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Freedom from Karmic Cycle

By Giving Up Desires Can I Break the Karmic Cycle?

Reading Time: 6 minutes

No one can give up desire. However, desire can be overcome through karma yoga. In the following verse, the practice of karma yoga is described:

कर्मजं बुद्धियुक्ता हि फलं त्यक्त्वा मनीषिण: |
जन्मबन्धविनिर्मुक्ता: पदं गच्छन्त्यनामयम् || 2.51||

karma-jaṁ buddhi-yuktā hi phalaṁ tyaktvā manīṣhiṇaḥ
janma-bandha-vinirmuktāḥ padaṁ gachchhanty-anāmayam

Those engaged in karma yoga, giving up the results of action, being wise, are freed from the bondage of rebirth and reach the abode free from suffering.

||Bhagavad Gita 2.51||

Karma yoga is not what you do—it is a set of attitudes in which your motivations for what you do shift. Usually, we are motivated by a compulsion to get what we want (raga) and a compulsion to get what we don’t want (dvesha). Karma yoga replaces these motivations with the quest for spiritual growth. 

Our motivations shift once we understand that the ultimate goal of life is liberation (moksha) and not the momentary pleasures we pick up in our day-to-day activities. With this realization, our actions become driven towards attaining moksha

People who are endowed with this attitude of karma yoga have given up the attachment to the fruit of their actions. They have shifted their focus in life from transient pleasures towards spiritual growth.
Giving up your desires is not a decision we can make. That being said, we can overcome those desires by no longer allowing them to motivate us. No ordinary person can act without desire. Desires are not the problem; the problem is the compulsion of raga and dvesha.

How Can I Overcome Desire To Become Enlightened?

The karma yogi does not give up desire, the karma yogi gives up the fruits of their actions. 

In other words, an enlightened person gives up the attachment to the results of the actions. They are completely content and experience no sense of want or inadequacy. Their actions are utterly desireless (nishkaam karma). 

You will have desires until the day you are enlightened. Even the desire for moksha is still a desire. If you desire anything else, those other desires only lead to more desire. On the other hand, the desire for moksha can ultimately end your worldly desires.

The primary obstacle to moksha is the failure to recognize your innate divinity. That inner truth is covered by ignorance, but you discover the divinity within if that ignorance is removed. This knowledge will never take place unless your mind is properly prepared. Proper preparation of your mind requires overcoming raga and dvesha. And karma yoga is essential to overcome raga and dvesha, which are the biggest impediments on the path to spiritual growth.

How Can I Detach Myself From the Outcome of My Actions?

In the next verse, Krishna describes how an attitude of indifference emerges once the veil of ignorance is removed:

यदा ते मोहकलिलं बुद्धिर्व्यतितरिष्यति |
तदा गन्तासि निर्वेदं श्रोतव्यस्य श्रुतस्य च || 2.52||

yadā te moha-kalilaṁ buddhir vyatitariṣhyati
tadā gantāsi nirvedaṁ śhrotavyasya śhrutasya cha

When your accumulation of ignorance wisdom transcends, then you will gain indifference for what is heard and prescribed (Vedic rituals)

||Bhagavad Gita 2.52||

Indifference, in this case, is a condition in which you find yourself innately full and complete, established in a state of perfection and contentment. In this state, you live in the absence of raga and dvesha. In other words, you are no longer compelled by desires. You will gain dispassion towards worldly things and gain a state of perfect contentment.

In the final verse regarding karma yoga, Krishna describes how the state of perfect contentment can be attained:

श्रुतिविप्रतिपन्ना ते यदा स्थास्यति निश्चला |
समाधावचला बुद्धिस्तदा योगमवाप्स्यसि || 2.53||

śhruti-vipratipannā te yadā sthāsyati niśhchalā
samādhāv-achalā buddhis tadā yogam avāpsyasi

Disregarding Vedic rituals, when remaining unwavering in samadhi due to your steady wisdom, then you will attain karma yoga.

||Bhagavad Gita 2.53||

The knowledge of your true nature turns out to be utterly non-separate from brahman. This is the ultimate teaching revealed by the Mahavakya.

Brahman, or the reality because of which the universe exists, is one’s true nature. When your mind is established in this highest truth, then you will achieve the goal for which the practice of karma yoga is intended. Your practice will culminate in your discovery of the ultimate truth that your inner nature is non-separate from brahman.

How Does An Enlightened Mind Function In Day-to-Day Activities? | What are the signs of an enlightened person?

Arjuna asks a follow-up question and introduces a new topic in the following verse:

अर्जुन उवाच |
स्थितप्रज्ञस्य का भाषा समाधिस्थस्य केशव |
स्थितधी: किं प्रभाषेत किमासीत व्रजेत किम् || 2.54||

arjuna uvācha
sthita-prajñasya kā bhāṣhā samādhi-sthasya keśhava
sthita-dhīḥ kiṁ prabhāṣheta kim āsīta vrajeta kim

What is the description of one with firm wisdom who is established in samadhi, O Krishna? One with firm wisdom, how would he speak? How would he sit or move? – BG 2.54

||Bhagavad Gita 2.54||

Arjuna misguidedly questions an enlightened person’s behavior. 

You must be clear in your mind about the goal you seek. Here, the goal is enlightenment. If you are unclear about the nature of enlightenment, that lack of clarity can cause you to lose your way on this spiritual journey. 

This is why we should not concern ourselves with how an enlightened person behaves, but rather how they think. 

Arjuna assumed that the enlightened person looks and behaves differently from other people. What distinguishes an enlightened person is what goes on in their mind. In particular, what motivates an enlightened person’s behavior.

How Do I Stop Chasing Desires and Start Living in Joy?

Simply recognizing that the only path to fulfillment exists within helps to detach oneself from chasing worldly desires:

श्रीभगवानुवाच |
प्रजहाति यदा कामान्सर्वान्पार्थ मनोगतान् |
आत्मन्येवात्मना तुष्ट: स्थितप्रज्ञस्तदोच्यते || 2.55||

śhrī bhagavān uvācha
prajahāti yadā kāmān sarvān pārtha mano-gatān
ātmany-evātmanā tuṣhṭaḥ sthita-prajñas tadochyate

When he casts off all desires emerging from the mind, O Arjuna, content in oneself with oneself, then he is called one with firm wisdom. – BG 2.55

|| Bhagavad Gita 2.55||

When that enlightened person becomes free of all binding desires, they become free of suffering.

Imagine a child has a favorite type of cereal. Even if their family’s cabinet is full of ten other options, the child will become upset when his favorite option is not available. His binding desire causes him suffering. 

Say the mother goes to the cabinet and has the same cereal preference as the child. The mother still chooses another type of cereal. Her preference was a non-binding desire because the non-fulfillment of her desire did not make her suffer.

Non-binding desires are not a problem. If none of them are fulfilled, you’re okay. But if you have one single binding desire, you’ll suffer. 

The teaching of Vedanta helps you convert your binding desires to non-binding desires. By outgrowing all your binding desires, they become non-binding. The process through which you outgrow a binding desire is by finding something you want more.

Suppose a child wants a bicycle. When the child gets a bicycle, the binding desire for the tricycle is outgrown. When the child becomes a teenager, they will want a scooter. The binding desire for the bicycle will be outgrown. Eventually, the teenager grows into an adult and wants to replace the scooter with a car. The now-adult will overcome the bidning desire for the scooter when they buy a car. The binding desire for a first car will eventually be overcome once it is replaced with an upgraded car.

The message here is that you overcome a particular desire for a particular object which you imagine to be the source of happiness.

You outgrow one apparent source of happiness by finding one better apparent source of happiness. You already know that the true source of happiness is your innate nature. If you outgrow one apparent source of happiness by finding a better source of happiness, you will outgrow all desires by finding the true source of happiness within.

The enlightened person outgrows the desires for any and all objects of happiness by discovering the true source of happiness within—through discovering one’s innate nature to be perfect, full, and complete.

What the Gita Teaches Us

While it is not possible to let go of desire, it is possible to overcome it by changing your attitude. 

You will find a state of indifference as the path to pureness. The key to attaining this state is recognizing that desires will never provide you with perfect contentment. The only source of perfect content exists within. In a state of indifference, you will be free from all binding worldly desires, and as a result, free from suffering.