Chapter 3: Understanding Total Action
It is necessary to maintain a harmony within and without, and it should be considered as unavoidable. This is so because of the great activity of the universe itself, which is unceasingly operative in the direction of a Self-realisation of itself. The universe is eager to become its own self. This is indicated by the fact that the world of the universe is always regarded as an external object of perception. It is not itself. That which is an outside something is not in its own self. It is not svastha, or identity established in identity with its own self.
There is a perpetual evolutionary process going on in the universe, right from the smallest atom to the largest conceivable activities in the stars and space and time. That is the reason why Bhagavan Sri Krishna emphasised: na hi kaścit kṣaṇam api jātu tiṣṭhaty akarmakṛt (Gita 3.5). Everyone involved in this process of the evolutionary activity of the universe is compelled to be active simultaneously, in the same manner and with the same speed, as the universe moves. We cannot go faster than the universe, nor will we be permitted to go slower than the universe. Our movement should be parallel to the requirement of universal activity. A great drama is being played, as it were, in the whole cosmos.
Due to potencies of thoughts, feelings and actions of earlier births, this body of the present life is manifested. What is the substance of this body? The substance is nothing but the thoughts that we entertained in our previous lives, our feelings in earlier incarnations, and the actions that we did earlier. Forces which are called apurva, the nemesis or the resultant effect of thoughts and actions of earlier lives, condense themselves and appear solidified, as it were, in the form of this body-mind complex. We have not come to this world with our free will. An automatic action takes place everywhere, where causes and effects are indistinguishable. The cause can become the effect and the effect can become the cause, under certain circumstances.
The length of life that we live in this world, the experiences that we pass through, and all that we enjoy or suffer in this world are the net result of what we have done in our previous lives. When we have pleasures and rejoicings in this world, it does not mean that somebody is blessing us; when we suffer, also it does not mean that somebody is cursing us. No such thing is taking place. We are ourselves blessing ourselves and cursing ourselves by the manner in which we speak, think and act.
What is the secret behind this kind of operation? Thoughts which are repugnant to the way in which the world operates are immediately rejected by the cosmic activity. This rejection takes the form of what we call karma-phala, or the result of action. The result or the nemesis of action is a mysterious circumstance that is created, unintelligible to ordinary minds, by the abhorrence of cosmic activity in respect of individualised thinking. The universal purposiveness of movement through evolution does not accept the way in which we think and act; and inasmuch as practically no one can think and act in terms of the law of the evolution of the universe, everyone has to suffer. There is no unadulterated joy or happiness in this world because our minds and intellects are not so very purified as to understand the way in which the universe is working.
We have in ourselves a very inveterate self-assertiveness, called egoism. Egoism is not something sticking to us inside our body. It is not like a ball that is inside a soda bottle. It is just a circumstance, a condition of intense self-affirmation of consciousness in a particular point of space and time. Consciousness itself is the ego when it is pinpointed in space and time, at a particular spot. The affirmation of consciousness that it is here only, and not anywhere else, and it wants this only, and not anything else – this kind of concentrated affirmation, intensely localised, is the egoism that we speak of. There is no separate ego sitting somewhere. We ourselves are the ego. The manner of our thinking is called ego. It is not a substance or a thing existing. Neither the mind is a substance, nor the ego is a substance. They are only circumstances, conditions, procedures, or the manner in which the consciousness is operating.
Thus, the body is born. It is born in the universe itself. We are not standing somewhere else, outside it. In spite of the fact that we are inseparably, organically connected with the universe of operation, we feel that we are totally independent. If it rains above, if there is a thunderstorm, if there is a flood, if there is a drought, if there is hot sun, or it is day or night, we feel that it is none of our business. We are unable to appreciate our real relation to the universe.
In the Chhandogya Upanishad, we are told to beware: when it rains outside, it rains inside us also. When thunder strikes above, it is thundering inside also. If the sun is hot outside, it is hot inside also. If it is day outside, it is day inside also. If it is night outside, it is night inside also. If there is an earthquake outside, then there is an earthquake inside also. If there is a catastrophe outside, then there is a catastrophe inside also. Whatever happens outside, happens inside also.
That is why we are seriously affected by the activities of nature. Because we are unable to adjust ourselves with the rain inside and the rain outside, the heat inside and the heat outside, the flood inside and the flood outside, they seem to be totally different. Seasonal changes upset us, and make us fall sick. That is because what is happening in nature is not allowed to take place harmoniously inside us. Certain things in the rainy season should not be eaten. Certain things should not be eaten at night, and so many other rules and regulations point out that external universal operations are the same as internal operations. To the extent to which we can harmonise ourselves with the activities of the cosmos, to that extent we are happy; to the extent that we are unable to do that, we are unhappy.
How long are we going to live in this world? The length of life depends upon the intensity of the action that we performed in the previous life. If the deeds that we perform are extremely good, beyond expectation, the reward in the form of great rejoicing will come to us in this birth itself; and if it is an extremely bad action, intolerable, the suffering as a consequence of that action also will be experienced in this life itself. But if our good deeds are very mild, their results will be experienced in some other life, because they are not strong enough to produce a result in this world. Similarly, bad deeds which are not very strong and intense will not show any result in this birth. They will produce their consequences in the next birth. Sometimes the actions may be very mild, and they may not result as experiences even in the next life. They may come some five or six lives afterwards, and we may not even know why this experience has suddenly come.
If a blessing befalls us, we say it is a windfall. This windfall is not a sudden occurrence. It is a result of some good deed that we have performed either in the previous life or some three, four, five births before. Karma is an inexorable law working precisely, more dexterously than mathematics and computers. It never makes a mistake. In the proportion we have done something in this world, in that proportion we will get the result of it. If the proportion of our action is very mild, we may get the result of it ten births afterwards. We may suffer something after ten births and wonder why we are suffering when we have not done any bad deed in this birth. It does not mean that bad deeds committed in this birth bring suffering in this birth. A person may be in high prosperity in this life, but he may face doom later on due to the consequence of something that will come in the next birth.
Thus, the cycle of life goes on, round and round, like a wheel. There is no end for this. When the past actions produce results in this birth, we may be under the impression that the matter is closed, and no further trouble will come; but it is not like that. All the effects of all the deeds that we performed in all the lives before cannot be experienced in one tenure of the physical body. One particular physical body is not strong enough to tolerate the consequences of all the deeds of all the lives that we passed through previously. So, nature has a very strange way of operating and executing its requirements. It punishes individuals little by little, never allowing anyone to know what punishments will follow afterwards.
There is a storehouse of a shop, as it were, where things are stored, and the customers will not know what is there. Whatever is necessary will be brought out to the retail shop outside. This retail allotment of the deeds of earlier actions which we are undergoing today is called prarabdha karma. “My prarabdha is causing me trouble,” people say. Prarabdha does not cause trouble, and it does not give happiness, also. It is a law. Law is neither good nor bad; it is just there for what it is. This prarabdha is a friend, as well as a foe.
There are three kinds of prarabdhas: sattvika, rajasika and tamasika. If the prarabdha is rajasika, or extremely distracting in its nature, then a person will be intensely running about here and there, never sitting quiet any time, being very busy day in and day out; and if it is tamasika one will be lethargic, and will not be inclined to do any work. But if the prarabdha is sattvika, then there will be an inclination inside to do further good actions.
We are all seated here. A thousand people have come to this ashram. They are all spiritual seekers. The idea that one should be a spiritual seeker cannot arise in the mind unless the sattvika prarabdha is working. Instead of coming to Rishikesh, you would have gone to Piccadilly or Hollywood. All of you have good karmas operating; otherwise, you would never have come to Rishikesh. Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj used to say, “No one who has not done some good deed can keep his foot on the platform of Rishikesh railway station.” You cannot even stand on the platform of Rishikesh railway station unless you have done some good deed. The sanctity of this place begins from the railway station itself, not merely here.
So, prarabdha which is sattvika permits the operation of an aspiration for God- realisation. This sattvika prarabdha should be utilised for further implementation of this aspiration or longing for God by intensive activity called sadhana.
I mentioned that there is a storehouse where goods are stored, and there is a retail shop outside whereby certain items are sold to the customers. In a similar manner, certain types of karma alone are allowed to be experienced in this body, because this body is not stout like an elephant. It is very weak, and if all the karmas start acting, the body will break in one second. So, the torture is inflicted little by little, to the extent that it is possible for the body to bear. This is prarabdha, and that which is not allowed to operate simultaneously, and kept aside in the storehouse, is called sanchita karma, the storehouse.
Now, we may be under the impression that the old storage will be exhausted one day and then we will attain salvation; but this does not happen. While it is true mathematically that the storehouse of actions gets diminished in its quantum by experience of prarabdha in different lives, it also is increased in its quantum by further actions performed in the present life. It is not only one side that is working; there is a double action taking place, simultaneously. There is a diminution of the content of the store of sanchita karma due to part of it being allotted for experience in the present life, but like a mouse or a rat which can never keep quiet, we also unnecessarily dabble in some activities and add to the karmas already existing in the storehouse, so that it will never be exhausted. That means to say, samsara will be endless and beginningless; there is no possible way to escape. The causal chain is so hard to break that no one knows where it begins and where it ends.
What is the way out? We say sadhana is the way. What kind of sadhana are we going to engage ourselves in, with this condition of inviolable law of cause and effect operating, karma-phala being unavoidable? The only way is to work, to the extent it is necessary, to bring about a harmony within oneself and outside, and not go beyond it. Proportionate activity, unavoidable for the purpose of the maintenance of an alignment or harmony within oneself and in society outside, acts like a medicine in illness. Medicine is not a food. Nobody goes on eating medicines, but when there is illness, that medicine also becomes food, because it counteracts the illness.
In a similar manner, action by itself cannot free any person, but action is a harmless element. It cannot be called either good or bad. It is an instrument of operation, and no instrument can be regarded as either good or bad. Fire, water and wind are neither good nor bad. They can destroy things, and they can also keep one alive.
This analogy is to prescribe for us the way in which we have to conduct ourselves throughout our life, which is to be a perpetual meditation for us. The whole of life is a manner of harmony that is being established from four different sides. Emotional disturbance inside harms the whole psychophysical organ, caused by irrational desires and turmoil caused by longings which are not permissible. There is also conflict of the individual with society and nature as a whole, which is to be carefully taken note of. We should never fight with nature, nor fight with human society, nor fight with our own selves.
Adroitness, expertness in the performance of work in a way that it does not harm us, in a way that it does not bind us, is yoga. Samatvaṁ yoga ucyate (Gita 2.48): Equilibrium is yoga – equilibrium not only in the way of thinking, but also in the way of doing things. Nowhere are extreme things prescribed. The balance should not tilt on one side. On one side, we are here as individuals, jivas, aspirants; on the other side is the world. The world may look very heavy in comparison with the weight of an individual, but the individual should be able to rise to the height of such weight of understanding that both sides of the balance will be equilibrated.
We cannot and should not oppose the world, nor should we find ourselves in a position of actually counteracting the requirements of nature. Every step in life is a process of participation. Work is not something that is done by us. Nobody can do anything; we can only participate in what is already going on. The universe is working, and we are not to do something new from our side. There should not be any clash created by our activities in relation to the cosmic activity. When the universe is working in one way, we should not start working in another way, creating conflict between ourselves and the world outside. This is the art of equilibrium. All work is participation.
When we move in a railway train, the train is moving; with that, we are also carried by its movement. It is not necessary for the passenger to also start moving inside or do some exercise to accelerate the movement of the train. The speed of the train will not increase merely because we are running inside the train. This is exactly what we are doing. We are not doing any good to the world by thinking that we are doing good while acting independently for our own purposes. Every individual effort has a desire-ridden motivation. Nobody can work without some desire behind it.
People talk of desireless action. What does it actually mean? It is often felt that desireless action is impossible, because if there is not some motive behind the action, the action cannot be performed. But it is forgotten that the motive should be universal, and not particularised. Let there be motive, but it should not be my motive, your motive or somebody’s motive. It is the universal motive.
We are universal beings. We are not born of some father and mother. Our brain is washed – very, very unfortunately – in such a way that we can never appreciate that we belong to the world of activity, to the creation as a whole.
Remember that the world was created first, and we came afterwards. The human being is a latecomer in the process of evolution. If we read the cosmological details in the Puranas, epics, etc., we will find that the human being was not created first. The world was created first. The sky and the heavens were created first. The plants, the trees, were created later on. The celestials in the heavens were created simultaneously, and the human being came much later; yet, the human being has the audacity to arrogate wrongly to one’s own self all work that proceeds from one’s own self.
The world is not our enemy. It is not also a friend. It is ourselves. I am not my friend; I am not my enemy; I am just what I am. This is the relationship between oneself and the world outside. We do not have to ask the world to bless us; nor do we fear that it will punish us – just as we do not punish our own selves, and do not bless our own selves. The question itself does not arise, as we are self-identical beings. If such a self-identity of purposive activity is established between oneself and the world outside, then no action can bind. Īśāvāsyam idaṁ sarvam yat kiṁ ca jagatyāṁ jagat, tena tyaktena bhuñjitha, ma gṛdhaḥ kasyasvid dhanam (Isa 1); na karma lipyate nare (Isa 2). Action motivated by individual consciousness binds. Action motivated by universal consciousness liberates, because action which is engendered through the motivation of the universal consciousness is total action. It is every action, all action simultaneously taking place; therefore, it is no action. Karmaṇy akarma yaḥ paśyed (Gita 4.18). Here is non-action in the presence of intense action. It is intense action, and not absence of action.
When an electric fan moves very rapidly at high speed, it may appear that it is not moving at all. Whether it is moving or not, we can know only if we thrust a finger into it; otherwise, the eyes cannot catch up with the speed of the blades. That is why it looks as if it is static.
In a similar manner is God’s action. It is such intense activity – high speed or high voltage, we may say – that the energy, the voltage of our body, our perception, cannot catch up with it. We are accustomed to the little deeds of our individuality, but we cannot understand what is cosmic activity. It is a perpetual activity. Our activity has a beginning and an end. We do not work incessantly every minute. It has a cessation, a beginning and an end, whereas cosmic activity is unceasing, perpetual activity. It is ever going on, but it is sattvic activity, not rajasic or tamasic.
Such is the difference between God doing things and human beings doing things. The doings of human beings have a beginning and an end, and they are motivated or activated by certain individual motives, whereas God’s action is without any individual motive, because God is not an individual. The transmutation of human motivation in the direction of cosmic motivation of universal activity is the highest karma yoga one can think of. It is doing without doing anything. It is all action, perpetual, unending activity, without any action taking place. Mayaivaite nihatāḥ pūrvam eva nimittamātraṁ bhava (Gita 11:33). The Lord says, “I have done everything myself,” but his doings are such that no one can know that anything has happened at all.
Cooperation with that kind of total action is the pinnacle of spiritual practice – a whole-souled dedication of the self to the limitless Self of God’s intention. When we tune ourselves to the will of God, which is the creative power that manifested this universe, we in a way become friends of God, and He becomes our friend. Suhṛdaṁ sarvabhūtānāṁ jñātvā māṁ śāntim ṛcchati (Gita 5.29). Realising that this great Being is our perpetual friend, and is always with us in perpetual harmony, everyone attains peace.