by Swami Krishnananda
The main question which engages one’s attention almost every day is of the way to tackle what may be called the ‘human situation’ in the world. Man’s circumstances are very much related to what he does and what he is yet to do. And it is not easy for him to decide what is the best for him. He bungles in his choice of ‘his best’ and suffers as a consequence. This happens because he does not feel competent to judge the various factors which go to. constitute the result of an action. In short, man suffers from ignorance of the laws of life. He has ‘to know’ how ‘to act’ at any given time.
Most people come to grief due to the wrong notion that they can succeed by ‘asserting’ themselves. The truth is just the opposite. The false idea that self-assertion can bring success is based on the ignorance of the fact that there are also others in this world who can equally assert themselves and stand against the assertion from any particular individual or centre of action. No one has ever succeeded in life, who confronted the ‘others’ in the world with his ego. All egoism is met with an equally strong egoism from outside. To take always one’s own standpoint, whether in an action, an argument or even in feeling, is to court ‘opposition’, while the law of life is ‘cooperation’. Self-assertion, thus, is contrary to Nature’s laws and shall stand defeated in the end. All egoistic action, whether in mind, speech or body, evokes a similar action from other centres of force in the world and to live in such a condition is fitly called samsara, and experience in which perpetually warring elements react against one another and bring about restlessness and pain. The remedy against samsara is the art of ‘appreciation’ of the existence and feelings of others who also demand an equal recognition in the scheme of creation. Whenever you say or do anything, start it from the standpoint of the other who is in front of you, listens to you or is concerned with what you do. You are then more likely to succeed in life than by any other means which you may think is really effective.
But what is to be done when, for example, an enemy attacks you? Are you to assert yourself, or not? Here, again, the decision that you take should depend upon the nature of the consequences that would follow from the step that you take. The unselfishness of an action is judged from the extent to which it is conducive to the realisation of a higher value in life. To know whether a value is higher or otherwise, it has to be viewed both in its quantity and quality. Quantitatively, is it beneficial to the larger number of people possible? And qualitatively, does it tend to the realisation of the highest reality capable of being conceived as accessible? Or, to put it concisely, how far is it spiritual? The comfort of a lesser number may be sacrificed for the good of a larger number. But this is not the only standard of test. It is also to be judged from the extent of the spiritual value involved in it. For instance, the values attached to the existence of a spiritual genius, a saint or a sage, cannot be sacrificed for the vote of a large number of people against him. Here the quantitative test cannot be applied. Though there is only one Sun, its value as energy and light excels that of a thousand fire-flies. The qualitative test is higher than the quantitative one. The Supreme Atman is more than the quantitative aggregate of the entire universe.
All these implications it is that make it a little difficult for an ordinary man to decide the nature of the action that he has to take in his daily life. It calls forth a superior type of understanding (viveka). If, in attacking an enemy, the quantitative and qualitative tests are both fulfilled, that step has to be regarded as right. But one cannot attack another merely because one does not like that party. That would be the usual unspiritual attitude born of personal desire and ego. The spiritual test has to be applied, and, in fact, the quantitative test is an aspect of the spiritual standard of judgment. The ultimate deciding factor is dharma, the spiritual law of the universe.
An action is an effort towards the achievement of an objective. Man does not simply exist. He ever tends to become something else. The impulse for action is ingrained in the constitution of one’s individuality. Action, thus, is an expression of the very make-up of the individual, and one’s entire life is action. Life and action have come to mean one and the same thing. The desire to possess and develop relations with external phenomena is the vital spring of all action. The desiring individual is not always clear about the nature of the object of desire. This confusion in the mind ends in the commission of unwise deeds in relation to the objects outside. Actions are one-sided in their motives, for the doer of the action has generally a constricted vision which alone is allowed by any particular course of action. This course is taken without the knowledge of all the consequences of the action, which are wound up with the structure of the universe as a whole. Just as a good physician, while prescribing medicine for a disease, is cautious also of the reactions that the medicine may produce in addition to its curative or healing effect, an expert handling of situations in life requires the engagement of oneself in action with a knowledge of the different reactions they produce in addition to achieving the temporal desired objective, for, usually, one is oblivious of these side-effects when the mind is concentrated on the empirical result in view. The individual, when craving to fulfil a desire, has a rough idea of the nature of the effort required to fulfil it, but does not know that the source of action may disturb several other aspects of life and bring as a reaction suffering and grief in the end, though it may, for the time being, cause an enchantment into the belief that the desire is fulfilled. This is why the world is filled both with pleasure and pain—with foreseen effects of desires as well as their unforeseen results. An individual is born in a particular environment either because of a past wish cherished to live in such a condition or an unknown consequence of desires. The miseries of the world are the forms of the reactions of deluded actions performed previously by its inhabitants. The world is a name given to the situation or manner in which individuals experience the fruits of their own desires and actions. It is the shadow cast by the wishes of its contents and it is what these wishes are and what they sweep away from pure existence with the winds of the forces moving towards their, fulfilment. We are asked to perform action without regard for fruits, because the fruits are not in our hands, they are determined by the general law of the universe which we, as individual sources of action, can neither understand nor follow.
The accumulated and cumulative effects of actions done in all the past lives of individuals are packed into a concentrated residuum of potentiality in their subtlest and innermost layer, constituting the causal world. The aggregate of all actions of the past deposited thus in a latent form, in each one’s individual capacity, is called sanchita karma (accumulated action). This potential aggregate is carried by the jiva in all its incarnations and this never gets destroyed until the jiva’s attainment of moksha. The determining factor of every incarnation of the Jiva is the characteristic of that portion of sanchita karma which is separated out as a specific allotment to be worked out in a given type of environment. This allotted portion of sanchita karma is called prarabdha (that which has begun to produce effect) karma. The jiva, after being born in an incarnation by the force of prarabdha, performs further actions in its new life, called agami karma, the results of which are added on to the unspent portion of sanchita karma. This implies that the sanchita cannot be exhausted and, consequently, the series of rebirths not ended until the Jiva ceases adding of new karmas to the old sanchita. The technique of performing actions without producing reactionary effects is called Karma Yoga. The doctrine of Karma Yoga, especially as propounded in the Bhagavadgita, is a commentary on the principle of universal action and reaction and the way to one’s redemption from its bondage.