All human beings have three distinct and different personalities: bhokta, karta and jnata meaning experience, doer (or performer) and knower (or learner).
Bhokta: Right from birth we experience a world around us through our sense organs and mind. This experience, called bhokta, goes through varieties of experiences, both pleasant and painful.
Karta: Initially, as a baby one does not do deliberate actions but as the organs of action (called karmendriyas) and intellect (budhi) develop, a human being is able to plan and execute deliberate actions. This doer or performer is called Karta.
Jnata: Every human being is provided with a set of instruments of knowledge (jnanendriyas) by which he can learn. A knower, called jnata or pramata, is one who is capable of learning or knowing from the world.
Each personality as a vast field to operate in. If we want to be a learner, we will soon discover that one lifetime is not sufficient. Similarly if we want to be a doer or experience we will realize that there are infinite actions we can perform and innumerable experiences we can go through. Thus jnanam (knowledge) is endless for the jnata, karma (action) is countless for the karta bhogas (experiences) are limitless for the bhokta.
Unfortunately life is short. And so we have to prioritise the three personalities. Which should be given prominence and which merits only secondary importance? Sastra or scriptures come to our rescue. And sastra poses a question – Which do you consider most important – experiencing, doing or knowing? In other words are you a bhokthr-pradhana person where experiencing is dominant? Or a karthr-pradhana person where doing is prominent? Or a jnathr-pradhana person where learning is predominant? If we go by our nature or instinct, we will choose only the bhokta-personality as most important. Our education system caters to a bhokta-personality even through education itself is a means of knowledge. We strive for a good education (a degree in a preferred discipline from a reputed college) only because it enables us to get good jobs. Better the job, higher the salary. And higher the salary, the more comforts of life that we can enjoy. A successful person is considered to be one who has the best ‘infrastructure’ at his command – big house, premier brand of car, ornaments, clothes, etc., Thus a successful human being is considered to be a successful bhokta.
Sastra calls this materialism – a system in which bhokta is worshipped as the most important personality; karta and jnata rank next in importance. According to sastra, bhokta should not be at the top. A human being is a human being only when he is karthr-pradhana or jnathr-pradhana.
Why does sastra say so? The scriptures ask us to observe animals. How many personalities do they have? Only one – bhokta. Animals can neither be doers nor learners. Here we must note that doing means performing a deliberate action. No doubt animals perform actions but they are governed by instinct. Animals have no free will. They are born with only one purpose – to experience.
Since human beings share only the bhokta-personality with animals, the experience in us is the animal in us. No doubt this is a harsh word to use but if we think about it, we will accept it as appropriate. If we keep bhokta as the prominent personality, our life is like an animal’s. Sastra says that to live up to the status of a human being we must make the bhokta in us less dominant and bring karta and jnata to the fore. It is what we do and what we know that makes us successful and superior. In the Bhagavadgita Lord Krishna strongly criticizes bhokta-predominant people – ‘There is no fixity of mind for them who cling to pleasure and power and whose discrimination is tolent away’. (2.44) They are as good as non-human beings.
Once we decide to become a successful kart and successful jnata, sastra is only too willing to lend us a helping hand in our pursuit. Let us consider the karta personality.
How can we excel as a karta (experience)?
Taitriya upanisad gives us certain tips – ‘Shraddha surely in his head; ritam is his right wing; satyam is his left wing; yoga is his trunk; and mahah is his support and foundation. (2.4). The mantra lists five principles or factors for excellence in the field of karthrthvam or doership.
Shradha means reverential love for the action that a karta undertakes. We must never dislike any action we do. Neither must we do any action reluctantly or half-heartedly. Actions can be those that we choose to do or those that we have to do. In the next stage we must learn to love any action we do and this includes actions thrust upon. It is a question of developing the right attitude. There are many actions that we dislike, but others like, e.g. mountain climbing (liked by mountaineers) or looking after sick people (nurses). If we learn to like the karma or action, the karma itself gives ananda or joy. The karma phalam (result of the action) may not necessarily be to our liking or expectation. Unlike karma-phala-ananda (which may or may not fructify in this birth), karma-ananda is instantaneous. Thus we can derive joy from karma (action).
The word ‘shradha’ is used here to indicate the dedication of action to someone we love and respect including the Lord. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna says – ‘Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer in sacrifice, whatever you gift away, whatever austerity you practice, O Kaunteya (Arjuna) do it as an offering to me’. (9.27). A man found it very difficult to look after his invalid mother. He had to bathe her, clothe her, feed her etc., He changed his approach and considered his mother as divinity itself. He looked upon bathing his mother as performing abhishekam to the Lord and even chanted Rudram while doing so. The same tasks no longer seemed difficult. In fact, he enjoyed doing them.
Ritam means proper knowledge of the action – what to do, how to do, how much to do, when to do, where to do. We must learn about the action thoroughly and not be ignorant of what we have to do. It is for this reason that scriptural study is very important for a religious person.
Every role we play in life is a karma. A man enters wedlock. He must thoroughly understands the role of a husband. If not, he will become miserable and further he will make his wife miserable. Parents must know what is parenting. If not, they will let loose terrible children into the society. When a husband ill-treat his wife, his children get a message. When we play a family role, it affects three generations. Ritam is knowledge about every role we play.
Whatever we have learnt about karma is not just for learning but meant to be put into practice. We should implement what we know. Studies of major accidents show that often they were caused, not by natural causes, but by the concerned people not doing what they should do. They knew, but they did not do it due to indifference, callousness or sheer laziness. This is emphemistically referred to as ‘human error’. Satyam means there is no knower-doer split.
Yoga must be understood as focus. When a karta does karma with focus, the very karma becomes meditation. In the Bhgavad-gita, Lord Krisna glorifies action by glorifying the grhastha (householder) – ‘He who discharges his duty without seeking its fruit, he is the sanyasin, he is the yogi, not he who is without sacred fire and without rites’. (6.1). It is the grahastha who by his actions (and thereby earnings) supports the other three asramas, viz., brahmacharya (student life), vanaprastha (retired life) and sanyasa (renunciate). A grhastha may not get time for meditation but he can convert every action into meditation by applying himself totally to the task at hand. The biggest advantage of yoga or focus is that every action becomes deliberate. There is no mechanical action. Deliberate actions save time and energy.
Mahah literally means Hiranyagarba, the total karta (the sum total of all kartas). The individual karta must learn to identify with the total karta. Expansion means broadening our outlook. Consequently our actions will benefit s many people as possible. Rather than ask the question ‘what will I get by doing this action?’ we ask ‘How many will benefit by this action?’ This is called paropakara.
If we follow these five principles, i.e., if we love, learn, implement, focus and expand, the excellence in action itself will give us joy. We will not yearn to become a bhokta. If we learn to excel as a karta, later, we will also learn to excel as jnata. This will help us gain spiritual knowledge and this in turn will enable our spiritual growth.
Source: From the Talks given on 01.01.2004 by Swamy Parmarthananda.