Deepavali, or Diwali as commonly known, will be celebrated on the 12th of November this year. What is the inner, or spiritual, significance of Diwali in Sanatan Dharma? An excerpt from Partho's latest book.
[ These conversations are spread over many months, reflecting many moods and thoughts. We have tried to retain, as far as editorially possible, the original bhava and flavor of the conversations as originally recorded. — Editors. ]
Dialogue 3: Nishkama
M: Acharyaji, you used the word nishkama, desireless, as one of the signs of the fruition of the yajna. Nishkama is also the basis of the Gita’s karmayoga — nishkama karmayoga. Can you please tell us a bit more about nishkama and nishkama karma? Is it truly possible to be engaged in action without any desire for the fruits of the action, unless one is already a great yogi!
AN: But there are stages of inner development that one must pass through with great patience and care before one comes to nishkama karma. And, of course, it is not easy, for one struggles against the very grain of human nature. As I have explained earlier, the important thing is to get the purity first. Suddhi. Suddhi of the will. Remember, human beings act or work out of self-interest, the all-consuming mamatva. Nishkama karma is egoless action, which translates into action free of self-interest, free of mamatva, ahankara — in one word, impersonal. And this is the question: can you live, act, work impersonally?
M: I don’t think I understand what that means. I am a person, in my will, intentions, thoughts, actions — how can I be impersonal? Unless I drop my personality altogether?
AN: (Faintly smiling) You are right about that, Sir. It is the personality that must be dropped, as you say. But how does one do that — drop the personality?
M: As you said the other day, Acharyaji, by seeing through the illusion of personality and separative existence.
AN: Yes, but that would be in an intellectual way, not experiential. Unless one experiences the unreality of the individual self, one never really gets out of it.
M: But how to experience it, Sir? The intellectual understanding itself seems pretty difficult to come to.
AN: The Gita is a Vedantic text, as you would know, Manu. It is not possible to practice the yoga of the Gita without practicing Vedanta. The whole of Vedanta rests on the bedrock of impersonality — that the sole reality, the sole existent, is the impersonal, immutable Brahman, though that Brahman does not in any way preclude all that is personal and mutable in the universe.
M: I have never really understood the personal-impersonal equation. You say that the ground of all beings is the impersonal Sat, and then you also say that Sri Krishna is the personal aspect of the impersonal Sat.
AN: You’re not getting it because you are thinking in terms of dichotomy, duality: in truth, the impersonal and the personal are two aspects of the same divine reality that is neither one nor the other. The divine reality is impersonal, and unknowable, transcendent to all that we know or are conscious of. But this selfsame divine reality is also Sri Krishna, the personal, the knowable — the Guru, the friend, the lover, the ishta-deva. The Divine can possess infinite personalities but that does not mean that it is limited by personality, or ceases to be impersonal. Making sense?
M: Somewhat. What you are saying is that the Divine is impersonal but can have infinite personalities or personal aspects without ever ceasing to be itself, which is impersonal and the immutable.
AN: [Nods quietly.] This is the Vedantic position, Manu. Once you get it, you are ready to practice impersonality.
M: Practice impersonality?
AN: Very much so — it is a Vedantic practice, a process that leads to the liberation from the sense of separative existence and limited individuality, from the stress of personal will and action.
M: Ah! Can we talk about this, Sir?
AN: (Smiling) Yes, we shall. There are steps, or stages, of this practice. It begins with a scientific understanding of how the world and self we experience are constituted. You see, what we call our ‘self’ is not a ’self' at all — it is entirely made up of the three gunas of prakriti. Everything, everywhere is made of the three gunas of prakriti. Reflect on these words: nanyam gunebhyah kartaram yada drashtanupashyati, gunebhyash ca param vetti madbhavam sodhigacchati. 
This is Sri Krishna telling Arjuna that everything in this universe is caused and sustained by the action of the three gunas, or modes, of prakriti, and superior to prakriti and her modes is the Divine, and he who realizes that supreme truth attains to the status of the Divine. This is a profound rahasya stated by Sri Krishna in a single trenchant sloka, and he who understands its import is at once liberated from the bewildering play of prakriti and personality… see, it is a very potent mantra: nothing of what we experience as us is us, all that we see and experience is the interplay of the three gunas, totally impersonal.
M: And if everything is an impersonal play of the gunas, so is my so-called personality?
AN: (Smiles) Isn’t there a certain sense of liberation in just knowing that, even if intellectually?
M: Absolutely. I’m already feeling so much lighter!
AN: And, if you bear in mind, that these are Sri Krishna’s words, this is divine revelation, then it becomes all the more powerful — no place for question or doubt of any kind.
AN: Yes, sraddha, which is the basis of smaran and sadhana. 
M: I now understand, at least the first step, of practicing impersonality.
AN: And if you do understand, and intuitively perceive, the working of the Divine behind all operations of prakriti, you will come to samarpan in no time — you will begin to sense or perceive Krishna’s play everywhere, in all beings and personalities, in all events and circumstances. By and by, an impersonal regard will replace your personal way of seeing and responding to things, and with that will come the true samata of the Gita: equanimity in all situations, an equal regard for all beings, becomings and happenings. So, the knowledge that all is Krishna’s divine play — his leela  — liberates you from the continuous stress of changing and clashing circumstances, the conflicting play of personalities, the bewildering play of the gunas and dwandvas  of nature.
M: So, this is mukti, no less?
AN: Yes, indeed; for one who realizes Sri Krishna’s presence within and behind all prakriti, what can be painful? What fear or doubt can he or she have? Everything then becomes a revelation and a miracle, one is no longer subject to delusion or ignorance, one is enlightened, awake to the truth of things and beings. To such a one, mukti is an endless process. You can sense this mukti in every act and gesture of such a person.
M: And such a person will be capable of nishkama karma, Acharyaji?
AN: Reflect on this. When you can sense Sri Krishna’s presence everywhere, in all things, in all people, in all events, how will you regard yourself as a separate individual?
M: True; what I can sense as a separate ‘myself’ today will then be sensed as a portion of his being, a wave in the infinite ocean of his existence. No sense of individuality or personality will survive!
AN: Indeed, all sense of personality will merge in an ever-growing sense of Vasudeva, Sri Krishna’s cosmic existence, vasudeva sarvam iti. In that growing consciousness, your ‘personal’ existence will also begin to reflect more and more the wide impersonality of Vasudeva, and all your works and actions will become an effortless expression of that Vasudeva — free of personal will and desire, nishkama in the true sense.
M: Madbhavam sodhigacchati?
AN: Yes, indeed.
M: Therefore, the key is the understanding of the rahasya of the gunas?
AN: An intuitive perception, really. You will understand once you perceive. The perception will, in fact, be the understanding.
M: And that is the whole issue, Sir.
AN: What is the issue?
M: How do I see the modes of nature? For me, they are abstractions.
AN: But when you ‘see’ a tree in a forest, aren’t both, the tree and the forest, abstractions? When you see ‘me’, or, more accurately, what your mind projects as ‘me’, aren’t you ‘seeing’ an abstraction?
M: (After a pause) Yes, I suppose so. In reality, there is neither ‘tree’ nor ‘forest’ — neither ‘you’ nor ‘me’ — the ‘persons’ I refer to as ‘you ’ and ‘me’, and the objects I refer to as ‘tree’ and ‘forest’ are all mental projections.
AN: That is correct.
M: An empty mind would have no such projections. The reality such a mind would perceive would be radically different from the reality I perceive.
AN: Yes, absolutely. All perceived ‘reality’ is subjective, and conditioned.
M: Yes. So I can see the point, Acharyaji. If I can break down this world of people and events into forces or gunas, I will see the truth of what Krishna is saying. All things are made up of the gunas and all things are moved by the gunas. Even this personality, what I call ‘my’ thoughts and feelings, are moved by the gunas of nature, nothing is mine and nothing is me — it is all a play of the modes of nature.
AN: Yes, indeed; and one who can see the play clearly can stand apart from it, be free of it.
M: Is this what you mean when you say that you are not identified with personality or nature? That you are aware of the play of the gunas in and around yourself, and you know that you are independent of it all?
AN: Yes, Sir — the whole play of the gunas is out there.
M: What is the self, then? What happens within?
AN: Within? Within is all Self, Sir, Purusha.
M: And Purusha is the witnessing?
AN: Purusha is awareness.
M: Awareness of the modes and the play of prakriti?
AN: Yes, when prakriti is the field, the kshetra,  Purusha is the knower of the kshetra. When Purusha withdraws its attention from prakriti, then Purusha is self-knowledge, blissful atmabodh,  when only the Self is known by the Self.
M: One can come to this state?
AN: (Smiling) Don’t take my word for it, Sir, find out for yourself.
M: (Smiling back) As I understand, Acharyaji, one has to reorient oneself, change one’s way of seeing… instead of looking outward, and taking namarupa to be the sole reality, one has to look inward, at the impersonal play of the gunas and forces of nature, and beyond that, at Ishvara himself supporting this whole play.
AN: Perfectly stated, Sir.
M: So, now I understand impersonality much better, and I know that it is not the opposite of personality but the transcendence of it.
AN: And it is the basis of the Gita’s nishkama karmayoga. Till one gets the impersonality of the Purusha, one will keep struggling against nature and circumstances.
M: And what is the final fruition, the siddhi,  of the karmayoga?
AN: The siddhi of karmayoga? To become one with the Will of the Divine, to become a perfect instrument in Sri Krishna’s hands, to do his will in all intention, thought, expression and action. That is yoga, union.
M: To know and perfectly perform Krishna’s will?
AN: To know and perform, yes; but much more than that — to become his will, his expression, perfect identity. That is the meaning of Sri Krishna’s exhortation to Arjuna: nimitta matram bhava … become an occasion or an instrument only, Arjuna.  Reflect on these statements, Sir: Even without you, Arjuna, says Krishna, all these warriors will be killed; by me and none other are they already slain; therefore, knowing that I alone will and act, become an instrument only through which I can will and act. Mark also the word already: there is a profound rahasya in this single expression. In Sri Krishna’s consciousness, whatever seems to be happening in the present, or all that is still to happen in the future, has already happened, so whether Arjuna likes it or not, whether he participates in it or not, the outcome is already determined in Sri Krishna’s consciousness.
M: But, obviously, this is not an easy rahasya to grasp — if everything is already determined in Sri Krishna’s consciousness, then why the battle, why the exhortations, why the struggles? Why the whole drama of the Mahabharat?
AN: Your question is most natural, Sir. It’s the old free choice and destiny conundrum, isn’t it? If everything has already happened, then Arjuna is not free to choose, is he? Even without you, all these warriors will be killed; by me and none other are they already slain … but then, why the Gita in the first place?
M: Precisely my questions, Acharyaji!
AN: And I’m afraid there is no simple answer to this. The key to this rahasya lies in the idea of instrumentality… nimitta bhava.  The ordinary human believes that he or she is the doer, the thinker, the actor, that it is she or he who wills, chooses, expresses, acts. This is known as karta bhava.  So the whole progress of the Gita’s karmayoga is from karta bhava to nimitta bhava, from the ego-consciousness to Krishna’s consciousness — as Sri Krishna himself says to Arjuna, manmana bhavo madbhakto.  The yogi who attains to the perfection of the karmayoga and is settled in the nimitta bhava, he is the one who has become Krishna-minded, Krishna’s devotee and lover, whose whole existence has become a yajna to the Divine, whose being is in an entire and constant samarpan to the Lord.
1 The Gita, 14.19: नान्यं गुणेभ्यः कर्तारं यदा द्रष्टानुपश्यति। गुणेभ्यश्च परं वेत्ति मद्भावं सोऽधिगच्छति। — When the seer perceives that the modes of Nature are the whole agency and cause of works and knows and turns to That which is supreme above the gunas, he attains to the movement and status of the Divine (madbhavam). ↑
2 Smaran, constant remembrance; sadhana, spiritual practice by which one realizes, — or makes real — one’s understanding in one’s day to day life and work.↑
3 Play; Sri Krishna’s leela refers to the realization and experience of this life and world as the divine play. The experience of all existence as Krishna’s divine play liberates one from the conception and experience of existence as falsehood, illusion and struggle. For one who knows existence as leela, there is no sense of fall, sin or redemption, no fear of evil or death, all is a play of divine ananda, or bliss.↑
4 Dwandva is duality, the play of opposites, the conflicts and struggles arising from dualities — the good and the bad, the pleasant and the unpleasant, the joyful and the painful, the auspicious and the inauspicious, good fortune and misfortune, health and illness etc.↑
6 When the Self is aware of Self, an absolute and non-dual state where no other knowledge or known exists: the knower is the known and there is no other; also referred to as samadhi or complete absorption in the Self.↑
7 Attainment of the objective of one’s sadhana, the fruition of one’s spiritual efforts.↑
8 The Gita, 11.33: तस्मात्त्वमुत्तिष्ठ यशो लभस्व , जित्वा शत्रून् भुङ्क्ष्व राज्यं समृद्धम् ।मयैवैते निहताः पूर्वमेव , निमित्तमात्रं भव सव्यसाचिन् ॥ — Therefore arise, get thee glory, conquer thy enemies and enjoy an opulent kingdom. By me and none other already even are they slain, do thou become the occasion only, O Savyasachin.↑
9 The sense of being an instrument: nimitta is instrument or occasion, bhava is sense, attitude, or settled state of being. In contrast, karta bhava is the sense of personal doership: karta, the one who acts or causes action (karma).↑
10 As explained above ↑
11 The Gita, 18.65: मन्मना भव मद्भक्तो मद्याजी मां नमस्कुरु। मामेवैष्यसि सत्यं ते प्रतिजाने प्रियोऽसि मे।। — Become my-minded, my lover and adorer, a sacrificer to Me, bow thyself to Me, to Me thou shalt come, this is my pledge and promise to thee, for dear art thou to Me.↑