“I who am not doing anything,” he should think to himself, the man who is disciplined in yoga, and who knows the true nature of things. Meanwhile, he sees, he hears, he touches, he smells, he eats, he talks, he goes, he sleeps, he breathes, he talks, he relieves himself, he takes with his hands, he opens his eyes, he closes his eyes–but always he holds firm to the thought, “This is merely the senses interacting with sense objects.” 5.8-9 Trans. George Thompson
Here Shri Krishna unfolds a sublime doctrine, one extremely simple and yet difficult as well. This discipline which the fifth chapter discusses is a way of acting without fixating on the act, a pure kind of doing without internal commentary. Sometimes this is called acting without regard to the fruits of action. Sometimes it is called renunciation. Sometimes it is called dispassion, discrimination, or equanimity. One can get a glimpse of this way of acting by reading the Gita meditatively, but it only really hits home by trying to live in this manner.
In order to enter this state of mind, begin with meditation, whatever practice you already do. Krishna approves of the homa fire explicitly and other practices of yoga, such as pranayama and asanas. He also mentions seated meditation and concentrating on the ajna chakra between the eyes. Many pathways lead to the state of concentration as a kind of foundation for action in the world. This passage suggests that ultimately one will be able to move about freely in the world without the attachment of negative karmas. This happens once the yogi no longer regards him or herself as the doer, seeing the physical body and the limited mind as impersonal manifestations of natural processes. Once the foundation has been established through formal, traditional practices, it will be easier throughout the day to let go of thoughts of ownership and possession.
Notice that this practice applies equally to pleasant and unpleasant thought processes. Whether my sense of self-esteem is high or low, whether I grumble and complain or stop and smell the roses, I must detach from the thought that there is an “I” who experiences all of this. I must let the ego dissolve into the flux of the processes that constitute it, and then I can become one with the surround. Oneness can be a complicated, metaphysical word, but it really just means fully engaging in the deed, whether that deed is performing puja or paying bills. It means letting go of the endless interpretations, letting go of the internal dialogue about whether I am doing well or doing badly, whether I have accomplished enough or need to do more.
Undoubtedly, I will lose concentration many times in the course of the day and will engage in needless speculation. I will congratulate myself for something or castigate myself for something. I will imagine conversations that have yet to take place and think of how to put myself at an advantage. Then I have to think back to the foundation and to the verses of the Gita. Maybe a line of nama recitation will come to me as a kind of rescue. Maybe I just say, “Jai Shri Krishna” or, “Jaya Ganesha.” Or maybe I say something like, “Let go,” or, “peace.” But most importantly, I try again. And the struggle continues, but the Lord assures us that each tiny effort will be rewarded in this life or the next.
Think about taking a bath. I must bathe myself each day if I don’t want to have body odor. I can’t call my neighbor and say, “Hey, I am smelling kind of bad, can you take a bath for me?” So in the dharma traditions, there is no vicarious atonement. We all have to take up the practices that lead to liberation. The saints and sages have shown the way, but we all must walk in it. There is no once-and-for-all salvation, but there are many small salvations. I can think about how to “save” this minute, this hour, this day. I can think about how to live peacefully today. And in that way, I can stop thinking about heaven after death and start thinking about heaven here on earth. If I should need more time to work towards liberation, it is there for me. But I should start right now, with this inhalation, with this next step, with the next word to come out of my mouth. Aum, shanti, shanti, shanti.