Secret of Action

How do we choose right ‘area of work’ for ourselves?
What is the right attitude to work?
How to work without our peace at risk?
Why work at all?
What transforms ‘Karma’ to ‘Karma Yoga’?
Is not desire for great reward the only motivation for work? 
Who is a real Karma Yogi?
Who is the best type of man of action?

How do we choose the right ‘area of work’ for ourselves?

Choose that area of work where you can ‘give’ your best

swe swe karmani abhiratah samsiddhim labhate narah
swakarmaniratah siddhim yathA windati tat shrnu ||18.45||

“Devoted each to his own duty, a man attains perfection. How, engaged in his own duty, he attains perfection, to that listen.”

Each devoted to his own duty, man attains perfection– By being loyal to our own level of feeling and ideas, to our own development of consciousness, we can evolve into higher states of self-unfoldment.

Each one is ordered by his own svabhava and each can discover his fulfillment only in that self-ordered field of activity. A tiny Corsican boy who was asked to tend his sheep refused to do so, and reached Paris to become one of the great men the world had ever seen. And that was Napoleon! A goldsmith would rather compose his metres in a garret than take up a commercial job, courting prosperity and comfortable life !

It is no use employing our minds in fields which are contrary to our nature. Everyone has a precise place in the scheme of created things. Each one has an importance and none is to be despised, for each can do something which the others cannot do so well. There is no redundancy in the Lord’s creation: not even a single blade of grass is unnecessarily created.

Thus the choice of work is as per our #svabhava#, #vasanas# and on the criterion of ‘giving more’ than ‘taking more’ from the society.


What is the right attitude to work ?

Work is the Lord; not for your own personal material gains, but primarily for a noble cause If one can live the field surrendering one’s ego and ego centric desires to enjoy the fruits, one can thereby achieve a sense of fulfillment and a great peace arising out of the exhaustion of the vasanas. The renunciation of the ego and its desires can never be accomplished unless there is a spirit of dedication and total surrender to the Infinite. When this unbroken awareness of the Lord becomes a constant habit for the mind, dedication becomes effective and mind’s evolution starts.

brahmani AdhAya karmAni sangam tyaktwA karoti yah 
lipyate na sah pApena padmapatram iwa ambhasA ||5.10||
“He who does actions, offering them to Brahman abandoning attachment, is not tainted by sin, just as a lotus leaf remains unaffected by the water on it.”

To remember constantly an ideal is to become ourselves more and more attuned to perfection of our ideal. In order that we may surrender all our sense of agency in our actions to Brahman, we have to remember this concept of Truth as often as we now remember our limited ego. When the frequency of our thoughts on the Lord becomes as high as frequency with which we remember now the ego-idea, we shall come to realise the Brahman-ideal as intimately as we now know our own ego.

In short, today, we are “EGO-REALISED SOULS”; the Geeta’s call to man is to become “SOUL-REALISED EGOS”. Once our Real Nature is realised, the actions of the body, mind, and intellect can no more leave any impression upon the Self. Merits and demerits ever belong to the ego, and never to the Atman. The imperfections of my reflections in a mirror cannot be my imperfections, but can be only because of the distortions in the reflecting surface. ||9.2||

How to work without our peace at risk ?

Be detached. Drop your mental dependence on any particular type of work, type of result or appreciation by others etc. Free from such dependence, work enthusiastically knowing that you can be happy irrespective of such factors.

A saint in the world, as a separate matter-entity, though drawing his nourishment for his individual existence from the world-of-objects, ever remains perfectly detached from his own merits and demerits, from his own concepts of beauty and ugliness, from his own likes and dislikes in the world outside. The lotus leaf exists ONLY in water, draws its nourishments from the very water, and dies away in the same water, yet, during its life as a leaf, it does not allow itself to be moistened by water.

yah tu Atmaratih ewa syAt Atmatrptah cha mAnawah 
Atmani ewa cha santushtah tasya kAryam na widyate ||3.17||
“But the man who rejoices only in the Self, who is satisfied with the Self, who is content in the Self alone, for him verily there is nothing (more) to be done.”

An intellect that is attached to sensuous things of the world outside knows no peace within itself. It gets agitated and the frail body gets shattered as the fuming mind escapes through it in its hunt for satisfaction among the sense-objects. A `clean shaven intellect’, (Hence the symbolism of clean shaven head in Sanyasa. There is also the symbolism in keeping a tuft on the crown of the head before a Brahmana-boy is taken near (Upanayana) a teacher; the Brahmachari has snapped off all his attachments and maintains only single faithful attachment to the Supreme) devoid of all the cobwebs of attachments with the equipments of perception, feeling, and thinking, and their respective objects,perceived, felt or thought of, is the vehicle that stands dissolved revealing THAT which pulsates through them all. A man who has earlier disciplined his intellect alone can come to attain it. ||9.3||

Why work at all ?

No one can escape work. Your own nature will propel you to work. Recognising this, an intelligent man takes up work right away and does it rightly. He does not deceive himself, trying to avoid action or dillydallying unnecessarily

na hi kashchit kshanam api jAtu tishthati akarmakrt 
kAryate hi awashah karma sarwah prakrtijaih gunaih ||3.5||
“Verily none can ever remain for even a moment without performing action; for every one is made to act helplessly indeed by the qualities born of Prakriti.

Man is ever agitated under the influence of the triple tendencies of unactivity (Sattwa), Activity (Rajas) and Inactivity (Tamas) inherent in him. Even for a single moment he cannot remain inactive totally. Total inactivity is the language of the utter insentient matter. Even if we are physically at rest, mentally and intellectually we are active all the time, except during our state of sleep. So long as we are under the influences of these three mental tendencies (Gunas), we are helplessly prompted to labour and to act.

Therefore not to act at all is to try to live and to disobey the laws of nature which shall, as we all know, bring about a cultural deterioration in ourselves. If there is a creature who thinks that he can remain inactive physically, he will be getting himself dissipated in his thoughts and, therefore, Geeta advises him to act vigorously with a right attitude of mind, so that he may avoid all internal waste of energy and learn to grow in himself.

Also see 18.60 and 18.11


What transforms ‘karma’ to karma yoga ‘ ?

  • Choose the right area of work – swadharma;
  • Dedicate your work to Lord;
  • Be detached (no dependence on external factors);
  • Maintain equanimity in results favourable and unfavourable; and
  • Stand guard against the onrush of desire and anger that sense objects arouse

KARMA can be transformed into KARMA-YOGA, by the technique of renouncing one’s sense of agency in one’s actions. This is no strange theory; nor is it a unique doctrine. At every moment, all round the world, we see this enacted in a thousand ways. Another surgeon is called in to operate upon a doctor’s own wife or child; his attachment to his own wife makes him incapacitated to perform the operation on her, although the same doctor, on the same day, may perform the same operation on another patient with whom he has no self-deluding attachment. When an ambassador from one country to another, even if he is shy, retreating coward in the presence of mighty monarchs in foreign lands, reaches the court of another nation or country as a representative of his national government, he comes to outshine himself.

If man were to act as a representative of the Infinite and the Eternal, he shall discover in himself mightier possibilities and greater effectiveness which are well wasted and squandered today by his misconception of a finite ego in himself. ||9.5||

Is not desire for great reward the only motivation for work ?

People ignorant of the higher possibility of desireless activity are motivated by desire alone to work. But alas, this entails anxiety, fear and often disappointment, In place of such a (selfish) desire, a more mature man has inspiration of a noble cause, deep sense of duty and the spirit of offering ‘work’ to the Lord as this motivation. Further, he derives joy in the work itself and has not to wait for the results.

karmani ewa adhikArah te mA phaleshu kadAchana 
mA karmaphalahetuh bhooh mA te sangah astu akarmani ||2.47||
“Thy right is to work only; but never to its fruits; let not the fruit of action be thy motive, nor let they attachment be to inaction.”

Single pointed karma without desire for the fruits shall bring about inner purification, which is a necessary condition precedent to spiritual awakening. To do our duties in life without any expectation of results would seem to be almost impossible to the one who is trying to understand the stanza through his imagination. But when the same individual, after his studies, walks out into the open fields of his life and there tries to practise them, he shall discover that this is the very secret of real achievement.

Wrong imaginations are the banes of life, and all failures in life can be directly traced to have risen from an impoverished mental equanimity, generally created by unintelligent entertainment of fears regarding possible failures. Almost all of us refuse to undertake great activities, being afraid of failures, and even those who dare to undertake noble endeavours, invariably become nervous ere they finish them, again, due to their inward dissipation. To avoid such wasteful expenditure of mental energy and work with the best that is in us, dedicated to the noble cause of the work undertaken, is the secret prescription for the noblest creative inspiration; and, such work must always end in a brilliant success. This is the eternal law-of-activity in the world.

“If success you seek, then never strive with a mind dissipated with anxieties and fears for the fruits.” In this connection it is very interesting to dissect carefully and discover exactly what the Sastra means when it says `fruits of action’. In fact, the reward of an action, when we understand it properly, is not anything different from the action itself. An action of the present when conditioned by a future time, appears itself as the fruit of the action. In fact, the action ends or fulfills itself in its reaction, and the reaction is not anything different from the action; an action of the present defined in terms of a future moment is its reaction. Therefore, to worry over and get ourselves preoccupied with the anxieties for the rewards of actions is to escape ourselves from the present and to live in a future that is not yet born.

We have already found that achievements are carved out in the present; to get ourselves, therefore, agitated over the `fruits of the actions’ is to escape the present and to live ourselves in the dreamland of the future which is yet unborn! In short, the Lord’s advice here is a call to man not to waste his present in fruitless dreams and fears, but to bring his best– all the best in him — to the present and live vitally every moment. And the promise is that the future shall take care of itself and provide the Karma Yogi with the achievement divine and accomplishment supreme. When this scientific truth is put in the language of the Geeta we have the verse now we are trying to explain. Arjuna is advised that all that is given to you is to act and having known the cause of action to be a noble intention, bring into the activity all that is best in you and FORGET YOURSELF IN THE ACTIVITY. Such inspired action is sure to bear fruit and immediately it is its own reward. ||9.6||

Who is a real karma-yogi?

One who works decidedly, laying aside all one’s egoistic, selfish or personal urges.

karmajam buddhiyuktAh hi phalam tyaktwA maneeshinah 
janmabandhawinirmuktAh padam gachchanti anAmayam ||2.51||
” The wise, possessed of knowledge, having abandoned the fruits of their actions, freed from the fetters of birth, go to the State which is beyond all evil.”

A real Karma Yogi is one who understands (a) that his concern is with action alone; (b) that he has no concern with results; (c) that he should not entertain the motive of gaining a fixed fruit for a given action and (d) that the above said ideas do not mean that he should sit back courting inaction. In short, the advice is to make the worker release himself from all his mental preoccupations and, through work, make him live in the joy and ecstasy of a divine self-forgetfulness. The work itself is his reward: he gets himself drunk with the joy and satisfaction of a noble work done.

By acting thus readily to all external challenges one can find peace easily, and a bosom thus purged of its existing vasana bondages is, to that extent, considered better purifiedfor the purposes of meditation and the final Vedantic realisation of the Infinite glory of the Self. ||9.7||

Who is the best type of ‘man of action’ ?

He who is at peace and joy and works enthusiastically, rain or sunshine.

muktasangah anahamwAdee dhrtyutsAhasamanwitah 
siddhyasiddhayoh nirwikArah kartA sAttwikah uchyate ||18.26||
“An agent who is free from attachment, non-egoistic endowed with firmness and enthusiasm, and unaffected by success or failure, is called satvic (pure).”

satvic `actor’ is one who is free from attachment to any of his kith and kin (mukta sangah), and non-egoistic (anahamvadin). He is one who has no clinging attachment to the things and beings around as he has no such false belief that the world outside will bring to him a desirable fulfilment of his existence. He sincerely feels that he has not done anything spectacular even when he has actually done the greatest good to mankind, because he surrenders his egocentric individuality to the Lord through his perfect attachment with the Infinite.

When such an individual– who has destroyed in himself his ego-sense and the consequent sense of attachment– works in the worldly fields of activities, he ever acts with firm resolution (dhriti) and extreme zeal (utsaha). The term dhrti means `fortitude’– the subtle faculty in man that makes him strive continuously towards a determined goal. When obstacles come on his way, it is his faculty of dhrti that discovers for him more and more courage and enthusiasm to face them all and to continue striving towards the same determined goal. This persevering tendency to push oneself on to the work until one reaches the halls of success, unmindful of the obstacles that one might meet with on the path,

is called dhrti. And utsaha means untiring self-application with a dynamic enthusiasm on the path of achievement while pursuing success.

Lastly, a satvic `actor’ is one who ever strives unperturbed both in success and failure. The faculties of the intellect, the beauties of the heart, the vitality of the body, are all vehicles for the sacred will of the Spirit to sing through. If the vehicles are not properly disciplined, and if they do not come to surrender totally to the Infinite Lord, the vehicles get broken and shattered.

Identifying with the agitations of the mind, the ego is born, and the ego so born gets riddled with desires as it gets anxious over the fruits of its actions. When one works thus with neither ego nor desires, one gets one’s vasana-purgation. This is possible only when always has the Higher Goal in view. ||9.8||