. “What do I know about the experiencer?” is the question. How do I see experience in relation to my own sense of self, what I need to feel whole?

We see that problems arise when driven by impulses and desires as a source of happiness, adequacy, or well-being; or when we find that anger, fear, loneliness or other unwanted emotions arise from a desire thwarted.

“Thus, analysis shows that thoughtless actions, born of impulse or conditioning, will cause me pain and problems.”
~ Swami Dayananda Saraswati.

Kṛṣṇa teaches us in the Bhagavad Gita that anger, krodha, is in truth part of desire, kāma, a side of pleasure. Anger is there in the pleasure, unmanifest, potential, as any experience must invariably end., and when we lose something we desire we are not happy, and often angry. Anger has no self-sustaining source, no fire of its own and only comes as a result of a want gone awry. The myriad wants, desires impulses of the heart/body/mind are there, for whatever reason they are there. And because they are there they must be addressed, accepted. There is cause and effect, order, in why desires arose whether seen or unseen. There is order in our unconscious conditioning. Over that order we have no authority. Over what we do with the impulse we have free will. That is where our values, wisdom and discernement, dharma, come in.

As Swami Dayananda Saraswati teaches over the years, addressing the problem is the main point in these discussions. That we have a problem is not the central topic, it is why we are talking. We had no control over picking up the problems over time, conditioning and so on. That is the order of laws beyond our control, laws of cause and effect not of our making, law of Nature. That is Isvara (Creator, source, Un-caused Cause). How we see ourselves withing those laws is karma yoga. Free will is how we act with that understanding, how we use what we are learning. That is what has really touched me in his teachings through the years; the emphasis on what we are doing now, today; that ability to make it so relevant to ‘now,’ and so accessible now. How we act in response to what comes up in ourselves and the world, that is the sadhana; the means to the desired end, the practice that allows the mind to revel in its clarity to see one’s own being as it is: whole, adequate, whether desires come, go, are satisfied or no.

“First we pick up the problems and then we solve them. This seems to be how growth is. We create hurdles and then try to jump over them. That is the fun of it all. Life is like a hurdle race. The race itself is fun, but when you create hurdles and then try to jump over them, it makes the race even more fun. Because you have free will, this situation is inevitable. The creation, the world, is like what it is, because, it cannot be any better right now. If I were already programmed – that is without free will – there would be no human being, at all. Nor would there be a Bhagavad Gītā or any further evolution. To be a human being implies free will. And once free will is given to you, then wisdom is something that has to be gathered by you – in other words, by free will.”
~ Swami Dayananda Saraswati,
teachings on the Bhagavad Gītā 5:23.

So Kṛṣṇa tells Arjuna:
“The one who is able to master the force born of anger and desire, kāma-krodha-udbhavam, here (in this world) before release of the body is a karma yogi. She or he is indeed a happy person.”
~ Bhagavad Gita ch.5, v.23

The interplay of instinct, impulse, conditioning, conscious choice and discernment will be explored as we unfold the teachings of this verse, and a few other select verses to understand karma yoga in this context.

Human choice is over action – not reaction. Understanding this is karma yoga. (Bhagavad Gita 4:27, 28)

To what end? The ultimate end, moksa, freedom from fears and sorrows in the knowledge of one’s own essential nature. Understanding the role of knowledge in relation to experience will be discussed. The Bhagavad Gita teaches that one’s mind has to be prepared to receive the knowledge. An agitated mind or mind caught up in seeking desires in the world for happiness cannot sit to assimilate the teachings. How to prepare? What are the tools for daily life? For now?

Śama and dama, or discrimination in relation to thought and deed help the heart/mind mature emotionally in order to receive the knowledge. We will explore how we work with the heart/minds diverse meanderings, desires and impulses.

Swami Dayananda Saraswati:
“Over any period of time a life based on impulses or mechanical behavior will run into problems. When my ‘actions’ are really reactions, my mind will be troubled, because:

- Experience will not teach me.
- Conflicts between thought and deed will bother me.
- Painful emotions will build up.
- Mood will be my master.

When I consciously, rationally choose my actions, I am in a position to benefit from what has happened before. Experience is my teacher…”

We are like Duryodhana, from the Mahabharata, often feeling…
“I know what is right but cannot move towards it (pravrtti)
I know what is not right, but I cannot move away (nivrtti).”

We will discuss all these things in light of how it can reveal to your mind the wholeness that you are, ultimately free of the impulses and reactions, free to know your full nature reglardless of desires of the mind/body/senses, gained or thwarted. I am present in the happy and sorrowful experiences, the experiences cannot touch or improve or diminish my being. I am free to be me, sat-cit-ananda atma, whole conscious being, in any situation, and that is always glorious.

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