srutvatha saumitrivaco ‘khilam tada praha prapannartiharah prasannadhih vijnanamajnanatamahprasantaye srutiprapannam ksitipalabhusanah
Then, having heard all that Laksmana had said, Sri Rama– the serene jewel of royal kings, who destroys all sorrows of those who surrender to him – gave out to Laksmana, who was eager to listen, the Knowledge, for dispelling the darkness of ignorance.
Every teacher becomes extremely happy and enthusiastic when he recognizes the glory, ripeness, and devotion in a student’s heart. The guru in Rama finds an ideal disciple in Laksmana, an therefore he declares pure Knowledge as the most direct means to end ignorance. The teacher represents the infinite Self; to contemplate and meditate upon Him and thus come to surrender to Him is to end all miseries felt by the ego in its own limitations. The knowledge that Rama imparts to Laksmana is not anything new or original. It is the very knowledge declared in the ancient Upanisads by the masters of yore.
According to the Vedic tradition, once the seeker has purified the mind and intellect and gained a steady consistency in thinking, he or she must strive to employ the mind in a mood of unwavering contemplation, analyzing and discovering the total identity of the essence behind both the individuality (jivatma) and the universal Self (Paramatma). Knowledge then becomes both the means and the goal. Knowledge gathered from the Upanisads (jnana) takes us to a direct spiritual apprehension of the higher state called vijnana. To gain this direct spiritual apprehension of Truth is the last leap of the limited to reach the Unlimited, for the finite to experience the Infinite, for the mortal to arrive at the state of Immortality.
adau svavarnasramavarnitah kriyah krtva samasaditasuddhamanasah samapya tatpurvamupattasadhanah samasrayetsadgurumatmalabdhaye
First of all, after we have performed all the obligatory duties required of us due to our position in society (varna) and status in life (asrama), and thereby have gained a purified mind, we should give up all these earlier karmas, and thus endowed with the necessary qualifications, we must surrender totally to the teacher in order to attain the Self.
The great rishis of yore have prescribed to the individual in the community certain irrevocable duties in his or her social life, and these are prescribed with an eye to the status of the individual in the society (varna) and the stage of life he or she is in (asrama). When these obligatory duties are performed without any anxieties for their fruits, they tend to exhaust th vasanas and bring the mind to a quiet, vigilant, and alert composure, ready for study and contemplation.
With such sensitive equipment, the student must arrive at the feet of the reacher in order to gain the maximum in his or her interaction with the teacher’s words.
kriya sarirodbhavaheturadrta priyapriyau tau bhavatah suraginah dharmetarau tatra punah sarirakam punah kriya cakravadiryate bhavah.
Action is considered to be the cause for the manifested body. He who is extremely attached to the body performs both desirable and undesirable actions, which create dharma and adharma (that produce joy and sorrow), giving rise to another body by which more actions are performed. Thus, like a wheel, nonstop runs the procession of briths and deaths – samsara.
Rama is not going to mince words, because the disciple in front of him is fully matured. The teacher in Rama ruthlessly dissects the nature of work and convincingly points out that through work we can never reach the absolute state of inner poise, the Self. Work can only produce yet another lease in the world, with the body as the harvester of the experience in duality.
Confrontation of the body, mind, and intellect with the world of objects, emotions, and thoughts is called work. All such physical, mental, and intellectual encounters leave tendencies, called vasanas, as their end result in the doer’s personality. These tendencies try to express and exhaust themselves in similar actions.
Those who are striving in the outer world, prompted by their own desire to fulfill their likes and dislikes, come to experience ephemeral moments of exciting pleasure and flashes of painful sorrow.
Righteous actions are those in which our selfishness is at a bare minimum; unrighteous actions are those prompted largely by blind selfishness. These good and bad action necessarily create moments of joy and regrettable moments of tearful sorrow. The good and bad karmas generate positive and negative tendencies (vasanas). In order to work them out of our system, we have to take an appropriate body-form and manifest ourselves in a conducive environment.
In short, the present is a product of the past, with past karmas providing the blueprint for the present. The future is never a mere continuum of the past; the past is remolded under the pressure of present activities and thoughts.
Thus, work can only guarantee continuation in the field of plurality in an endless array of lives, with different forms functioning in different environments. Actions create vasanas; vasnas mature and become impatient to express and exhaust themselves; and, for this, new forms and new environments may be needed. Work, however sacred and noble it may be, can only yield for us relatively good and bad experiences, never total liberation from the realm of time and space to reach the timeless Essence divine.
ajnanamevasya hi mulakaranam tadhanamevatra vidhau vidhiyate vidyaiva tannasavidhau patiyasi na karma tajjam savirodhamiritam
The root cause for this samasara is ignorance; naturally, its destruction here is the sole remedy prescribed by scriptural injunction or teaching. Knowledge alone is efficient in destroying that ignorance, never karma (work); for work is said to be the product of ignorance and hence not opposed to it.
The nonapprehension of Reality creates the misapprehension in us that we are limited entities, helplessly panting to seek our fulfillment and total satisfaction from the world of plurality; hence our exhausting and fatiguing work – sweating labor whipped up by our desires, anxieties, and worries.
Apprehension of Reality, knowledge, alone can be the efficient antidote to remove our misapprehensions, ignorance. When the individual awakens to the higher state of Consciousness, the sense of individuality and its world of experience, physical, mental, and intellectual, roll away, just as a dream rolls away on awakening. Karma (work), however noble, cannot end this subjective ignorance, because all actions are undertaken by the individual in the context of his or her misapprehensions. In short, work is a product of ignorance, and it cannot destroy its own cause. Symptoms cannot destroy the disease :
najnanahanirna ca ragasanksayo bhavettatah karma sadosamudhavet tatah punah samsrtirapyavarita tasmadbudho jnanavicaravanbhavet.
Work cannot end ignorance nor reduce one’s attachment to the fruits of action; on the other hand, from such karmas new, evil (binding) karmas arise, because of which samsara also becomes unavoidable. Therefore, a wise seeker should inquire into and contemplate upon the nature of Knowledge – Reality.
Karma cannot ever destroy spiritual ignorance. Here, ignorance may be considered as the product of ignorance, the ego the sense of limited individuality (the perceiver-feeler-thinker). The sense of doership cannot be totally eliminated from the field of work. In fact, no matter how alert we may be in our work can only fatten the sense of doership in us.
So long as the individual functions with a arrogant conviction of doership, he cannot stand divorced from the desire to enjoy the fruits of his actions. Doership and enjoyership go together, and this is called the ego. Both these misapprehensions cannot be ended through work. Work can only produce its reward, which is to open up for us fresh fields of undertaking and to provide the appropriate equipment to function in those fields. Work creates tendencies, vasanas, which seek their exhaustion through further work, for which, unavoidably, we will have to move from one field of work to another within the span of this life, and move from one body to another after death.
Sir Rama therefore concludes with the idea that the wise seeker, after purifying his or her vasanas through selfless work, undertaken in a loving spirit of dedication, “must begin to contemplate upon the nature of Reality.” To analyze and to deeply and consistently ponder over the great statements such as “That thou art” is the way of knowledge, the path of jnana, which is to be diligently pursued.
However great and holy the work be, it cannot produce the Reality ever present in every one of us. Selfless work undertaken with love and devotion to the Lord and to our fellow man can indeed, chasten our vasanas; and when noble (sattvic) vasanas become predominent in us, our mental and intellectual extrovertedness is slowly eliminated. Our thoughts learn how to become quiet, alert, and vigilant. Such a purified heart will have the necessary poise for steady contemplation upon the nature of Reality, the Self. As we practice, we become more and more dexterous in maintaining ourselves steadily in the mood of contemplation and a state of ever-expanding joy.
This verse becomes, a it were, an introduction to the text. The teacher has judged his student rightly that he has practiced karmayoga (the path of dedicated action) sufficiently long, purifying his mind in the process, and for such a student to walk onto the path of contemplation is the next step. Due to its attachment to the teacher, a child refuses to move on to his new classroom, even though he has been promoted to the next grade. Then the parents have to intercede in order to persuade the child and if need be to use the required amount of compulsion, until the child becomes familiar with his new teacher and gathers new friends. Similarly, the spiritual teacher has to slowly persuade his students to leave their fields to work for the seat of contemplation. It has to be done very carefully. To break faith is easy; to create faith is almost impossible.
Sri Ramcandra seems to have known Laksmana’s heart through and through; therefore, with a surprising abruptness, he bombshells him with an uncompromising declaration that karma can never release our personality from it misapprehensions : “Knowledge alone can end ignorance; karma is but the product of ignorance.”