The Relationship between Being and Doing
by Swami Krishnananda

(Spoken on February 24th, 1976.)

I shall speak to you in a few words what I have been thinking in my mind for the last few minutes, which is that the main principles of life may be summed up in two words: being and doing. The world is mostly engaged in doing, and the entire program of human life may be defined as one of intense engagement in doing one thing or the other, whatever be one’s walk of life or the profession one may be following. It is immaterial where we are placed in society, what our circumstances are, and so on. It follows as a general principle that everyone is compelled to do something, and life is mostly identified with doing. Life is action, as it is said many times in scriptural quotations.

But what many people would not have the time to understand or ponder over is that our action is a process that proceeds from the being which we are. It is not a movement in the air. It is not merely flying, without anything that flies. There is something that flies when we say that something is flying. There is flying, or movement. There cannot be movement unless there is something that moves; likewise, there cannot be doing, or action, unless there is someone that acts, or that does.

Now, we are generally overwhelmed with an idea of doing the maximum that is possible, to the greatest extent conceivable, in the most intense manner, for the largest profit as we can think of in our mind. We are aspiring for a sort of infinite result to follow from our actions. Whatever we do must produce a large result. There must be the greatest product which will make myself and others happy. This is very pious enthusiasm no doubt, but enthusiasm alone does not count in this world. I am reminded of a line perhaps from Milton where it is said, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Good intentions alone do not count because many a time what we regard as a good intention may not be good when all the factors, the pros and cons of the issue, are considered dispassionately. Otherwise, there would be no defeat or failing in life. If everything is clear to our minds, why are we defeated in life? That means certain conditions of life are not clear. Certain aspects are out of the ken of human perception. That is why what we regard as right sometimes produces a result which is most unexpected.

All this difficulty arises because of an over-enthusiasm to do things rather than finding time to consider the background of our actions or doings – that we have to be something before we do something. An empty cause cannot produce a rich result or effect, or rather, to put it humorously, holiness cannot proceed from hollowness. We must be holy within in order that we may spread a holy atmosphere around us.

To put the whole point precisely, we cannot do something more than what we are. This is a very important scientific fact that we have to remember. A cause cannot produce an effect wider than itself or qualitatively more valuable than itself. It is stupid on the part of any person to think that infinite results or unlimited effects can follow from limited causes. And in order that we may be in a position to accept the character of the result that has to follow from our actions or doings, we must know what is the extent of our own being, in quantity as well as quantity. Whatever we are in quality and quantity, that alone can come out as a result of our action. Nothing else can come out of it, not even a jot more than what we are.

Now, people are, I should say, not sufficiently educated in the line of correct thinking, on account of which they go the wrong way. The mistake they commit is in thinking that they are not at all to be counted in the actions that they have to perform: You are not a factor involved in the activities that you have to perform. The factors involved in your actions are outside in the world, in other persons and other things, and you are outside it. You have nothing to do; rather, you were a witness of your actions, and the success or failure of your actions depends entirely on factors external to you, on the people around you, on the world external to you, on the things in front of you, and so on, and you forget, unfortunately, that you are a very essential factor, perhaps the most important factor.

I began by saying that doing and being are correlated factors of the principle of existence. In fact, you should not use the word ‘and’ when you refer to being in its relation to doing. It is only an exigency of English grammar. There is no ‘and’ between being in its relation to doing. The relation between doing and being is something like the relation between the rays of the sun and the sun himself. You cannot say ‘the sun and his rays’. The rays are inseparable from the being of the sun. So if success is to be the outcome of your existence or life in this world, there must be a tolerably successful conception of your own self, not merely from the point of view of your own finitude but from the point of view of the various factors which are concerned in the development of your personality, as well as the processes of your action.

One of the things that mankind cannot understand is that we all live in a world of interconnected causes. No event takes place due to an isolated cause, just as one does not suddenly fall sick due to a single event of a cold wind blowing over the head, etc. A cold wind blowing over your head is not the only cause of your falling sick. That may be an immediately visible cause, but there were other contributory factors which led to your catching a cold, though the wind was perhaps the last straw on the camel’s back. You were susceptible to the illness due to a peculiar condition of the various constituents of your physiological being. Likewise, our successes and failures in life are not brought about by individual causes. Here is a great case for cooperative action, and perhaps the basis of the philosophy of universal brotherhood and universal affection, universal work with a united spirit. That events do not occur in this world by single causes is not merely a psychological observation, but a philosophical truth.

I shall try to take your mind back to the great hymn of the Rigveda, the Purusha Sukta, where the great sage, the seer of the hymn, tells us that the world is an interconnected system in the sense of a vital, living being. To bring this truth out clearly, the world has been conceived. The universe has not been created by the Purusha. This is not what the hymn tells us. The universe is the Purusha, says the Veda: puruṣa evedaṁ sarvam yadbhūtaṁ yacca bhavyam (Purusha Sukta 2). Puruṣa evedaṁ, he says. He does not say that the Purusha created the world or the universe. The creation is the Purusha himself.

Why has this analogy been brought out? It is merely to tell us the relationship that exists among ourselves, among things in this world, among souls, and perhaps between the souls and God Himself. The Purusha, as the Veda puts it, is a living being, not a dead mechanistic structure, and we know how a living being works. A living system is an organically connected body, as our own body is, where every event taking place in any part of the body is reflected in every other part of the body, and we cannot say which is the cause and which is the effect. Inasmuch as there is a mutual action and reaction among the parts of this vital organism, the cause-and-effect relationship in a scientific fashion does not apply here. There is no linear movement of the effect from the cause, as in a straight line. It is not that people are arrayed in one straight line and when one pushes the other the second pushes the third, the third pushes the forth, and so on. It is like a circular push, we may say, as in the game pinch whole: Each one pinches the other, and there is a circular pinching. Likewise, there is a mutual action and interaction of the parts of the system, so that we cannot say which is the determining factor of what. Here is a great spiritual truth also coming out, in addition to a psychological fact. Activities do not proceed from an isolated being, but they are inseparable from the being, which may be called himself, herself or itself.

The activities that are taking place within our physiological system are almost identical with the system itself. They do not come out from the body. It is an adjustment of forces, factors, conditions, etc., within the gamut of the organism, and even a condition of a single physical cell in our body is determined by the total healthy condition of the entire system. They say that our whole personality can be seen through a single drop of blood taken from our body. One drop of our blood will tell what we are, if it is properly observed. Everything is there. Even a cell from the body is sufficient, one cell. That will tell that we are a whole because each cell is a whole by itself. It is not a part. The whole that we call our body is made up of smaller wholes, and there are no parts in this world, as there are no parts in our body. Each part, the so-called aspect or part, works as a whole by itself.

And so, taking this analogy to the point arranged by the hymn of the Rigveda, the Purusha Sukta, we may safely conclude that we are living in a world which is characterised by conditions which are different from what we see with our eyes. We are living in a different world altogether. The world that we see with our eyes is not what it appears to be. Things are not what they seem, and this fact is not clear to our minds; we do not understand it, and therefore, we come a cropper. We move blindly with our own logical systems created by our own intellects, and with our own so-called scientific observations which are far, far removed from the truth of things; therefore, it is no wonder that we fail in our endeavours in life. By ‘endeavour’, I mean any kind of endeavour, even our spiritual sadhana. Even that can be a failure, as it really has been in most cases because our very basic concept is erroneous.

The basic concept of a person is, “I am a human being, a body absolutely unconnected from other persons, other bodies, with whom I have to deal in some particular way.” We have to deal with people. Oh, it is a very pitiable state to regard other people as something to be dealt with. Would anyone like to be dealt with by someone? We do not like this word. Even this idea is repellent. “That person wants to deal with me, to confront me, to face me, to utilise me or put me into use?” No part of the body would tolerate this attitude by another part of the body, again to refer to the Purusha Sukta. I do not think even the brain will use the leg as a tool or treat the leg as a servant. The brain is not a boss, and the other parts of the body cannot be regarded as their subordinates.

I used to sometimes jokingly give the example of spectacles. The spectacles are for the use of the eyes, but the load is borne by the nose. What a pity! “Why should I do anything for you, sir? What have you done for me? Why should the nose bear the burden of the spectacles unnecessarily for the sake of the eyes? All the benefit goes to the eyes, and I bear the load. What is this?” But the nose does not say this because there is a vital organic relationship between the nose and the eyes.

The Veda very pertinently gives this analogy of the Purusha because we cannot think of anything superior to a human being. The highest concept in our mind is of a human being. Even our idea of God is anthropomorphic, as a huge person. He may be as vast as space, but He is like a human being only. The Vedic seer perhaps was aware of this, so he told us, “Okay, all right, the whole universe is the Purusha, a person.” Well, we may call him the Supreme Person.

Now, I am saying all this in the form of the story, as it were, because we should not joke with life. Many of us are elderly persons, not small babies. It is said that there is no fooling with life after forty. We cannot simply take life as a diversion. It is a very serious matter, and we cannot simply eat and drink and imagine that we are merry, because a day will come when we are suddenly taken by surprise by the truth of things. The truth of things will begin to stare at us: “You have ignored me for so many years. Now I am here.” It will come before us like a large creditor. We cannot stand before the creditor afterwards. He will tell us, “Now I am here. What are you going to do with me?”

The truth of life is quite different from what we imagine in our minds. Your relationship with me and my relationship with you is quite different from what we think in our minds, and our ideas are not going to be taken into consideration by the nature of things. Nature will simply care a hoot for what we think. Nature does not care for our logic or our scientific observations. They are only for our study in our laboratory, and nature is a different thing altogether. This will come before us like a terror one day or the other, and it is better to be a little cautious now itself before we are driven to this predicament by the powers of nature, which are the powers of God Himself.

God is not so compassionate as we imagine Him to be, because we have got a sentimental idea about compassion. God is not a sentimental being. He is a terrible judge. He can even pass a death sentence, but you cannot say that a judge is not a compassionate being. Can you call a judge a cruel man? Nobody says that. The Supreme Court judge is not a cruel person; he is not a hard-hearted villain. He is called a Justice. He does justice; the name itself is justice, but he can even finish you off. What a pity! Is this love? Law and love are not contradictory in the case of a judgment of a court, for example. The judge may have great love for you, but he may send you to the Andamans.

So, my dear friends, I have told you what I have been thinking for a few minutes before I came to this place. Life is doing, but it is not simply doing as you think. It is not an empty action, unproductive of consequences, but it is a terrible thing that you are engaging yourself in. And when it becomes a terrific thing, it becomes the law of karma, binding you to rebirth.

Karma will not bind you if you are able to connect harmoniously with the being that is its background. But if you ignore the aspect of being and lay stress only on doing, then it will retaliate. Like a boomerang, the result of actions will come upon you. Sometimes you bite your own tongue and there is bleeding, but you do not get angry with your teeth.  But if somebody else bites you, you will create a hullabaloo and go to the police to file a suit in the court and whatnot.

This is the truth of things. These are all analogies which are pregnant with the great forces that are prevailing in this world. Our relationship among ourselves, our relationship with God, our relationship with nature outside, can all be summed up in a single principle: the relationship of being and doing. And you cannot understand what being is; therefore, you cannot understand what doing is. So how can you do anything when you cannot understand what it is?

Therefore, Bhagavan Sri Krishna has been indefatigably explaining the necessity to understand things before you act. He says that action should always be based on buddhi yoga. He does not advocate foolish actions. He does not ask you to go headlong into the pit of doom. Every action is to be based on understanding of the pros and cons of the action, the various factors involved in the action, beautifully put in the Bhagavadgita: adhiṣṭhānaṁ tathā kartā karaṇaṁ ca pṛthagvidham, vividhāś ca pṛthakceṣṭā daivaṁ caivātra pañcamam ( Gita 18.14). You think that you are the only factor involved in your action, but he says there are five factors, of which most people are not conscious. And finally he caps it by saying daivaṁ caivātra pañcamam: There is an eternal Universal Law that finally determines the result of your action. If you ignore its presence, you pay the price.

So, whatever be that type of life that you are leading, whether it is in an office or a factory, in a field or in the streets, in a cloister or in a temple, a single law will operate upon it. The central constitution of God will be the determining factor behind the operation of every action of yours, even if it be the littlest of actions. There is only one law operating, which is called rita in the Rigveda, and it is based on satya. Ritam ca satyam cābhiddhāt tapashāt adhyajāyata says the Rigveda: Rita and satya operate in this world. The rita is the face of satya, or we may say, the righteousness of the kingdom of God, as Christ put it: Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. His righteousness is the face of the kingdom that is in heaven, and they are inseparable like the government and its laws. You cannot isolate one from the other. The government is the law, and the law is the government. Likewise, God is the principal, and the principle is God. Rita is satya and satya is rita. Being is doing, and doing is being. How can you live in this world?

Life itself is horrible if we go on analysing threadbare the very fibres which constitute it, but we take it very lightly. Life is not so simple, and if we take it as a meaningless joy, then we have to pay the price. Yat tadagre viṣam iva pariṇāme’mṛtopamam (Gita 18.37): In the beginning, it is like terrible poison. When amrita was churned out from the ocean in Samudra Mathana, first nectar did not come out; only poison came, and Lord Siva had to drink it, poor man. Poison comes first. Even when you are engaged in an honestly right action, a very pleasant result will not follow immediately. That is not how things are made. There is a reaction set up by the dust that will first blind your eyes. You will be taken aback in surprise by factors which you do not expect.

So life is a mystery; it is not an equation of mathematics. You cannot simply calculate the consequences that follow from your actions. If that had been the case, everybody would know what result will follow as the result of an action and you would always be successful. You cannot mathematically calculate the nature of the result that follows from your deeds because you do not know the causative factors of the deeds. To clinch the matter, I can tell you that the main causative factor of all your actions is being itself, and I have no time to explain the various aspects of what actually is meant by the word ‘being’.

Being does not mean merely your bodily being, though that is one of the things, of course, to be considered. Actions do not proceed merely from your bodily being, the Mr. being or Mrs. Being, and so on. The actions do not proceed merely from that being. That so-called bodily being of yours which you wrongly imagine as the cause of your actions is one of the factors among many others of which you are completely oblivious.

I am not going to expatiate on this theme. It is a very complicated subject, but once you understand it, you would not like even to take your meal afterwards. You will say, “Goodbye to lunch. I am satisfied. This is a terrible thing I have heard.” You will close your eyes and start crying that very moment if you know what life is made of. You will have neither hunger nor thirst afterwards. This hunger, thirst, and so on, arise because of our taking life as a joke. It is not a joke. It is a very serious thing, and if you know the seriousness of it, you will be simply dumbfounded: “Oh, it is what it is. Nobody told me this.” Who will tell you this, when everybody is like you? The blind are leading the blind.

[Swamiji continues in Hindi]