यस्त्वात्मरतिरेव स्यादात्मतृप्तश्च मानव: |
आत्मन्येव च सन्तुष्टस्तस्य कार्यं न विद्यते || 17||
yas tvātma-ratir eva syād ātma-tṛiptaśh cha mānavaḥ
ātmanyeva cha santuṣhṭas tasya kāryaṁ na vidyate
yaḥ—who; tu—but; ātma-ratiḥ—rejoice in the self; eva—certainly; syāt—is; ātma-tṛiptaḥ—self-satisfied; cha—and; mānavaḥ—human being; ātmani—in the self; eva—certainly; cha—and; santuṣhṭaḥ—satisfied; tasya—his; kāryam—duty; na—not; vidyate—exist
But he who rejoices, who is contented, who finds happiness in Atma only, has no work to perform.
Except for the Paramahamsa who has directly experienced the Supreme Self, for all others Karma yoga is the inevitable law. In this verse, the Lord describes the liberated sage. He finds all joy in Atma, all satisfaction in Atma, all contentment in Atma. He does not move outside Atma. For him, the law of karma does not apply because he has already realised the highest fruit of karma (i.e.) Moksha. So he is released from the operation of the law of karma. But still, if he works, he does so for the benefit of mankind. There is no harm whether he works or does not work.
Such realised sages are very rare indeed. All the others must work. They should endeavour to attain the highest state by diligent performance of yajna. They should understand what they are, where they are, how they live, and avoid the dangerous delusion of giving up karma before reaching the goal. It would be as foolish to do so as to throw away the leaf before eating the food.
In modern times the attachment and distractions of the material world have assumed dangerous proportions. Man has sunk into the mire of material pleasures and is caught by them in a ready embrace from which he is not able to extricate himself. He is not able to conceive of anything higher than food and sex. The true joy of life is lost. Man is reduced to the level of animal creation. It would be understood by the purified intellect that joy and happiness cannot arise from dead matter. It is the greatest error to think so. True joy is actually flooding the heart of all people. What one imagines as joy coming from external objects is only reflected. Atmic happiness is ever-present in the heart. To know this is Jnana. Not to know this is Maya. The realised sage is perfectly contented because he knows that all the joys, delights, and pleasures of the material world are comprehended in the happiness of the Self. Knowing and realising this, he does not hanker for sense-pleasures. He does not go outside himself to seek for – this or that as the ignorant man does. He is Atmarama, Atmatripta, Atmatushta. The general term man (manavah) is used to show that no one is denied the merit of Self-realisation for reasons of caste, creed, or sex.
Swami Vivekananda Says —
“He whose joy is only in himself, whose desires are only in himself, he has learned his lessons.” This is the great lesson that we are here to learn through myriads of births and heavens and hells — that there is nothing to be asked for, desired for, beyond one’s Self.[Source]
As the Gita says, “He whose devotion is to the Atman, he who does not want anything beyond Atman, he who has become satisfied in the Atman, what work is there for him to do?”[Source]
The highest men are calm, silent, and unknown. They are the men who really know the power of thought; they are sure that even if they go into a cave and close the door and simply think five true thoughts and then pass away, these five thoughts of theirs will live through eternity. Indeed such thoughts will penetrate through the mountains, cross the oceans, and travel through the world. They will enter deep into human hearts and brains and raise up men and women who will give them practical expression in the workings of human life. These sattvika men are too near the Lord to be active and to fight, to be working, struggling, preaching, and doing good, as they say, here on earth to humanity. The active workers, however good, have still a little remnant of ignorance left in them. When our nature has yet some impurities left in it, then alone can we work. It is in the nature of work to be impelled ordinarily by motive and by attachment. In the presence of an ever active Providence who notes even the sparrow’s fall, how can man attach any importance to his own work? Will it not be a blasphemy to do so when we know that He is taking care of the minutest things in the world? We have only to stand in awe and reverence before Him saying, “Thy will be done”. The highest men cannot work, for in them there is no attachment. Those whose whole soul is gone into the Self, those whose desires are confined in the Self, who have become ever associated with the Self, for them there is no work. Such are indeed the highest of mankind; but apart from them every one else has to work.[Source]
Every one must work in the universe. Only those who are perfectly satisfied with the Self, whose desires do not go beyond the Self, whose mind never strays out of the Self, to whom the Self is all in all, only those do not work. The rest must work.[Source]
Question: Who is exempt from the law of karma?
Answer: The sage of self-realisation is free from the law of karma. For them, there is no work to do.