Sri Ramanuja is one of the great teachers of karmayoga, the discipline which unites action and contemplation. In his commentary on the Bhagavad-gita, Ramanuja argues that karmayoga is essential for all yogins, and is especially important in preparing oneself for higher practices of bhakti. I have translated the following commentary, which provides insight into a central feature of karmayoga, seeing oneself as an instrument of God. Elsewhere, Ramanuja describes that the self has agency (kartritva) which is under God’s will. But here, he stresses seeing God as the agent or doer of all actions. Words that Ramanuja quotes directly from the verse are in boldface.
Resigning all of your acts unto me, through a spiritually focused
mind; without hankering or possessiveness, fight, free of disturbance.
Unto me: unto the lord of all, who exists as the inner self of all beings. Resigning all of your acts through a spiritually focused mind, without hankering, without possessiveness, and without disturbance, perform all of those acts which are enjoined, like fighting in the war. A mind which is focused upon the self is a spiritually focused mind. The import is that it becomes focused by means of the knowledge provided by hundreds of shruti texts which propound the true nature of the self.
The ruler, who has entered within, and is the self of all. . .who has entered within and is the doer. (Taittiriya Aranyaka )
The one who is dwelling in the self and who, within the self, is unknown to the self, whose body is the self, who is within all selves, who regulates the self from within—he is your inner controller, the immortal self. (Brihad-aranyaka Upanisad 3.7.22)
The shruti texts thus declare that this self [the individual self] is actuated by the supreme being, being the body of the supreme person, and that the supreme person is the actuator. Such is also proclaimed by smriti texts.
He governs all. (Manu Smriti 12.122)
Later, Krishna will say the following:
I am seated in everyone’s heart. (Gita 15.15)
The lord of all sits in everyone’s heart, causing, by his power, all beings to wander as if on a machine. (Gita 18.61)
[Ramanuja restates the import of the verse, in the voice of Krishna:] Thus, resigning all of your acts unto me, the supreme person, in the mindset that everything is done by me alone, since the individual self which exists as my body is essentially actuated by me; performing all actions to worship me; becoming free from desire for the fruit of labor, by which you will also be without possessiveness, you must perform acts like fighting in the war without disturbance.
Be free from possessiveness toward actions, contemplating the following: “The doer is the supreme person, the lord of all, the proprietor of all, and he causes all of his actions to be done himself, for the purpose of his own worship, by means of his own acts the individual self, which belongs to him.” Be free from the feverish disturbance of thoughts like “what will become of me, given the endless accumulation of karmic sin, generated from time immemorial.” Simply perform karmayoga happily, remembering that the supreme person, who is worshiped by such acts will liberate you from fetters.
The Lord’s lordship and proprietorship over all is established in shruti texts like the following:
To him who is the highest amongst lords, the great lord, and highest amongst gods, the Divine. (Shvetashvatara Upanishad 6.7)
He is the lord of the universe. (Maha-narayana Upanishad 11.3)
He is the lord of all lords. (Shvetashvatara Upanishad 6.8)