The Bhagavad Gita, or ‘Song of God’, one of the sacred Hindu texts, recounts the dialogue between Krishna, an incarnation of Vishnu, and Arjuna, His disciple.
Action, knowledge and renunciation are very important. Action without knowledge leads to bondage, but action with knowledge leads to renunciation, and renunciation leads to liberation.
Because we are all living in this world we have to take care of our body, we have to perform action. But creative activities are done only through knowledge, not through ignorance. Creative activities are actions which lead to renunciation and not to attachment, not to bondage. When such actions lead to renunciation they will lead to liberation. The whole world is working, and some of us, even, work night and day. But when we look at the world, we see the state of confusion in which it still is.
If activities by themselves brought liberation, we would not have this confusion. Actions by themselves are not sinful, but problems are created because people are doing things without knowledge. Most people work in that way, creating conflicts all the time, and getting nowhere.
The philosophy of action means the philosophy of life, because in life we are involved in action – there cannot be life without action. Lord Krishna said it is necessary to discriminate between action, forbidden action and inaction, for inscrutable is the way of action.
Lord Krishna said that there are three types of action: the thing we do thinking it is action, the thing we do but should not, and the thing we don’t do – that is also action. We have to understand deeply what action really is. The way of action, of karma yoga, is not very simple for us to understand.
Action and Inaction
He who sees inaction in action, and action in inaction, is wise among men, he is a yogi and he is the man who accomplishes everything. We see that some people are acting all the time and others are doing nothing, and we tend to think that maybe one is doing everything. But Lord Krishna said that this is not true: that when a person appears to be doing everything it does not mean that he, indeed, does; the person who appears to be doing nothing might be the person who is really doing everything.
When we look at it in practical terms, we find there are people who say: “I am doing this, I am doing that”; they seem very busy all the time and never have time for anything, while others may not say anything at all but have time for everything, and therefore do something all the time.
When we do not think we are doing something – just doing things for the sake of doing – being unattached, the ego is not there. The ego is at play when we think we are doing everything, as if the world will not exist without us.
Lord Krishna said he is a yogi who does not boast, who works silently without feeling he is doing anything or is not aware that he is doing anything, who has time to do things. He is the one who is creative, he is the one who lays a brick and that brick will grow. But the other will always pull down the brick, or may put it somewhere else, always in the wrong place, never getting anywhere. The yogi, as Lord Krishna said, is the accomplisher of everything, the real doer, even though one may not see what he is doing.
The one who is attached to the fruits of action, thinking he is doing everything, is just winding himself up. The one whose actions are devoid of design and desire for results, and whose actions are all burned by the fire of wisdom, the sages call a ‘wise man.’
Fire of knowledge
Lord Krishna said that action with knowledge leads to renunciation but action without knowledge leads to bondage. When, due to understanding, actions are devoid of any selfish motives and desire for results, the fire of knowledge burns away the taints of karma, breaks the bondage of karma.
This fire of knowledge – just like a fire – reduces all fuels that are there, burning everything to ashes. It burns all our karma, not only of today, last year or of this life, but of very many lives. Therefore, knowledge will save us from bondage to this world. Of all the things we pursue, the pursuit of knowledge is very important. In the pursuit of knowledge we attain everything. From one thing we strive towards another – there are different stages in life and one thing is applicable at one time, another thing may be desirable at another time. But in any case we need guidance all the time and knowledge gives us that guidance.
Lord Krishna said that it is really this knowledge that burns all the chains that are there in this world through action. That, having abandoned attachment to the fruits of action, ever content, depending on nothing though engaged in karma, verily one does not do anything.
When we detach ourselves from the fruits of action, contentment – santosh – comes. Contentment is the source through which we become free. The greedy person is never free, always going after this and after that. Lord Buddha said that everyone wants to possess something, whether it is the fruit of action or something else, but the greatest possession is contentment yet nobody seems to want it.
Contentment is the greatest possession because when we become contented we become independent, depending on nothing. People think that when we are detached from the fruits of action, and when we are contented, we do not do anything – that we are inactive and lazy. However, Lord Krishna said that when we are always contented, independent through knowledge, engaged in action though not wanting anything for ourselves, we are not doing anything because we are not creating any bondage, any chain for ourselves. Then we really act, accomplish everything, and whatever we do will have value, will be creative. For when knowledge comes, every other good thing will come with it. But when there is no knowledge but only ignorance, everything that we do becomes like a snake, like a cobra, which sooner or later devours us. Lord Krishna, therefore, advises us to follow the path of detachment.
Lord Krishna said that when we desire nothing for ourselves, have self-control, have abandoned all possessiveness, performing karma, we incur no sin. We will have a pure mind, and will only perform actions for the good of the world. The basis of sin is selfish desire. Every action binds us, except for those actions performed with the spirit of yajna – restraint – and without selfish motive. Absence of selfish motives comes through knowledge and understanding. When we work with a selfish motive and look for personal rewards and possessions because we are attached to that, we become bound by our actions.
Lord Krishna did not say we should not work but that we should work with a contented mind. We are not bound by our actions when we are content with what we obtain without effort, being balanced in success or failure, free from envy and from the pairs of opposites. Being free from the pairs of opposites means being without hate or greed, without these types of negative things, or even thinking that some actions are good for us and others not – we just do what is there to be done, performing our duties without thinking that one duty is difficult, the other easy, and so on. We just perform our duties towards our family, our temple, our society and our world, for their own sake.
Envy is one of the biggest problems of man. The moment the sense of possessiveness is there, there is the desire for the fruits of action, and that is the cause of envy. Without these, there will be no envy. When there is envy, knowledge disappears. And when knowledge is absent, we work blindly.
Envy disturbs our judgement. We become abnormal. Without envy we become balanced in success and failure, we look at things very objectively when we do not get the proper results for our work. We may worry about it, but we maintain a balanced attitude; with a balanced mind we will pull through the difficulty. So, that balanced attitude is very, very important in life.
Lord Krishna said that work done with such a balanced attitude of mind brings harmony in this world because we will not be bound by our actions. Competition only occurs when we seek the fruit of our actions. Only when we do not look at everything from the measurement of competitiveness do we remain objective and balanced all the time about what we are doing; then we do not think about success or failure but just about doing the right thing, which does not lead to bondage. Thus unattached, with our mind absorbed in knowledge, performing work with restraint, our entire karma will burn to ashes.
Steadiness of Mind
Attachment makes our mind run after the things we are attached to, and so instability develops within the mind. When we are attached, our mind cannot be still, it is always flickering, is always in a disturbed state. The receptivity of the mind to knowledge comes only when the mind becomes detached.
In yogic terms this is called pratyahar, when the mind is withdrawn from the world into concentration. Knowledge comes through concentration. Without knowledge we become restless, but knowledge brings steadiness of mind which leads to detachment.
Through detachment, everything we do in this world will have value, will only bear very good fruit; in time we will all receive its results and the world will be better for that. But, as Lord Krishna said, when we think about the results all the time, we are really ‘doing nothing’, for whatever we are doing will create more problems and in the end everything will be gone, will be destroyed; it is only a matter of time. When, however, we work selflessly for the sake of the world, we will bring peace from the moment we start, for – having wisdom – we will be at peace in ourselves.
In this way, little by little more and more peace develops, and when there is peace we are happy; then we have everything. Devotion and surrender Devotion and surrender mean that whatever we do we offer to the Lotus Feet of God. When we always remember the Lord, with our mind attached to God, thinking about Him all the time, then that Godly quality develops within our hearts and minds. Through the tools of devotion and knowledge we are able to overcome the problems of our life. Our mind will become spiritually sublimated, meaning that we come nearer and nearer to the Divine Source, the Divine Vibration, the Lotus Feet of God.
And when that happens we will experience peace, happiness and liberation. Om Tat Sat Hari Om.
Reprinted with the kind permission of Share International Magazine.
Authors Details: Swami Nirliptananda
Swami Nirlipananda is a senior Swami in one of the temples of the Asian community in London, deeply acquainted with the teachings of Maitreya.