Arjuna still finds himself asking the same question he asked at the beginning of Chapter Four: “Krishna! First you say ‘renounce karma’, then you say ‘it is best to engage in karma wisely.’ Which of the two is better? Please tell me plainly.”
Krishna: On one hand: renunciation of action. On the other: wise action. Both lead to the ultimate goal; but between the two, wise action is better.
Krishna: Real renunciation means being free from duality: having neither aversion nor attraction to anything. Such people are happy and completely liberated from the bondage inherent in worldly deeds. Only a fool thinks that such philosophy is different from wise action; the wise never say such things. You cannot achieve either without doing both. The goal of philosophy is attained by action!
“Philosophy and action are two aspects of the same thing.” One who sees it like that truly sees.
Renunciation without practical application, my friend, is nothing but misery. But one who puts philosophy into practice easily attains the spiritual goal. That’s why I say they are both good, but wise action is the most important.
Arjuna: How can I tell the difference between ‘wise action’ and ordinary worldly deeds?
Krishna: A ‘wise actor’ is a very pure soul: in control of his own mind and senses, and treating all living beings as dearly as he treat himself. Such a person is never bound by karmic reactions.
“I never truly do anything,” thinks the active knower of the truth. “Seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, or tasting; walking or sleeping, breathing or talking; letting go or holding on; opening or closing… all of these are just interactions between senses seeking their natural objects.”
He thus invests all his actions with spiritual philosophy and divests his deeds of all self-centeredness. Karmic reaction cannot besmear such a person, just like water cannot dampen a lotus leaf.
The body, mind and intelligence and even the senses of a “karma-yogi” are thus purified by renouncing all self-centeredness. By renouncing selfish objectives, we achieve unwavering peace through our wise deeds. Without this wisdom, however, people are addicted to their own objectives, work for their own selfish whims, and thus become bound in karma.
Now Krishna references an analogy presented in Upanishads like Śvetāśvatara, to make a point that even the most philosophical sources support what Krishna is saying about the importance of action.
Losing interest in all deeds, the self-controlled soul is happily renounced; dwelling within the “City of Nine Gates” knowing that nothing in it is done by her or on her account. Though she is the steward of that city, she does not own any of its property, nor does she initiate the functions of its “citizens,” nor does she have any claim to the results they create. Everything moves as a result of its own inherent nature.
The ‘city with nine gates’ is the human body with two eyes, two nostrils, two ears, a mouth, anus, and genital.
A great soul never takes up any personal deeds – ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Only fools do such things, their wisdom eclipsed by ignorance. But when wisdom finally rises like the sun, it will destroy the darkness of ignorance within, and illuminate the higher path. It will enlighten their thoughts, their soul, their attention, and their objectives. It will wash away all confusion and usher them to the supreme revelation.
The difference between wise action and worldly action is selfishness.
Arjuna: Then what? When they attain such great enlightenment, what is it like?
Krishna: They become very humble and learned. They see equality everywhere: in the teacher, the cow, the elephant, the dog, and even the dog-eater. In the here and now, they conquer this material world. Their mind being grounded in equality, they become as flawless and natural as spirit itself. They are already in the spiritual world.
Arjuna: What are their qualities?
Krishna: Beloved things do not thrill them. Hated things do not upset them. Their intellect is immovable and foolproof: understanding spirit, and being within spirit. They have no hunger for the touch of external things, because they delight in the pleasures within themselves. Their souls enjoy the infinite delight of union with the spirit.
Arjuna: They really have no interest in normal external sensual pleasures?
Krishna: They are intelligent, Arjuna! Why should they have any interest in “enjoyment” that begins and ends, and therefore is ultimately only the mother of misery?
Arjuna: What happens to them when they die?
Krishna: Even before they die, they are very happy people – because they can endure the impulses that lead to greed and anger. Their happiness is within. Their pleasures are within. They are illuminated from within! They attain spiritual nirvāṇa: becoming spirit. Then, as great spiritual sages free of all evils and divorced from duality, they work for the welfare of every living being.
They are without any greed or anger, in complete control of their own will. When they die these self-realized souls attain spiritual nirvāṇa.
Arjuna: When dying, what is the final practice by which they obtain such an exalted goal?
Krishna: They keep all unnecessary perception outside, at a distance. They focus their eyes between their eyebrows. They exhale and inhale through their nose in a measured manner. Their wise senses, emotions, and thoughts are fixed upon enlightenment; giving up all other intentions, fears, and frustrations. They are already liberated!
Arjuna: What “enlightenment” are they fixed upon attaining?
Krishna: Me. They seek the peace that comes from knowing me to be the true enjoyer of all their endeavors, and efforts; the supreme god of all beings, and everyone’s only true sweetheart!