Action and Inaction

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

In the Bhagavad Gita, the sloka on action and inaction has caused confusion and misunderstanding. In Chapter Four Sri Krishna tells Arjuna (4:18):

Karmanyakarma yah pashyed akarmani cha karma yah;
Sa buddhimaan manushyeshu sa yuktah kritsnakarmakrit.

He who sees inaction in action and action in inaction, he is wise among men; he is a yogi and performer of all actions.

The main subject is to know when to be involved in karma and when to be detached from karma. One cannot be without karma in this life, just as the body cannot survive without food. It needs something. Even if it is only an apple or some grapes, the body needs something to destroy the pangs of hunger. That something has to be eaten.

In the same manner, life is nourished by karma. The moment you stop karma, life ends. Life cannot exist without karma, just as you cannot exist without spirit. If the spirit leaves, you are gone and dead. If karma goes away from life, you are also gone and dead. Spirit is the transcendental element which keeps you alive in this world and karma is the material element which keeps you alive in this world. Therefore, karma is as important as spirit.

The presence and existence of karma in your life is as important as the presence and existence of spirit in life. Without karma, there is no realization, transformation, growth and progression in life. However, this karma has to be seen as a means to fulfil the dharmas in life. When it is seen as a way to fulfil your dharma in life, you experience inaction in action for there is no self-projection, self-craving, only the fulfillment of a dharma.

Action is happening, yet the lower self is inactive. When dharma is not there, you are identifying with the action performed, and there is involvement. It is the idea of dharma, the righteous condition of life, the righteous thinking and behaviour, which has to be developed to give you an awareness of the karmas which bind you and the karmas which liberate you.

The karmas which liberate you are seen as static in nature in an active zone, inaction in action. The karmas which bind you are seen as active in nature in a static zone. This is something that has to be understood not intellectually or philosophically, for this will create more confusion. The simple understanding is to follow the path of dharma to experience stability in movement, inaction in action.

18 October 2015, Ganga Darshan, Munger