How are karma and jnana the cause of material desires?
Transcriber: Sharan Shetty
Edited by: Keshavgopal Das
Question: How are karma and jnana are the cause of material desires?
Answer: The word material can have multiple meanings and at the simplest level, it refers to that which is related with matter. When we want to possess, control and enjoy matter then that desire is called material desire. The path of karma kanda or regulated material enjoyment is based on scriptural guidelines. For example, going to swarga or getting better facilities to enjoy in this world involve fulfilling material desires. When one hears the flowery and beautiful scriptural description of such material enjoyment then it may kindle ones material desires. Some people may want to fulfil their material desires without going through scriptures and instead, by their own independent endeavours (such people comprise the majority today) but in the past ages, people fulfilled their material desires through scriptural guidelines and that was the path of karma kanda which naturally resulted in material desires. Krishna describes about this in the Bhagavad Gita 02.42 – 43
yam imam puṣpitam vacam pravadanty avipascitaḥ
veda-vada-ratah partha nanyad astiti vadinah
kamatmanah svarga-para janma-karma-phala-pradam
kriya-visesa-bahulam bhogaisvarya-gatim prati
Krishna uses the word kamatmanah to figuratively describe that such people are so much filled with material desires that their atma (soul) is made up of kama (material desires). These people follow karma kanda so that they can go to heaven (svarga-para). They are so attracted by the flowery description of the scriptures (puspitam vacam) that they think nothing else is taught in the Vedic scriptures apart from this (nanyad astiti vadinah). Therefore, Krishna says that such people cannot develop the one-pointed intelligence for practicing spiritual life.
The desires for material enjoyment are entangling and from the absolute perspective, any desire to enjoy separate from Krishna can be considered to be sinful because ultimately, we are part and parcels of Krishna and we are meant for his enjoyment. This is not a form of self-deprivation because in giving enjoyment to him, we ourselves get the highest enjoyment that we can ever get in any other way. Thus, it is not self deprivation, it is self-fulfilment. Karma deprives one from this fulfilment because it kindles material desire although those desires are within scriptural guidelines.
The path of jnana is also based on material conception of spiritual reality. It has the idea that since matter has form and matter is limited therefore spirit being unlimited should not have any form and qualities. This is basically a negative material conception projected on spirit. The path of jnana aims at merging into the brahman, that is, the desire to become God. Such a desire is also sinful because instead of serving God, one wants to imitate God and take up his position for oneself. Therefore, the word sinful here does not refer to immoral.
Scriptures use the word sinful in many different ways, sometimes sin may refer to those activities which harm others, those which violate scriptural teachings. This is one definition of sin but from the absolute perspective, anything that keeps us away from Krishna and perpetuates our material existence and which ultimately results in suffering is sinful. In that sense, jnana is also a cause of material desire because there is the desire to become God and to be the controller. That way, since the jnani is not giving up his false ego and is rather pushing it to its summit by trying to become number one, not just in a particular field but in the entire creation, so it is considered sinful.
This desire is based on false ego which is the most subtle element that causes the soul to be covered by illusion and bodily misidentification. Therefore, because the desire to become God is the goal of the path of jnana yoga, it is based on the false ego and hence is considered material which leads to material desires. Further, often those who aspire for impersonal liberation do not attain that liberation and fallback from the spiritual path to grosser material desires because the spiritual reality is not variegated. Since it is not variegated, it does not attract the heart and therefore those with the aspiration of brahman liberation fall back to material existence.
Srila Prabhupada writes in the commentary of Srimad Bhagavatam Canto One Chapter One that because the beauty of the Absolute Truth is being obscured by the impersonalists, more and more people are having no spiritual pathway for directing their urge for beauty and so find themselves attracted materially due to the urge for beauty. In this way, impersonalism (the path of jnana) promotes materialism and so is the path of karma. Therefore, karma and jnana are also the cause of material desire.
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Bhaktivinoda thakura in his Chaitanya Sikshamrta chapter 3 says:
“The cultivation of God can be found in karma marga but it is a secondary part of morality. It is not devotion, because moral conduct is the master and worship of God is but a servant of morality. On the path of jnana, there is cultivation of pure knowledge of Brahman. There, knowledge is the master and worship of God is the servant. That also is not bhakti. In bhakti, God is the only object of cultivation “( chaitanya sikshamrta ).
In that same chapter ,bhaktivinoda thakura gives a good example of why karma is the cause of material desires
“Marriage is an action; its goal is children, who should perform action, in the form of offering rites when the parents die. When this goal is achieved and turns to action of offering the pindas, the goal is to satisfy the pitras. The satisfaction of the pitras leads to the satisfaction of the children. The children then perform more actions, which give more results, which leads to more actions”
Thus in this way chain of action and reactions continues and thus such activities (under karma khanda) becomes the cause of material desires.
Thus as far as karma and jnana are not conducive to the devotional service ,it is taken to be material ,and not spiritual .