“The rituals and sacrifices mentioned in the karma-kanda division of the Vedic literature are to encourage gradual development of self-realization. And the purpose of self-realization is clearly stated in the Fifteenth Chapter of the Bhagavad-gita (15.15): the purpose of studying the Vedas is to know Lord Krishna, the primeval cause of everything. So, self-realization means understanding Krishna and one’s eternal relationship with Him.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 2.46 Purport)
Friend1: You often hear of karma-kanda with respect to the Vedas.
Friend2: In what context?
Friend1: I guess it refers to a specific section or division. The karma-kanda section of Vedic literature.
Friend1: Within bhakti circles, they speak negatively of it.
Friend2: Why is that?
Friend1: It is that word: karma. Bhakti is supposed to be above that.
Friend2: What is wrong with karma?
Friend1: For that specific division, the objective is advancement in karma.
Friend2: How do you advance?
Friend1: A better living condition.
Friend2: What is considered better?
Friend1: Hmm. Let me think of the best way to put it. I would say that when the threefold miseries of life have the least influence, then you are in a superior way of living.
Friend2: What are those miseries?
Friend1: Adhibhautika, adhidaivika, and adhyatmika. These miseries come from other living entities, from the gods in the heavenly region, and from within, such as disease and mental anguish.
Friend2: Advancing in karma means limiting these miseries?
Friend1: Living without disruptions in health. The absence of poverty. They say that an empty sack can’t stand up straight. If I want to advance in karma, I will be able to stand up on my own.
Friend2: Though no one is truly safe.
Friend1: Because of the influence of time. I guess karma-kanda accounts for that, to an extent.
Friend2: How so?
Friend1: You aim for advancement that continues into future lives. You hope for ascension to heaven. Maybe taking birth in a better situation the next time around.
Friend2: I see.
Friend1: I sort of understand the criticism from the bhakti perspective. Why get bogged down in the temporary? Why focus on rewards of the temporary world? Why not strive for something better?
Friend1: The question remains. Why is the karma-kanda section even there? Why does it exist? If it is inferior, why would it emanate from the original source?
Friend2: There is the explanation that the purposes from a small body of water, like a well or pond, will be served by a large body of water, as well.
Friend1: As in, if I have ten dollars, I don’t become a loser by trading that for one hundred dollars?
Friend2: Because the one hundred dollars automatically includes the ten dollars.
Friend1: Okay, so you are only confirming my original suspicion. If bhakti is the one hundred dollars or the large body of water (the ocean), why is there the karma-kanda section?
Friend2: Just because we have an ocean doesn’t mean we don’t have ponds or wells.
Friend1: What does that mean?
Friend2: Not everyone can live by the ocean. Not everyone has access to the complete reservoir. They may only have the pond to help them out.
Friend1: But why?
Friend2: That is the nature of the world, based on desire. Karma weaves an intricate web of action and reaction, which are connected. Karma-kanda is legitimate and beneficial. It helps people advance. It facilitates progress, when there isn’t the facility for the complete understanding.
Friend1: Why not give the complete understanding?
Friend2: Shri Krishna refers to that as brahmanasya. This refers to knowing Brahman, which is the spiritual energy. The human birth allows for this type of inquiry, for asking questions and getting answers in that direction.
Friend1: Right. That is the ultimate objective. Make an inquiry into Brahman.
Friend2: Again, not everyone will take up the cause immediately. Karma-kanda is a kind of mercy from the Supreme Personality of Godhead. All the purposes of the Vedas are available to one who knows the ultimate purpose.
Friend1: Just see the issue, though. If placing both on a scale, the side of karma-kanda will immediately fall to the bottom. There are way more people aligned with that way of thinking.
Friend2: Which shows how rare and valuable the complete knowledge is. Don’t be disturbed by the presence of competing or contradictory systems. This is based on our flawed perception. There is only one purpose. Take either the staircase or the elevator.
Based on flawed perception,
That confused by direction.
In one stance karma where,
But also of bhakti aware.
Just as purposes pond serving,
Same and more ocean preserving.
Better the direct and straightforward way,
And not with reincarnation to play.