Concept of “Adhikara” in Bhagavadgita to attain “Nirvana”

Adhikara literally translates to “eligibility

So, what is the eligibility to attain “Nirvana” or salvation? Read on….

This is the post first of the series to explain various concepts of Bhagavadgita.

I always wondered about the difference in the interests of people. Some are oriented towards religion and some are agnostic. Some may be more inclined towards achieving higher levels of wisdom and liberation, but some are totally into everyday mundane life. So, how can all these people attain “Nirvana”?

When I started with the Bhagavadgita, I saw various paths prescribed for people to follow to attain salvation. And here is my understanding of the issue.

There are 2 paths discussed in the Bhagavadgita to attain salvation:

  • Karma or action
  • Jnana or knowledge

The choice of the path to be taken up by each individual presented a dilemma. But, as I continued with the work, a clear distinction in the attitude and nature of the person for each path emerged.

Shankaracharya, in the introduction to the Bhagavadgita bhashya makes a clear distinction between the path of karma and that of Jnana, and also indicates that the followers of the two are different sets of people with differing mindsets.

Every aspirant must be anxious to discover his eligibility for the path prescribed and discharge his duties efficiently for that path. Shankaracharya explains, the religion of work initiates aspirants to action or performance of duties. Both virtuous and vice actions lead to births good and bad, and this cycle is unending. Sorrow and attachment are the seeds that lead one to action and cycle of birth and death. It is only the path of renunciation that can put an end to it.

Hence, the two paths of karma yoga and jnana yoga are prescribed. Karma yoga requires the aspirant to perform actions with the knowledge of virtue and vice, the Self as distinct from the body, not a doer and enjoyer in the real sense of the term. That knowledge itself distinguishes karma or actions from karma yoga.

But, an ignorant person identifies himself with the body, as his Self, and performs both righteous and evil deeds, impelled by attachment and hatred.

The two paths of karma and jnana, are referred to as yoga and sankhya. The two paths are two stages that can be pursued by the same person and not exclusive of each other, but form a unitary path, one leading to the other.

The supreme aim of human existence, is the cessation of the cycle of birth and death or in other words, cessation of samsara or “nirvana”. This is possible only through steady devotion to the knowledge of the Self, by renunciation of all actions, following the path of Jnana.

When one realises that every act of desire is caused by ignorance or avidya, resulting in bondage and samsara or cycle of birth and death, he opts to be a karma yogin, giving up all the fruits of actions, without hankering over the fruits of such actions. At the same time inaction is also not recommended. Non attachment to fruits, leads to purification of the soul, which is also beyond the realm of hankering.

कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन।
मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि॥ २- ४७
Karmanye Vadhika raste ma phaleshu kadachana
Ma karmaphala heturbhuhu maate sangostu akarmani

Such a person, devoted to the knowledge of the Self, derives happiness in the Self and not the objects of the senses, food etc., and performs actions with the knowledge that everything is Brahman. He will be intent on acquiring the Ultimate knowledge, with his senses under control, approaches the teacher in a humble manner.

Thus a beautiful synthesis of yoga and sankhya or action and knowledge is seen in the Bhagavadgita. Eligibility criterion rests with the mental status of an individual and no discrimination between the followers of the two paths exists. An individual graduates from one path to the other, with non attachment to the fruits of actions and desires are overcome.