77. What is Naishkarmya Siddhi? How Is It Attained?

Sameness, Samasiddhi

by Jayaram V

Notes: I have translated the Bhagavadgita twice. The first one was a loose translation. The second one was a word to word translation with a detailed commentary. I am currently working on a revised edition with even more in-depth commentary. The commentary is however different from what you will find here. In this section I will share with you my thoughts about the knowledge, philosophy and wisdom of the Bhagavadgita as I understand it from my perspective. Jayaram V

Naishkarmya Siddhi means the supreme state of inaction in action or freedom from karma (obligatory duties) as well as the fruit of karma. In the Advaita it is often equated with the supreme state of Brahman, who while remaining fixed moves everything around him like the hub of a well. According to the Dharma Shastras, Hindu householders have to perform many obligatory duties as a part of their domestic and social responsibilities. They have to ensure that their family members, gods, ancestors, seers and sages, creatures and those who are in need are served as God’s beings (jivas) and nourished through daily sacrifices. This is the basic duty of every human being who is born upon earth and seeks God’s love and protection through duty and devotion.

Apart from daily sacrifices (nitya karmas), the householders have to practice occasional sacrifices or seasonal sacrifices (naimitta karmas), sacraments (samskaras) such as marriages, initiation ceremonies, etc., and, if necessary, kamya karmas (desire-ridden actions) which are not obligatory but which they may perform according to their desires, needs and compulsions. They also need to follow the code of conduct as prescribed by scriptures, tradition, customs, cultural norms or established practices according to the circumstances in which they live, practicing actions and virtues which are allowed and avoiding those which are prohibited and which will either bring them ill fame or sinful karma.

The Bhagavadgita is especially meant for householders who are obligated by God to perform their duties, following his own example, to ensure the order and regularity of the worlds and help him in his duties as his obedient and loyal devotees (bhagavatas) without desiring their fruit, and as an obligation to him. It is not meant for the ascetics or those who abandon their duties, worldly possession and relationships and take up sannyasa to live as hermits or recluses. They may study and derive inspiration from it, but primarily it is meant for jnana yogis and karma-sannyasa yogis who want to fulfill their obligations and perform their duties while keeping their minds fixed upon God and liberation.

The word ‘naishkarmya siddhi’ appears at least twice in two chapters of the Bhagavadgita. First time (3.4), it appears as two distinct words, and second time (18.49) as one compound word. In the first case, it is used to suggest how no one can achieve liberation or freedom from karma (naishkarmya) or escape from the consequences of actions by remaining idle or avoiding actions. It is because no one can remain idle even for a minute. Even if one wants to remain idle, the mind and body still perform actions, while one is sitting, sleeping, dreaming or resting. Thus, freedom from actions or their consequences is impossible, since everyone is helplessly driven to perform them due to the influence of the gunas and the essential nature (prakriti svabhavam) of their own bodies. People who restrain their organs of actions (karmendriyas) under the illusion that they can escape from karma, while their minds and senses (jnanendriyas) are active, are but deluded souls (mithyacharas).

Therefore, according to the Bhagavadgita, the best way to achieve freedom from action (naishkarmyam), and their consequences, is by practicing self-control (samyama), restraining the mind and senses, suppressing desires, performing actions with detachment and devotion, and offering their fruit to God. By that, they attain atmarati (delight in oneself), atmatripti (satisfaction within oneself), samsiddhi (sameness) and union with the Self (parama siddhi). Lord Krishna says that he himself performs actions in this way, although he has no desires and obligatory duties, to set an example for all the householders and ensure the progress of the worlds. He is always established in naishkarmya siddhi, even though he creates, upholds and destroys the world in every creation cycle.

This teaching is the essence of karma yoga which is furtehr elevated and serves as the foundation to naishkarmya siddhi and ananya bhakti (exclusive devotion) when it is practiced along with self-knowledge (jnana), discernment (buddhi), self-control (atma samyama) and renunciation of desires (sannyasa). Perfection in these is attained only when one conquers the triple gunas, which induce desire-ridden actions in the jivas and are responsible for all the impurities, bondage and suffering.

He repeats the same idea in the eighteenth chapter, titled Moksha Sannyasa Yoga (the yoga of liberation through renunciation) in which, just as in the second chapter, he knits together all the essential ideas of karma, jnana, bhakti and sannyasa yogas as a summary or conclusion of the sacred dialogue and as different facets of Mokha Yoga (the yoga of liberation). It becomes obvious from the study of the scripture that none of the yogas are effective without the simultaneous practice of sannyasa. Whether one wants to be a sannyasi or a grihasta (householder) and lives in a solitary place or in the world, one has to practice sannyasa (renunciation).

Sannyasa in the context of the Bhagavadgita always means renunciation of desires, not renunciation of the world or worldly duties. This is a marked deviation from the traditional idea of sannyasa, which the ascetic sects of ancient India such as the Sramanas practiced and which stood in striking contrast to the life led by householders (grihastas) and the duties they practiced due to desires or obligations. The Bhagavadgita combines both the ideas to present an ideal way of life for the Bhagavatas (servants of God), which is God centric and conducive to liberation, without producing the sinful consequences of escaping from actions or performing them.

In this final chapter, in verse 49, Lord Krishna states that the conqueror of the mind and body (jitatma), who develops detachment (asakta buddhi), with his mind and intelligence detached from everything and from all sides, and without desires (vigata sprha), attains the supreme state of naishkarmya siddhi through renunciation of desires (sannyasa) or the state of inaction amidst actions, which means he is no more touched by the fruit of his karma. Actions cease to taint him or bind him to samsara even when he is engaged in actions.

Thus, according to the Bhagavadgita, the best way to attain freedom from actions (naishkarmya) is by taking the poison (karma) out of actions, without abandoning them or neglecting them. It should be done by attaining perfection in jnana karma-sannyasa yoga through self-restraint (atma samyama) and exclusive devotion (ananya bhakti), without abandoning householder duties and obligations. One should keep performing actions, however difficult or unpleasant it may be, for the sake of God as his devoted and trusted ally in the Kurukshetra (battlefield) of life, resisting evil and upholding Dharma. Even if their duties are inferior to those of others, they should perform them and keep their side of promise to God.

The idea of naishkarmya siddhi also refutes the argument of the Purva Mimansa that no one can escape from karma while living upon earth and the best way to attain heaven (not liberation which, according to it, is not possible at all) is by performing duties as ordained by the Vedas. The school also believed in devotion to duty rather than to a Creator God. Good karma follows when one performs them, and sinful karma when they are neglected.

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