Jnana-karmasannyasa-yogah/ Topic of renunciation of action throught Knoweledge (Chapter 4 …continued)

Another very important topic in the fourth chapter, in fact the central topic, would be about action and inaction. In fact Krishna says in the 17th verse—you should know what is karma, action, you should know what is vikarma i.e prohibited action, and you should know about akarma, i.e. actionlessness. He says karma is action done. That’s very clear to everyone—you exercise your freedom of choice and you act, so that is a deliberate action. Of course, when you act, you keep your priorities etc in mind, you keep your understanding of dharma in mind, and then you act. Vikarma is also easy to understand. It’s what you should not be doing–killing, hurting someone, stealing, all illegal and immoral actions… Of course, all these change from time to time and circumstances etc but we know what is to be done and what is not to be done.  So karma and vikarma are very clear. The confusion comes with akarma because people think “actionlessness’’ is not doing anything. And as I mentioned in an earlier post one cannot remain actionless for long. Your internal pressure of desires, priorities etc will push you to do something. Therefore, what is freedom from action? To understand “freedom from action’’ one has to know the one who is doing the action. And, in fact, Krishna goes further. What is akarma? He says, he who can see inaction in action and action in inaction, that person knows the truth.

  Karmanyakarma yah pasyed akarmani cha karma yah

Sa buddhiman manusyesu sa yuktah krtsnakarmakrt (verse 18)

The one who sees actionlessness in action and action in actionlessness is wise among human beings.That person is a yogin, who has done everything that is to be done

In other words, he says, only a person who knows the truth, a wise person, only that person is actionless. But we see a lot of wise people doing a lot of action, and we see a lot of ignorant people doing nothing, being lazy and indolent. That is why he gave us this verse—that one  has to see what is inaction in action and what is action in inaction.

Let us take the case of a person who is doing nothing. There is nothing like doing nothing. This person may be dreaming about something, fantasizing about something, he may be hoping to achieve something, he may be having a lot of desires…all these things will always be there. Therefore, no person is, really speaking, inactive. It is only relative–therefore, even if he is sitting down quietly, there is a lot of action going on in terms of his worrying, thinking, his anxiety etc. To understand inaction in action, we have to understand who exactly is  the person who acts. What is action? Your heart desires something, your intellect thinks about it and with your body you perform an action. This is how everyone acts, both the ignorant and the wise.

 Now the question is: if you are a wise person, you know exactly who you are, and what exactly you are. You are neither the mind, body or the reasoning or desire,  you are the one who is aware of all of them. Therefore, you are not this acting entity. The acting entity is your conceptual self, what is popularly known as the ego. And what are you really? You are nothing but all-pervading awareness/consciousness. Therefore, the one who not only has this vision of being all-pervading awareness but is also rooted in this knowledge, to whom this knowledge is never “out of sight, out of mind’’, that person doesn’t take himself to be an actor, doesn’t take himself to be a doer or an enjoyer. Neither does he do any action nor does he receive an action, because I, the all-pervading awareness cannot act or cannot be an object of an action. All receiving is nothing but being an object of somebody else’s action.

Therefore, if I am rooted in this knowledge that I am nothing but limitless awareness, consciousness, then I’m free from all actions, whether I’m acting or not acting. If I don’t know that, even when I’m not doing any action, the sense of the ego, my conceptual self, me as a doer and, therefore, as a receiver, as an enjoyer of the result of those actions is always there. Therefore, actionlessness, really speaking, is the nature of the self, of what I really am, because I as an infinite being cannot do anything. That’s why a wise person might be doing a lot of action but, from his own standpoint, he’s free from all actions. To give you an image of this would be the image of the “eye of the storm’’, the calm centre in the storm of all activities. The body and mind may be furiously acting but I am relaxed. In this nine-gated city called the body, neither do I do anything nor do I receive anything. This is the actionlessness Krishna is referring to in this chapter.


[pullquote]It is said that this sort of person’s body has been offered to `prarabhda’’. He lives a typical sanyasi’s life, he lives by whatever fate brings him[/pullquote]

As we saw earlier, the person who became wise may have been one living the life of karma-yoga (as we saw in the second chapter.) Therefore, he says, as a karma-yogi, I had desires, I took myself to be the doer, I exercised my freedom of choice and in the process of pursuing this knowledge I grew bigger than my desires. And in the fulfilment of this knowledge I found myself to be free from the problem of desire and action. In my life, I may still continue the lifestyle of a karma-yogi where I’m doing a lot of action and at the same time I am actionless. To the world it seems that I have a lot of purpose in life, that I have desires because I’m acting in the world. But what is a desire? A desire is for the sake of happiness, but I have already understood the knowledge that I’m ananda, the source of all joy. Therefore, even though my lifestyle is that of a karma-yogi involving a lot of action, really speaking I’m not a karma-yogi, I’m a wise person who is now seemingly engaged in a lot of actions. This is one lifestyle. So it is with this in mind, he says:

Yasya sarve samarambhah kamasankalpavarjitah

Jnanagnidagdhakarmanamtamahuh panditam budhah (verse 19)

The one for whom all undertakings are free from (binding) desire and will, whose actions are burnt by the fire of knowledge, the sages call him as wise.

Tyaktva karmaphalasangam nityatrpto nirasrayah

Karmanyabhipravrtto pi naiva kincit karoti sah (verse 20)

Giving up the deep attachment to the results of action, always contented, being not dependent on anything, he (or she) does not do anything even though fully engaged in action.

At the same time, he also says that another person who may have gained this knowledge may have taken to sanyasa before he was rooted in this knowledge. That person may not be active all the time. He is what they call “yadrachhalabhasantusto’’, (verse 22) one who lives by whatever comes by chance.

What does that mean, Swamiji…“living by whatever comes by chance’’?

Whatever comes to him by chance—either by the play of fate, from the people around him, their desires and choices, or his own fate, his own karma.

It suggests that he doesn’t make an effort..

It is said that this sort of person’s body has been offered to `prarabhda’’. He lives a typical sanyasi’s life, he lives by whatever fate brings him. But that is as far as his personal desires go. He is free to choose to do something for society, for the world. Let’s take the case, for example, of a sanyasi living on the banks of the Ganga, he goes for bhiksha to keep body and soul together. One fine day, a seeker lands up and asks him to teach him. He will naturally respond to that need or maybe he feels  that it is necessary to teach in the society he’s presently in. It’s an effortless response to society because, remember, those things came to him by chance. The student could have gone somewhere else…Why did he choose to be in a particular city? By prarabhda, by chance…This is the life of a typical sanyasi.

So look at both these lifestyles—one full of action, one with limited action. But both are free from action. The one full of action, the erstwhile karma-yogi, has now become a wise person and is therefore continuing the same lifestyle. The other person, sanyasi, has become a wise person, and is continuing the same lifestyle. Their lifestyles may be different but both are, really speaking, actionless because both are living a life centred on what they are.

Referring to this, Krishna says, `Brahma arpanam….’ Everything is Brahman. The offering is Brahman, the worship is Brahman, the object of worship is Brahman, the object of action, the result of action, everything is Brahman, everything is one Reality. One who is rooted in that, he is truly actionless.


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