Talks on the Gita -Vinoba 26

Chapter 4
14. Karma Needs Vikarma to Complement It

1. Brothers, in the last chapter, we discussed the yoga of desireless action. It is impossible to attain desirelessness if we give up swadharma and embrace the dharma which is not ours. It is a trader’s swadharma to sell indigenous goods. But when he gives it up and starts selling foreign goods imported from distant lands, his motive is nothing but to earn more profit. How can such work be free from desire? Pursuit of swadharma is therefore indispensable for desireless work. But swadharma could also be pursued with an eye on the gains. Take the case of non-violence. Violence is taboo for a votary of non-violence; but he could be outwardly nonviolent while being steeped in violence inwardly. For, violence is an attribute of the mind. The mind would not be non-violent merely by giving up outward violence.

A sword in hand is a sure sign of a violent mind; but one does not become non-violent merely by throwing the sword away. The same is true about swadharma also. To have desirelessness, one must definitely avoid dharma which is not one’s own; but that is only the first step towards desirelessness. It is not sufficient for attainment of that goal. Desirelessness is a state of the mind. Pursuit of swadharma is necessary but not sufficient for acquiring that state. Other means must also be used towards this end. To light a lamp, oil and wick are necessary but not sufficient. It is also necessary to have a flame. Darkness disappears only when we light a flame. How to light a flame? For this one must purify one’s mind. The mind should be thoroughly cleansed through intense self-examination. The Lord has given this important advice at the end of the Third Chapter. The Fourth Chapter has its genesis in this advice.

2. The Gita uses the word ‘karma’ (action) in the sense of swadharma. We eat, drink, sleep; these are all actions. But these are not the actions that the Gita refers to when it talks of karma. Karma refers to the performance of swadharma. But in order to attain desirelessness through such karma, an important aid is necessary. One must overcome desire, attachment and anger. One cannot have desirelessness unless and until the mind has become pure and calm like the waters of the Ganga. The actions necessary for the purification of mind are called ‘vikarma’ by the Gita. Karma, vikarma and akarma—these three terms are important in the Fourth Chapter. Karma means the outward actions done in the pursuit of swadharma. Vikarma means total involvement of the mind therein. We may bow to somebody, but that outward action is meaningless without inner humility in the mind. There should be unity between the inner and the outer. I may worship the image of the Lord; but that act is worthless if it is not accompanied with devotion. In the absence of devotion, the idol will just be a piece of stone and so shall I; and the worship will only mean that a stone is facing a stone! Desireless, selfless karmayoga is attained only when outward actions are complemented with the inward action of the purification of mind.


References and Context

  1. Vikarma is normally translated as wrong or forbidden action. Vinoba is perhaps the only one who has given the term a different meaning, which has been explained in the following paragraphs. It can be considered a major contribution to the interpretation of the Gita.