• Math. and Spirituality
  • Freewill and Karma
  • All about Reincarnation
  • The Pinnacle of Religion
  • Buddhism and the Gita
  • Shri Aurobindo
  • Spiritual Techniques
  • We're all Crack Pots
  • The Day of the Lord
  • 13 Beautiful Stories
  • Essay and Short Stories

    Buddhism and the Gita






    Swami Karmananda (Douglas Remington, Los Angeles)

    Honorary Life Member, American Gita Society


    For the rest of the world, Buddhism is more difficult to understand than

    any other religion, because the Buddha taught nothing about God, or

    salvation as it's generally understood in the Jewish, Christian, Moslem,

    or Hindu religions. The Buddha taught one thing alone: that is, how to

    end suffering in one's life.


    The Bhagavad Gita, too, offers a way to end suffering, and in this

    regard, there is perfect agreement with Buddhism. This can be confirmed

    in the following Gita verses: 2, 48, 2:65, 5:29, 6:17, 6:22-23, and



    Do your duty to the best of your ability, O Arjuna, with your mind

    attached to the Lord, abandoning worry and selfish attachment to the

    results, and remaining calm in both success and failure. The selfless

    service is a yogic practice that brings peace and equanimity of mind.



    All sorrows are destroyed upon attainment of tranquillity. The intellect

    of such a tranquil person soon becomes completely steady and united with

    the Supreme. (2.65)


    My devotee attains peace by knowing the Supreme Being as the enjoyer of

    sacrifices and austerities, as the great Lord of the entire universe,

    and as the friend of all beings. (5.29)


    The yoga of meditation destroys all sorrow for the one who is moderate

    in eating, recreation, working, sleeping, and waking. (6.17)


    After Self-realization (SR), one does not regard any other gain superior

    to SR. Established in SR, one is not moved even by the greatest

    calamity. (6.22)


    The state of severance of union with sorrow is called yoga. This yoga

    should be practiced with firm determination, and without any mental

    reservation. (6.23)


    When one rises above the three modes of material Nature that originate

    in the body, one attains immortality or salvation, and is freed from the

    pains of birth, old age, and death.(14.20)




    Krishna said: "In this world I have stated a twofold path of spiritual

    discipline in the past. The path of Self-knowledge for the contemplative

    ones, and the path of unselfish work (Seva, Karma-yoga) for all others.



    The path of self-knowledge of the Gita which is referred to as "Jnaan,"

    was the path of the Buddha and is even called by the same name, Jhanna,

    by the Northern Buddhists in Tibet. In fact this path of the Bhagavad

    Gita is really closer to Buddhism than the Protestants are to the

    Catholics. In practice Terevada Buddhism and the path of Jnaan of the

    Gita are exactly the same. There are only minor differences, that could

    probably be resolved should there ever be an attempt at reconciliation,

    which until this time hasn't officially occurred.


    The Buddha's Santipatthana Sutra as translated with commentaries by

    Nyanaponika Thera is pure Jhanna, and the Hindus who practice Jnaan

    have profited by this wonderful work. For in all of Hinduism there is

    not another scripture with commentaries as complete--not even by the

    great Tenth Century Sage, Swami Shankara, who is another good source of

    Jnaan commentaries.


    The Hindu is at a greater advantage, however, because the Buddha is

    accepted as a Hindu, and therefore, the Hindu may avail his or her self

    of the vast wealth of Buddhist scripture. But just as Christianity broke

    away from it's mother religion, Judaism, the Buddhists have broken away

    form Hinduism and formed a totally different religion. Based on this

    separation, the Buddhist does not delve into the deep roots of Buddhism

    which abound in the Bhagavad Gita. Therefore, the Buddhist is at a

    distinct disadvantage.


    The main difference between the Buddhists and the Hindus is over one

    issue and one issue only: that is, the concept of a personal God. There

    are exceptions to this broad generalization. Some sects of devotional

    Buddhists do pray to the Buddha as a God, but for the mainstream this

    isn't true. The Buddhist believes that the end of suffering (salvation)

    comes from personal effort, and not by way of a personal God.


    Some Buddhists assert there is no God, but this is not exactly true. In

    the earliest of all Buddhist scriptures, there are numerous mentions of

    Gods. Countless times the Buddha alludes to the fact that he is both a

    Teacher of men and a Teacher of Gods, and that His position is above

    both. Although the Buddha doesn't really explain that position, it's

    generally concluded he was an ordinary man who found enlightenment. And

    this enlightenment promotes one to a position beyond time, space and

    creation--even above the gods. In fact he was a Jnaan Yogi who went

    farther than any Jnaan Yogi has ever gone.


    Gods are clearly established in these first Terevada scriptures. But it

    is also established that enlightenment does not depend on these Gods.


    The Jnaan scriptures of the Bhagavad Gita clearly establish this same

    position, so for this first path mentioned in the Gita: that is, "The

    path of (Jnaan) Self-knowledge for the contemplative ones (3:03)," the

    Buddhist have no quarrel. The problem comes from the second path,

    "Unselfish work (Seva, Karma-yoga) for all others. (3.03)


    Krishna explains this path as follows, "Do your duty to the best of your

    ability, O Arjuna, with your mind attached to the Lord, abandoning worry

    and selfish attachment to the results, and remaining calm in both

    success and failure. The selfless service is a yogic practice that

    brings peace and equanimity of mind. (2.48)" With one's mind attached to

    Krishna, this second path suggests a personal God, and this seems at

    first to present an unreconcilable difference. But it really doesn't.


    In order to examine the matter, it's necessary to digress momentarily

    and address the number one problem facing the Buddhist missionaries in

    the west. The Western student of Buddhism has no trouble with the

    philosophy or with the meditation. The problem comes in practice. Most

    have difficulty practicing "mindfulness" in the work-a-day-world. It is

    hard practicing mindfulness: that is, paying attention amid the

    distractions of a hectic work life. Many believe that mindfulness can

    only be practiced effectively by monks and, therefore, not for

    householders at all. Others believe anyone under any conditions can

    practice mindfulness.


    It's this writer's opinion from actual personal experience, the Buddha's

    mindfulness is not practical in the work place. It's a practice for

    monks only, or for householders on some holiday-- not at work. In our

    hectic Western work environment, it's necessary to concentrate on the

    job-- not on just paying attention. This is where the Gita offers a

    dramatic advantage to present Buddhist teachings. Verse 2:48 of the Gita

    given above is a kind of mindfulness, but this mindfulness can be

    practiced in the work place with tremendous success.


    Naturally no Buddhist would call this mindfulness, since it involves,

    doing one's duty with one's mind on God, dedicating the fruits of

    actions (results of work) to the Lord. But the Gita says it's not a

    separate path. In fact it says: "The ignorant not the wise consider

    the path of Self-knowledge and the path of selfless service (Karma-yoga)

    as different from each other. The person, who has truly mastered one,

    gets the benefits of both. (5.04)" And:


    "Whatever goal a renunciant reaches, a Karma-yogi also reaches the same

    goal. Therefore, the one who sees the path of renunciation and the path

    of unselfish work as the same really sees. (See also 6.01 and 6.02)



    Now it's not my intention to get into some argument about old moth-eaten

    manuscripts, but these statements of Gita can easily be proven by

    personal experience. In this writer's personal experience, the above

    verses are true. It's possible to find that by dedicating the results of

    actions to God, it's possible to transcend the physical world and

    observe high states of Jnaan while working in the hectic work place.

    One finds from personal experience that renouncing the results of

    actions is just as an effective for breaking lose form the physical

    world as the Buddhist monk's path of mindfulness.


    That is why the Gita says in a following verse: "The wise who knows the

    truth knows: "I do nothing at all." In seeing, hearing, touching,

    smelling, eating, walking, sleeping, breathing; and speaking, giving,

    taking, as well as opening and closing the eyes, the wise believes that

    only the senses are operating upon their objects. (See also 3.27, 13.29,

    and 14.19) (5.08-09)"


    The Gita says the path of selfless service is an easier path: "Krishna

    says, "The path of Self-knowledge and the path of selfless service both

    lead to the supreme goal. But, of the two, the path of selfless service

    is superior to path of Self-knowledge, because it is easier to practice.



    I had an impossible time trying to practice traditional mindfulness. I

    lost several Jobs because I was concentrating on paying attention

    instead of actually doing the job. As a Buddhist I found it helpful to

    go back to the idea of a personal God and practice the Gita's path of

    selfless service and use it as a tool for working in the world. In fact

    it cured my mental stress. Traditional mindfulness, however, actually

    caused me untold pain and suffering. This was hard to reconcile with the

    Buddha's teaching--promising that the process would end my suffering.


    Taking the approach of the Gita was not a permanent approach--only as a

    means of coping. It was actually and experiment, and because it's

    scientific, anyone can do this same experiment. Selfless service or

    Karma Yoga turned out to be a more effective way to work. As I

    concentrated on doing my duty, I constantly asked the Ultimate Reality

    for help with my mundane job. Immediately the job got easier. And by

    dedicating the results I was forced to grow spiritually. I dedicated all

    my results, the good and the bad. Dedicating the bad results are the

    hardest. It's hard to go beyond the frustrations of possible failure, no

    appreciation for my services, long hours with small salary, and a host

    of other pains and sufferings that the ego hangs on. But by dedicating

    them to the Universe, I was able to transcend the ego and escape the

    resulting pain and suffering.


    I found from my personal experience that Karma Yoga ended my emotional

    pain--not mindfulness. Buddhist teachers, please take note.


    The best part was yet to come. Doing this only a few months provided a

    transcendental view of reality that I had experienced before but only in

    meditation. I kept trying to find free time for meditation and going off

    on retreats. Once I took the position of the Gita as a servant, there

    was no separate time. My time at work wasn't different from my family

    time or retreat time. After there months my salary doubled on my new

    job. My boss said after my three month review, "It's obvious you like

    your job."


    For a long time I held a resentment against my Buddhist Teacher. But it

    wasn't his fault. He was a monk, and as such he was teaching from his

    personal experience, which was different than mine. He didn't have to

    work at a hectic job for a living. The early scriptures were all

    recorded by monks which is a different path than the householder.

    Although the Buddha had all kinds of disciples, generals of armies,

    prostitutes, farmers, merchants, etc. there were never any scriptures

    recorded that would have given a separate teaching to the householder.

    I'm sure, however, those teachings were given--just not recorded.


    By going back to the ancient teachings of India, specifically the

    Bhagavad Gita, I believe I got the Buddha's teachings for householders,

    which has not survived to this present time. Now I can practice the

    Gita's mindfulness in meditation and also in the midst of shattering and

    crashing worlds: that is, working at my mundane job.


    Before any Buddhist dismisses the selfless service of the Gita, because

    it's not scripturally documented in Buddhist teaching, the reader should

    consider the only scripture handed to us directly from the Buddha. The

    path of "Self-knowledge for the contemplative ones," has been recorded

    by the Buddhist monks who heard Him directly. But the path of "selfless

    work (Seva, Karma-yoga) for all others. (3.03)" has been recorded too

    and still survives. This latter path can be seen from the way the Buddha

    lived his life.


    Swami Vivekananda, who was the first Hindu to come East and preach at

    the World Parliament of Religions in 1893, was quick to point to the

    Buddha's life as the best example of Karma Yoga (unselfish service as

    described in the Gitta) to ever have been established in the history of

    the world.


    Vivekananda writes:


    Let me tell you in conclusion of one man who actually carried this

    teaching of Karma Yoga into practice. That man is Buddha. He is the one

    man who ever carried this into perfect practice. All the prophets of the

    world except Buddha, had external motives to move them to unselfish

    action. The prophets of the world with this one exception, may be

    divided into two sets--one sets holding that they are incarnations of

    God come down on earth, and the other holding that they are only

    messengers of God; and both draw their impetus for work from outside,

    expect reward from outside, however highly spiritual may be the language

    they use. But Buddha is the only one who said, "I do not care to know

    your various theories of God. What is the use of discussing all the

    subtle doctrines about the soul? Do good and be good and this will take

    you to freedom and to whatever truth there is." He was in the conduct of

    his life, absolutely without personal motives; and what man worked more

    than he? Show me in all history one character who has soared so high

    above them all. The human race has produced one such character, such

    high philosophy, such wide sympathy. This great philosopher, preaching

    the highest philosophy, yet has the deepest sympathy for the lowest of

    animals, and he never puts forth any claims for himself. He is the ideal

    Karma Yogi, acting entirely without motive, and the history of humanity

    has shown him to be the greatest man ever born; beyond compare, the

    greatest combination of brain and heart that ever existed, the greatest

    soul-power that has ever been manifested. He is the first great reformer

    the world has seen. He is the first who dared to say, "Believe not

    because some old manuscripts are produced, believe not because it's your

    national belief, because you have been made to believe it from

    childhood; but reason it all out, and after you've analyzed it, then if

    you find it will do good to one and all, believe it, live up to it, and

    help others live up to it." He works best who works without any motive,

    neither for money, nor for fame, nor for anything else; and when a man

    can do that, he will be a Buddha, and out of him will come a power to

    work in such a manner as will transform the world. This man represents

    the very highest ideal of Karma Yoga.