All creatures seek happiness. Human beings have three ways to pursue happiness: by experiences, by actions and by knowledge. These roles are called – bhoktaa (experiencer), kartaa (doer) and jnaataa (knower), respectively.
Most of us pursue happiness through experiences. We evaluate the world as likes (raaga) and dislikes (dvesha) – as those that give pleasure or pain. This raaga-dvesha based evaluation of the world governs our worldview. We run after those that we think give pleasure, and run away from those that we think give pain. The question is, “Is this an effective way to pursue happiness?”
In Kathopanishad, the young boy Nachiketa raises three points to indicate that this is not an effective way to pursue happiness:
- All sense organs and mind lose their power with time. When we enter a room where there is an incense burning, we feel its strong smell. Within a few seconds, we get used to it and no longer feel the smell. The joy that we get of eating the first sweet is less than the joy that we get out of eating the second or third. Also, indulging more harms the health and wealth, which prevents from indulging in even a small way later.
- No amount of indulgence can give satisfaction. How much ever we get something, there is always scope for getting more. There are always others who have more. This applies both in quality and quantity.
- No pleasure or possession or fame is permanent. There is a last day or last moment to everything in this world. Even if they do not leave us soon, there will come a time when we will have to leave them.
What we seek is permanent unconditional happiness. If there is such a thing, it should be here and now with us. Does that mean there is no such a thing? Fortunately, there is, because there have been people who have got it. So, it being unconditional, should be with us too. The only possibility is that we do not know that we have it. We do not know how to avail it and manifest it. Thus, the gap is only knowledge. This knowledge is the only way to attain permanent unconditional happiness. Thus, we can be really happy only as a jnaataa.
Thus, as a bhoktaa we can never have permanent unconditional happiness. However, as a jnaataa we can have permanent unconditional happiness. What prevents us from this knowledge? Vedanta says: unprepared and ignorant mind. The knowledge gained by systematic learning under a competent Guru will remove the ignorance. But before that, the mind should be prepared.
Interestingly, the preparation is by pursuing happiness by way of action. Being a kartaa prepares the mind. This pursuit also gives a happiness, which is more permanent and reliable than the happiness got by being a bhoktaa. Thus, the initial portions of the Veda encourage people to pursue happiness by being a kartaa. This is called Karma Yoga.
Thus, Karma Yoga is pursuing happiness as a kartaa, as opposed to pursuing happiness as a bhoktaa. The various popular statements point to this only: “Do your duty without an eye on the results”, “Enjoy the journey instead of worrying only about the destination”, “Means are equally important as the end”, “Be equanimous in success and failure, and make sure that you learn the lesson”, “What you are is more important than what you have”, etc.
When we convert ourselves into kartaa, we start evaluating the world as right and wrong, instead of as likes and dislikes. Irrespective of whether something causes pleasure or pain, we do what is right and avoid what is wrong. The entire worldview is different. Here are some differences:
|Evaluates everything in the world as pleasant experience and painful experience||Evaluates everything in the world as right action and wrong action|
|Asks, “What is in it for me?”||Asks, “How can I add value to it?”|
|Always sees how to grab||Always sees how to help|
|Expects things from everyone||Gives things to everyone|
|Beggarly attitude||Kingly attitude|
|Tussle with the world||Peace with the world|
Thus, even without other benefits, being a kartaa itself a better proposition than being a bhoktaa. When we spend some years of our lives as kartaa and change our worldview in accordance with it, we gain the maturity to pursue happiness as jnaataa.
These three kinds of pursuits cover the four pursuits of man (purushaarthaas):
- bhoktaa – artha (security) and kaama (luxury)
- kartaa – dharma (virtue)
- jnaataa – moksha (freedom)
A person who is under the spell of lethargy (tamas) can understand only sticks and carrots. To become active by being a bhoktaa is the way. A selfishly active person (rajo-tamas) should become a kartaa, thus becoming selflessly active (rajo-satva). This karma yogi should become introvert (satva) to become a jnaataa and thus go beyond the three gunas (guna-atiita). Permanent unconditional happiness (moksha) can be attained only by being a jnaataa.
This is the path shown by Vedanta in the Veda, Gita and other scriptures.
Thus, the first step in spiritual life for most of the people is to stop being a bhoktaa and start being a kartaa.